Not Just in Iraq: The Rise of Salafism in the Middle East
Politicians, analysts and the grassroots have all been baffled by the easy sweep of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) through northern Iraq and its progress towards the capital Baghdad. One of the direct implications of this is the rapprochement between Iran and the US because both feel their interests in the region directly threatened by this unexpected onslaught.
For the Iranians the Maliki Shiite regime is on a razor blade, its army, though, well-equipped by America, proved no match, whatsoever, to the indoctrinated brigades of the frightening and sanguinary ISIS, who only believe in use of brutal force and terrorist tactics.
Loosing Iraq will be a hard blow for the image of Shiite Iran and a potential danger for the Lebanese Hezbollah. If both Syria and Iraq fall and become one country, Hizbollah will be threatened and Iran will feel surrounded by Sunni enemies from all sides, and that will herald the end of the Khomeini vision that, through exporting its revolution to the MENA region, wanted to create a Shiite crescent in the Middle East and ultimately convert Sunnis to its faith.
For America, The Salafist Caliphate will be the ultimate end of the Arab Spring democratic movement in the region and the beginning of the theocratic dictatorship. Worse, if unchecked, ISIS could prove a threat to the strategic interests of America in the region and especially the oil supply routes.
If ISIS sweeps over Iraq, which is certainly a real possibility, then all westernized countries of the region will feel the heat of the Salafists, who may not engage America directly but question its modernist agenda for the Arab world. Thus, democracy will be thrown in the dustbin, modernization efforts will scrutinized, women will be made to wear the niqab and coerced to give up their fights for equality and empowerment and made to return to their homes to cook food for the menfolk and make children in total servility.
It must be said outright that some of what is happening today is undeniably the fault of the Maliki government and his political backers, who, instead of creating a diverse and united Iraq open to all ethnic groups, have stupidly followed a total Shiite agenda to please Tehran. In that sense, Maliki was no different from Saddam in his sectarian approach.
With the Salafist danger at the gates of Baghdad, coming under a deadly siege yet again, and the inability of the American-trained and equipped Iraqi army to match the determination of the invaders, Prime Minister Maliki is really in deep trouble. One, nevertheless, wonders what would his American and Iranian protectors do to save his widely contested regime?
In this dead-end situation, three important scenarios come to mind:
The American scenario:
- The American government is considering sending its warplanes equipped with sophisticated weaponry to bombard the invaders and disrupt their supply lines. Such a solution might score some success, initially, but in the long run will make ISIS fighters more determined to die in the name of Jihad against the Shiites and their American protecting infidels. If the bombardments last long, there is going to be an Arab backlash against American interests in the Arab world, that, after all, still remembers how the Americans humiliated Saddam and handed him in cold blood to the Shiites to kill him on the day of the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid Al Adha).
This scenario is very risky for America, especially that it comes in the footsteps of the daring arrest in Benghazi by their Special Operations Forces of the Libyan presumed Salafist perpetrator, Ahmed Abu Khattala, of the deadly attack on their embassy in 2012 and his transportation to American soil to be tried and probably executed. This lack of respect for the sovereignty of Libya and a potential American intervention in Iraq would cost the Americans a lot; in the long run, in the Arab world, without maybe achieving any results on the battlefield.
The Iranian scenario:
The Iranian government is very much concerned with what is happening in Iraq, the loss of this country to the Salafists would be a terrible blow to its active and ambitious policy of expansion of Shiism.
Iran has advised Maliki to call on the Shiites of the south to come en masse to defend the regime in Baghdad, because the fall of this city, like what happened to Saddam a decade ago, would mean the end of Maliki and his government. But the Shiite volunteers from the south are only a smokescreen for the intervention of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Hezbollah fighters to rescue the drowning Maliki.
The Iranians are hoping this scenario would be a successful repeat of their disguised intervention in Syria that has saved Assad from a certain defeat and imminent death of his dictatorial regime. However, the risk is double fold, both the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters might very much like the soldiers of Maliki fall in the hands of ISIS fighters who will not refrain from butchering them and showing it in public to humiliate their country.
The Saudi scenario:
America will pressure Saudi Arabia to reign in ISIS, a group thought to owe allegiance to the Saudi royals. The Saudis, will more likely oblige but on the condition that Maliki is ousted and a genuine system of power-sharing among the Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites is set up, preferably on the Bosnian model. If this is accepted, it will be the end of the influence of Iran and its intrusion in Iraqi politics: a bitter defeat for the former and world Shiism and an astounding victory for Saudi Arabia and a strengthening of its image both in the Arab and Islamic world.
By Mohamed Chtatou
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