A new Arab disorder

A new Arab disorder
The 2014 marked a farewell to a turbulent decade, but it could be replaced by a more chaotic one, writes Salah Nasrawi

They weren’t exactly foreseen by Nostradamus, but one can see clearly how the dramatic events unfolded in the Middle East in 2014 depict the apocalyptic prophecies of the reputed 16th century French seer.
Across the Arab world, countries, some of them as old as the world’s ancient civilizations, are unraveling and the whole region seems to be heading toward a massive geopolitical shift in its landscape that would have far reaching consequences on the international order.
A century after a series of treaties between the European colonial powers and the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France to carve up the region after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, the Middle East is facing Balkanization.
Today, as our writers are trying to explain in their articles and reports for this special end of the year issue, it seems even difficult to imagine the magnitude of the changes that would take place in the foreseen future.
The rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, its seizure of vast swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq, and its proclamation of the Islamic Caliphate has been a turning point. The group abolished the borders drawn with the creation of the two modern states and raised their black banners over areas expanding from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean.
The damage to the national fabrics and the country’s unity caused by IS’s advances and the sectarian civil war it unleashed is immeasurable. It has deepened the confessional divide beyond repair and created ethno-sectarian enclaves that saw the seeds for geographical and political disintegration of the two countries.
The war front to the IS goes beyond the captured territories of Syria and Iraq. While civil wars raged in Libya and Yemen, several Arab countries remained wracked by sectarian divisions and political uncertainty.
In Libya, the popular uprising against the regime of Col. Muammar Gadhafi has evolved into a war that could tear the country to pieces. While a civil war is raging in many parts of the country, some parts in eastern Libya have declared autonomy. Tribes in southern Libya with Tuareg or Sahara identities are looking for closer bonds with neighboring countries.
Following the overthrow of its longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen has entered a turbulent era with tribal, sectarian and provincial communities are fighting over sharing power and wealth. A federal system proposed by a UN-led national dialogue is in tatters with southern Yemen now pressing for breaking away from the north.
Lebanon which is suffering the repercussions of the war in Syria is threatened with a sectarian flare-up.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries do not look to be immune from the ripple effects of the Middle East Balkanization. With sectarian strives escalate around them, governments and large segments of the population fear that they might be next to hit by the turmoil.
All in all, the Middle East seems to be heading toward a tectonic shift which could redefine its political landscape and its century old national borders. Changes may take time but if this momentum continues there will be no Middle East which we have known so far in few years.
In many ways, the new political map and the new regional order will be a major regression and an invitation to transform the admittedly imperfect order to a jungle in which ethno and sectarian based new countries would be pitted against each other.
Western analysts and pundits tend to blame the Arab Spring to remove dictators for the turbulence. They claim that movements for regime changes, political mobility and social disturbances have kindled the long dormant identity conflicts.
Yet the conflagration set by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is largely responsible for today’s Middle East troubles. The American adventure in Iraq, its ten years of occupation, dismantling Iraq’s state and society, its abysmal failure of rebuilding it and now its reoccupation by its military “experts”, all of this stand behind the disaster.
If the Middle East is to be remapped, it will be a direct result of Washington’s blueprint for imperial meddling in the region. Iraq’s invasion was not only a godsend for the terrorists who have torn down the borders and established a phony Islamic caliphate, but also the catalyst for polarization which split the region on sectarian lines and now triggering its redrawing in blood and tears.

This article appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly on Dec, 25, 2014

Milestone year in Iraq

Milestone year in Iraq
Violence and political deadlock exacerbated the chaos in Iraq this year, writes Salah Nasrawi

