On the centenary of the start of WWI, the world is still busy trying to tackle the issues stemming from the post-Ottoman order in the Middle East. And it is now getting out of control. We are slowly moving towards a post-American order, to be replaced by vicious multi-polarity.
It is as if days, and not decades, have passed. The same barbarism, human misery and blind hatred of the “other.” The same sly politicians and tribal leaders who believe their short-sightedness will offer them infinite victory and glory.
Many put the blame on two US presidents. It was George W Bush who clumsily broke the vase, and it was Barack Obama who did not pay any attention of the consequences of the pullout of American troops from Iraq. This column argued repeatedly that the reality of the region would not forgive the escapism of the super-power.
Maliki’s divisive sectarianism coupled with Assad and Netanyahu’s relentless, limitless brutality, the faulty policies of Ankara, all pushing the world farther from any hope of peace and stability, ending whatever remains of the hope the Arab Spring give birth to.
Now, a monster borne out of the power vacuum in the region is running amok in Syria and Iraq. In recent days the so-called ‘Islamic State’ militants have pushed back the Kurdish peshmerga and seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three towns.
“The capture of the electricity-generating Mosul Dam,” reported Reuters, “after an offensive of barely 24 hours, could give the Sunni militants the ability to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water from farms.”
The Cumhuriyet daily reported yesterday a first-hand witness account of a mass exodus of Kurds, Turkmens, Shiites and (aboriginal) Yazidis towards northern Iraq from the Arbil area. Those fleeing feared for the future of their children. They also feared executions and the lack of food and water.
There is more happening in the west: “The savage fighters of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Sunni Muslim ‘caliphate’ have at last arrived in Lebanon,” reported Robert Fisk in the Independent. “The Islamists’ arrival in Lebanon and the prospect of a mini-civil war around Arsal — and perhaps as far as Tripoli — could have repercussions far graver than the Gaza war. As Islamists take over Lake Mosul and other districts from the Kurds in northern Iraq and press harder against Syrian government troops, their extension into Lebanon marks their furthest progress yet from the Tigris towards the Mediterranean.”
If unstopped, have no doubt that Turkey’s southern provinces will be next.
“It appears that both departments (Defense and State), the President and US Congress have taken their eyes off the ball and the entire game, as it were,” warned James George from the Examiner. David Phillips argues, “The Obama administration and Congress don’t get it, Kurdistan is our ally, and not our enemy.”
The increasing complexity of the situation and its growing speed require Washington to tighten its relations with the Iraqi Kurds, and — however fragile and dubious a proposition it might be — actively support Ankara’s peace process.
If the “Islamic State” is seen as the most serious threat, then it leaves both the US and Turkey with no choice but to build an alliance with the Kurds, explains a new and timely report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) titled “The United States, Turkey and the Kurdish Regions.” In all the details it presents, page after page, it leaves little doubt that it is time for Washington to take concrete steps, before it is too late.
“It is time for proactive engagement to positively affect the trajectory of the Turkey-PKK peace process, the civil war in Syria, the security situation in Iraq and the burgeoning Kurdish nationalist movement,” the report concludes.
As the recent advances of the “Islamic State” make clear, the immediate faultline of fighting will be between Sunni and Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighters. I agree with the report’s contention that the US should support the latter by any means necessary.
The part I miss in the report, though, is whether or not — and if so, how — Erdoğan will be “persuaded” to join or support the fight against the “Islamic State.” Doing so would mean an existential choice with some domestic costs. If he is elected president, the stakes of “persuasion” will even be higher, as we can easily guess.