Baghdad, Iraq (TFC) – The Saudi Arabian government made a request for US ground troops to engage Islamic State forces in a self serving attempt to keep the nation of Iraq as a buffer against Iran. The US has not ruled out the possibility.
The request is a subtle signal that the Saudis believe that Iraq, as the world knows it anyway, is on its last legs. Understanding why the likelihood of a breakup of the nation of Iraq is quickly becoming an inevitability requires a quick discussion of the different belligerents and their motives.
When the borders for Iraq were drawn by a bunch of old white guys that knew almost nothing of the region or the inhabitants, the new nation included several competing religious sects and ethnicities. Prior to the lines drawn at the end of World War I, the Turks ruled the area. The Turks had maintained control since 1533.
Cast of Players (read this and learn more about Arab affairs in 400 words than you’ve gotten through years of constant coverage by cable news outlets):
Islamic State: The origins of the modern group are hotly contested as there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the United States created the organization as a method of dividing the insurgency in Iraq only to have it come back stronger than the Al-Qaeda led insurgency. Whatever the origin, the movement seeks to establish a Caliphate that will rule over all of the Islamic world. There is historical precedent for a Caliphate reaching back to 632 AD. Most IS soldiers are not native to Iraq and are from an extreme division of the Sunni sect.
The Kurds: The Kurds inhabit Northern Iraq and are generally viewed as one of the most moderate ethnic groups in the country. They allow other religions to practice in relative freedom in areas they control. Kurdish women can wear blue jeans and aren’t generally required to cover their faces. The Kurds even allow female infantry soldiers. They have been very successful in mounting resistance to the Islamic State. Kurds wish to have an independent nation.
The Shia: Followers of this sect of Islam make up about half of the population of Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, the population was marginalized by the Sunni minority in the country. Many hold loyalty to Iran, which is a Shia government.
The Sunni: The Sunni minority in Iraq holds vast amounts of wealth and influence owed to years of cronyism under the Hussein regime.
Hezbollah: Although historically and primarily a Shia organization, Hezbollah has recently began recruiting non-Shia Muslims into their ranks. The organization is based in Lebanon and is undoubtedly one of the largest non-national militaries in the world.
Saudi Arabia: Internationally, Saudi Arabia is a Western puppet that relies on the US for weapons, support, and legitimacy. However, within the Middle East it is one of two regional superpowers. Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the country and the ruling elite of the nation that has beheaded more people in the same timeframe than the Islamic State has.
Iran: The other regional superpower and a Shia-run government. Iranians believe the Sunni government in Saudi Arabia is too cozy with the West and Israel. When Saudi royal family members defect, they flee to Iran.
United States (and Western allies): The corporations of the Western nations have major business interests in Saudi Arabia and with Iraq’s new puppet government. The Western governments on the payrolls of big business interests are likely to use their military strength to intervene in Iraq… again.
Understanding Shia vs. Sunni Islam: For most Westerners the easiest way to compare the two sects is that the Shia are similar to Catholics in believing that their Prophet nominated a successor. Sunnis do not, and believe that leaders can be chosen from those well versed in the Qu’ran. While there are many other differences the easiest way to describe the differences is by the Protestant vs Catholic comparison in Christianity.
Understanding the likely breakup of Iraq:
The Kurdish success in battle against the Islamic State and their ability to defend their own region has added legitimacy to their claims for an independent Kurdistan. As the Kurds continue to push the Islamic State forces away from their own area, they further secure their own future state.
Iran has already supplied ground forces to its Shia allies in Iraq that were being exterminated by Islamic State forces. The commander of many Shia militias in Iraq is on the payroll of the Iranian government. Iraqi towns in regions that are close to the Iran-Iraq border have already sworn allegiance to the Iranian government. If the breakup of Iraq occurs it is likely that these towns and many others would come under Iran’s control.
Sunnis that are not supportive of the Islamic State are keeping their heads down and trying to stay out of the fight. In the event of an Islamic State defeat, it is very likely that Shia Muslims will exact some form of revenge against the Sunnis that said nothing while the atrocities of the Islamic State were being committed. These acts of revenge will be greatly reduced if the Sunni areas of the country are split off from the Shia.
Hezbollah’s entrance into the combat in Iraq almost secures the future defeat of the Islamic State. The organization has no local loyalty and would be a likely contender to hold and protect the Sunni dominated areas until Sunni defense forces could be formed, or provided by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s main concern is that, with Iraqi towns swearing allegiance to Iran, the buffer separating Iranian and Saudi Arabian borders will dwindle or disappear altogether. It is worth knowing that unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia has not committed ground troops to the war against the Islamic State. If the Saudis allowed the Islamic State to win in Iraq and Syria, the Saudis would be the next target of the new expanding nation.
The United States will likely provide more support and may even contribute US ground forces to the conflict in Iraq. This move will be unpopular in the United States so it will begin as involvement in Syria and spread across the border.
The US position should be supportive of the breakup of Iraq, but with billions of dollars of contracts with the current Iraqi government on the line it is much more likely that the government will send troops into harm’s way again for the sake of protecting the profit and loss statements of major campaign contributors.