Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon’s Precedent

by George Friedman

    Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today — Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of post-British/French maps that will replace those the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.

The Invention of Middle East Nation-States

   Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region’s Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the nearby mountain of the same name.

   The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue. However, the British had a problem. During World War I, while the British were fighting the Ottoman Turks, they had allied with a number of Arabian tribes seeking to expel the Turks. Two major tribes, hostile to each other, were the major British allies. The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia — hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia, a narrow strip of arable ground to the east of the Jordan River. For lack of a better name, it was called Trans-Jordan, or the other side of the Jordan. In due course the “trans” was dropped and it became Jordan.

    And thus, along with Syria, five entities were created between the Mediterranean and Tigris, and between Turkey and the new nation of Saudi Arabia. This five became six after the United Nations voted to create Israel in 1947. The Sykes-Picot agreement suited European models and gave the Europeans a framework for managing the region that conformed to European administrative principles. The most important interest, the oil in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, was protected from the upheaval in their periphery as Turkey and Persia were undergoing upheaval. This gave the Europeans what they wanted.

    What it did not do was create a framework that made a great deal of sense to the Arabs living in this region. The European model of individual rights expressed to the nation-states did not fit their cultural model. For the Arabs, the family — not the individual — was the fundamental unit of society. Families belonged to clans and clans to tribes, not nations. The Europeans used the concept of the nation-state to express divisions between “us” and “them.” To the Arabs, this was an alien framework, which to this day still competes with religious and tribal identities.

   The states the Europeans created were arbitrary, the inhabitants did not give their primary loyalty to them, and the tensions within states always went over the border to neighboring states. The British and French imposed ruling structures before the war, and then a wave of coups overthrew them after World War II. Syria and Iraq became pro-Soviet states while Israel, Jordan and the Arabians became pro-American, and monarchies and dictatorships ruled over most of the Arab countries. These authoritarian regimes held the countries together.

Reality Overcomes Cartography

It was Lebanon that came apart first. Lebanon was a pure invention carved out of Syria. As long as the Christians for whom Paris created Lebanon remained the dominant group, it worked, although the Christians themselves were divided into warring clans. But after World War II, the demographics changed, and the Shiite population increased. Compounding this was the movement of Palestinians into Lebanon in 1948. Lebanon thus became a container for competing clans. Although the clans were of different religions, this did not define the situation. Multiple clans in many of these religious groupings fought each other and allied with other religions.

    Moreover, Lebanon’s issues were not confined to Lebanon. The line dividing Lebanon from Syria was an arbitrary boundary drawn by the French. Syria and Lebanon were not one country, but the newly created Lebanon was not one country, either. In 1976 Syria — or more precisely, the Alawite dictatorship in Damascus — invaded Lebanon. Its intent was to destroy the Palestinians, and their main ally was a Christian clan. The Syrian invasion set off a civil war that was already flaring up and that lasted until 1990.

    Lebanon was divided into various areas controlled by various clans. The clans evolved. The dominant Shiite clan was built around Nabi Berri. Later, Iran sponsored another faction, Hezbollah. Each religious faction had multiple clans, and within the clans there were multiple competitors for power. From the outside it appeared to be strictly a religious war, but that was an incomplete view. It was a competition among clans for money, security, revenge and power. And religion played a role, but alliances crossed religious lines frequently.

    The state became far less powerful than the clans. Beirut, the capital, became a battleground for the clans. The Israelis invaded in order to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization, with Syria’s blessing, and at one point the United States intervened, partly to block the Israelis. When Hezbollah blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing hundreds of Marines, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, realizing the amount of power it would take to even try to stabilize Lebanon, withdrew all troops. He determined that the fate of Lebanon was not a fundamental U.S. interest, even if there was a Cold War under way.

   The complexity of Lebanon goes far beyond this description, and the external meddling from Israel, Syria, Iran and the United States is even more complicated. The point is that the clans became the reality of Lebanon, and the Lebanese government became irrelevant. An agreement was reached between the factions and their patrons in 1989 that ended the internal fighting — for the most part — and strengthened the state. But in the end, the state existed at the forbearance of the clans. The map may show a nation, but it is really a country of microscopic clans engaged in a microscopic geopolitical struggle for security and power. Lebanon remains a country in which the warlords have become national politicians, but there is little doubt that their power comes from being warlords and that, under pressure, the clans will reassert themselves.

