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Redrawing maps

Writing in the Hindustan Times (Humvee Democracy January 25, 2005), I had said that the world was about to see the installation of what I called a humvee democracy, riding on the backs of a US-imposed system, as Iraq went in for elections on January 30.

I had said that the imposition of war on Iraq was based on a dodgy dossier, and that all the reasons for going to war were really pretexts.

Soon enough, the Americans had ceased to be liberators, but wereincreasingly seen by the Iraqis as occupiers, and the coalition of the willing had become a coalition of the unwilling. My prophecy was “The world may soon be looking at Jihad International Inc, Part II.” That moment has arrived.

People demonstrate against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on March 15, 2014 in Rome, during a protest to mark the third anniversary of the start of the conflict. The conflict began on March 15, 2011 after popular uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and has turned into a full-blown civil war. Pic/AFP
People demonstrate against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on March 15, 2014 in Rome, during a protest to mark the third anniversary of the start of the conflict. The conflict began on March 15, 2011 after popular uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and has turned into a full-blown civil war. Pic/AFP

This is more than just a Holy War. It is a reaction to what the West has imposed on West Asia since the days of its imperial splendour. Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Picot sat down in a cosy Anglo-French arrangement and carved out the possessions of the defeated Ottoman Empire between themselves.

Presumably, the Englishman was acting on the basis of advance information that it was Iraq that had the oil when he agreed that the French could have control over Syria and Lebanon. The English had pulled one off on their French allies.

That was after the First World War. After the Second World War, the British lost ground in Saudi Arabia and Iran to the Americans, who had walked off with the trophies. Ever since then, it has been the US that has exercised off-shore suzerainty in West Asia, backed by its armed might of the Centcom forces.

The Americans began supporting the Free Syrian Army against President Bashr al-Assad in Syria, and soon these forces were joined by Al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda clone, much to embarrassment of the Americans and their European allies.

The Turks supported the Free Syrians only to find them replaced by the Sunni forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Shams (ISIS), which now threatens to overrun the Shia-dominated Iraqi state.

Maps of the region are already being redrawn by various analysts. There is going to be, according to one version, a thin sliver of Allawite Syria in the west, a large Sunni state in the middle that includes upper Syria and Iraq, and a Shia portion in the rest of Iraq bordering Iran.

All countries of the region are expected to change shape, and there is even a Kurdistan carved out of Turkey, Syria and Iran, which will retain control over the oil of Mosul and Kirkuk. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, the main countries in the region, also look different in these maps. Lines drawn in the sands of Arabia are being redrawn in blood.

For nearly a hundred years, the West has encouraged pliant monarchies and dictators in the region. Now, suddenly, Arab Springs and democracies are being foisted on a region that is inherently conservative. Instead, we have an Islamist Caliphate led by the ISIS rival to Al Qaeda, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has vowed to annihilate Shias and destroy symbols of an ancient civilisation.

Not only can the Al Qaeda be expected to retaliate to reassert itself, but also other organisations in the region which have long held sway, like the Hamas, will similarly exert themselves. There is confusion with conflicting interests at play.

For instance, the US has set aside US $500 million in its Pentagon War budget to assist the freedom fighters in Syria and against Iran. It is simultaneously assisting Iran through supply of weaponry in its fight in Iraq against ISIS.

The speed with which the ISIS initially overran an Iraqi army trained and equipped by the Americans causes some concern about the fate of similar armies trained and equipped by the Americans in the region for instance, the Afghanistan army and its implications for India. We would have concerns about the Indian expatriates in the region and uncertainties of supply of oil and gas.

The other concern, especially for Israel, is whether or when the ISIS will begin to target Jordan, Gaza and Lebanon. Israel has already called in its reservists, fearing trouble in Gaza.

Europe and America must be equally worried about the plans of 2,000 to 3,000 nationals from their countries participating in this jihad. They could decide to return to their countries later; triumphant or victorious, they will be dangerous either way.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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