It has been another hard year for Iraq and it is not over yet. After suffering eleven tough years of political disputes and communal violence, Iraq entered 2014 with a major crisis that later escalated into a total turmoil.
With the country standing on a cross road, as civil war spirals, the question is whether Iraq will be able to cope with more turbulent years and their potential consequences or 2015 will be a decisive year for Iraq and its unity.
Early in the year violence soared when Sunni extremist insurgents seized large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah after government forces dismantled a Sunni Muslim protest camps. The crisis started in December 2012, when tens of thousands of Sunnis began protesting against what they saw as the marginalisation of their sect and demanded equal sharing in power and wealth.
By late December 2013, former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki was claiming that a protest camp in Ramadi had been turned into the headquarters of the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as IS was formerly known, and ordered a crackdown. As security forces backed by their Sunni tribesmen allies battled rebels in Ramadi and Fallujah, fighters attempted to take control of many Sunni–populated areas around Baghdad, unleashing a broader Sunni insurgency.
As the Shia-Sunni standoff soared, Kurdish relations with the Baghdad Shia-led government further deteriorated. The political Shia-Kurdish discord worsened after the two sides failed to resolve their lingering disputes over energy resources, budget allotments and territorial ambitions. The year has seen Kurds starting selling their oil independently from Iraq, a move widely considered as a further step toward Kurdish secession from Iraq.
In early 2014, however, Kurdish leaders started talking about breaking away from Iraq if their problems remain unsolved. Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani warned that the Kurds will seek independence if the new relationship with Baghdad does not stand the test of time.
It has long been assumed that the failure of Shia and Sunnis to resolve their disputes would create conditions conducive for Kurds to break away from Iraq. That moment came after IS advance in mid-June and its capture of large swathes of Iraq territories. Kurds swiftly used the conflict and moved to expand their control over areas along their provinces.
The surge in the Sunni insurgency and worsening of Shia-Kurdish disputes deepened the ethnic-sectarian divide a head of a crucial parliamentary election which was scheduled for April.
The indecisive election results plunged the country in another crisis as an alliance headed by Al-Maliki was declared as having received the largest number of seats in the parliament. Kurds, Sunnis and many Shia groups refused to allow Al-Maliki to have a third term in office accusing him of being behind the worsening political ructions and sectarian violence.
When Al-Maliki finally stepped down under pressure, Iraqis pinned their hope on his successor Haider Al-Abadi not only to repair the dysfunctional government of corruption, cronyism and incompetence left over by Al-Maliki but to save Iraq from falling into the abyss.
A dramatic turn of events came in mid-June when the IS terror group and allied Sunni militants captured the northern city of Mosul in a lightening offensive. Soon IS took several other Sunni cities and declared a Caliphate that also included territories in Syria and sought to expand in the Islamic world.
One of the consequences of the IS’s rise and its threat to Baghdad and Shia-populated cities was the resurgence of Shia militia forces which took arms to fight back. Though the militias were reportedly involved in sectarian violations, including abductions and massacres against Sunnis, their role has become formidable in spearheading the fight against IS.
The turbulence, meanwhile, deepened Iraq’s refugee problem as hundred of thousands had to leave their homes following the IS’s onslaught to escape violence and sometimes war crimes. According to the UN refugee agency some 1.9 million have been displaced this year by fighting and the advance of Islamic State, adding to 1 million previously displaced, and 190,000 who have left the country to seek safety.
By any account, 2014 is another turning point year in Iraq’s history since the US invasion in 2003. Indeed, Iraq is unraveling more than three years after the US troop withdrawal, with this year being the country’s most violent since 2006-2007, the peak of the sectarian strife that followed the invasion.
The conflict has also worsened the human right situation in Iraq as the country saw more grave rights violations perpetrated by IS and the Shia militias that have reportedly led to the deaths of thousands of people. More than 10.000 people were believed to have been killed this year in violence across Iraq while thousands others have been killed in fight with IS.
Aided by the US-international coalition, Iraq may eventually defeat IS. But a military campaign may take several years and could be costly. Also, It could do the opposite: prolong the war, guarantee more human suffering, and serve the interests of IS and Shia extremists.
While the cost of the war against IS will be enormous, the most urgent question remains what are the impacts and the consequences of the dramatic events in 2014 on the direction which the country will be heading. Since the US invasion Sunnis have deeply felt excluded and marginalized. The standoff has deepened the schism between the two Muslim communities. This is why even if a sort of military strategy will defeat IS, the question remains whether Iraq will go back again to be a unitary nation.
There is a general consensus that the war against IS will repair nothing and that a political agreement is needed in Iraq; one that will ensure the creation of a new political structure that will replace the hopelessly dysfunctional ethno-sectarian based political system created by the Americans for the post-Saddam era.
Iraq is crumbling not just because violence is playing havoc in the country, but also because there has been no breakthrough in the sectarian deadlock that has paralyzed its government for so long. Iraq is a failed nation and one main reason for its dysfunction is because it is pillaged by its own corrupt and inefficient leadership.
Unless there is a working system that guarantees competence and transparency in the government and inclusion within a just state that will deal with all Iraqis as equal citizens, there will be no peace or stability in the country.
The United States and many in the international community have made getting an Iraqi government that is inclusive and credible as a prerequisite to help Iraq in the war against IS. They have been insisting on a comprehensive national reconciliation that will end the ethno-sectarian divide in order to provide additional assistance to beat back IS.
To help secure long-term stability in Iraq and reunite its people, such a proposal would need to go beyond the immediate communal and regional agendas; indeed, it would have to be a new grand bargain for a new Iraq. The current system based on sharing power between Kurdish, Shia and Sunni elites is increasingly proving to be meaningless, as they continue to produce sectarianism instead of genuine democracy and the rule of the people.
Human history shows that nations emerge from conflicts. Iraqis are no exception and they can face the challenge of reestablishing ethnic and sectarian coexistence after the destructive conflicts that have befallen their country. The question, however, are current Iraqi leaders ready to relinquish self interests and greed for a historic compromise that will allow Iraq to be ruled by all Iraqis.
Iraq is now three enclaves separated by geography, sectarian and ethnic identities. While Kurds have taken advantage of IS crisis to consolidate their semi-independent region, the gap between Shia and Sunnis is ever widening, highlighting the negative trends that serve as a catalyst to the implosion of the Arab-dominated part of Iraq.
In a situation like this where a political vacuum keeps ethno- sectarian divides persist, a process of reconciling the stakeholders around a new balance of power is not enough and a historic compromise has to be made in order change Iraq’s lots and deliver a true national unity and a genuine comprehensive inclusive system.
For Iraq’s civil strife, 2014 was the year when competing communities carried their sectarian and ethnic resentments to a high pitch, but could it be a turning point to subdue their maximalist tendencies and push forward for accommodation.Much will depend on Iraq’s political elites who should give up their violent ethno-sectarian approach to power.