Repeats in Syria and Iraq

    A similar process has taken place in Syria. The arbitrary nation-state has become a region of competing clans. The Alawite clan, led by Bashar al Assad (who has played the roles of warlord and president), had ruled the country. An uprising supported by various countries threw the Alawites into retreat. The insurgents were also divided along multiple lines. Now, Syria resembles Lebanon. There is one large clan, but it cannot destroy the smaller ones, and the smaller ones cannot destroy the large clan. There is a permanent stalemate, and even if the Alawites are destroyed, their enemies are so divided that it is difficult to see how Syria can go back to being a country, except as a historical curiosity. Countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States might support various clans, but in the end, the clans survive.

   Something very similar happened in Iraq. As the Americans departed, the government that was created was dominated by Shia, who were fragmented. To a great degree, the government excluded the Sunnis, who saw themselves in danger of marginalization. The Sunnis consisted of various tribes and clans (some containing Shiites) and politico-religious movements like the Islamic State. They rose up in alliance and have now left Baghdad floundering, the Iraqi army seeking balance and the Kurds scrambling to secure their territory.

   It is a three-way war, but in some ways it is a three-way war with more than 20 clans involved in temporary alliances. No one group is strong enough to destroy the others on the broader level. Sunni, Shiite and Kurd have their own territories. On the level of the tribes and clans, some could be destroyed, but the most likely outcome is what happened in Lebanon: the permanent power of the sub-national groups, with perhaps some agreement later on that creates a state in which power stays with the smaller groups, because that is where loyalty lies.

    The boundary between Lebanon and Syria was always uncertain. The border between Syria and Iraq is now equally uncertain. But then these borders were never native to the region. The Europeans imposed them for European reasons. Therefore, the idea of maintaining a united Iraq misses the point. There was never a united Iraq — only the illusion of one created by invented kings and self-appointed dictators. The war does not have to continue, but as in Lebanon, it will take the exhaustion of the clans and factions to negotiate an end.

   The idea that Shia, Sunnis and Kurds can live together is not a fantasy. The fantasy is that the United States has the power or interest to re-create a Franco-British invention crafted out of the debris of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, even if it had an interest, it is doubtful that the United States has the power to pacify Iraq and Syria. It could not impose calm in Lebanon. The triumph of the Islamic State would represent a serious problem for the United States, but no more than it would for the Shia, Kurds and other Sunnis. As in Lebanon, the multiplicity of factions creates a countervailing force that cripples those who reach too far.

   There are two issues here. The first is how far the disintegration of nation-states will go in the Arab world. It seems to be under way in Libya, but it has not yet taken root elsewhere. It may be a political formation in the Sykes-Picot areas. Watching the Saudi peninsula will be most interesting. But the second issue is what regional powers will do about this process. Turkey, Iran, Israel and the Saudis cannot be comfortable with either this degree of fragmentation or the spread of more exotic groups. The rise of a Kurdish clan in Iraq would send tremors to the Turks and Iranians.

   The historical precedent, of course, would be the rise of a new Ottoman attitude in Turkey that would inspire the Turks to move south and impose an acceptable order on the region. It is hard to see how Turkey would have the power to do this, plus if it created unity among the Arabs it would likely be because the memories of Turkish occupation still sting the Arab mind.

   All of this aside, the point is that it is time to stop thinking about stabilizing Syria and Iraq and start thinking of a new dynamic outside of the artificial states that no longer function. To do this, we need to go back to Lebanon, the first state that disintegrated and the first place where clans took control of their own destiny because they had to. We are seeing the Lebanese model spread eastward. It will be interesting to see where else its spreads.


