"The Shia empire of Iran now faces the Sunni empire of Saudi Arabia (which supports the rebels in Syria, as well as various other Sunni governments in the region). Each acts as if campaigning for the job of power centre..."
By Robert Fulford
In Qamishli, a northeastern Syrian city of 200,000, members of the country's ethnic Kurd minority are working on a constitution. They are unrecognized by the UN or any national government; but amidst the centrifugal chaos of Syria's civil war, they are managing to act a lot like a small state.
Syria's Kurdish population is tiny compared to its Arab majority. Yet they are creating an autonomous government. Their police, the People's Protection Units, authorized by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, keep the streets comparatively safe. Their municipal government issues building permits. Schools teach Kurdish. They expect democracy will come to Syria as a federal system, with a Kurdish province. Looking farther, they dream about a pan-Kurdish nation, uniting them with Kurds from Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Iran today clearly hopes to becomes a regional hegemony, much like the Turks in Ottoman days or the Persian empire. Iran's Shiite Muslim rulers connect with the Alawite rulers of Syria and the Shiite populations of Iraq and Lebanon. By funding and training Hezbollah, Tehran transformed Lebanon into a de facto Iranian province. Hezbollah now has enough seats in the Lebanese government to veto any bill, an army at least as powerful as the government's and its own broadcasting system. With Hezbollah as its willing partner, Iran can now destabilize any power in the region. Many countries, including Canada, call Hezbollah a terrorist organization. But it's closer to a shadowy version of a state.
In the current issue of Middle East Forum, Jonathan Spyer has an article entitled "Do Syria, Iraq and Lebanon Still Exist?" Of course they do, but parts of them are effectively dependencies of Iran.
The Shia empire of Iran now faces the Sunni empire of Saudi Arabia (which supports the rebels in Syria, as well as various other Sunni governments in the region). Each acts as if campaigning for the job of power centre. Iranian officials now attack the Saudis with a vehemence they once reserved for Israel and the United States. Senior officials call Saudi Arabia a "takfiri" (heretical) Wahhabi regime that co-operates with Americans and Zionists. The magazine of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards calls for "a decisive and crushing response" to the Saudis.
In this atmosphere of shifting alliances, sectarian violence has grown. One result is that terrorists are using terror tactics against other terrorists. Iran, for all its strength, is often a target.
Consider the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), another statelet, a cousin of al-Qaeda that claims sovereignty over a chunk of territory in both those countries. This was the place where 21 would-be suicide bombers and their instructor recently were killed when the instructor accidentally used a live explosive in training.
In January, ISIS set off a bomb outside the Beirut headquarters of Hezbollah, killing four and wounding more than 70. The bulletin claiming responsibility boasted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria penetrated the security system of the "Party of Satan [Hezbollah] in the heart [of] what is called the security zone."
That was one of five major suicide attacks against Hezbollah or Iranians in Lebanon during the last four months. The most recent was on Wednesday, when five people were killed at the Iranian cultural centre in Beirut. Reporters identified it as "a twin suicide attack." The perpetrators called it a "double martyrdom-seeking operation."
These were Sunni bombers, supporters of the rebels in Syria, killing themselves in order to punish Hezbollah and Iran for helping the Assad government. The Middle East, struggling to escape colonialism's legacy, still can't rid itself of ancient Islamic enmities.