Oil vs Kurdish independence

Oil vs Kurdish independence
Iraqi Kurds pinned high hopes on oil to fulfill their independence dream. Too bad oil is undermining it, writes Salah Nasrawi
Iraqi Kurds have always argued that they have nothing to lose by fighting for independence but the chains of Iraq’s Arabs. For decades, they have been waiting for, and sometimes trying to create, the right moment to go their own way.
When Kurdistan started extracting oil after gaining autonomy following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 hopes were high among Kurds that lucrative revenues would be used to build an independent economy and consequently help them to break away from Iraq.
This year as the Kurdistan Region Government started selling its crude independently it cut off most of its ties with Baghdad and started preparing for the day when Kurds will erect the political barriers that would separate them from Iraq.
With an estimated reserve of 45 million barrels and initial export of some 320,000 bpd, to be raised to one million bpd next year, in addition to huge gas reserves, the KRG was hoping to generate finance and laying economic foundations for Kurdish independence.
But a sharp drop in oil prices in recent weeks with market forecasts for cheaper crude for years to come has pushed excitement to leave Iraq to ebb. The sudden slide in prices and fear of revenue decline has prompted a different scenario and forced Erbil to handover its oil to Baghdad for sell.
The trend should be familiar in oil geopolitics. History repeats itself and oil shows again it’s a double edged sword.
Last week Baghdad and Erbil announced that they reached a deal to end a lingering oil and budget dispute. Under the agreement the KRG will sell 550,000 barrels of oil a day, including 300,000 from Kirkuk province, through the Iraqi state-owned Oil Marketing Company (SOMO).
In return, the government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi will start sending Kurds’ about $17 billion which is their share in the national budget, and an additional $1 billion for weapons and salaries for the Kurdish Peshmerga force. The agreement should end a year long crisis when the government of former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki ordered a freeze on the KRG’s share of the national budget over an oil dispute after Erbil started selling its crude independently.
While Al-Abadi’s government put a vague statement saying that the agreement “has established that oil belongs to all Iraqis”, the deal was immediately declared as breakthrough by Kurdish leaders. Some Kurdish politicians even celebrated the deal as consent by Baghdad to Kurds’ claims to Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
There are not enough details to confirm if the deal is a breakthrough. It is only a one year agreement that will cover Iraq’s 2015 state budget and clearly states that exports will be made through SOMO’s facilities in Ceyhan, in Turkey.
As expected, disagreements emerged soon. Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said the Kurdish government would still be able to sell its oil after it delivers the amount of oil agreed on in the Baghdad agreement, according remarks published by Kurdish media outlet Rudaw.
Iraq’s oil ministry, however, denied that and insisted in a statement Sunday that the government will consider further oil sales as illegal. Some Iraqi lawmakers wanted the deal to be put for debate in the parliament, a proposal rejected by Kurdish MPs.
Moreover, the deal reignited resentment among Shia in the southern provinces which produce the bulk of Iraq’s oil. They complain that their provinces are badly neglected even though they contribute a significant amount of oil wealth to the national coffers. Angry politicians in Basra renewed calls to turn their province into an autonomous region.
There are even more controversies surrounding the deal. Some Iraqis have pointed to complacency by some Shia political groups. Though the deal was endorsed by the government it was negotiated by Minister of Oil Adel Abdel Mehdi whose Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council maintains close ties with the Kurdish leadership. Before the US invasion, exiled SIIC leaders, including Abdel Mehdi, worked side by side with the Kurdish parties in the opposition fight to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Abdel Mehdi had earlier reached an understanding with the KRG which allowed Erbil to receive an initial $500 million from Baghdad in return for the KRG starting to pump oil to SOMO’s Ceyhan export terminal. That understanding has apparently opened the way for new deal.
