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  • Rory O'Keeffe

The (lack of) Calm Before the Storm: Iraq, Syria and the international community

In an article for the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, Lieutenant Colonel Dr Mordechai Kedar warns that Shias in Iraq and in Syria (where the Shia Iranian army is fighting alongside Assad, the Shia Hizbollah militia, and Shia militias from Iraq and Afghanistan) ‘may try’ to remove the Sunni Muslims from both states.

While we may disagree with his view, there is nevertheless an important point underlying it.

The Sunnis are the majority population in Syria, but Assad is an Alawite, and almost all of his support has come from non-Sunnis, while most of the opposition to him (outside of the wildcard late entrant to the war, IS, which in any case is fighting everyone who is not a member of IS) has come from the Sunni Muslims in the state, and so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that such an action may be taken if and when the war ends, and if Assad is the ‘winner’ of it.

In Iraq, Sunnis are a minority (42 per cent), and along with historic rivalries – in part fuelled by the fact that Saddam Hussein was a Sunni and promoted Sunnis to positions of power, and arguments that IS and Al Qaeda are Sunnis (in fact neither are accepted as Sunni by most of the world’s Sunni Muslims, and though Al Qaeda does claim Sunni identity, IS is self-proclaimedly Salafist – though again, the Salafis reject it) – there is a possibility of war sparked by the upheaval of the Kurdish referendum, whatever its outcome may be.

Lt Col. Dr Kedar claims that the best idea would be for Iraq, Syria and he suggests also the West Bank, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen, to be broken into a number of much smaller Emirates, in federations.

This would suit the Kurds to an extent - though many of them would prefer a fully-independent state - and perhaps also the Sunnis in Syria. But it is hard to imagine why Assad, should he win the war, or Iraq’s Shias, should they think they could win one, would go for such a wholesale devolution when they could take all the power for themselves, and it is equally hard to see any group anywhere on Earth seriously welcoming the imposition of a new governmental structure on them from outside.

In Sudan and Yemen, it is hard to see how it could even help.

Because in Yemen, the argument is not about who should gain representation in the state, but who should run it (and in any case, Saudi Arabia is leading attacks on Yemen, which it could do just as easily if Yemen were a collection of Emirates. Arguably, even more easily, as the people it wants to strike would be likely to be gathered in fewer places, and so easier to strike all at once). And in Sudan, the central government is already attacking Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it would not be less likely to do so if they were emirates rather than regions of Sudan.

The problem with the proposal is in fact that it recommends dividing people by religion or ethnicity, while doing absolutely nothing to actually reduce conflict or its causes between them.

Even so, while his proposed solution may be – and almost certainly is – both unworkable, and far from likely to succeed even where it could be imposed, the Dr is correct to note that even as the Syrian conflict continues, tensions and potential new conflicts also exist.

We must prepared for the fact that Greece and the Balkan regions are likely to remain a stepping stone, at least, for people fleeing conflict, even as we hope those conflicts do not arise.

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