• Sunday 18th August 2019

Uncaged Demons Are Tormenting The Middle East By David Gardner

it will require a pan-communal effort to provide equal citizenship and secure diversity, through strong confederal institutions that nevertheless command assent by devolving power and defending minority rights

Uncaged demons are tormenting the Middle East

By David Gardner

At the start of this year, shortly after the US and other world powers reached an interim deal with Iran to negotiate further on its nuclear programme, The New Yorker magazine published a fascinating, discursive interview with Barack Obama. The US president floated the idea of a sort of competitive equilibrium in the Middle Eastto replace the sectarian struggle within Islam between Sunni and Shia, and the proxy wars across the region pursued by Saudi Arabia and Iran from each side of this schism.

If satisfactory safeguards could be agreed on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and a wider rapprochement and international reintegration of Iran were to follow, “you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran, in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare”, the president said. “If you can start unwinding some of that [hostility], that creates a new equilibrium”, which would “allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there”, he went on.

Alas, almost as he was speaking, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the jihadi movement that hijacked the mainly Sunni uprising in Syria as the west declined to give mainstream rebels the means to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime, started its surge into Iraq. In January, Isis took Fallujah and Ramadi in western Iraq. From June this seemingly elemental force seized Mosul, Tikrit and a string of towns in the north and centre of the country, pressing south to Baghdad and east into Kurdistan.

Six months on, Syria and Iraq are not functioning states. Isis, riding a wave of Sunni rebellion against Iran-backed regimes in Damascus and Baghdad, holds a third of both countries. The extremists – and they do not come much more extreme – have declared a jihadi caliphate in the heart of a disintegrating Middle East, and are trying to punch a corridor to the Mediterranean.

Mr Obama’s idea of a self-regulating balance of power has dissolved in an acid cocktail of state failure, sectarian savagery and a jihadist rampage so confident that almost every armed force in the Levant is melting before its onslaught


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