« Is War Good For The Economy? - By Walrus. | Main | Syrian forces clear Alawi homeland of rebels, bomb ISIS armor »

15 June 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.



The Sykes-Picot lines have been written off a few times before yet have survived. Lebanon survived 15 years of civil war intact, and I was sure that Iraq would disintegrate at the height of the civil war in 2006 (especially considering that some of the people driving the US invasion had stated this to be their intention in "A Clean Break"). Yet somehow they survived.

Starting in the 1950s, many Arab leaders, while loudly proclaiming their pan-Arabism, actually worked very hard to build national identities. Three generations of Iraqis, Syrians etc. learnt in school about the glories of Babylon (Iraq), the fight against the French (Syria) etc. In Lebanon today, the various sects cannot agree on what the "Lebanese identity" actually is, yet each claims to represent a Lebanese, not a sectarian, identity.

So the Sykes-Picot states, although they are largely artificial and their boundaries often nonsensical in geographic or economic terms, have none the less developed a surprising resilience as definers of identity. Of course such a construct must eventually collapse under intense pressure, but so far they have survived an incredible amount of tension. The new developments may of course be too much to withstand; beside all the other factors (tribalism etc.), the "pan-Sunnism" pushed by the Saudis, especially since the early 2000s in my opinion, may finally tip them over the edge. But I would suggest, in light of past experience, that Syria at least, and maybe even Iraq (although that seems increasingly unlikely), may perhaps surprise us and survive within their current borders. As to whether that would be a good thing, I have no idea.


Iraq was held together in 2006 at the will of the US. In spite of civil war we had immense resources with which to do that. Lebanon had actually fallen apart and was re-constructed by a joint US/Saudi effort. pl

Seamus Padraig

"In the "American War" in Iraq, US Army SF and the marines succeeded in separating traditional Sunni Arab tribal groups from AQ and friends. We threw that advantage away by accepting the exclusivist sectarian policies of Malii's government."

It seems to me that modern-day Sykes/Picot Iraq was doomed the moment we overthrew Saddam and decided to replace him with democracy. Countries like Iraq and Syria need a dictatorship in order to stay in one piece. At any rate, it is doubtful that they could ever be more democratic than the Ottoman Empire. So if Saddam and the Assads have governed in ways similar to Ottoman pashas, that's probably why.

Babak Makkinejad

I tend to agree with you. A state consisting of the Syrian Desert and parts of Northwestern Iraq will have no source of income; it would be a client of Saudis, US, or any one else who would pick up its tab - even worse than Jordan.

In my view, such as a state will have to attack Iraqi Kurdistan or push farther south to gain control of oil fields in Syria or in Iraq.

I think it would also be a thread to Turkey as its finances most likely would involve all kinds of criminal activity - worse than Kosovo.

Until Baghdad and Damascus crush it.


Your history is weak. The Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was quite democratic in the 40s and 50s, leftist propaganda not withstanding. Syria had several democratic governments after the end of french rule. In both cases the democratic government was overthrown by military coups. in Iraq the king andPM were warned by the British embassy that Kassim was going to overthrow the government but they refused to belive it. The Ottoman Empire itself had a functioning parliament by the time of the Young Turks. defeat in WWi ended theempire, nothing else. pl

Babak Makkinejad

I think like Egypt, as long as the English were there making sure the machinery of democracy worked, Iraq functioned democratically.

Once the English left, the Arabs could not maintain that machinery either in Egypt or in Iraq (or in Uganda and elsewhere).



So, the Arabs, like the Ugandans are not capable of democracy? pl

Babak Makkinejad

Well, I look at Iran; where agitation for the Rule of Law and Representative Government started 130 years ago.

And yet we are where we are - building and establishing of the institutions of Representative Government and the Rule of Law are evidently labors of centuries and not decades.



All the forces swirling in the world have erupted in two perfect storms in Ukraine and Iraq that the Barney Fife of the World’s Policeman (Barrack Obama is Don Knotts) has stoked not controlled.

In no particular order:

Military Keynesianism is the only economic stimulus supported by both political parties and K Street lobbyists.

Wall Street and the City of London are no longer in fear of jail time and are looting to their hearts content.

