With Syria and Gaza undergoing ongoing hell and ISIS viciousness spreading from Syria, romping about northwest Iraq and knocking on Baghdad’s door, it is all too much to grasp, which is why I have delayed posting. I could not figure out what to talk about in a short space.
Today I want to rough out an admittedly simplistic picture and then discriminate more in future posts.
There are numerous cross cutting currents creating shifting schisms, but seeing events there as an age old struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims helps explain much.
We are talking about an area of the world that has festered for centuries through animosities between these two dominant Muslim sects. As indicated in the map to the right, worldwide there are far more Sunnis, but the balance in number is closer in the Middle East, with the strongest Muslim state there being Shia controlled Iran.
What had prevented all out conflict over the past century between the two sects were brutal strongmen who kept the lid on these nations (often just a collection of tribes cobbled together as such by European imperialist force early last century). A number of these dictators have fallen in recent years, including Saddam Hussein toppled by us, and more recently others deposed through what was called the Arab spring, but now seems more like the Arab wildfire.
Now that the lid is off in the region all hell is breaking loose. If you look at the fighting in the Middle East, you can see the battle lines drawn largely between Sunni and Shia, including terrorist organizations each supports. Iraq was Sunni dominated under Saddam even though there are a greater number of Shia there. Once he was deposed, the Shia became dominant with our help. Since we left they have become increasingly supported (and dominated) by their fellow Shia in Iran.
The invasion of radical Sunni ISIS from Syria is a challenge to that dominance, supported so far by many Sunni there, though that could change in response to the ruthless way the ISIS zealots deal with any opposition to their inflexible beliefs.
Moving over to what seems a never ending civil war in Syria, you will see dictator Assad, a member of a Shia offshoot called Alawites, battling predominantly Sunni revolutionary groups, the most famous being ISIS, which has made its name by expanding to Iraq after fortifying its position in Syria. ISIS has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two Sunni nations counterbalancing the aid Shia Iran sends to the Assad regime. Also, Hezbollah, an Iranian backed terrorist organization based in Lebanon now seems to be more involved in the Syrian fray as well.
While the traditional split between Sunni-Shia Muslims sheds light on what is going on in the region, it leaves many cross currents in the dark. For example, while Saudi Arabia has supported ISIS in the past, that was because they were fighting for the Sunni cause in Syria. However, ISIS has exceeded everyone’s expectations and now has troops on the Saudi border and a vision of restoring a Caliphate (Muslim empire) in the region.
My guess is that the rich and powerful in Saudi Arabia have no desire to become subservient to this vision. While they were happy to back Sunni radicals against Shia governments, they do not welcome them approaching their own backyard.
Because of the stability issue, there are also conflicts among Sunnis regarding the Israel/Gaza situation, a topic I will address in my next post.