“<a href=””>Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon&#039;s Precedent</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”


Al-Qaeda si razboiul civil din Siria

Putini observatori mai credeau ca guvernul lui Bashar al-Assad ar mai putea avea un viitor in razboiul sangeros din Siria. Ultimele luni developeaza o alta imagine in care Al-Assad domina conflictul iar raportul de forte a capatat alte valente. The Economist sustine ca prezenta Al-Qaeda in Siria a modificat drastic echilibrul de putere intre partile aflate in conflict. Cu degetul este aratat Statul Islamic, cunoscut si cu acronimul SIIL sau ISIS, o grupare legata de Al-Qaeda care si-a facut aparitia in Siria in luna aprilie 2013, devenind una dintre cele mai puternice forte, dispunand de 7000 de luptatori puternic inarmati, multi dintre ei fiind islamisti caliti in razboaie.

Originile gruparii IS se afla in Irak, unde a fost fondata in 2003 ca o forta sunita pentru a raspunde invaziei Statelor Unite in aceasta tara. In 2004 si-a confirmat devotamentul fata de Al-Qaeda si Osama bin Laden schimbandu-si denumirea in Al-Qaeda din Irak (AQI). Statele Unite au oferit o recompensa de 10 milioane de dolari in schimbul unor informatii care sa duca la capturarea liderului gruparii, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, dar fara succes pana in prezent.
In primavara anului 2003, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a anuntat fuziunea AQI cu Frontul Al-Nusra, ramura AQI din Siria. De atunci, cele doua grupari unificate s-au intitulat Statul Islamic din Irak si al-Sham (al-Sham facand referire la Marea Sirie, cunoscuta si sub numele de Levant).
Cresterea miscarilor jihadiste din ultimii ani sunt o consecinta a trei factori1:
Primul se refera la scaderea prezentei americane in zona, prin retragerea din Irak si Afganistan lasand acestora o mai mare libertate de miscare.
Al doilea factor este reprezentat de reluarea negocierilor intre SUA si Iran ceea ce a condus la o crestere a temerilor in randul populatiilor sunite, aici incluzand firesc si Arabia Saudita. Și nu in ultimul rand:
Al treilea factor – alegerile din Afganistan, Irak, Egipt si Siria care au incercat sa promoveze guverne neprietenoase jihadistilor.
Temuta grupare stabilita in nord-vestul Siriei a impus legea Shariei, retinandu-i si decapitandu-i pe sirienii care nu le impartasesc viziunea traditionalist-conservatoare asupra Islamului si purtand un razboi nemilos cu militiile rivale. Populatia kurda din nordul Levantului si-a constituit propriile militii luptand deopotriva cu trupele guvernamentale si briganzii Al-Qaeda Irak. Frontul Al-Nursa (grupare afiliata Al-Qaeda si rivala celei din Irak condusa de Ayman al Zawahiri) a devenit foarte puternica in zona de nord dupa ce a preluat un depozit de arme aflat la 100 de km de Damasc, la Maeen. Dupa numai sase luni de la ofensiva din nordul Siriei, Al-Nusra si-a renegociat cu Zawahiri termenii vasalitatii, acesta retragandu-si luptatorii ISIS si acreditand Frontul Al-Nusra ca singura grupare autorizata sa lupte in Levant. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, liderul de facto al ISIS, a refuzat acesta intelegere. Drept urmare luptatorii celor doua grupari extremiste au intrat intr-o zona de confuzie.
Pe acesta neintelegere s-a cladit o noua alianta ce poarta numele de Armata Islamica finantata de Arabia Saudita2.
ISIS (IS) actualmente domina o serie de avanposturi din regiune situate in orase strategice la care liderii sai fac referire ca la niste mini-emirate. Prin aceste avanposturi, luptatorii ISIS (IS) au capacitatea sa monitorizeze traficul de frontiera dintre Siria si Turcia, controland efectiv cele mai multe puncte de trecere. Consecintele au putut fi repede cuantificate printr-o paralizie a Armatei de Eliberare a Siriei, care domina opozitia din Siria cu ajutorul generoaselor donatii de bani si armament venite din Turcia3.
A devenit foarte clar pentru toata lumea ca bazele gruparilor rebele din Siria au fost preluate de ISIS. Washingtonul si Londra au anuntat ca nu doresc sa mai ofere, in aceasta situatie, asistenta rebelilor. Cresterea puterii ISIS(ISIL) in nordul Siriei a determinat admnistratia americana sa ia in considerare stabilirea unor legaturi cu alte grupari islamiste din tara pentru a restrange pe cat este cu putinta dominatia tactica a ISIS(ISIL). Perspectiva unui nou stat islamic/emirat in nordul Siriei, controlat de jihadisti, sugereaza administratiei americane ca ar trebui reangajat un dialog cu regimul Al-Assad pana cand lucrurile nu scapa iremediabil de sub control. Ironia face ca Bashar Al-Assad sa fi anuntat cu mult inainte ca grupurile radicale sa fi devenit cu adevarat semnificative in acest conflict de intentiile nihiliste ale jihadistilor teroristi4.
Armata de Eliberare Siriana este actualemente fortata sa lupte pe doua fronturi – impotriva lui Assad si impotriva ISIS(IS). Cei mai multi se pregatesc pentru un razboi impotriva ISIS(IS) dar nu stiu inca daca sa o faca inainte sau dupa alungarea lui Assad.
De fapt cine sunt gruparile rebele care se impotrivesc regimului Assad si mai nou ISIS? Conform unui studiu facut de BBC acestea sunt alcatuite din peste 1.000 de contingente ce insumeaza circa 100.000 de combatanti. Dintre contingente amintim: Armata de Eliberare Siriana (FSA) – formata din cateva zeci de mii de militari dezertori ai armatei guvernamentale, condusa de Salim Idris (principalul interlocutor al Occidentului), Brigazile Martirilor, Frontul Islamic de Eliberare (SILF), Brigazile Farouq, Șoimii Siriei, Batalionul Monoteismului, Batalionul Cuceririi, Batalionul Islamului, Miscarea Islamica a Barbatilor Liberi din Levant, Nepotii Profetului, Scuturile Revolutiei, Adunarea Sprijinitorilor Islamului, Brigada Unitatii Nationale, Statul Irakului si Levantului (ISIS) si Frontul Sprijinitorilor Poporului Levantului (Al-Nusra – fundamentalisti suniti, factiune Al Qaeda). Acestora li se mai adauga alte zece mii de kurzi (Unitatile Protectiei Populare), 3-4.000 de ceceni (Armata Fratilor) si mia de jihadisti europeni deja mentionati.5
De cealalta parte, cei loiali regimului Al-Assad lupta pentru prezervarea propriei puteri. Iar cei aflati la periferia relatiilor cu familia Al-Assad nici macar nu mai lupta pentru familia acestuia ci pentru propria supravietuire.


