The Middle East
Who’s who in the Middle East and where is it going?
It’s a small and ancient region but what happens in the Middle East has consequences across the world. Here is a quick primer on the countries in Part 1.
Countries and alliances:
- Iran: A Shi’a country, it controls Lebanon and close alliances with Iraq and Syria. Enjoys special relationship with Oman and Kuwait and, thanks to Gulf States’ idiotic move to blockade, Qatar is back in list of ‘friends’. Former Ottoman rival Turkey is a special friend whose bet on the wrong horse in Syria turning into an unmitigated disaster has led it to move closer to Iran and northern neighbor Russia.
- Iraq: A Shi’a majority country militarily and financially supported by the U.S and, ironically, under Iranian military and political influence. Maintains cordial relationship with all neighbors but has regular tiffs with former colonial master Turkey which militarily intervenes on the ground every time a Turkmen enclave is threatened (by ISIS, Kurds, etc).
- Kuwait: The tiny kingdom is a majority Sunni state with Shi’s population being ethnic Iranian. It has a close relationship with Iran and maintains good relationships with all and keeps out of trouble.
- Syria: A Sunni majority country ruled by a Shi’a military elite with a large and influential Christian and Druze population that are allied with Assad’s govt. A long time ally and naval base of Russia, there are several thousand Russian women married to the military elite and Baath party leaders since the 1970s. Firmly in Iran’s orbit with several thousand IRGC troops on the ground.
- Lebanon: A Shi’a and Christian majority country firmly under Iranian political and military influence.
- Israel: The Jewish state enjoys covert cordial relationship with the Saudis and Emiratis, mostly to undermine Iran and Lebanon. It has good ties with former colonial ruler of Palestine, Turkey.
- Jordan: A Sunni majority state led by a monarch who is the Arab equivalent of Mr Bean. Closely allied with Saudis and Emiratis. It’s politically and militarily irrelevant, now on U.S life support.
- Saudi Arabia: A Ottoman colony for 344 years, this Sunni majority monarchy is the principal exporter of the rabidly puritanical Wahhabi Islam. Every citizen in this country is (officially) a Muslim. Although it’s a literate and sophisticated society, it’s kept tightly under the control of the monarchy-mullah ecosystem. Close allies are Bahrain and UAE. Special allies Britain and U.S guarantee military protection without which this kingdom will be toast for the Iranian, it’s Achilles heal is its minority (25%) Shi’a population — no gifts for guessing where their loyalties lie. Recently, whatever the Saudis touch turns to ash quickly. Their bet in Syria has backfired with Iran become the dominant power there and their silly blockade of of Qatar resulted in them resuming diplomatic relations with Iran.
- Bahrain: A brutal Saudi Arabian monarchy ruling over a Shi’a majority (75%) population. There will be trouble.
- UAE: The official Saudi pooch, a Sunni majority country that wants to be more than a shopping mall but can’t.
- Yemen: A Sunni ruled country with an equal size Shi’a population is in the middle of a civil war exacerbated by relentless bombing by Saudis and UAE against Iran supported rebel areas. The country is likely to be split in half, Sunni north and Shi’a south.
- Oman: A Sunni majority country that maintains good relationship with all its neighbors and the wise Sultan keeps the country out of regional intrigue and military adventures. Oman is the main interlocutor between the Americans / Gulf states and Iran with which it has a special relationship (when a civil war broke out in 1970s, Iranian military intervened and nearly a thousand Iranian soldiers died fighting to defend the Sultan) and provides consular services on behalf of Iran in Canada.
- Kurdistan Autonomous Region (Iraq): The Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed full autonomy since the fall of Saddam and have further consolidated their position by successfully fighting ISIS. Their move to declare full independence and also to annex Kirkuk and Sinjar provinces has back fired terribly. The Turkmen oppose them in Kirkuk (they are Shi’a and allied with Baghdad govt) and the Yazidi Lalesh have taken over from Peshmerga in Sinjar. They have no friends left in the Middle East (and having Israel as a friend is a serious liability). Iran and Turkey will never allow an independent Kurdistan.
- Rojava (Democratic Federation of Northern Syria): Covering 1/3rd of Syria, it’s a secular socialist autonomous region of Syrian Kurds. It has plenty of backers in Europe due to their democratic principles and ferocious fight against ISIS. They don’t seek full independence and accept Syrian govt as the sovereign and want Syria to remain a single federal country. Turkey is opposed to them but may not be able to end their autonomous region even after the Americans are gone — thanks to Russia.
The part 2 will be about the conflicts; Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan and where everything is headed.