Greed has killed public and higher education. Its sole purpose is to graduate debt slaves. History no longer repeats since it is not taught anymore. Who’s sees the parallel with Saigon April 1975, just a few old farts.

The outcome is that the US government is having mercenaries fight its forever wars; Neo-Nazis in Ukraine and Jihdists in Syria. That they were ever under USA or anyone's control is delusional.

The only source of truthful information is a handful of blogs like this.

I have not heard if the embassy and contractors have been evacuated from Baghdad yet. Thousands of lives are at risk in the short term. In the long term, total disaster awaits. The USA and EU needs to negotiate a cease fire in Ukraine now. Nuclear War is the end game that is being played out there right now. The USA has to ditch Israel and Saudi Arabia. Unless the USA supports Iran the Sunni Shiite Jihad that is being pushed by Saudi Arabia and Israel will engulf the Persian Gulf and kill the Global Economy when the oil is shut off.



"Sykes-Picot is Dead."

I tend to believe the outcome of the capture of Mosul by ISIS will be the opposite than it looks today: the outcome will be a backlash that will strengthen Baghdad's grip over northern Iraq. Let me explain.

Baghdad's grip on everything happening on northern Iraq was weak in recent years. Ankara is the strongest player there: in Erbil, in Kirkuk and in Mosul - the largest city in the region. What happened in the last week in Mosul I tend to see as destruction of Turkey's influence in Mosul.

I don't expect ISIS and it's allies to be able to get control of Bagdad, Basra or any region in the south of Iraq. It doesn't fly. ISIS and it's allies flourish were they have popular support. In southern Iraqi regions dominated by Shia they have no popular support, but a host of determined and powerful Shia militias as opponents. ISIS can't exist there.

Whether ISIS and it's allies can exist in Mosul will likely depend on how they will govern. I expect that they will fail. Because they will behave like extremists the people will get tired after a while, a year, may two or five, and the Iraqi army will retake the area, perhaps in a similar way the Syrian army retook Homs recently. The result would be extended control by Baghdad and diminished Turkish influence in Mosul.

But even if not so what? If ISIS and it's allies prove able to govern in Mosul and elsewhere and satisfy the people they govern then the people in Mosul have just got the government they like, and in this case, to exist, their new "ISIS government" of that land-locked area has to cut deals with at least some of it's neighbors.

Another interesting thing is what happens when ISIS doesn't moderate and looks for further expansion, but they realize that they can't exist in Shia areas. I would expect that they then look for areas where they have a base. I wouldn't wonder if ISIS would go after Kirkuk and Erbil, or after controlling Jordan and the Saudi peninsula in the coming months and years. I think in these countries they will find the popular base that they need to flourish, at least temporarily. So, yes, in this regard I think there may be big changes in the offing regarding borders and who controls areas within these borders, but they may come out totally different from what they look like today.



Assuming that the Shia state in southern Iraq survives I would expect the Sunni rebel army to go after Jordan. After that, who knows? pl


Your suggestions are directed to some thinking and intelligent people; such people are in short supply among the "deciders." When governments are corrupted by the haves, societies become dysfunctional because there is no realistic picture of the world. The Fukushima disaster, the Ukrainian civil war, the total disaster in Iraq are the symptoms of make-believe thinking by the people who have lost the sense of personal accountability. Ms. Timoshenko, a Ukrainian oligarch, named the common people a "biomass." Little she and other puppeteers understand that without cooperation, any living organism (including human society) is doomed. Basically we witness a cancerous growth on a global scale, and this growth endangers today everything living on the planet. Financial-military-corporate growth does not have self-containing mechanisms.


U.S. Embassy in Baghdad being evacuated.

Margaret Steinfels

"Breaking News
U.S. to Evacuate Many Baghdad Embassy Workers
By TIM ARANGO and MICHAEL R. GORDON 40 minutes ago

"The embassy, which employs a staff of about 5,500, would remain open, according to a person familiar with the plan."



Does everyone here realize that ISIS does not have to capture or control all of Baghdad to claim victory, but only to show videos of helicopters evacuating people from Green Zone roof tops?


Babak: I agree with you but often the structures imposed by the British could only have been maintained through their divide and rule tactics. These divisions then appear later. For example, in South Yemen post-1967 the Socialists were able to maintain a basic state centred on the rule of law until internal jealousies surrounding leadership and regional dominance started to fragment the state and it has been in turmoil ever since.