Facing these charges the SIIC did not shy away from acknowledging complacency. “If Kurds take 100,000 barrel of oil they have given us the rule of Iraq,” SIIC spokesman Baligh Abu Galal told Dijla television station. Without Kurds, we (Shia) could not have been empowered to rule Iraq. We are strong because we rule Iraq,” he said in a rare acknowledgment of the marriage of convenience that was part of the founding principles of the post-US invasion Iraq.
Still, the question that arises is not how the new deal was reached but why it happened now. Kurdistan has battled for years to secure exporting its oil away from Baghdad’s supervision. It defied all efforts by the federal government to control the crude’s flow. The KRG is already entangled in a legal battle, including a court case in Texas filed by Baghdad to stanch the Kurdish crude exports. In response, the KRG has filed an appeal to overturn the Iraqi request.
In June, following the advances made by the Islamic State terror group and its seizure of several Sunni-dominated cities in northern and western Iraq, Kurdish Peshmergas captured Kirkuk and huge swathes of territories bordering Kurdish Region, taking advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi security forces.
Kurdish officials vowed that they will never give the territories back to Baghdad. Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani called on the Kurdish parliament to prepare a referendum on independence. Kurdistan also has been pushing the United States and other foreign countries to give the Peshmergas direct military aid, rather than having them received through Baghdad.
In October, the KRG unveiled plans to find funds through foreign loans against future oil revenues. Though it had justified the loans to deal with financial difficulties created by the blocking of its budget by the Al-Maliki’s government, the measure was apparently intended to achieve independent financial institutions.
If any, all these measures show that the vigorous strategy followed by the KRG is to break away by showing that Iraq’s federal system is not working. Even after Baghdad and Erbil reached agreement on oil and the budget KRG officials continued their defying and provocative statements.
On Sunday, speaker of Kurdistan parliament Youssef Mohammad Sidiq told the Turkish Anatolia News Agency that the region will proceed with plans to hold a referendum on independence if “the Baghdad government fails to acknowledge Kurds’ rights.” Barzani’s deputy Kusrat Rasoul said in remarks published Saturday that “Kurdistan flag will be flying over every inch of Kurdistan’s territories,” in reference to the disputed territories seized by the Peshmergas.
But one must look beyond rhetoric in the fraught relations between Baghdad and Erbil to figure out if Iraqi Kurds will keep their bid for independence on high gear or they will concede to the bitter political and economic realities. Contrary to the idea of a prosperous economy depicted in media-hyped images of Erbil’s construction cranes and new housing complexes, Kurdistan’s economy remains fragile.
With little industrial, agricultural, financial and communication infrastructure, landlocked Kurdistan remains highly dependent on its two ambitious neighbours, Iran and Turkey, for trade, investment and transport. The two countries are effectively financing everything from construction to oil installations and from clothing boutiques to food products.
Most villages in the Kurdistan have no electricity or running water, and the region’s overall infrastructure is lacking with few paved roads. Unemployment rate is among the highest in the region and corruption and cronyism are rampant.
It goes without saying that shortage of finance will have devastating consequences on the region’s economy which is already put on hold because of the dispute with Baghdad. This is why Kurdish leaders might have found out that going it alone isn’t any better, and maybe worse, than staying in Iraq.
While the plunge in the crude prices serves a reminder of how geopolitically significant oil prices can be, there are other dominant factors which must have influenced the Kurdish decision to agree to a deal with Baghdad that bans their independent export of oil.
A national homeland for Kurds in Iraq has always been a nightmare for Iraq’s neighbours with a detrimental impact on regional stability. It will lead to the division of Iraq on ethno-sectarian lines with a ripple effect throughout the region. If that happen, oil won’t save Kurdistan from a messy and even bloody Middle East.
By signing last week’s agreement Kurds must have realized that they will run high risks if they continue to give the independence option priority over tangible economic interests and regional stability. That could be enough reason for the KRG to try to look into a different scenario, at least for now.

