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The Sick Middle East

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The recent fall of Fallujah, Iraq, to an Al-Qaeda-linked group provides an unwelcome reminder of the American resources and lives devoted in 2004 to 2007 to control the city – all that effort expended and nothing to show for it.

Similarly, outlays of hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize Afghanistan did not prevent the release of 72 prisoners who have attacked Americans.

These two examples point to a larger conclusion: maladies run so deep in the Middle East (minus remarkable Israel) that outside powers cannot remedy them. Here’s a fast summary:

Water is running out. A dam going up on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia threatens substantially to cut Egypt’s main water supply by devastating amounts for years. Syria and Iraq suffer from water crises because the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are drying up. Growing the narcotic qat plant absorbs so much of Yemen’s limited water supplies that Sana’a may be the first modern capital city to be abandoned because of drought. Ill considered wheat-growing schemes in Saudi Arabia depleted aquifers.

On the flip side, the poorly constructed Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse, drowning half a million immediately and leave many more stranded without electricity or food. Sewage runs rampant in Gaza. Many countries suffer from electricity black-outs, and especially in the oppressive summer heat that routinely reaches 120 degrees.

People are also running out. After experiencing a huge and disruptive youth bulge, the region’s birth rate is collapsing. Iran, for example, has undergone the steepest decline in birth rates of any country ever recorded, going from 6.6 births per woman in 1977 to 1.6 births in 2012. This has created what one analyst calls an “apocalyptic panic” that fuels Tehran’s aggression.

Poor schools, repressive governments, and archaic social mores assure abysmal rates of economic growth. Starvation haunts Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

Vast reserves of oil and gas have distorted nearly every aspect of life. Miniature medieval-like monarchies like Qatar become surreal world powers playing at war in Libya and Syria, indifferent to the lives they break, as a vast underclass of oppressed foreign workers toils away and a princess deploys the largest budget for art purchases in human history. The privileged can indulge their cruel impulses, protected by connections and money. Sex tourism to poor countries like India flourishes.

Efforts at democracy and political participation either wither, as in Egypt, or elevate fanatics who cleverly disguise their purposes, as in Turkey. Efforts to overthrow greedy tyrants lead to yet-worse ideological tyrants (as in Iran in 1979) or to anarchy (as in Libya and Yemen). One commonly roots for both sides to lose. Rule of law remains a fata morgana.

Islamism, currently the most dynamic and threatening political ideology, is summed up by a morbid Hamas declaration to Israelis: “We love death more than you love life.” Polygyny, burqas, genital mutilation, and honor killing make Middle Eastern women the world’s most oppressed.

Middle Eastern life suffers from acute biases – often official – based on religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe, skin color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, work, and disability. Slavery remains a scourge.

Conspiracy theories, political zealotry, resentment, repression, anarchy, and aggression rule the region’s politics. Modern notions of the individual remain weak in societies where primordial bonds of family, tribe, and clan remain dominant.

The Middle East suffers from an urge to snuff out whole countries. Israel is the best known potential victim but Kuwait actually disappeared for a half year while Lebanon, Jordan, and Bahrain could be swallowed up at any time.

Middle Eastern states spend outsized amounts of their wealth on intelligences services and the military, creating redundant forces to check each other. They venture abroad to buy tank, ship, and plane baubles. They devote inordinate resources to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and the platforms to deliver them. Even terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda plot to acquire WMD. Cutting-edge methods of terrorism develop in the Middle East.

Economic and political failure creates large bodies of refugees; Afghans have made up the world’s largest refugee population since the 1980s; Syrians now threaten to overtake them, sowing poverty and chaos in their lands of refuge. Desperate souls attempt to leave the region altogether for Western countries, with more than a few dying along the way. Those who make it bring their region’s maladies to such tidy countries as Sweden and Australia.

Nineteenth-century diplomats dubbed the Ottoman Empire “the Sick Man of Europe.” Now, I nominate the whole Middle East the Sick Man of the World. The region’s hatreds, extremism, violence, and despotism require many decades to remedy.

