THE UPCOMING CIVIL WAR IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD
When the Cold War ended peacefully in 1989 with the collapse of Communist bloc led by the USSR, the hope to build a just, secure and democratic world rose in the minds of many people. The ultraliberal rhetoric of globalization accompanied with developments in communication and transportation brought the nations of the world closer together. The interaction and cooperation between countries in politics, trade, tourism and culture increased. Many thinkers assumed that as the advocate of democracy, freedom and equality, the US would lead the world to a just and secure international system and no hegemony would be imposed on other countries.
Unfortunately the reality was just the opposite. Although the US promised Russians that if the USSR peacefully ended the Cold War, the West would not advance East even one centimeter, twelve ex-Communist countries joined NATO, and US and UK troops have been deployed to the Baltic countries, Poland and Romania. Even twin brothers, Russians and Ukrainians, began to fight against each other in Ukraine due to the provocations of the US and EU to isolate Ukraine from the sphere of the Slavic world and incorporate her into Western Bloc as a buffer zone and exploit the cheap labor, good quality commodities, and 45 million market for EU export products.
The grand strategy of the US is always to hinder any pole that can empower Heartland, Eurasia. Assuming itself to be invincible and the sole lord of the world, the US chose the Islamic world as the second target that must be weakened. After the collapse of the Communist bloc, in addition to surrounding Russia, a war against the Islamic world was very crucial for the US to eliminate the potential pole that could empower the Heartland,which in the long run can challenge the US hegemony, especially if cooperation between the Islamic world and Slavic world or China and the Pacific can be established. Unsurprisingly, the US lost no time, and 434 days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it invaded Iraq in the first days of 1991.
Why Was Iraq Selected As The First Country To Be Destabilized?
Iraq was a consciously selected target and most suitable country for the US invasion to destabilize the Islamic world. When we talk about the Islamic world, we mean mainly Arabs, Turks, Persians and Kurds in terms of ethnicity, and Sunnis and Shiites in terms of sects. Of course, there are considerable amounts of Muslims living in other parts of world such as Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., but the center of the Islamic world is Mesopotamia.
Iraq’s population is composed of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Turks (Turkomans), and Iraq is surrounded by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Therefore, Iraq, not only due to her geographical location, but also her uniqueness as a small example of the Islamic world both in terms of ethnicities and sects, is the most suitable country to destabilize the whole Islamic World.
On the other hand, Iraq was ruled by the Sunni Arab Saddam Hussein since 1979, and he engaged in a war against Iran between 1980 and 1988. Most of the Arab countries supported Iraq against Iran to defend Arab frontiers in the East. But half of the population of Iraq is Shiite Arab, and the war against a Shiite country discomforted them. Moreover, the suppressing of the Kurds in the North of Iraq by the Saddam Hussein regime, and massacres especially in Halabja by using chemical weapons, are unforgettable for Kurds.
Consequently, as a Sunni Arab, Saddam Hussein's reign paved the way for tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Persians, Kurds and Arabs. The US exploited the situation, and destabilization of the Islamic world began from Iraq with the First Gulf War in 1991, and finally the direct invasion of the county in 2003 by the US.
Events went as the US planned and Iraq was de facto divided into three parts. In the North of the country, the Kurds founded autonomous semi-independent government, in the South and Baghdad, Shiite Arabs ruled, and in the center, Sunnis lived without an administration. Bombings between Sunnis and Shiites began which increased tension in the country in terms of inter-sect relations. Shiites and Kurds founded their own semi-regular armies other than the national army of the Iraq. Due to the separation in terms of sect and ethnicity accompanied by the fight against the US invasion, radical Salafi organizations found base among Sunni Arabs which finally resulted in the establishment of ISIS. On the other hand, the foundation of an autonomous Kurdish Region in the North threatened Turkey, Syria and Iran, where Kurdish minorities live. Therefore Pandora’s box was opened in the Islamic world.
Prototype Civil War In the Islamic World
Currently, the struggle in Iraq between Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Kurds is ongoing. Especially after the recapturing of Mosul from ISIS, the fate of the country will be clearer. In the South, Shiite Arabs are supported by Iran, while Sunni Arabs are not represented in the Iraq government and to some extent Turkey and Saudi Arabia try to represent their interests. Kurds are divided also. Barzani Kurds are supported by Turkey while the Talabani side is closer to Iran. Unfortunately, in such a separated situation, Iraq is far from unity and stabilization in the near future.
The Syrian Civil War was the most devastating and bloodiest scene of the the so-called Arab Spring (It is better to say “Arab Winter”). Not only the local people of Syria - Sunni Arabs, Allewites (close to Shiites), Kurds, and Turkomans - but also Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia directly or via proxies engaged and fought each other in the Syrian Civil War. Though the ceasefire is obeyed generally in the country between moderate opponents and the Assad regime, the fight against ISIS is ongoing and the future of the country is unclear as the tension and clashes continue between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, Turkey and Russia’s direct military interventions, and the influx of foreign warriors such as Shiite Hezbollah, Salafi Al Nusra. The current situation in Syria is similar to Iraq in terms of territorial disunity and destabilization.
