"SETTLING SYRIA, IRAQ CONFLICTS CLOSER WHILE GULF COUNTRIES FEUD"

 

SEPTEMBER 2017

SETTLING SYRIA, IRAQ CONFLICTS CLOSER WHILE GULF COUNTRIES FEUD

Conflicts in Syria, Iraq (and possibly Yemen) are approaching agreed settlements as Gulf countries, which subsidized a number of armed groups, are busy feuding with one another.

There are several conspiracy theories on who created the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (DAESH). Some point toward nearby borders while others suspect superpowers across the Atlantic. What is undeniably clear, however, is that foreign armed fighters were financially supported by specific Gulf countries, directly or through some of its citizens.

Names like "Jabhat Al-Nusra" and "Ahrar Al-Sham," are publicly perceived to be linked with certain Gulf states. To put it more bluntly, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were main patrons of a collection of armed set-ups, not necessarily from their own countries.

A number of fighters were brought from Chechnya, Daghestan, and Uzbekistan -- some with their families residing in villages nearby -- and took names like "Abu Ahmed Al-Chichani," or "Abu El-Uzbaki"; one of them commanded fighters across Syrian-Lebanese borders, taking part in negotiations to withdraw when the Lebanese army took over in combat. Others were publicly known former hashish border smugglers who suddenly discovered religious fervor (while maintaining their original businesses); one of them also announced himself an "Emir" of a fictitious religion and was killed in dubious circumstances.

Particularly at earlier stages, certain Saudi and Qatari officials negotiated with other interested governments, holding their subsidizing links as leverage. When the regime in Syria was expected to fall apart within months -- as publicly forecasted by former U.S. President Obama -- a Princely "Intelligence Chief" boasted about "creating" thousands of fighters sent from across borders.

Bargains were offered to other countries directly involved, like Russia (in 2015: "you stop supporting the government and we'll stop the Chechnians, Ingushetians, and Dagestanians from hitting the Sochi Olympics"). Capitals partially involved were offered different deals.

Turkey's then-Prime Minister Erdogan -- through his effective Security Master Chief -- played a major role in recruiting, hosting, protecting and pushing foreign armies' recruits across the borders. An attempted military coup in Istanbul was a wake-up call. President Erdogan shifted focus to consolidating his authority and building his statesman's image. With an ongoing conflict between two Gulf "Sunni" sides, he tried to mediate, though he has more financial interest with Qatar.

Now that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on one side, and Qatar on the other, have their own internal conflict, none of them have any more time to spend on maintaining conflicts elsewhere.

Qatar's opening to Iran, a close ally of Bashar Assad, would limit its ability to undercut the Syrian President. Saudi Arabia's interest in closing Yemen's dragging -- and embarrassing -- war, requires some arrangement with "Houthi" rebels and their outside supporters. With falling oil prices, and consolidated gains by ruling governments in Damascus and Baghdad, Saudi Arabia's young strongman Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will find it more practical to make internal efforts and consolidate his own vision and image, particularly among aspiring youth and influential Princes.

Recent repeated announcements by Qatar and Saudi Arabia that they are determined to fight terrorism (together with U.S. enhanced military deals with both) indicated that ISIS' time was over. As existing governments in Damascus and Baghdad are gaining overwhelming ground, a settlement seems more likely in the near future.

Regrettably, there was no effective role by the United Nations or any of its highly paid, constantly travelling and talkative envoys. Yet any advance for peace is always good news.