14.10.2017 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Middle East: Prospects of New War Forges New Alliance


Slowly but surely, momentum for new wars in the Middle East is being built. While the US-Iran nuke deal seems almost finished, awaiting only a formal pronouncement, it is not Iran and the US who will fight this war between themselves directly. A rather discreet game is being played. Just as the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath had provided the basic raw material for Iraq and Syria’s descend into the chaos of the Islamic State, the fallout of war against ISIS is paving the way for the region’s further descend into civil wars. Only this time, however, ethnicity rather than religious fundamentalism seems to be the main driving course. The purpose, however, remains the same: keeping the world’s most energy rich land perennially pre-occupied with conflict, preventing regional countries from translating their oil-wealth into economic and military power. The Middle East’s Kurds, who are scattered in the whole region (Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran) are at the forefront of this war-in-the-making and are being cultivated by some ‘vested powers’ to be used to manufacture conflict.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s vote for independence is, therefore, not a simple vote for the creation of a new state. It is, on the contrary, an unwittingly taken big step towards an even bigger war than we have seen in the last five years or so. As such, there are powers, Israel and its chief ally the US, who directly and indirectly support the establishment of Kurdistan, and there are powers, Turkey, Syria and Iraq and Iran, who are opposed tooth and nail to any prospect of a new state. Whereas the Kurdish question is drawing new political faultiness within Iraq, where the referendum took place only weeks ago, this question is also knitting the erstwhile regional rivals, Iran and Turkey, into a seemingly strategic partnership. This is because Kurds are being cultivated as new pawns in the regional game of chess and stand to be used against all of these regional countries who have Kurdish population.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see Iran quickly responding to this fast changing regional environment by patching up with the Turks. The reason for this is simple: Iran provides support to the Shiites in Iraq and the legitimate Syrian authorities, and the Iraq and Syria games are about controlling oil Fields and communication routes, such as those from Iran, and from China. That is why the American-Israeli-Saudi coalition first created, or allowed the conflict to spread through ISIS, and today it is setting itself up to use the Kurdish issue, making Iran step inside the game zone and make its own moves.

How the Kurdish question is creating new alliance and how Israel and the US are fully involved in it is evident from the latest meeting between Iran’s Rouhani and Turkey’s Erdogan. Erdogan was reported to have said with regard to Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum that “there is no country other than Israel that recognizes it. A referendum that was conducted by sitting side by side with Mossad has no legitimacy.” To this, Rouhani responded by saying, “Turkey, Iran and Iraq have no choice but to take serious and necessary measures to protect their strategic goals in the region”, echoing the doubts prevailing in Iraq that the referendum would not have taken place without a green signal from Washington.

What this suspicion implies is that Iraq, as also its allies, are aware of the fact that by fomenting the Kurdish question and by propelling the Kurds to take as important Iraqi areas as Kirkuk, they are being forced into a new war. While ae are yet to see whether Iraq ultimately attacks to take back Kirkuk or not, what we know for sure is that it will not do so without the support of Iran. Additionally, given Iran-Turkey rapprochement on the Kurdish question, we may also see Turkey stepping in the game to weaken Kurdish position in Iraq as a means to dent Kurdish position within Turkey as well as Syria.

While Syria, Iraq and Turkey have a history of bad relations with Kurds, Iran’s case is somewhat different and is also undergoing slight yet significant change. Accordingly, a lot of political activity has taken place in Iran in recent days, considering the geo-political situation developing in the region in the wake of Kurdish referendum. Besides a closed session held by Iran’s parliament on Kurdish referendum, it has also been reported that a crucial meeting of the national security and foreign policy commission was held in Iran last week. Its agenda included: non-recognition of the referendum; worries about Iraq’s territorial integrity; and most importantly the nightmare of Iranian Kurdish peshmerga being instrumentalized by the CIA for fomenting conflict on ethnic basis.

While Iran has maintained that it condemns the referendum, its position is unlikely to translate into military action as long as this referendum remains symbolic and does not turn into a demand for independence. Notwithstanding this, there is however already a lot of propaganda going on, originating from the West, that Iran is planning a major offensive against the Iraqi Kurds to recapture certain territories.

Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq, took to twitter very recently and posted that Iraqi forces, including the Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, were preparing for a “major attack” on Kurdistan. His “alert” was based upon an earlier announcement made by the Kurdistan Region Security Council, which said that they were observing some “abnormal movements” and receiving “dangerous messages” to this end.

This, in turn, is part of the new strategy to manufacture conflict. While the US has publicly opposed the referendum, the fact remains that both the US and Israel continue to be Kurds’ major allies and both want conflict to spread. It is Only through sustained conflict can Israel keep its arch rival, Iran, and Hezbollah busy elsewhere, and only through such conflict can the US arms industry, of which Donald Trump has been called a true representative, make money. We all know how wars have been manufactured this way in the past. What we are therefore seeing now is very much a repetition of that very pattern.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.