Monday, July 31, 2006


A large uncontrolled and disastrous fire. That's the classic definition of Conflagration. I think the new definition will include the current environment in the Middle East. It has been many years (about 90 as a matter of fact) since this region was embroiled in such a large conflict. This problem isn't about Israel. They are the catalyst and by that I mean the excuse for the problems. No, the problem is sectarian. It is Shia versus Sunni. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, there has been a storm brewing just under the surface of the region. While Saddam was in power, there was a Sunni advantage of strength in that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq were all under the control of the Sunni.

When Hussein was removed from power, the Shia begin to coalesce in terms of power and influence. The southern region of Iraq is primary Shia. Of course, the major power in the region, Iran, is dominated by Shia clerics. Hezbollah, is almost entirely under Shia control and now, there is a "crescent" of influence running from Tehran to Beirut. What does this portend? No one knows at this time. It is interesting to note that major foreign powers are betting on various scenarios. Russia and China are adamantly against serious sanctions for Iran. They are major trading partners with Iran. Russia has provided significant technology and technical assistance to Iran's fledgling nuclear power efforts. China has recently signed agreements with Iran for petroleum assets. It is safe to assume they will oppose vigorously any attempts from the West to economically punish Iran.

Iraq is still a wild-card. With escalating casualties in Iraq, (over 100 dying per day in the month of June alone) the ability to clearly predict the outcome for the country is nominal. Iraq could be a hotbed of civil strife for many years, or, if the US withdraws, Iran helps the Shia consolidate power. At any case, the next several years will be tenuous for Iraq. Saudi Arabia has internal pressures coming from the Shia religious segment and challenges the authority of the Sunni based royal family on a regular basis now.

What's to come? In the short term, only more conflict. Peace will not come to the region until the Sunni and Shia decide to stop killing each other and the Arab community finally decides that Israel is not going anywhere and must be allowed to exist. If the West (particularly, the US) can have the patience and discipline to stay out of their political affairs and let them sort it out, then we may have a chance. If not, then we will see conflict in the region for as long as we are here.

Tell me what you think,