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The War Within Islam ( 11 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Middle East in Purgatory



By Yaşar Yakiş

September 10, 2014

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki giving up his efforts to form yet another Shia-dominated government may augur a new era if the process is properly managed, but such an outcome does not seem to be around the corner.

Maliki was forced to step aside as a result of the position taken by Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. Khomeini put his weight behind the president of the republic, Hassan Rouhani, in the latter's rivalry with Qassem Suleimani. Suleimani is the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran. However the same Khamenei continues to extend his support to Suleimani in other areas, such as Syria and Yemen. This is not necessarily a contradictory attitude. Khamenei is not focusing on the people but on their policies. In Khomeini’s mind Suleimani may be following the right path in Syria and Yemen, but not in Iraq.

Another reason that may have pushed Khamenei to withdraw his support from Suleimani may be the attitude adopted by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the main Shiite authority in Iraq. Upon the prolonged political instability in Iraq, on June 20, Sistani withdrew his support from Maliki and invited him to form a government that will be accepted by the Sunnis and Kurds of Iraq.

Rouhani may have understood that a victory in the Shia-Sunni rivalry is not in sight. The present conflict between these two main sects of Islam is likely to cause many more casualties on both sides. The creation of a Shiite belt that would stretch from Iran to south Iraq and Syria and from there to Lebanon turned out to be a difficult task. Pulling support from Maliki could be the result of this awareness and of a desire to find an accommodation with the Sunnis. However the real reason behind this shift and its real impacts will not be known until after the new Iraqi government formed on Sept. 8 carries out its first acts.

On the other hand, the most important leader on the Sunni side is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He seems to be aware of the risks that the Islamic State (IS) is posing in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is more vulnerable to the IS threat, because what is preached by the IS has many similarities to what the Saudis have been taught at schools for centuries. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is fertile ground for the propagation of IS ideas and methods.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Iranian undersecretary for Arab and African affairs, visited Jeddah on Aug. 25 and met Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister. They agreed to cooperate on fighting their common enemy, the IS. However the historic rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is so deep-rooted that it will be too soon to expect that they can solve all of their divergences, though they may agree to cooperate on certain tactical issues to fight the IS.

Even if the differences between the positions of the main stakeholders were to be eliminated, the IS may not be defeated if the US does not step up its bombing missions to a dissuasive level and if the local and regional actors do not take action. US Secretary of State John Kerry held side meetings during the Cardiff NATO summit on Sept. 4-5 with the foreign ministers of the interested countries. Kerry said that he is planning to create a core coalition to face the IS threat. Little can be expected from such a cautious commitment in light of the lack of enthusiasm that the US has displayed so far to take the bull by the horns.

Would Turkey contribute soldiers if such a coalition is set up with regional countries to fight the IS? Turkey will be faced with a difficult dilemma if it is asked to do so, because 49 people from the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul are still being held hostage by the IS. Their safety will be put at risk if Turkey joins the international force. If it does not, it will be further deprived of leverage to play a role in the Middle East. Furthermore, in light of Turkey's less than cordial relations with the major power brokers in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is difficult to guess what their attitude will be regarding Turkey's involvement in a meaningful role in the Middle East.