Will the Arab Spring, now in Iraq, end up isolating Iran? Is that a good thing?

Posted on January 8, 2013

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Will the Muslim world in the Middle East ever know peace? Not likely. The religion of peace founded by the profit Muhammad fractured upon his death in the year 632 when his followers could not agree on who should replace Muhammad as their leader. The majority believed the rightful heir was Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr. They would become known as Sunni Muslims. Others, a much smaller group, believed the rightful heir to Muhammad was is son-in-law, Ali. They would become known as Shi’a Muslims. (Father-in-law and son-in-law are modern terms for these relationships.) These two factions (there are other sects today) have never known peace.

Because politics and religion have become one and the same thing in the Muslim world we call the Middle East. To understand the geopolitics of the region we need to understand where the Sunni are the dominant sect of Islam and where the Shi’a are dominant. From Wikipedia we learn:

Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, most of the Arab World, and among Muslims in the United States (of which 85-90% are Sunnis).[13][14] Shias make up the majority of the Muslim population in Iran (around 90–95%), Azerbaijan (around 85%),[15] Iraq (around 60-65%) and Bahrain (around 65%). Minority Shia communities are also found in Yemen, around 30% of the Muslim population (mostly of the Zaydisect), and about 10-15% of Turkey are of the Alevi sect. The Shia constitute around 20% of Kuwait, 45-55% of the Muslim population in Lebanon, 10% of Saudi Arabia, 15% of Syria, and 10-15% of Pakistan. Around 10-15% of Afghanistan, less than 5% of the Muslims in Nigeria, and around 3% of population of Tajikistan are Shia.[16]

…Shias are about 10-to-15 percent of the entire Muslim world. We don’t have accurate statistics because in much of the Middle East it is not convenient to have them, for ruling regimes in particular. But the estimates are that they are about 10-to-15 percent of the Muslim world, which puts them somewhere between 165-to-190 million people….The overwhelming majority of that population lives between Pakistan and Lebanon. Iran always had been a Shia country, the largest one, with about 60 million population. Pakistan is the second-largest Shia country in the world, with about 30 million population. And, potentially, there are as many Shias in India as there are in Iraq.[17][18]
—Vali Nasr, October 18, 2006

Shi’a Power Prior To The Arab Spring and The Influence of Iran

Since the Shi’a account for only 15% of all Muslims, one would think they would wield very little power. That hasn’t been the case, however. Prior to te Arab Spring Iran, with over 90% of their population Shi’a, was and is the dominant Shi’a power in the region due to in large extent to their oil wealth. Iran then is the eastern extreme of Shi’a power. The western extreme of Shi’a power is Lebanon  with about 50% of their population being Shi’a. Sandwiched between Iran on the East and Lebanon on the West are Syria and Iraq.

Although the Shi’a only represent 15% of the population of Syria, they came to political power in a military coup in 1970 led by then Minister of Defense, Hafiz al-Assad. When he died in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad was “elected president in an unopposed election.

However, the East-West belt of Shi’a power, led by Iran, was not complete because of Iraq. Although Iraq’s population has been 60% Shi’a, the Sunni have controlled the political power since the days of the Ottoman Empire up to the reign of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party (Sunni). But, the United States would solve that problem for Iran when it decided to go to war with Saddam Hussein in 2003. With Saddam gone and the Ba’ath party outlawed, the majority Shi’a elected Nouri Maliki as their prime Minister on December 15, 2005. The East-West Shi’a power belt was complete and iran’s influence in the Middle East reached its zenith.

Will The Arab Spring End The East-West Belt of Shi’a Power Led By Iran?

In my opinion, the short answer is yes. The Arab Spring, which has so far tumbled governments in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, is now in full bloom in Syria. There is little doubt that the Shi’a government of Bashar al-Assad will soon fall and the majority Sunni will then control most of the territory of the present Syria. It is possible that the Shi’a and the Kurds will carve out autonomous areas for themselves, also.

What isn’t making much news in the US is that the Arab Spring has now spread to Iraq. Here are some headlines of back stories at Fox News.Com

Car bomb in Iraq kills at least 20 Shiite pilgrims, officials say

Iraqi troops shoot into air to scatter protesters

Iraq: Car bomb explosion kills 3 south of Baghdad

Thousands of Sunnis protest government in several Iraqi cities

The last news article was accompanied with this photo of protestors:

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis angry over perceived second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government massed along a major western highway and elsewhere in the country Friday for the largest protests yet in a week of demonstrations.

The New York Times reports

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) — The most senior member of Saddam Hussein’s entourage who has not been captured has encouraged antigovernment Sunni Muslim protesters to stand their ground until Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is forced out.

And, Iran is worried according to this source:

Kayhan, in its daily editorial wrote the current situation in Iraq is causing insecurity in “an important part of” the pro Iranian regime “front” in the region. “The scope of tensions across Iraq will spread particularly in provinces like Baghdad with Sunni and Shiite populations. And with chaos in the capital,  the government will face falling apart and a relatively secure area which includes an important part of the resistance front will be extremely insecure.”

Indeed it does seem that Iran has good reason to be worried. Iran’s Shi’a power belt is coming undone. From the reading I’ve done, the “experts” seem to think that what are now known as Syria and Iraq could break up in to autonomous region along ethnic and religious lines with the Sunni Muslims (Muslim Brotherhood?) controlling most of the territories and the Shi’a and Kurds controlling smaller territories. Iran will be isolated and their influence in th Middle East will be much diminished.

Is This Good News?

No doubt there will be may who think this is good news. I’m not one of them. Stability, if you can call it that, will come slowly to Syria and Iraq. Instability in Syria is one thing. Instability in Iraq is something else.  Iraq is the world’s second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia. If or when stability does come to the region we now know as Syria and Iraq, it will be at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, al Qaeda. I think the civilized world and the uncivilized world are going to be in conflict for a very long time thanks to the Arab Spring.

Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

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Posted in: Arab Spring