While this process perhaps takes place, the outside world is best advised not to expend blood and treasure to redeem the Middle East – a hopeless task – but on protecting itself from the region’s manifold threats, from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and harems to mega-terrorism and electromagnetic pulse.

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Beyond the dire needs of Iraq’s demonstration: National renaissance and a new challenge to Iran

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For many, Iraqis have long been gone into hibernation to hold the politicians accountable for corruption in OPEC’s second-largest oil producer. So the first of October 2019  was a turning point when the young Iraqis have taken the streets in Baghdad, and to gather hugely in the symbolic place of Tahrir square, which separates a hundred meters of the Republic Bridge from the green zone. Shockingly the contagion of the protest spilt over into the other Shiite-dominated cities in southern the country, such as Wasit, Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Babylon, and Diwaniyah.

Several demonstrations erupted in different parts of Iraq over last years to be sure, yet none of which was as spontaneous and outstanding as October’s one. Youths have taken the initiative without support neither from clerics nor any political party. The grievances have, primarily, limited to the basic needs of offering jobs and making substantial strides in services. Though, quickly, inflated to change the government whom the wrathful youths blame for turning a blind eye to the corruptors.

In this circumstance of the unconscious co-presence, the protestors unprecedentedly overstepped their differences to rally around the Iraqi flag. Concurrently, they lambaste Iran for meddling into their affairs. That was a grave alarming for Iran’s policies not only in Iraq but inside Iran also regarding its populace is upset about the current economic crisis due to the US sanctions.

Iraqi government in predicament  

In 2018, the Adeel Abdul-Mahdi’s government was formed by a fragile contract between al-Fatah and al-Binna Alliances plus Kurd’s bloc. Abdul-Mahdi was one of the dissenters who once received by Iraqis with flowers bouquet and festoon when he returned home after the US invasion in 2013. At that time, most of the current adolescent protestors were either had a few years or not yet born; nonetheless, they grew up on the pledges of the successive governments that didn’t amount to more than repetitive slogans.

On the 25th of October, the tight deadline for the government to commence decisive reformations came to an end without concrete change. Against this backdrop, the second wave of anti-government campaign erupted, this time more massively to exceed Baghdad to disseminate into the other southern cities of the country. Influx of all walks of life have joined in with the angry mob what put the government between the devil and the deep blue sea.

First option for Abdul-Mahdi was to call for an early election that means dissolving the parliament, as per (64) article of the constitution, that required the absolute majority of its representatives upon the prime minister request and the President’s consent. Practically such a process is difficult to achieve timely considering the current government has yielded from intricate coalition of competitive parties. Another troublesome article of the constitution is of the interim sixty days in which the government converts into a caretaker government until new government receive the office, that means to be paralysed to achieve the urgent reforms sought by the angry youths. On similar premise was the answer of the prime minister to the plea of well-known cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for the former to resign.

The second alternative is to actualize swiftly the dire needs of the protestors who are significantly increasing in number and raising their demands. The prime minister, however, preferred remaining in the office so it can work on the people’s needs, for the time being at least until the two blocs in the parliament form a new government. The protestors have perceived these gestures suspiciously, arguing whether a pile of pledges haven’t realized within years, they wouldn’t definitely be achieved over a few months. In a desperate attempt to appease the demonstrators, Iraqi President Barham Salih delivered live televised speech promised to hold an early election, reversely, people’s reactions became far more violent.

Whether the government would answer protestors’ call to step down, or it would utterly resist, the essential question remains is how to fulfil the rest of their demands. Especially, they made their claim quite lucid; the “real country” is sought for, not merely socio-economic reforms.

From dire needs to National renaissance   

There is little doubt that Britain had established Iraq with multi-identities in the 1920s, composing of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds, that shaped, afterwards, the ruling elites which would be in enduring conflict for decades to come Ironically, after 2003, the same paradigm has been rearticulated by the US civil governor to compose the Iraqi political system of different ethnic and sectarian elites in order allegedly to avoid marginalising any community. These elites, however, adopted increasingly extreme stands on their constituencies’ issues for their own political purpose that indulged the country into endless chaos for over sixteen years.

