Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Mesopotamian Cauldron

By Alan Caruba

We reap what we sow. Today’s Middle East is a perfect example. If one takes the long view of history, the region is a series of battles that left various groups under the control of invaders of every description.

Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum is a prolific writer, published from the Jerusalem Post to the New York Sun. In a recent rumination about Turkey’s growing anger over attacks from a Communist group, the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PPK), Pipes reached back to the end of the Ottoman Empire following World War I to provide the background necessary to understand why Turkey presently has about 100,000 troops, backed by aircraft and tanks, on Iraq’s northern border.

The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 essentially created a number of nations and mandates to insure that the British and French would extend their colonial control into the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire threw in with the losing side. Iraq, Trans-Jordan, French hegemony over Syria and Lebanon, the British Palestine mandate and other perturbations arose from the efforts of the great powers.

A very naïve President Woodrow Wilson wanted a League of Nations, presumably to prevent future wars, but the United States not only gained no territory at the Paris conference, but the Senate wisely rejected membership in the League to protect our national sovereignty. Today we have the United Nations and the great powers are still calling the shots. The United Nations has proven as impotent as the League and infinitely more corrupt.

Events from a long ago time, yes, but 9/11 transpired to put the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq today. A previous 1991 invasion had been mounted to retrieve Kuwait from the clutches of Saddam Hussein. Go back a decade and the U.S. was Iraq’s ally in its eight-year war with Iran that ended in stalemate.

When the Bush administration decided to remove Saddam in 2003, the Turks made it clear they would not cooperate to permit U.S. troops and supplies to move through Turkey. A democracy, the Turks are also Muslims and perhaps because they saw more danger in destabilizing Iraq than in deposing Saddam?

In 1919 the winners of WWI had originally left Turkey, the home of the Ottoman Empire, with little more than its northwest Anatolian state. The Treaty of Sevres had divvied up Turkey among separate Armenian, French, Greek, Italian and Kurdish control. What the allies had not anticipated were Kemal Ataturk’s 1919-1922 military victories that reasserted Turkish power.

Goodbye Treaty of Sevres, hello Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that established all of Turkey’s present borders except for the one with what was then British-occupied Iraq. Eventually the League of Nations assigned Mosul Province with its 600,000 Kurds to Iraq. By 1926, the matter was settled.

It became unsettled as the result of the 1980-88 Iraq war with Iran. The further collapse of Iraqi authority after the 1991 Kuwait war turned the northern Kurdish section of Iraq into a virtually independent entity. Even while in power, Saddam had turned a blind eye to Turkish intrusions as they chased the PPK. The Turks began to think about reacquiring Mosul Province. Since 1995 the Turks have crossed the Iraq border “in hot pursuit” 29 times. Aside from trying to punish the PPK, the Turks reasoned that the province had been part of the Ottoman Empire and some no doubt are thinking it could become part of modern Turkey.

A lot of the present problems the U.S. is confronting in Iraq stem from the fact that it is essentially an artificial nation. The leaders in 1919 Paris had no more idea about the differences between Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds than our present-day policy makers in Washington or London.

Unwittingly they ignored the concentration of Shiites in Iraq and neighboring Iran, and all but dismissed the importuning of the Arabian Peninsula’s sheiks who vied for control of those “sacred” sands. The descendent of one of them, a Hashemite, now rules Jordan, but it was ibn Saud, a Sunni, who would seize control of Arabia. In Islam, the Shiites are a minority population and generally held in contempt by the Sunnis. Even so, they comprise millions who live in southern Iraq and all of Iran.

If the word “oil” has come to your mind while this history has been discussed, you will begin to understand the dynamics at work in Mesopotamia these days. The U.S. and its allies invaded Saddam’s Iraq twice; first to protect Kuwait, the neighboring Gulf States, and Saudi Arabia from his clutches. Too much oil power in his hands would have posed too great a threat to the entire region and the interests of the West.

Iran, China, and others were very happy to let the United States fight that battle. They are now very eager to see us leave. That is not going to happen. It is irrelevant who becomes the next President of the United States. We shall stand guard for our oil-rich friends and keep the sea lanes open.

If the Supreme Leader in Iran hasn’t figured that out, he will find out the hard way.

Meanwhile, can the tribes of Mesopotamia be left to govern themselves? No more now than in 1919 when the area was carved like a Christmas turkey. No pun intended.

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel and gold having reached $850 an ounce, the Middle East is promising to create even more trouble for the West and other interested parties around the world. This is the kind of thing that leads to very big wars. We had two big wars in the last century and are barely into a new one.

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