The lack of a sole, dominant authority enjoying monopoly of violence and absence of years of self-governing stability (centuries) did for them. Rather than any inherent cultural inability to be democratic. I understand democracy to be a subset of Rule of Law that enables political differences to be settled in an alternative way to either a court judgement or violence.

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your comments.

You mentioned, in connection to the fragmentation of state in Yemen that the causes were "...until internal jealousies surrounding leadership and regional dominance...".

Analogous mechanisms - though not identical - destroyed the Constitutional order in Iran after the Revolution of 1905-1907; followed by the dictatorship of Reza Shah.

In both cases, there was an inherent cultural inability to be democratic - in my opinion.

I mentioned Thailand, a country that started reforming its institutions even before Iran - at least a generation earlier - an all I see is the mob rule followed by the Military Rule. The mobs, funded by various vested interests who are not willing to accept the results of the ballot box.

Peter Brownlee

Did I just hear the gentleman from South Carolina blowing the dust off the "we'll have to fight them over there, etc" "doctrine"? (Are there no maps in the US Senate?) And Tony Blair (!?!) admonishing the world that the greatest existentialist threat we face is returning domestic terrorists from Syria?

Consistency, I suppose, must be the only virtue -- Bolton, Feith and the rest of that crowd must be braying somewhere.

Perhaps we should try to limit natural exuberance and the need to do something (however idiotic) for a while yet -- at least until we see how the next bizarre alliances gel.


While I don't know if this is what Mr. Makkinejad meant, I do think a lot of naive westerners (those who think their idea of "democracy" is the natural state of man) seriously underestimate the difficulties of building and maintaining democratic rule. The French, after their revolution, went through nearly two centuries of troubled politics until they found some semblance of normalcy in the latter of 20th century. The US, less than a century after the declaration of independence, went through a bloody civil war that produced many more decades of anomalous politics. And these are the successful cases of democratic governance, where there were a lot of preparations, both in terms of intellectual ferment and practical experience, for democratic rule. In a lot of 3rd world countries, the preparations for democratic rule are limited to conceit of the few western-oriented intellectuals and wishes of corrupt politicians wanting to kiss the western buttocks in return for goodies. Should we expect their transitions to be natural or peaceful?


You might be taking the Sykes-Picot borders too seriously. ISIS may not care to expand to the southern Shia areas of Iraq. There are plenty of Sunni lands to their west that they can conquer if they so desire. As the colonel notes below, Aqaba can be their seaport.

ex-PFC Chuck

A fascinating article at The Guardian about ISIS intelligence obtained just a few days before their capture of Mosul: http://bit.ly/1y60nKr


If I were ISIS (and I do NOT have any military experience) I would be tempted to go after Kuwait and KSA before Jordan.

Far bigger payoff, and my impression is that Jordan would be a much harder nut to crack. Am I being clueless? (Please let me know...)

Having said that, I also think they may be completely overstretched right now, and will need some time to consolidate and organize what they've taken in the last few days before they think about anything more in any case.



In order to advance on Kuwait and SA you need a road network that will carry your advance and logistics. If the shia state continues to exist in southern Iraq, the roads would not be available. pl

Jim Ticehurst

Tonights news says it will be perceived that we are actually supporting Iran with any further actions against the Sunnis in Iraq...I wonder what the Saudi Arabia Monarchy is thinking about Strategically and what they are discussing right now..At some point others will continue to be drawn into regional conflicts ..as the winds blow across the desert..


Ex-PFC Chuck, thanks for the link, I am again impressed with the depth of the Guardian coverage.

Clearly the Shia state in the south made a mistake to disband their militia's and count on the cohesiveness of the Iraq militia. True, Sadr can raise thousands or tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers, but not with the battle experience ISIS acquired in Syria.

Add in the willingness of ISIS to commit atrocity against the shiite heretics, and I see Baghdad falling shortly - hence the evacuation of the US Embassy.

The only dynamic I can see changing things is Iran (or the US) inserting significant armed forces. Reverse ethnic cleansing works too, and I expect the price to pay for the last decade is a smaller Shiite partition.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad