UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging
That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.
Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.
And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.
The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.
Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916
The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.
French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses
The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.
Iraq Ethnic Groups
I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.
Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map
The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.
Syrian Refugee Flows
Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.
Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks
Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:
- Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
- Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
- Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
- China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map
Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:
- Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
- Yemen – outright civil war
- Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
- Syria – outright civil war
- Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
- Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
- Turkey – massive protests
- Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
- Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
- North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
- Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions
What, if anything, will the United States do about this?
The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.
We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.
Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.
We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.
President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.
The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.