The Yemeni Civil War relying on sectarian differences between Sunni and Shiite Arabs has divided the country, and Saudi Arabia with its Arab allies have interfered directly. There is no hope for ending the conflict in the short run, and it is the scene of a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Furthermore, Pakistan and Lebanon are other unstable countries where Sunni-Shiite clashes may easily increase to a bloodier degree. In Pakistan, suicide bombings occur between Sunnis and Shiites and in Lebanon Shiites have the armed organization Hezbollah. While Hezbollah is supported by Iran, Sunni Muslims are supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. If the civil war in the Islamic world spreads to a greater area, Israel, India, Azerbaijan, and Armenia can be other candidates to be involved in military clashes.
Consequently in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the core of the Islamic world in terms of ethnicity and sects (Arabs, Turks, Persians and Kurds and Sunnis and Shiites) either directly or via proxies are at war against each other. Unfortunately, if the main actors of the Islamic world do not change their policies against each other, the ongoing battles are only prototypes and signal a great civil war in the Islamic world. The great civil war in the Islamic world will be not via proxies such as in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but direct and conventional, i.e. regular armies and devastating armaments will be used. War will overwhelm and ruin the Middle East and Islamic world.
Possible Battlefields In The Islamic World Civil War
Saudi Arabia & Gulf Kingdoms vs Iran:
The Sunni Arab Kingdoms - United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman - act together under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) led by Saudi Arabia. Although Sunni leaderships exist in GCC countries, 70% of the population of Bahrain, 15% of the population of Saudi Arabia, and 30% of the population of Kuwait is composed of Shiites. Unrest and protests among Shiites increased with the Arab Spring especially in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. GCC countries have close military and political ties with the US, UK, and Turkey. Although they invest heavily in armaments, they need foreign military support against Iran. In addition to US and UK military bases in GCC, Turkey established a military base in Qatar last year.
GCC kingdoms are in a defensive position against Iran currently. Iran’s military power solely based on local sources may easily crush GCC countries. Incidents in Iraq, Syria and Yemen are in favor of Iran, and GCC countries are on the losing side regionally. Iran’s operational military capacity and capability via proxies is another factor that threats GCC countries where considerable Shiite populations live. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and Shiite militias in Iraq are acting as semi-professional armies. Although the GCC mainly rely on US and UK military assistance, Turkey becomes an ally against Iran due to increasing tension between Turkey and Iran. On the other hand, the GCC try to incorporate other Arab and African Muslim Sunni countries under the umbrella of an Islamic Army against Iran.
Turkey vs Iran:
Turkey is struggling against the Kurdish separatist PKK since 1984. After the US military intervention in Iraq in 1991, Kurds in the North of Iraq declared autonomy. Turkey firstly perceived the Iraqi Kurds as a threat to her territorial unity, but later Turkey and Iraq Kurds began to cooperatively act against Shiites in Iraq. Turkey treated Iraq’s Kurds as a buffer to Shiite Arabs and Iran’s influence in Iraq. On the other hand, Iraqi Kurds regard Turkey as an ally for their existence and an economic partner. After the Syrian Civil War, the PKK-linked YPG began to dominate the Syrian Kurds in Northern Syria. Unlike Iraqi Kurds, Syrian Kurds have close linguistic and kinship ties with the Kurds living in the southeastern regions of Turkey.
Moreover the US has let the YPG rule the Sunni Arab-populated parts of Syria once ruled by ISIS. Therefore, in addition to her territorial unity concerns, Turkey regards the US and Iran’s efforts as an attempt to found a Kurdish and Shiite belt in Syria and Iraq to break the ties of Sunni Turks and Sunni Arabs. The historical ties between Turks and Sunni Arabs date back to the time of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans ruled all of the Arab territories and western parts of Iran where Shiite Azerbaijani Turks live. The Turks and Arabs’ alliance against Iran continued for centuries and Iran never had an opportunity to impose hegemony on the Arab world, which was under the protection of Sunni Turks. Contrary to the GCC countries, as the second largest army of NATO, Turkey has a strong military power that can compete against Iran.
Furthermore both Turkey and Iran have Kurdish minority problems that are not solved yet. On the other hand, 20% of the population of Iran living in the northern provinces are Azerbaijani Turks who are the same nation as Turkey’s Turks. In a clash between Turkey and Iran, their attitude towards this sect and ethnicity and choice will be very crucial ing determining the result of war.
Turkey vs Kurds: Turks and Kurds have distinct historical relations. In Ottoman times, Kurds acted against Shiite Iran as a buffer layer. All of the Kurds are Sunni Muslim and loyal to the Muslim Caliphate in Istanbul. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the founding of the modern nation-state of Turkey that is founded mainly on a Turkish majority, the Kurds began to be alienated and in 1984 armed struggle for secession was initiated by the PKK. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were separated into four countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The Kurdish PKK in Turkey and the PKK-linked YPG in Syria that dominates Northern Syria are the current foes of Turkey. On the other hand, Iraqi Kurds are divided. While the Barzani side acts in collaboration with Turkey, the Talabani side is an ally of Iran.