Notwithstanding, in a much similar trajectory to many states of the Arab Spring, some impoverished segments in Baghdad have begun to protest sporadically, then the sentiment has spread rapidly like wildfire amongst Iraqi youths. The protest rose a severe challenge as much to the official government as to the politically active elites. when the demands peaked to expel all the political parties whom the protestors accuse of foreign allegiance. Nonetheless, couple of incidents got the government into a tight corner; on the one hand, students of the colleges and even primary schools abruptly got out of their institution, waving the flag and singing the national anthem collectively. On the other hand, the demonstration blew up in the Shiite holy city of Kerbala which supposedly supports wholeheartedly the Shiite-dominated government. The situation aggravated when the furious people have set fire to the Iranian consulate In Kerbala.    

Noteworthy, these public claims have also brought about a couple of neoteric events that might reproduce the Iraqi identity, if not reintroduce it differently. First: the youths who have mainly led the public rally have vowed to fly nothing but Iraq flag despite the majority of them were from the Shiite sect. Second: in unusual phenomenon after 2003, the women from diverse speciality stood shoulder to shoulder with the men despite the brutal reaction of the security forces. Together they are chanting slogans against the politicians and clerics too; some of those women even didn’t put a veil on.

Needless to say that the demonstrators founded for a new political practice within which the prospective governments would be responsible not only to their political collations but to the laypeople as well. Ultimately,  the protesters need to incarnate their movement as a social entity to maintain constant momentum on political life.

Iran is anxious

At the eve of the collapse of the tyrant government in Baghdad, Iran emerged as the most influential player, benefiting from its historical religious and cultural ties as well as a long shared border of1400  km with Iraq. It developed complicated relationships with all competitive political groups in Iraq, especially with those who took Iran their exile during Saddam Hussein’s rule. It has significantly entrenched its clout after defeating ISIS in 2014, by backing up each of  Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces including the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Therefore, the anti-Iranian demonstration shocked the Iranian leaders seeing the protesters are not their traditional foe in Iraq, Sunni sect, instead they are mostly kids from the pious Shiite neighborhoods. Iran, publically, downplayed the effectiveness of the protest, and they connected the Iraqis’ movement to US-sedition. Additionally, on October 6, 2019, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted on his official account “Iran and Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together through faith in God, love for Imam Hussein and the progeny of the Prophet. This bond will grow stronger day by day. Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed and their conspiracy won’t be effective”.  

On the contrary, the Iraqi streets exploded in outrage from Iran and its affiliations inside the country, particularly, when anonymous snipers killed dozens of them. While Iraqis accused Iran and its affiliates of the executions, Iran claimed the assassinators are from the Iranian opposition of Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq. They sneaked in the crowd of demonstrations, pretending they are  Iranian security forces, so the Iraqi would attribute their murders to Iran. However, the demonstrators have attacked the buildings of all parties, and they executed two leaders of full-hearted pro-Iran militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Maysan province. Furthermore, many effigies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qasem Soleimani were insultingly burnt, that even occurred repeatedly in Shiite-dominated cities in southern Iraq.

These rapidly spiralling events in Iraq imposed new burdens on Iran to unobstructedly continue its strategies in the region, chiefly because:

First: As Iraq is a sole conduit for it to elude the US sanctions, Tehran doesn’t tend to compromise the domination upon it.

Second: Iraq presents the strategic corridor of what once King Abdullah of Jordan called ” Shia Crescent“, in which Iran domination stretch from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon reaching to the Mediterranean sea.

Third; Iranians’ worry is the Iraqi demonstration might spill over into their constituencies at home, especially Iranians are suffering from the current economic and financial hardships due to the last package of the US sanction. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran GDP anticipated to shrink by 9.5 per cent at the end of 2019, after it grew healthy last year to reach 4.8 percent.   

Though seems it is not as capable as used to be in the last ten years in Iraq, Iran attempted despairingly to contain the demonstration. For that reason, the Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani flew by helicopter to meet with the Iraqi prime minister and politicians. Perhaps he realized now the demonstration is much immense than the heavily fortified of Green Zone where he held his meetings.  After all, these social movements of anti-sectarianism would more or less make the Iranian domination upon the surrounding region inoperative in the near future.

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Americans return to Syria for oil

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Soon after the adoption of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum on Syria, President Trump, known for his “consistency” in decision-making, made it clear that he had no intention of withdrawing US troops, which had already been moved to Iraq, from the east of Syria. The reason for the US forces to stay on is the need to protect the local oil reserves against the “Islamic State” (which is prohibited in the Russian Federation). The American president even reflected on which company should be contracted to produce Syrian oil, eventually opting for ExxonMobil (who else!).

The Pentagon spoke to this effect as well, in more concrete terms. The oil of northeast Syria will go to the allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), – said US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, adding: “We want to make sure that the SDF have access to these resources, in order to guard prisons and arm their own units . Our mission is to ensure the safety of the deposits.” When asked by reporters whether Syrian and Russian forces would have access to these resources, Esper answered in the negative. Thus, the United States has yet again demonstrated that they do not deem themselves bound by international law. At the same time, they confirmed the American so-called “businesslike” approach to international problems.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly insisted that Syrian oil should belong to the Syrian people. Speaking at a press conference following the recent meeting with Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov said: the United States plans to protect Syrian oil from Syria.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Americans found it normal to trade in Syrian oil before. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, the United States extracts oil using de facto “contraband” equipment that was brought on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic bypassing American sanctions. According to the Russian military, revenue from these transactions exceeds $ 30 million per month.

Compared to neighbors, Syria is far from an “oil giant.” Its developed reserves amount to about 2.5 billion barrels, while Saudi Arabia has reserves of 268 billion, Iran – 158 billion, Iraq – 144 billion, Kuwait – 104 billion, UAE – 98 billion barrels. Oil reserves in Syria are not that abundant for the US to “cling” to them. So what’s the matter?

Only a fraction of oil reserves are located on the territory liberated by the Syrian army and its allies, the lion’s share of the reserves is controlled by SDF units (and the Americans, of course). By means of depriving Damascus of oil revenues, which made a major source of the country’s pre-war budget, Washington hopes to weaken Syria’s resistance. In addition, the United States won’t stop short of supporting the Kurdish state. By “gifting” Syrian oil to their political protégés, the Americans encourage the Kurds to refrain from making an alliance with Damascus and continue to act as a counterweight to Turkey and Russia and play the role of an anti-Iranian bastion.

It’s the Americans themselves who will buy this oil. In all likelihood, they will buy it cheap. “I want to bring our soldiers back home, but I want oil too. I’m a civilian, I don’t understand why the war in Iraq was needed at all. If my people go to Iraq, let them at least keep the oil,” – Donald Trump shared his thoughts not so long ago,  criticizing the policies of his predecessors. Bashar al-Assad responded by describing Trump as “the best American president ever” because he is the most transparent and honest.” “He says he wants oil, and that’s absolutely true – it’s  American policy,” –  the Syrian leader concluded.

Simultaneously, while maintaining control of the oil fields, the Americans continue to “punish” Ankara for its “excessive” independence in international affairs. After all, they are not going to pump stolen oil through Turkey, which is trying hard to become the southern energy hub for Europe.

Furthermore, the majority of oil-bearing regions in Syria are populated by Arabs, rather than Kurds. Peshmerga captured the fields during the struggle against the Islamic State, prohibited in Russia. Now, should the Americans change their minds about the “protection” of the oil reserves, they will use this to “explain” their yet another betrayal to the Kurds.

