Where Nothing Happens By Chance

Nothing happens in the Middle East by chance.

Especially when the United States maintains a 160,000-man presence in Iraq and downtown Baghdad is the scheduled home for its largest embassy-to-be in the world; specifically when three different events in three different countries all occur within the span of a few days.

Such were the circumstances after the twin minarets of the holy Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq were leveled, leaving nothing but a lonely clock tower standing after its golden dome had been previously destroyed sixteen months earlier; anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarian Walid Eido was killed in a car bomb in Beirut the same day, and Fatah was roundly expelled from Gaza by supporters of the (elected) Hamas government shortly thereafter.

Each situation triggered fear of further exacerbating sectarian tensions in the region, or in Gaza’s case, by proxy between the rival powers through their respective parties. For this reason, discussing these incidents in isolation may cause us to lose sight of the underlining issue: the role being played by the United States in dividing the Arab world.

The destruction of the golden dome of the Askariya Mosque in February 2006 set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq, possibly even more than anticipated. This is the only important Shia holy site in Iraq located in an overwhelmingly Sunni city. Although the United States was quick to blame al-Qaeda for bringing down its minarets last week, it was probably the work of Ba’athists. As the mosque was “guarded” by Iraqi police, such a force would be much more easily infiltrated by fellow Iraqis than by the foreigners of al-Qaeda – and none better suited to do so than Saddam’s old guard. Although nominally secular, Iraqi Ba’athists are vehemently anti-Shia and have not hesitated to desecrate their religious sites in the past.

Nothing happens in the Middle East by chance.

It was no coincidence that the United States recently admitted to equipping Iraq’s Sunni tribes in its fight against al-Qaeda in Anbar province and elsewhere. To be sure, some weapons were likely given to friendly and peaceful elements within them. However it is these same tribes which were part and parcel of Saddam’s power base in Iraq. Have they so easily accepted no longer being recipients of the state’s largesse? Moreover, with the relatively good terms the members of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance are with Iran, would arming Iraq’s Sunnis to curb their power and influence prior to an attack on Iran be such a bad idea?

Thus the announced intention of fighting al-Qaeda in this manner is likely pretext. Knowing full well their sympathy toward the Ba’athists and other militant nationalist groups (who will be of great assistance in keeping the country’s Shia “busy”) the recent attack on Samarra should come as no surprise.

In Gaza and Lebanon, a similar story unfolded.

It has become increasingly clear that Palestinian President and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas and security chief Mohammad Dahlan have sold their services to the United States and Israel. As reported by Ha’aretz, both countries have covertly and overtly sent weapons to Fatah in order to help them overpower Hamas in Gaza. The Guardian, through publication of a leaked memo, also disturbingly reported that United Nations Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto revealed that Abbas himself was complicit in the US/EU aid boycott of the Palestinian territories.

Despite the forces aligned against them, Hamas roundly expelled Fatah to the West Bank and gave the United States and Israel a good slap in the facebut not a very hard one. With Hamas now relegated to governing 1.4 million people in the 140 square miles that is the Gaza strip ­ one of the most congested places on earth – and Fatah in firm control of the West Bank, talk of a unified Palestinian state seems distant. The United States and European Union have already pledged their support to Abbas and recognized the authority of his unelected government and new prime minister.

Meanwhile the noose tightens around Hamas and the people of Gaza, who will suffer and go hungry this summer, while Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, under the patronage of the United States and clients, will flourish. Call it another successful division.

Nothing happens in the Middle East by chance.

Finally, Lebanon. As Palestine has Abbas and Dahlan, Lebanon has Siniora and Hariri. Previously discussed was their role in bringing Fatah al-Islam into Lebanon in order to combat Hezbollah. The Lebanese government has also been on the receiving end of United States arms shipments, allegedly to help fight the invited guests of Tripoli.

Although the overall situation in Lebanon fits well into the pattern described above, the latest killing of Walid Eido, a parliamentarian well-known for his anti-Syrian views, would seem to run counter to it. His death after all was attributed to Syria. It is believed (somewhat naively) that by “killing off” anti-Syrian MPs, Siniora will lose his parliamentary majority and the government will collapse, as if they are unable to be replaced.

That notion aside, a clarifying question is: who benefits?

Does Syria benefit from Eido’s murder, with the subsequent funeral procession, turning as they always do, into political rallies headed by Saad Hariri? Who benefits when he proceeds, on cue, to raise the specter of increasing Iranian influence in Lebanon and incites the crowd into hurling insults at Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah? Who benefits when the Lebanese government finds friends in George Bush, Ehud Olmert and the Kings Abdullah? Syria?

Hariri has blamed Fatah al-Islam as agents of Syria, despite the Hariri family paying their way out of Lebanese jails so they may act against Hezbollah. Can we really then consider him a reliable source in assessing blame for the crimes and assassination committed in Lebanon?

As can be deduced from these three separate occurrences, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iraq’s Shia, with help from Israel and a handful of Arab dictatorships, are being systematically hemmed-in by the United States prior to an attack on Iran. This is being accomplished through fomenting division and sectarianism among the people.

An evil kindling has indeed been set – in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon.

We may not be able to predict where the next fire will blaze, but we surely know who has been striking the matches.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on issues dealing with the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at rbamiri@yahoo.com.




Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.