Kurds vs Arabs: Because of the US military intervention in Iraq and Syrian Civil War, the clashes are mainly on a sectarian basis between Arabs. Kurds exploited the intra-Arab conflicts and founded semi-independent regimes in the northern parts of those countries. Kurds are regarded as threats to the central Arab governments of both Iraq and Syria although the former is ruled by Sunni and the latter by Alawites. Therefore, in a comprehensive civil war in the Islamic world, it would be no surprise to witness Arab-Kurd battles.
Lebanon Scene: Lebanon, composed of Sunni and Shiites Muslims as well as Christians, and internal politics based on sharp religious and sectarian identities, is a perfect scene where harsh clashes could take place between Sunnis and Shiites. Refugees from Palestine and Syria, Syrian and Israel occupation in the last two decades, Hezbollah’s presence and its active interference in the Syrian Civil War all add to the complexity of the country. Iran’s support for Hezbollah against Israel and Sunni opponents, Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s backing for Sunni Lebanese Arabs and Palestinian refugees, Israel’s security concerns and military operations against both Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups can easily draw the country into the civil war in the Islamic World.
Pakistan Scene: Pakistan as a Sunni Muslim country, due to its geographic location, is a historical and natural ally of Turkey. Squeezed between India and Shiite Iran, it may be another bloody scene in the civil war of the Islamic World. The country currently faces bombing attacks between Sunnis and Shiites, and radical Islamist armed groups, which originated in unstable Afghanistan, struggle against the government. On the other hand, the unsolved Jammu and Kashmir problem with India, where Muslims and Indians sometimes clash, is another source of instability for Pakistan.
Azerbaijan Scene: “The same nation, two countries” is the slogan of Turks in Turkey and Azeri Turks in Azerbaijan which expresses the degree of close ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan. On the other hand, “the same nation but different sect” is the differentiating point in Turkey-Azerbaijan relations. If Turkey initiates a nationalistic revolt in South Azerbaijan that is part of Iran, then Azeri Turks have to choose either ethnicity or their Shiite sect. Their choice is extremely important to determining the fate of the war between Turkey and Iran. In such a situation, Armenia could enter the war against Azerbaijan either as an ally of Iran against Turks, or just to exploit the war conditions to consolidate her military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
War Scenario Of The Civil War In The Islamic World
In 1979, when the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran, the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Kingdoms was the very fact of possible influence on their populations to overthrow the pro-Western monarchies and establish an Islamic type of governments in those countries. The US invasion in Iraq, followed by the Syrian and Yemen Civil War, removed the tension to a Sunni-Shiite civil war that is carried on via proxies. Turkey has joined the conflict mainly to cope with Kurdish separatism. Although Kurds are Sunni Muslim, they have nationalistic concerns and try to exploit the conflicts in the Middle East to gain their independence from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Iran.
Iran’s next step will be the most important breaking point to determine the fate of the civil war in the Islamic world. If Iran, via her armed proxies in Iraq, interferes in Kuwait and/or Bahrain, then Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar will immediately respond heavily. The next step could be direct clashes in the Persian Gulf between Iran and the Arab Kingdoms. At this point, with the arbitration of Russia and Turkey, the tension of the war can be decreased, otherwise Turkey enters Northern Iraq in order to hit PKK military camps and protect Sunni Arabs and Barzani Kurds. If the Iraqi central government and Shiite militias respond to Turkey, then Syrian Kurds will also join the war against Turkey. Turkey’s response will be to drawn Iran’s Azeri Turks into the conflict in order to weaken Iran internally. Iran will rush to promote Armenian efforts against Azerbaijan in order to block possible support from Azerbaijan to Azeri Turks in Iran.
To exploit these war conditions, Israel will not wait to hit Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Kingdoms will use their close ties with Sunni Palestinian armed groups to weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. As a response, if Iran provokes India to exploit the Jammu Kashmir conflict and block Pakistan’s possible assistance to Turkey, then the armed Uzbek Turks and Sunni Islamic groups in Afghanistan will be the proxies of Turkey and Saudi Arabia against Iran.
This potential civil war in the Islamic world would cause millions of casualties, change the frontiers of the Middle East, ruin towns and the economy of Islamic countries, and the Islamic world would need at least a century to recover. In this scenario, outside actors such as the US, Russia and China, are not excluded. In fact, their attitudes will determine the conclusion of the war. If they directly intervene militarily, this means the beginning of the Third World War.
The destabilization of the Islamic world is the grand strategy of the US in order to eliminate any alternative poles to its hegemony. Russia, China, India, and the EU should be aware of this danger that is against multipolarity, and mediate between Sunnis and Shiites to avoid a civil war in the Islamic world while it is still in the preliminary stage. Muslim countries should seek dialogue and instead of using sectarian beliefs for their national interests, prefer peace and diplomacy to solve conflicts, focus on economic development to prevent poverty that feeds unrest among Muslims, democratize their political systems to represent different groups in their countries, and contribute to world civilization by interacting with other civilizations in terms of peace, diplomacy, economic, and cultural cooperation.