By Sal Bommarito
Sectarian violence and threats resulting from the ISIS conflict and other events in the Middle East are starting to occur on a daily basis. Led by Saudi Arabia, Sunnis are responding to a number of Iranian provocations in the region. Most experts believe this is the beginning of a long drawn-out confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A New York Times article details these matters.
Stirring Sunni outrage towards Iran are the following significant actions:
- Iran’s backing of a rebel faction in Yemen. The Saudis are leading airstrikes against the insurgents.
- Iran’s support of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis are aiding jihadists in Syria that are fighting government forces.
- Iran’s support of Iraqi forces against ISIS. The Saudis have warned Washington “not to allow the Iranian-backed militia to capture too much of Iraq [in the fight with ISIS].
- The U.S./Iran pending nuclear deal. Saudis have indicated that they want the same rights as Iran to either develop or buy nuclear weapons. The aforementioned deal could lead to significant nuclear proliferation in the area.
- Iran’s efforts to control the Middle East. The Saudis are backing a “combined Arab military force to combat Iranian influence around the region.”
The ISIS conflict has reached a critical point. The question is, can Iraq successfully win back territory absconded by the insurgents? For a moment in time, Iraqi government troops backed by Iran seemed to be making progress against a much smaller group of ISIS fighters embedded in Tikrit. This battle is a precursor to a much more important assault that is planned for later in the year on Mosul, the Islamic State’s capital.
The Tikrit operation has stalled, and Iraq has asked the U.S. to begin bombing in the area. President Obama agreed to do so only if Iran and Shiite militia groups loyal to Iran disengage. The competition between the U.S. and Iran is unproductive, as both want to destroy ISIS. Unfortunately, both nations hope to influence Iraq prospectively.
Further complicating the situation in Iraq is that most of the ISIS fighting is taking place in Sunni populated areas, and government forces consist mostly of Shiites. This was alluded to earlier in this post. Sunnis inside and outside of Iraq are concerned that the status of Iraqi Sunnis will be diminished even further in post-ISIS Iraq. Also, concern for collateral damage may not be adequate. The Saudis and other Sunni nations are likely to come to the aid of Iraqi Sunnis, if controlling Shiites marginalize the group. This, of course, will ultimately lead to civil war.
Most disturbing is the role of the U.S. By taking a subordinate or apathetic position on the issues herein, the Obama administration is losing credibility with all interested parties. The Iraqis resent the benign response of America to its problems, and other Arab nations cannot determine whom the U.S. is backing in the long-term, especially relating to the Iran nuclear deal.