Thursday, December 31, 2015

Battle Against Islamic State is Redrawing the Map of the Middle East

From Liz Sly, at WaPo, "How the battle against the Islamic State is redrawing the map of the Middle East":
AMIRIYAT FALLUJAH, Iraq — Along the vast, zigzagging perimeter of the Islamic State’s self-styled state, the militants are steadily being pushed back as the forces­ ranged against them gain in strength.

In the process, new borders are being drawn, new fiefdoms are being carved out and the seeds of potential new conflicts are being sown.

A war seen by the United States as primarily aimed at preventing future terrorist attacks in America is being prosecuted for very different reasons by the diverse assortment of Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni fighters battling in both Iraq and Syria, often in pursuit of competing agendas that work to subvert the goal of defeating the militants.

In northern Iraq and Syria, Kurds are busily carving out the borders to new Kurdish enclaves. Shiite militias, now the most powerful force in Iraq, are extending their reach deep into traditionally Sunni areas of northern Iraq. The Syrian government is focusing its energies on reclaiming land seized by its opponents during the five-year-old rebellion against it, while deeply divided Syrian rebels in turn are fighting a two-front war to hold their ground against both the government and the Islamic State.

In this fragmented landscape, the Islamic State is but one of a multitude of groups competing for territory and dominance over the collapsed nation states of Iraq and Syria — a symptom as much as a cause of the scramble for power unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 revolt in Syria.

The Islamic State may or may not be vanquished soon — and a string of defeats inflicted in recent months in northeastern Syria, northern Iraq and most recently Ramadi have raised hopes that its demise may be closer than had been thought.

But already it is becoming clear that victory over the militants won’t end the bloodshed in the region, said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“There is little thought being given to the morning after, and the morning after is going to be as bloody, as chaotic and as destabilizing as the situation we are seeing now,” he said. “The heart of the Middle East has changed. The fragile state system is no longer there.”

Along some of the war’s front lines, the ways in which the battle against the Islamic State is redrawing the map of the Middle East — perhaps irrevocably — come sharply into focus...
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