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CCADD Conference 2007:
Andrew Rigby on the Middle East
The coming of the ‘war on terror’ is a result of our intervention in Iraq. The invasion was allegedly about WMD, and it was intended eventually to bring about democracy all over the Middle East. But now Iraq is a failed state, with a series of civil wars going on: Shia v Sunni in the centre, Shia v Shia struggling for resources, Sunni v Sunni in the North, Kurds v non-Kurds etc. There has been ethic cleansing of neighbourhoods, compounded by the US/UK presence. Out of 20m Iraqis, 4m have been displaced from their homes. There is the danger of interventions from Syria, Iran.
There is no easy way forward: withdraw troops? negotiate with the militias? A future federation of Iraqi regions? How to distribute oil revenues? The situation is a recruiting-ground for terrorism.
Iran The most worrying problem is that Bush sees himself as a hero able to demonise Iran and talk about regime change there, in the context of the Iranian regime’s nationalistic rhetoric. Since Iran is the biggest threat to Israel, any war in Iran would inevitably involve the Israelis. It is imperative to avoid this at all costs. But the internal politics of Iran are not clear.
Lebanon Iran is closely involved with Hizbollah, via their Syrian allies. But since the 2005 assassination of the president, Syria is in paralysis. Lebanon is divided into confessional groups, each vulnerable to outside powers. Civil war may return.
Israel/Palestine This is the ‘core’ conflict. After the intafada, Palestinian actions are seen as terrorism. Hence the Israeli wall and the withdrawal from Gaza. The Palestinian population centres are now collective jails, or ‘bantustans’, full of intolerable psychological tensions for the people. The Palestinian leadership has been ineffectual and corrupt. Hence the Hamas victory in Gaza election, and the embargo on it by the US prompted by Israel. There are thus two statelets: Gaza and the West Bank. As things get worse, Hamas will appear moderate. A fundamentalist millenarian world picture might emerge. In March a deal was suggested by the Arab League, whereby Israel would withdraw from its settlements in return for national recognition. This could have brought Israel into a new Middle East settlement. But instead Palestinians and Israelis simply don’t meet: they live behind walls.
So what is needed is a sustained diplomatic intervention by the outside powers. But the chances of this are slim.
Q. Is there not a conflict within Iran?
Ans: yes: there are lots of factions, notably the Kurds in North. The Iranian President wants his country to be seen as a major power, with a weak Iraq next door.
Q. What about Tony Blair’s role?
Ans: we haven’t heard much, but in any case the UK is linked to US policies. Blair’s terms of reference are getting wider, leading to becoming a peace-maker.
Q. What about withdrawing troops from Iraq? Would it not cause millions of deaths? What good would it do?
Ans: going in as occupiers compounded the conflict. In Iraq the parties must agree on some minimum, but a military force cannot be a peace-maker. An Arab League/UN presence would still be predominantly Sunni.
Q. How can a proper state be established in Iraq?
Ans: it will have to be some sort of federation.
Comment: we are perplexed because of the wrongness of the invasion. The hardest thing is to get to a possible negotiating situation in the first place. It seems that either a) the West imposes a solution by force – but this cannot forge the right political will, or b) the parties have to be allowed to bludgeon each other until they see that negotiating is preferable.
Q. The UN mandate under which the coalition forces are operating in Iraq expires this year. What then? Could the UN step in?
Ans: not unless the Iraqi parliament agrees. The recent meeting of Sunnis and Shias with representatives from S. Africa and Northern Ireland may point the way forward.
Q. Would it be possible for US to withdraw and see what happens?
Ans: no, oil and the security of Israel are too important to permit this.
Further comments: Perhaps negotiating with Hamas would help? The non-religious parties don’t understand the depth of religious commitments and the sense of identity this gives. Without this understanding you can’t help.