Mai multe agentii de informatii americane si europene si-au exprimat preocuparea fata de fragmentarea opozitiei siriene, de radicalizare a unor factiuni precum Al-Nusra – filiala Al-Qaeda din Siria – sau SIIL (SI) si de patrunderea pe teritoriul sirian a unor combatanti islamici straini care s-au alaturat luptei sunite. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) sustine ca peste 1200 de presupusi jihadisti s-au inrolat in militiile locale venind din alte zone decat Orientul Mijlociu. O statistica din 3 noiembrie 2013 ne arata o distributie a celor plecati spre Siria dinspre Europa: 210 cetateni germani, 90 cetateni din Marea Britanie, 120 din Belgia, 50 din Danemarca si 150 din Kosovo6. Presedintele francez, Francois Hollande si-a aratat ingrijorarea fata de faptul ca 700 de cetateni francezi au plecat din Franta pentru a sustine cauza jihadistior sirieni. Fireste Europa cauta solutii pentru momentul in care alti cetateni, asemeni celor francezi, se vor intoarce de pe frontul sirian inapoi in tarile de origine. Acesti combatanti au pasapoarte europene si prin urmare nu au nevoie de viza pentru Statele Unite7.
Un caz elocvent il reprezinta cetateanul francez Mehdi Nemmouche despre care procurorii cred ca ar fi luptat aproape un an de zile in Siria. El este suspectat ca a ucis pe 24 mai, la Muzeul Evreiesc patru persoane.
Ingrijorarea este justificata. Inexistenta unui interlocutor viabil intarzie foarte mult orice strategie de negociere. Sute de grupari rebele fac si desfac aliante in fiecare zi. Din acest motiv regimul Assad se simte foarte confortabil. In comparatie cu regimul sau jihadistii etaleaza o forma de guvernamant, in nordul si vestul Siriei, greu acceptabila de catre Occident.
Dar valul consecintelor negative nu se opreste aici. Riscul de fragmentare al Siriei este unul real si este foarte posibil ca el sa fie ireversibil8. Se vorbeste tot mai mult de un scenariu irakian sau libanez in care scindarea pe criterii etnico-religioase (alawit, sunit, kurd) devine tot mai mult o realitate.
Granitele cu Irak-ul si Libanul sunt deja intr-un stadiu avansat de dezintegrare. Incercarea gruparii Statului Islamic (ISIS) de a reduce totul la o singura dimensiune etnica sau religioasa conduce fara drept de apel la disparitia ideii de stat multi-confesional si multi-etnic in regiune. Chiar daca druizii si crestinii sirieni si-au pastrat neutralitatea in acest conflict rebelii sirieni, in majoritatea lor suniti, n-au fost foarte incantati de aceasta atitudine.
Numarul refugiatilor este in continua crestere iar distrugerile suferite sunt greu de recuperat in urmatorii 10 ani. In acest moment comunitatea internationala nu are o strategie de relocare a refugiatilor. Țarile vecine Turcia, Libanul, Iordania si Irakul sunt depasite de problema. Numarul celor refugiati se ridica la peste 30.000 de persoane pana la sfarsitul lui 20149.
Statele Unite sunt incapabile sa gestioneze mai mult de o criza internationala10 si asta pe fondul unor probleme interne ce deturneaza atentia admnistratiei americane. Intr-un articol din 17 septembrie 2013 Geroge Friedman sublinia un aspect foarte important in economia relatiilor si crizelor internationale. Obama nu doreste sa se angajeze nici un razboi. Ce-si doreste in schimb este o diminuarea a prezentei Statelor Unite in teatrele de operatii si o crestere semnificativa a unei coalitii a natiunilor, astfel incat SUA sa nu mai fie nici liderul si nici actorul principal11.
In tot acest timp personaje precum Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, pe numele sau real Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, cheama musulmanii la jihad intr-un mesaj de douazeci de minute12 cu prilejul asumarii functiei de calif:
Ingroziti orice inamic al lui Allah şi cautati moartea in locuri unde v-ati aştepta sa o gasiti.

Acest tip de discurs nu are darul de a linistii lucrurile. Ba dimpotriva. Reinventarea terorismului sub auspiciile unui nou califat reprezinta: cea mai importanta evolutie a jihadului international incepand din 11 septembrie – afirma Charles Lister, analist asociat la Brooking Doha.
Toate gruparile legate de Al-Qaeda si miscarile jihadiste independente vor trebui sa decida, acum, daca sustin Statul Islamic sau i se opun. […] Acest lucru ar putea marca nasterea unei noi era a jihadismului transnational, un pericol real pentru Al-Qaeda si pentru conducerea acestei miscari13.


1. Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis Tuesday, September 17, 2013 , Stratfor, by George Friedman

3. Keeping the Syrian state intact entails powersharing among all its constituent groups.
4. Syria’s forgotten war shouldn’t be forgotten, 03/12/14

5. Chimoterapie pentru Siria. Drama Levantului, intre tumoarea Bashar al Assad si metastazele Jihadului, autor: Apollon Cristodulo, Ziarul Ziua News.

6. The Sunni Ramadan Offensive and Lessons of Tet, 1 iulie 2014, Stratfor, Autor: George Friedman

8. Obama,s Bluff, Tuesday, August 27, 2013, Stratfor, by George Friedman

9. Saudis Back Syrian Rebels Despite Risks, by ROBERT F. WORTH
JAN. 7, 2014;emc=edit_th_20140108&amp;_r=1

Autor: Catalin Buciumeanu

Data: Iulie 2014