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Understanding the Cultural Implications Behind What’s Happening in Iraq
A while back, I wrote a piece on the clash of civilizations in the Middle East. The post detailed how and why, culturally and historically speaking, the ongoing strife in the region is far less an issue of a schism between east vs. west, and far more a clash of the civilizations within the region (albeit stirred by global western powers): the ancient rivalries between Persian, Arab and Turkic civilizations specifically. Add in other elements of Zionism, Palestine-Israel tensions, Sunni/Shia strife, oil and world power interests, grinding economic and political hopelessness, and you have a recipe for an explosive region. What is happening now in Iraq is a made-to-order case example of the region as tinderbox.
Right now in Iraq Sunni extremists (known as ISIS) are fighting against the Iraqi government in the interest of forming anIslamic state. The U.S., rather carelessly, is more than a bit implicated in what is going on. By using Al-Qaeda and 9/11 as an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq and thus insure control of Iraqi oil, the U.S. mindlessly also insured the reanimation of an ancient conflict between Arabs and Persians, and between Sunni and Shia. Prior to the U.S. invasion, all of those dynamics were being managed, albeit in many unpalatable ways, at the expense of freedom and justice for many and profits for a few, by Saddam Hussein.
All of the Middle Eastern parties implicated in this strife are Muslim. That said, Iraq is mainly Arab and Iran is mainly Persian, and these two civilizations have since the beginning of Islam, been fighting for dominance over the Islamic movement. The Sunni and Shia split at the beginning of Islam, plus the emergence of various additional sects, and the alignment of each of these movements with conservative, or fanatical, or liberal, or western or traditional, Arab or Persian groups, insured continuous fractured tribal conflicts throughout the region.
When western powers controlled and re-drew the map of the Middle East after the defeat of the last great Islamic Empire – the Turkic Ottoman Empire – at the end of World War I, they did so with little consideration for these internal conflicts, artificially creating the nation-state of Iraq, with a Shia majority being ruled by a Sunni minority dictatorship, plus a restive Kurdish independent-minded region.
Fueled by a CIA-supported coup, a democratically elected left-leaning president was deposed in Iran, and the U.S.-friendly Shah was reinstated, insuring the Iranian Islamic revolution, and conflict between Arab Sunni/Shia Iraq and Persian Shia Iran.
What is happening now in Iraq is the revenge of the Sunni. They’re in the minority in Iraq and once had power under Hussein, but have been shut out of the current Maliki Shia-run government. Using radical Islam as their war cry, they are attempting to take back control.
Thanks to the strange bedfellow nature of politics, the U.S. finds itself in the unusual position of supporting Shia – their arch-enemy in Iran – and accepting the help of Iran, in an effort to re-establish balance and normalcy in the country they invaded and destabilized in the first place. Had a little more attention been paid to the centuries old conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps that post World War I map would have been drawn a little differently. But then again, oil profits can easily blind the importance of facing historical and cultural facts.
This post also appears on the DFA blog the Culture Prophecy.
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