Iraq and Syria: of memory and maps

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Map of Islamic Caliphate c. 750 AD. Photo: William R. Sheperd via Wikimedia Commons.

The interests of outsiders, not those of the battered, bloodied and belittled peoples of Iraq and Syria, drive this brutal political theatre.

Syria and Iraq are no more. They have ceased to be!

Two modern states, originally carved out by the Sykes-Picot accord, from the underbelly of the long ailing Ottoman Empire, are finished. They can no more be brought back into existence than the parrot from the classic sketch by Monty Python.

What the world is now witnessing, through the filters of various national and nationalist media, is a blood soaked brawl over the remains of the dismembered states. Contesting the carcass is an international gang of mismatched contenders from near and far, as desperate in motivation as they are disparate in motive. In the immediate neighborhood, four actors battle for spoils.

An Ottoman realm reclaimed

In Turkey, Sultan Erdogan needs not dust off the antiquarian maps of the great Piri Reis, to spot opportunity. The great Turk first made his entrance with some modesty, under guise of protecting the cross border tomb of Suleyman Shah.  In a case of, some defensive operations are more defensive than others, he went on to defensively bomb the cross border Kurds, while just as defensively moving troops in to plant the Turkish flag into the soil of his Ottoman ancestor’s Levantine realm.

With the winds of unprecedented economic growth at his back, and fresh off the unusually successful quashing, of the usually successful coup, Erdogan feels emboldened. How better to cement his legacy and to carve his name into the same strata as the ever present ‘Father’ of the Turkish Republic, on whose aptly named Ataturk Farms the Turkish President recently built his thousand and one roomed Presidential Palace.

It may seem to the casual observer that actions such as the downing of a Russian plane, while purchasing the Russian S-400 SAM, over the vociferous objections of fellow NATO members; or of opposing his Russian and Iranian frenemies, in his opposition to their ally Assad - Erdogan’s former friend; or exacerbating his American ally by bombing its Kurdish proxy, all make Erdogan’s intentions appear something less than comprehensible.

But then, the Turkish President can take comfort in the fact that, among the foreign participants in this miniature World War, he is far from alone in the inconsistency…of his inconsistencies.

Arabia and the call of Caliphate

The Peninsular Arabs, together with their Hashemite Jordanian cousins, perhaps pre-occupied with a gratuitous and unsuccessful attempt to erase the name of the Persian Gulf from the world maps, failed to notice that following the geo-political cataclysms set in motion with the American invasion of Iraq, the actual, and not so easily erasable Persians to the north of said Gulf had set up shop, at the request of course, of the Iraqi and Syrian governments. And so, shocked to the point of catalepsy, by the de facto fall of three Arab capitals under Iranian sway, the western backed monarchies of greater Arabia find themselves in a more or less formal alliance, that’s more or less formed of fear.

Having long ago abandoned their fellow Arabs in Palestine to the merciless mercies of their erstwhile Israeli foe, these regimes have now all but buried the hatchet with their Zionist nemesis. In so doing they’ve also buried the old Nasserist dream of a pan-Arab block to oppose the Jewish State. In its stead, and through one of the best financed lobbying campaigns to which the modern world has yet been subjected, they’ve managed to imprint Iran as the new enemy, in the hearts and minds of the American tutela a patre.

But if they cannot fight the Iranians in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon on their own, billions of petrodollars spent on Trump’s ‘beautiful weapons’ not withstanding, then they can surely prod - not to say interfere in—America’s democratic Republic, by bribing the American Democrat and the American Republican.

To this end, hypothetical arms deals worth astronomical sums on paper are meant as patronizing tribute to patron Trump. The flow of funds also finds its way to an always grateful American think tank and media ecosystem. This, of course, is not to mention the alleged contributions, real or promised, to the coffers of the Trump/Kushner crime clan. The same Kushner whom the high energy Prince Mohammad Bin Salman [Referred to by the familial and affectionate nickname of ‘MBS’ by an adorably compliant mainstream American Media] reportedly claims to have ‘in his pocket.’

So far, the strategy of paying in, seems to be paying off. The Saudis and Emiratis have successfully convinced large enough segments of a diseased American body politic to use the awesome powers of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus, albeit in fits and starts, against their perceived regional adversaries, from Yemen to Syria. Even the historically untouchable third rail of formal ties with the Jewish state has finally been touched, without eliciting so much as a jolt. Israel after all, is the enemy of the new Iranian foe. And we all know the oft-repeated proverb about enemies…of enemies.

Next year in Greater Israel

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Netanyahu, Lieberman and Likud lick their chops at the prospect of realizing the never fully hidden dream of, next year in Greater Israel. After eight years of frosty relations with Barack Obama, the Israeli right, in a fit of hyperbole, literally referred to Trump as the new Cyrus [the irony that Cyrus the Great, the Biblical Messiah, was the Iranian founder of the Persian Empire being lost entirely and perhaps willfully, on a philistine Netanyahu.]

Trump’s election saves the Israeli government from both the Iranian menace and the tiresome necessity of continuing the overripe charade of peace. Trump and Nikki Haley’s unilateral and illegal attempt to normalize the theft of the whole of Jerusalem, as the sole and unshared capital of Israel, has had the positive side effect of finally ending the decades long pantomime of peace process porn.

From this tribal, Old Testament based perspective of chosen people -uber un-chosen ones - ethnic cleansing is a time honored, Biblically sanctioned means to redraw modern maps, in the image of those drawn from ancient mythologies. For the extreme Israeli right, only two obstacles stand in the way of realizing the greater Israel project; the Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

This is the true reason behind Israel’s unrelenting anti-Iranian rhetoric and its willingness to play footsie with even the most extreme Sunni Arab Islamists, so long as these terrorists aim their guns and scimitars, at least for the moment, at Bashar al-Assad. Israel’s calculation is that these groups, mostly under the control of the ever more compliant Arab dictatorships are a lesser threat than a Hezbollah and a Syrian regime, backed by decidedly less compliant mullahs in Iran.

The perspective from Persia

This brings us to the fourth regional actor. The Islamic Republic of Iran, who’s resurrected and re-imagined permutation of the Persian Empire is unfolding for the world to see. The Iranians, it seems, also feel the perennial presence of the past, when last, Iran Shahr, just before the Arab invasions of the 7th Century, stretched to the Mediterranean under Shapur the Sassanian.

Through a kind if national muscle memory, the Iranian

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 34
  • Issue 47

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