*This article appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly on December 11, 2014

Iraq’s army under friendly fire

Iraq’s army under friendly fire

Criticism against the dysfunctional Iraqi army is well deserved. But there maybe a hidden agenda behind it, writes Salah Nasrawi

Writing in the New York Times on 6 September 2007 former American governor of Iraq Paul Bremer described the army he ordered to build following the US invasion in 2003 as “the country’s most effective and trusted security force.”

“By contrast, the Baathist-era police force, which we did recall to duty, has proven unreliable and is mistrusted by the very Iraqi people it is supposed to protect” wrote Bremer who ordered to disband Saddam Hussein’s army and replace it with the new force.

“In fact the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government. And it was the right decision,” he concluded. When President Barak Obama decided to pull out US troops in 2011 one alibi he used to answer critics was that the Iraqi army is capable enough to fill the security vacuum.

The American assessment has routinely been challenged and experts have warned of fundamental problems with the new Iraqi army. Though the United States spent some $25 billion and several years training, the army has been fraught with corruption, inefficiency and lack of fighting skills. Its most serious problem remained sectarianism.

It took the near total collapse of the Iraqi army when the Islamic State terror group advanced into northern and western Iraq in June and captured huge chunks of land and arsenals of abandoned weapons for Washington to admit that the army it had created was nothing but a rag tag force.

In recent weeks, however, US officials started delivering their criticism to the Iraqi security forces publically. Mainstream US media have been awash with stories based on official leaks about the army’s incompetence and sectarianism, effectively ruling out the force from efforts to liberate areas taken by IS.

In a front-page report last week the Washington Post talked about “the larger decay across Iraq’s security forces and institutions.” It described them as a “deeply rooted phenomenon that undermines the country’s stability.”  “The force is also insufficient on its own to retake strategic cities such as Mosul,” wrote the paper.

Its main competitor, The New York Times, detailed “entrenched corruption” among top commanders who are involved in businesses such as selling soldiers provisions, liquor on the job or officer commissions. The paper noted that the pattern of corruption and patronage in the forces threatens to undermine a new American-led effort to drive out the IS extremists.

The Lose Angels Times, another leading US paper, joined the anti-Iraqi army chorus and in a report it concluded that the main factor behind the collapse of the army was its “rampant corruption.” It said army’s equipment and ammunition are sold by officers on the black market.

The US media blitz seems to echo similar criticism by leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni communities who are at loggerheads with the Shia-led centeral government which controls the security forces. Leaders of both communities are now pushing for dealing with the Americans away from Baghdad, including direct weapons delivery and training.

In a series of interviews last week Kurdish politician and Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari lambasted rampant corruption and mismanagement in the army. In one interview with Reuters Zebari said “only the Sunni tribes are the ones who can deliver” in the war against IS. Also, Gen. Jamal Mohammad, chief-of-staff of the Kurdish forces, the Peshmeraga, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper last week Baghdad insistence of deliveries of weapons through its airport is delaying liberating territories seized by IS.

Sunni leaders were even more blunt and to the point. The main Sunni bloc in the parliament, the Iraqi National Forces, has appealed to Washington to send weapons and ground troops to help Sunni tribes in fight against

While frustration with post-Saddam era’s Iraqi security forces is justified, this sudden surge of US, Kurdish and Sunni criticism and complaints seem to be orchestrated to prove a point. The Iraqi government-controlled security forces are becoming a problem and the United States and its allies in the international coalition should deal directly with Kurdish and Sunni forces.