In all likelihood, there will be no serious armed clashes over Syrian oil. The problem could be solved through reaching a power-sharing agreement between Damascus and the Kurds, which means dividing the powers between the central government and the local authorities. The Constitutional Committee, which is currently in session in Geneva, could play an important role to achieve this but for the fact that neither Ankara nor Damascus wants the Committee to comprise representatives of the SDF – a bloc that de facto controls the north-east of the country. As a result, Hikmat Habib the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Democratic Syria said: the outcomes of the Geneva meeting will not mean anything “for the people of northern and eastern Syria” (Kurds – A.I.).

However, Damascus and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been taking  steps towards each other: after the start of another Turkish military operation, the Kurds allowed Syrian troops to enter the territory under their control, while Damascus proposed that peshmerga should become part of the Syrian army. As it happens, chances to maintain the territorial integrity of the country are there for grabs.

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US-Iran confrontation amid Lebanon, Iraq protests

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The U.S welcomes to spread uprising to Iran and weakening Iran`s influence in Lebanon and Iraq, whereas Iran seeks up political stability in the two countries.

Enormous antigovernment demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon have been the spotlight around the world since last month. People in the two countries are dissatisfied concerning socio-economic problems include mismanagement in urban services, recession, governmental corruption, increasing unemployment, and growing injustice. Both countries have a common factor. Iran is the only country that has an important influence on their governments. So, the country has followed the related happenings carefully.

A few days after the protests, Iranian officials expressed their position. The first man was Amir Abdollahian, who is the special assistant to the speaker of Iran`s parliament. He wrote in his Instagram Page that “yesterday in Yemen, the United States and Saudi Arabia forced the prime minister to resign and failed, as they are currently struggling in quagmire of Yemen” he said then. “Today in Lebanon and Iraq, they also launched the same project of chaos and destroying governments that the new copy of political terrorism will undoubtedly fail.”

But Iran`s president and foreign minister have not said anything about the crisis, although recently Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed the U.S and its allies for spreading “insecurity and turmoil” in Iraq and Lebanon, urging anti-government protesters in both countries to seek changes in a lawful way.

“Their people also have to know that although they have legitimate demands, those demands can be met only through the framework of legal structures,” he added.

In fact, Iraq and Lebanon are very sensitive for Iran. Iraq has a long border with the country and Hezbollah as a proxy force in the south of Lebanon is its security border along Israel. So, any changes in both can be hazardous for Iran`s interests because the country has an effective position in their governing body structures.

On the other side, the U.S has conducted full support to protesters especially in Iraq where some protesters have stated slogans against Iran`s intervention. Some protesters in Karbala attacked Iran`s consulate. Although the socio-economic is the main problem of Iraqis, Iran`s influence had been a side issue and an interesting subject for critics of the Islamic regime.

Iraq`s prime minister has agreed to resign as well as Saad Hariri resigned in Lebanon. In the meantime, governmental media of Iran have attempted to portray that any resign or government changing is a wrong solution for two countries. Just as Seyed Hasan Nasrollah, leader of Hezbollah had disagreed with Hariri`s resign but the U.S has supported to form a new government in Lebanon and Iraq. 

The U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on “Lebanon’s political leaders to urgently facilitate the formation of a new government that can build a stable, prosperous, and secure Lebanon that is responsive to the needs of its citizens.”

Pompeo also sent a message about to accountability necessity of government concerning killed people amid protests in Iraq, unlike Iran that wants to abate the chaos.     

U.S Secretary of State said the Iraqi government’s investigation into the violence in early October “lacked sufficient credibility” and that “the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice.”

After that, Iranians rail against U.S. Brigadier General Hossein Nejat, who is the deputy of the I.R.G.C`s chief said, “The U.S has invested in the social faults in Iraq and Lebanon.” Still, he said “this is America sedition”

“From a long time ago, Americans had brought many persons from Iraq to America for training, and they formed extensive social media. The U.S wants Iraq to be insecurity intensively until a dictator comes and catches the power,” he added.

Also Mohammad Ali Movahhedi Kermani, Tehran’s provisional Friday prayers leader said that “Based on the available information, the U.S ambassador to Iraq has openly backed the ongoing violence in Iraq and has called on Iraqi police to let such behaviors continue.

