History of the Middle East Part 5
By 2014, things had really taken a turn for the worse, both in the Middle East and around the world. For example, much of the world’s attention was turned toward West Africa, as the Ebola virus carved a trail of death and destruction through several countries. The disappearance of MH370 over the Indian Ocean and the shootdown of MH17 by Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels also dominated news cycles. However, the Middle East also featured prominently in the news.
The Syrian civil war begun in 2012 and had been picking up steam over the next two years. 2014 was an extremely deadly year in Syria, as 77,000 people died-the highest as of then. 2013 and 2014 were both dominated by deadly conflict between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Government. Initially, the rebels were extremely strong. In 2012, they had overrun much of Aleppo (Syria’s most populous city). However, this begun to drastically change, as neighboring Iraq imploded.
The conditions in Iraq gradually deteriorated as US troops left. The Iraqi government was weak, corrupt, and often oppressed the Sunni minority. Sunni backlash against Iraq ultimately lead to the spectacular rise of ISIS in 2014. In June of 2014, the group made headlines when they took over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Later in June, ISIS infamously declared its caliphate in a Mosul mosque, and begun to invade Syria. Raqqa, which was first taken by the rebels, was later overrun by ISIS forces.
The Syrian rebels were rapidly losing territory against ISIS, who’s stunningly quick attacks proved extremely effective. More importantly, Syria’s civil war turned quickly into a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran, along with Russia, begun bombing rebel positions and deploying troops to help Bashar Al-Assad. In response, Saudi Arabia begun to dramatically escalate help for the rebels, in an effort to stop Iran from maintaining a strong, Shiite ally in the Levant. In the north, the Kurds also emerged as a serious force, taking over much of northern Syria and establishing a de-facto state in their quest for independence. In response, Turkey, who views the Kurds as their greatest enemy, begun attacking US-backed Kurdish forces.
Yemen also began to fall apart in 2014, as the Arab Spring made way for the bloody Arab winter. The Iranian backed, Shiite Houthi rebels begun attacks in Yemen, attempting to overthrow the Saudi backed Hadi government. In September, the Houthis seized Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, forcing Hadi to flee to the port city of Aden. In response, Saudi Arabia launched a massive bombing campaign against the Houthis, which by May of 2015 had killed 1500 people, many of them civilians.
By 2016, a new player had emerged in Iraq - Shiite militias, dedicated to destroying ISIS. These militias proved to be a very powerful force, and were backed by Iran-as a result, they also served Iranian interests. For example, these militias cut off a road leading out of Mosul to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing to Syria and fighting against Assad. Nevertheless, the militias were extremely effective. Together, with the Iraqi army (remember, Iraq’s government was still Shia and allied with Iran when ISIS rose. However, the weakness of the Iraqi government and army led to Iran creating its own militias in Iran), Mosul was eventually recaptured after a bloody battle by July of 2017, and the war in Iraq, for now, appears to be drawing to a close. In the future, Iran will dominate. Pro-Iranian officials are dominant in the Iraqi government. Iranian exports are a crucial part of the Iraqi economy. In Iraq, the United States lost the war it started in 2003, and Iran won.
Iran and Assad also gained the upper hand in Syria. In the end, the combination of a mighty superpower (Russia), a regional powerhouse (Iran) and the ruthless Assad government proved to be too much for the Syrian rebels. While the war in Syria is not technically over, there is almost no chance for a rebel victory. Instead, the true victor will be Iran, who now emerges with a dramatically strengthened alliance with Syria, and tighter ties to Damascus. Meanwhile, in Yemen, there appears to be a stalemate, with Houthis still in control of Sanaa. At the very least, Saudi Arabia has lost billions of dollars in Yemen, and could possibly have an Iranian puppet on its southern border, and by embargoing Qatar, has lost another ally. Qatar has now restored ties with Iran, and appears to be growing closer to Iran. At the same time, Turkey is now helping Qatar, and although Turkey is still aligned with Saudi Arabia, Turkey’s move in Qatar signals a shift. In fact, Turkey could be considered its own side, fighting to achieve its expansionist, neo-Ottomanist goals, and Turkey is not ethnically Arab, further distancing it from Saudi Arabia. Regardless, the Middle East roughly looks like this, in terms of balance of power between Iran and Saudi Arabia.