The roots of the Iraqi army’s problems lie with the US occupation which dismantled the Iraqi state and dissolved the army and built a political system along ethnic and sectarian lines. After the ouster of Saddam, Shia groups insisted that the army should be put under their control. Shia believed that ensuring security for the country’s reconstruction needs an army loyal to the central government in which they were a majority.

But during former Shia Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s eight years tenure Iraq’s security forces became too sectarian due to his policies of exclusion and marginalization against Sunnis and staffing the army and police with corrupt cronies.

His successor Haider Al-Abadi faced the daunting task of fixing the security forces problem.

On Sunday, Al-Abadi disclosed that an investigation into corruption in the Iraqi army has revealed that there were 50,000 false names on its payroll. Known by Iraqis as “ghost soldiers”, because they do not exist while still receiving their salaries, the system has undermanned the security forces’ capabilities in facing security challenges.

Last month Al-Abadi ordered a major shakeup of the military by relieving 26 army officers of their commands and retiring 10 others for corruption and incompetence. He appointed 18 new commanders as part of efforts to reinforce the work of the military on the basis of professionalism and fighting graft in all its forms.”

Also, Al-Abadi is now trying to reform the ministry of interior and the vast police force it controls. On Monday he fired 24 senior officers, few days after removing the deputy minister who was accused of negligence and mismanagement. A plan for overhauling the force is also underway

But the question now how far can Al-Abadi go in reforming the army and police without sparking accusations that he is weakening the Shia tight grip on the security forces?

Iraqi Shia lawmakers and politicians have vehemently rejected the US-proposed mainly Sunni dominated national guard force to police the Sunni provinces. They also reject the idea of US training or supplying weapons to Sunni tribes without government approval and supervision.

Shia groups have also been resisting pressure to dispose off with the Iranian-backed Shia militias which are playing a key role in the war against IS’s by fighting alongside the security forces. In addition, thousands of Shia have volunteered since the IS made its advances in June. On Sunday, Al-Abadi ordered to pay salaries for some 21,000 Shia volunteers which the government now plans to accommodate in the national guard.

But as criticism of the army and praise to Al-Abadi’s reforms are making headlines, other aspects of the story have began unfolding.

On Monday, the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper revealed that Washington has informed a Sunni delegation that it will start training some 100,000 Sunni fighters to combat IS. The paper quoted members of the delegation which includes politicians, tribal chieftains and former insurgents that the force will also police the Sunni areas after IS’s expulsion. The delegates told Al-Hayat that the programme will be carried out without Baghdad’s consent.

If it could some how be implemented, this means Washington is creating a Sunni armed force in spite of the centeral government. With the Kurdish Peshmergas already operating independently from Baghdad, Iraqi will have three armies on the ground with the all implications and the consequences it could have in a nation enmeshed in a civil war.

The Iranians, meanwhile, seem to have their own vision, or even plans, for Iraq’s security forces. On 27 November Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a surprising statement which went largely unnoticed. “The ideology of the Basij has reached Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza and, God willing, it will reach Jerusalem soon,” he said referring to Iran’s powerful paramilitary force which works as an auxiliary force engaged in security activities.

On 30 November the Lebanese National News Agency quoted leader of Hezbollah Shia party Hassan Nassrullah as warning of plans to “create a Sunni region in Iraq” which he said with parts of Syrian territories under Sunni control would together be annexed to Jordan. “This would be the alternative Palestinian state,” he was quoted as telling Al-Maliki who was in a visit to Lebanon.

As both Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continue to have stakes in giving a strong political and military support to Iraqi Shia, there is much to read into Khamenei’s and Nassrullah’s apocalyptic statements and the Baghdad government’s rejection of an autonomous Iraqi Sunni force.

The mere process of having three armed forces built on ethno-sectarian lines will effectively mean Iraq is divided to three different entities. With Syria unraveling, the much talked about scenario of combining the Sunni heartland in both Iraq and Syria in a larger Sunni country could become a reality.

And that is a nightmare for Shia in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon who will be separated by the new Sunnistan.

This article appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly Dec. 4, 2014