Iran has exported its Islamic ideology to some countries in the region such as Iraq and Lebanon in years ago. But now, the economic problems are the most important subject for people of the two countries. That`s why one protester told Foreign Policy that “hungry has no religion.” This sentence has the same meaning Imam Ali`s hadith, Shias’ first Imam that “the poverty is bigger death.” 

Simply put, ideology is not working without money and social welfare. Now, Iran is under tough sanctions by America and its people have economic problems with high-level inflation. But the U.S and its allies have more chance to increase influence in two countries in terms of the economic situation. The U.S has aided $1.5 billion to Lebanon`s army since 2005. But according to the WSJ, the financial assistance by the U.S has stopped recently to Lebanon due to Israel`s pressure. WSJ wrote, “The Trump Administration has suspended security assistance to Lebanon, congressional officials said, including more than $100 million for the Lebanese armed forces.”

Also, a meeting held between United States Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In this negotiation, Netanyahu complained that Iran was financing new missile-development activities inside Lebanon for the Hezbollah militant movement.

Several Israeli news organizations reported this week that Mr. Netanyahu has asked government officials to urge allied capitals to impose conditions on their aid to Lebanon to ensure Lebanese officials clamp down on the missile-development activities—one possible reason for a U.S. funding suspension.

In related news, Saudi Arabia as a close ally of The U.S recently has suspended the assistance to Lebanon to weakening the Hezbollah.

“In a way, you bail out Lebanon, you bail out Hezbollah,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, the political science professor at Kuwait University, according to Daily Star.

One Gulf official, who declined to be identified by name when talking about sensitive foreign policy, “Prime Minister Saad Hariri had refused financial help to avoid money going to Hezbollah via the government,” the Daily Star reported too.

Based on some reports, America has suggested rebuilding oil and power Iraq`s facilities instead of Iraq`s companionship with sanctions against Iran. So, Lebanon and Iraq are under economic pressure and both need foreign aids, whereas Iran now has a severe budget shortage. This situation can be a factor to reduce Iran`s influence compared to the U.S in two countries after uprisings.

Analysts said the power-sharing system in the two countries is very important for Iran because the Shiite has a high position currently. Both have different religions and sects. In Iraq, the prime minister is Shiite. Also in Lebanon based on the agreement of 1989, the power divided into religion and sects, such that parliament speaker must be a Shiite Muslim. The current condition is acceptable by Iran because Shia’s power is insured. But protests now are not examples of deep sectarian divisions in two countries. For the first time, the protesters seek the end of sectarian power and power-sharing system. They want to root out corruption by a new government. So, the unprecedented protests can be dangerous for Iran`s investments in the Shiite groups in the region. Due to America’s attempts and some slogans in protests against Iran, it is possible the power of Shiite`s groups in the two countries will be abated finally. 

In fact, The U.S wants the uprising will extend to Iran because Iranians are in the same situation in terms of economic problems, just as Iran`s government is wary about protests infectious power. If Iran`s Shiite allies like Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon and Al-Hashd Ash-Shabi in Iraq be able to separate Shias from other protesters, its spread range will reduce.

The U.S welcomes to spread uprising to Iran and weakening Iran`s influence in Lebanon and Iraq, whereas Iran seeks up political stability in the two countries. Iran also attempts to say the U.S is behind the protests and insecurity in the two countries is their work.

Lately, Hossein Shariatmadari, the representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and editor chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, wrote addressed to Iraqis that “seize the American and Saudi embassies.”

Some suggested that President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has been almost defeated because Iran has not come to the negotiation table so far, so perhaps the protests in Lebanon and Iraq lead to Iran’s surrender.

Nowadays, Iraqis and Lebanon`s people seek up a better future by changing the political structures in their countries. Thinking to welfare, removing the corrupted politicians and protecting their countries from any foreign interference. But amid the protests, the confrontation has begun in two countries between America and Iran but would not finish simply.

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