A volunteer member of the Iraqi security service in the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. Photo: Getty
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Leader: The solution to the Isis uprising must come from the Middle East

A lasting settlement cannot be imposed from the outside.

Tony Blair is a peace envoy who remains one of our keenest advocates of war. If our Panglossian former prime minister could have his way, British troops would be fighting in Syria and would soon be on their way for another tour of duty in Iraq.

Mr Blair sadly refuses to accept that the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the long civil war that followed the dismantling of the Ba’athist state was a tragedy for himself, for the west and, most of all, for the unhappy people of Iraq. That war shamed the Labour Party and created the Iraq of today: a crumbling pseudo-state broken apart by Sunni-Shia sectarianism and Islamist fanaticism.

Yet events are as they are. We should not be seeking to fight the battles of 2003 again or, indeed, repeating old arguments. The decision was taken to invade Iraq and we must accept the consequences. What is at stake today as a blood-red tide washes over the Middle East is the very survival of those states created after the First World War in the old Ottoman lands of the Levant: Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

All three countries, where minorities once prospered, are being ripped apart by sectarianism. One could say that so artificial were these states from the beginning that Syria and Iraq, in particular, were held together only through the force of will and brutality of secular strongmen. But at least they were secular states. One can only be fearful about what might replace them once they have been partitioned into Sunni and Shia statelets.

In recent days, in response to the advance of Isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), there have been calls – led by Mr Blair, naturally – for western military intervention. Fortunately the British government has ruled this out. But this does not mean that the west should merely look on in horror as Isis captures cities and rampages towards Baghdad.

There is much that can be done in terms of offering humanitarian, strategic and intelligence support. It is encouraging that relations between Iran, the regional superpower, and the west are slowly beginning to improve. We welcome the 17 June announcement that the British embassy in Tehran will soon reopen. More should be done, too, to encourage the Gulf autocracies to stop funding and arming Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq.

Iraq is unfortunate in having Nouri al-Maliki as its prime minister. His Shia-dominated government has worked assiduously to alienate the Sunni minority and its misrule has contributed hugely to the present difficulties. The war in Syria, which has been raging for three years, has also created the conditions in which a group such as Isis could flourish. The open border between Iraq and Syria allows any number of atrocity-minded jihadists to move freely between the two countries.

Of great concern are the estimated 500 British men who have travelled to fight in Syria, some of whom are now in the ranks of Isis. The diplomatic failure in Syria will surely result in blowback for the west when some of these fighters one day return home.

The best hope, at present, is that the Iraqi army, bolstered by large numbers of Shia volunteers, and supported by Iranian military expertise, will be able to repel Isis. Meanwhile, Isis has unwisely opened another front against the well-trained army of the Kurdish peshmerga in the north of Iraq. This, as John Bew and Shiraz Maher write on page 22, “could be the battle to watch”.

No one should doubt that we are on the brink of all-out Sunni-Shia war in the Middle East, which will have far-reaching consequences for the region and the world. Western military intervention in the form of air strikes would halt the advance of Isis in Iraq but any success would be transient. There is no stamina in the west for a long-drawn-out occupation of Syria and Iraq. Nor should there be. The solutions to the various conflicts in the Middle East – if indeed there are solutions – must come from within the region, not be imposed from outside. 

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.