Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Gabrielle Rifkind and Gianni Picco - The new great regional game: Saudi Arabia and Iran
Decades of corrupt and authoritarian governments in the region which brutally suppressed both secular opposition and moderate Islamists have created the breeding ground for a more nihilist ideology. Alarm has spread as the Islamist militant group Isis (Islamic State of Iraq & Syria) who now prefers to call itself the Islamic “state”, has crossed the border of Iraq and Syria, threatening the implementation of a caliphate and harsh Islamic law to any who do not practice its brand of violent ‘puritanism’. Sectarian hatred has begun to shape the regional DNA threatening to erode boundaries that have prevailed since the collapse of the
Ottoman empire a century ago.
The regressive programme of
has a merciless hardline vision and ultra-conservative agenda. It has already
established a sharia court and the more recently published videos of its
fighters burning their passports seem evidence of a hypermodern propaganda
machine. This is a sophisticated organization with experienced leaders which
has moved beyond al Qaeda and terror, to see itself as is a regional force for
The invasion of
in 2003 led to the breakdown of Iraq’s
political, economic and social infrastructure. This created a power vacuum for
Al Qaeda and the likes of such groups as ISIS
to fill. The evolution of ISIS can be traced to the extreme Salafist Islamism
during the ‘first’ sectarian civil war of 2007-8. But such groups need to be
put in a wider context: the ‘Great Game’ of the perverse spillover of the Saudi
vision of the caliphate as expressed by the Taliban as they were and still are.
Any comparison between the Taliban and
and their religious vision must link to the religious version of Sunnism as
taught in Saudi. The regional sectarian war has been stimulated by proxy
powers. The conflicts both in Iraq
and Syria should not be
called a civil war but the third chess game between Saudi
Arabia and Iran in the last thirty years which
has now morphed into a Sunni-Shiite sectarian confrontation in the
At the time of the first sectarian civil war in
the thousands of Sunni’s being killed in Anbar province by Shiite death squads
turned to Al Qaeda for protection. The American military surge led to Sunni
tribal leaders agreeing to forgo their connections with ISIS in exchange for
negotiating representation and their protection with the Maliki government.
These promises proved to be empty. Not only did the Sunni’s continue to be
marginalized, but they saw emerge as dominant an Iranian-backed Shi’a-dominated
government with a sectarian agenda.
The significance of such private donations has now been marginalized by other sources of
including smuggling, extortion and criminal activities. Access to finance from
the oil fields in northern Iraq
and northern eastern regions of Syria
now suggests that they have control over their own money. The degree of
efficiency of this organization points to an infrastructure that is paying
monthly salaries to its soldiers.
The rise of
ISIS signals a
deeper crisis of representation amidst the different communities in the region.
When governments do not protect their citizens in the harsh and brutal
conditions of war, people turn to paramilitary organizations for their
security. Decades of corrupt and authoritarian governments in the region which
brutally suppressed both secular opposition and moderate Islamists have created
the breeding ground for a more nihilist ideology.
The boundary of the nation state is gone in the minds of many of its citizens, and events on the ground have reinforced this. A remapping of the region is taking place along sectarian lines breaking up into potentially hostile statelets, carved into exclusively ethnic enclaves.. read more: