Allied forces led by the United States and Britain, having quelled the last resistance in Mosul and Raqqa, are said to have defeated ISIS.
Splendid, I say, but what happens next? What, in strategic terms, has been accomplished with this apparent victory, which incidentally culminated in the bizarre sight of surviving ISIS fighters not being winkled out their strongholds by force but transported out on buses?
Nobody seems to know.
The defeat of ISIS in the eastern parts of Syria and Iraq was apparently an allied end in itself. The same claims of ‘victory’ were propagated after Saddam Hussein was deposed back in 2003. If the sole objective of that campaign had been the fall of Saddam, then a victory was indeed achieved, but Iraq remains as unstable, chaotic and forsaken as ever. The same could have been said of Libya, only more so, after Gaddafi fell – and is still being said. As it would be of Syria should al-Assad be toppled, an unlikely event to say the least.
Sir Mark Sykes would have an answer. So would his French colleague Francois Georges-Picot, the two gentlemen who came up with the famous, or infamous according to taste, Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1917, which divided those parts of the Ottoman Empire area now being contested by various warring factions into zones of respective British and French influence. Were they still alive today, and assuming Britain and France were still the great imperial powers that they were at the time, they would simply draw lines on a map: “This bit is ours, old boy, that bit is yours – oh, and there has to be a bit for the Jews, as promised by our chap (Arthur) Balfour.”
Of course, the two men are no longer with us, and nor are the old colonial powers that they represented, so something else has to happen. Anyone got any ideas?
The Iranians, who quietly participated in the victorious anti-ISIS coalition will have an opinion or two. So will Syria. Which means that the Saudis will have to come up with a few countervailing views of their own to combat the emergence of a Shi’ite spectrum across the disputed territories.
The United States, as presently represented, probably has no more idea than the Man in the Moon what should happen next, other than nothing, and for reasons that have nothing to do with any grand overriding strategic view of the Middle East. That leaves Britain free to quietly withdraw its insignificant forces to await further instructions from Washington. Meanwhile, the British government has its hands full right now trying to work out a Brexit deal that won’t wreck the economy (I was going to add ‘and its reputation’, but that has already been embarrassingly shot to pieces).
All of this suggests, as some commentators have already predicted, yet another Iraq war, though between whom or what, and to what end none can say. Including this writer.
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