Monday, 30 June 2014

ISIS and Iraq: The Lethal Proxy War for Resources and Power in the Middle East

With the prospect of a looming sectarian clash between ISIS forces and Shi'ite militias not subject to Iraqi state control in areas close to Baghdad, it would be better to see it as part not of a 'civil war' but more accurately considered as part of a “regional war complex”.

ISIS clearly has sought to create a new Caliphate that transcends the borders of Syria and Iraq and which could be spread into other zones where Sunni insurgents have fought against state power: there is evidence of ISIS gaining recruits in the fight against Egypt and Israel on the Sinai Peninsula.

ISIS was able spread and surge deep into Iraq because Sunni tribes in and around places such as Tikrit, those with no stake in a political system dominated by Shi'ite Muslims and Kurdish politicians, rose up and joined the jihad as a means of forcing Maliki to stand down.

That is why Washington, though concerned about ISIS and the potential threat to global oil prices and the borders with its Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, has send military advisors and armed drones. The Obama administration only wanted to contain ISIS but it is not necessarily opposed to Sunni opposition to Baghdad.

A significant US military intervention in Iraq, one rejected by Washington since it pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and pusrued a 'hands off approach' , would have only worsened the situation by giving the impression that the longed for Caliphate was being destroyed by an 'alliance' of the Americal Infidels and Shia apostates.

Washington would like Maliki to go in order to take Iraq out of Iran's sphere of influence and in order to align itself with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry in Riyadh in his meeting with King Abdullah wanted Saudi Arabia to seek out 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria and the hope is that could be done in Iraq too.

The Obama administration's $500 million request to Congress for funds to covertly back 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria is intended to act as a signal that Sunni militias and their leaders in Iraq could stand to benefit if they are prepared to contain both ISIS and Iran.

The leaders of Sunni tribes already have positioned themselves as potential 'moderates' that have no necessary alignment to ISIS any more, in fact, than the Free Syria Army did when it was ranged alongside ISIS in Syria back in 2013 in their struggle against Kurdish separatists.

Sunni leaders such as Ali Hatem Suleimani made plain that his forces are marching alongside ISIS only in order to remove Maliki and that “We can fight Isis and al-Qaeda whenever we want to”. Kurdish leaders want Sunni Arabs to increase their presence in government so as to reduce Shi'ite power.

The reason is Erbil has sought more control over its oil revenues in disputes over the sale of oil via Turkey to global markets. Intelligence experts claim the Kurds could have given the nod to ISIS to surge southwards towards Baghdad in order to pursue a strategy that would reduce Shia and Iranian influence.

To that extent, the insurgency in Iraq is not centrally about ISIS. True, the group has murdered and killed civilians but this is mere collateral damage in a ruthless proxy war between Iran's Shi'ite 'axis of influence' and Saudi Arabia and Qatar's strategy of building a 'Sunni shield'.

The US, Britain and France support Saudi Arabia's and Qatar's strategy of backing Sunni jihadists for geopolitical and energy reasons. The US depends upon Saudi Arabia for 17% of its crude oil imports. Britain and France back Qatar and Turkey because they proposed in 2009 a gas pipeline to the west.

What neither the US and Saudi Arabia nor Qatar and Britain and France want is a Shi'ite pipeline from the Gulf via Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia backs Assad because it already has a strong presence in the region and would like a stake in controlling east-west energy flows.

The crisis in Iraq and Syria is crucially connected to energy geopolitics and the overdependence of the West on fossil fuels from the Middle East as well as the broader collapse of civilisation stemming from the impact of global warming, drought, diminished agricultural yields and overpopulation. 

In the longer term from global warming is set to make regional conflicts such as that in Syria-Iraq intractable. For as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers dry out, declining wheat and rice production means only those with control over oil revenues would be able to survive and that means joining militias that could guarantee it.


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