Saudi-led Coalition: A Fresh Angle To The Middle East Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before hosting the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in New York City… on Friday.                                                PHOTO: US State Department

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir before hosting the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in New York City… on Friday. PHOTO: US State Department

• Embedded Is The Sunni-Shiite Rivalry
• Nigeria Should Be Wary Of Joining Coalition, Says Thompson

WHEN the Saudis came up with a list of 34 coalescing Muslim-dominated countries to combat the terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, the scrutiny may not be as much on which country made the list, but which did not, thus further underscoring why the battle against terror could remain stunted and with less chances of success. Middle East friction has been largely on the account of Sunni versus Shiite division; especially over leadership tussles as evidenced in Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen and lately, Syria. Why there is restlessness of the Shiite population in Nigeria remains unclear.

WHEN the Saudis came up with a list of 34 coalescing Muslim-dominated countries to combat the terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere, the scrutiny may not be as much on which country made the list, but which did not, thus further underscoring why the battle against terror could remain stunted and with less chances of success. Middle East friction has been largely on the account of Sunni versus Shiite division; especially over leadership tussles as evidenced in Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen and lately, Syria. Why there is restlessness of the Shiite population in Nigeria remains unclear.

If the exclusion of Iran, perennial regional contender for supremacy, is understandable on the account of its Shiite-dominated population, in contrast to the rival Sunni-dominate population of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that of Indonesia is lost on many. Iran and Saudi Arabia are presently engaged in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Indonesia, on the other hand, is the world’s largest Muslim country with over 252 million population, among which more than 200 million are Sunni-Muslim. The country is the largest in a Muslim world chiefly dominated by Sunni; at least 85 percent of the global Muslim population are Sunnis.

Pakistan’s inclusion is sort of a surprise. When Saudi Arabia invited Islamabad to join the coalition intervening in Yemen, Pakistan declined because of Saudi’s insistence that only Sunni soldiers in the Pakistan military would be allowed. The country has the second largest Sunni population, but it also has the second largest Shiite population.

Like Iran, Iraq is also excluded from the Saudi coalition list. The Iraqi exclusion might have less to do with the ongoing crisis bedeviling that country, and more for its large Shiite population, constituting about 70 percent of its population.

Not a stranger to forming coalition, in 1991 Saudi Arabia teamed up with the United States of America, Britain, France and others to flush out the Saddam Hussein-led Army out of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is also leading a collation, which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, to dislodge the Shiite-dominated Houthi in Yemen. Curiously, in this current effort to rid the world of terror gangs, Saudi’s coalition includes stateless Palestine and a number of economically-challenged African countries that could be in dire need of Saudi Arabia’s economic succour.

While not singling out the Islamic State in this campaign, the Saudis declared that the intention is to fight terror in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. The IS had vowed to overthrow the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states. Incidentally, IS has also been mounting series of attacks on Shiite mosques and vowing to wipe them out.

Apart from the tiny Island of Comoros, Nigeria is among other African countries on the Saudi list, which includes, Guinea, Benin, Chad, Togo, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Other African-Arab countries include Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Morocco.

Speaking to The Guardian, international security expert and writer, Mr. Ladi Thompson, said Nigeria should pay scant attention to the Saudi-led coalition. According to him, “Nigeria cannot afford to lean on any foreign coalition until we rationalise our definition of terrorism with their own definitions of terrorism. We are better of spearheading a West African or African effort that will better reflect our own values and policies on counter-terrorism.

“We are in possession of socio-cultural solutions and indigenous cures that they do not have. We must build our defence structures from our region before striking accords.”

He warned Nigeria not to join a coalition that would further complicate security challenges in the country. “The challenge with the Nigerian approach to some of these international complexities is that we often lack the sophistry required to concatenate the essentials that govern counter-terrorism patterns. I am aware that some of the present twists and turns in the story were engineered to deconstruct the fountain heads of modern Islamist terror.

“There is a lot of ideological deception involved in the execution of this evil war and Nigeria has been very slow to grasp it’s true nature and expression while the leading nations involved are moving the chess pieces around the board. After assessing our performance over the past 15 years it is to warn Nigeria to tread carefully because there are those who will find it convenient to turn Nigeria into the new Afghanistan,” Thompson said.

According to him, more confusion will be born as some of the participants have suspect sentiments and positions on the terror issue. “The confusion will start with the interpretation of what constitutes terrorism. Have you ever read the original documents of the Cairo Declaration?

“Have we forgotten how arrested terror suspects were surreptitiously being released into the custody of certain community leaders instead of being prosecuted in the courts just some months ago. Nigeria has to thread carefully.”

Before the Saudi’s latest coalition, there are a number of active coalitions fighting terror groups in Syria and Iraq.

The US-led coalition has gathered the support of at least 65 countries; though, fewer than a dozen are actually contributing, with American jets carrying out most of the strikes. Incidentally, the US-led coalition’s airstrikes in Syria have never received permission from Syrian President Bashar Assad to enter the country’s airspace. US and Saudi Arabia had repeatedly insisted that Assad has no role in Syrian peace process.

On its part, Russia has been conducting its own airstrikes targeting IS and other terrorist groups in Syria since September 30. The strikes were launched at the formal request of Damascus. Russian jets have been carrying out sorties from Moscow’s Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia.

The Russian-led operation also involves coordinating its efforts with regional governments, including those of Syria, Iran and Iraq, which is known as the RSII coalition. Russia has been calling for a global coalition to fight IS.

On October 30, 2015, world leaders meeting in Vienna agreed to a nine-point plan they hoped would pave the way for a ceasefire in Syria and drastically reduce activities of terror gangs, but the meeting was marred by sharp division on what happens to President Assad.

There are different groups fighting the Assad regime, including the Free Syrian Army, Al-Qaeida-based groups, such as the Nusra Front and ISIS. The Assad government itself is dismissed as sectarian regime.

Sunni is sometimes applied to refer to areas where there are no Shiites, or, in Turkey, it might be assumed as a term relevant for all Arabs because of the view that Shiitism equals Iran. For those claiming to represent Sunnism or Shiitism, these terms serve to strengthen their sense of identity.

In theological terms, Sunni is a tradition that includes different internal divisions, the most important being in jurisprudence and theology. The legal schools regulate relations between family and state, from marriage to tax, and include the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali. The theological trends try to explain philosophical and ethical issues of Islam, from conceptualisations of God to notions of the universe and human place in it. In the main, these schools are the Ash’ari and Maturidi.

Instructively, no group among the conflicting parties in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf refer to issues of legalism and theology, leaving experts to conclude that the sectarian crisis in the Middle East is political; politics of succession, regional hegemony and sphere of influence.

However, an account noted that ISIS and other groups, like al-Qaeida, feed essentially from Sunni and Salafi religious ideology; specifically the Salafi branch of it. This ideology has evolved over a century and is embedded in a range of groups engaging in charity work, social support networks and religious education.

While Middle East conflicts may be partly motivated by sectarian concerns, the ongoing conflict is better understood as a struggle for power between two diverse coalitions, both of which incorporate a wide range of Sunni (Salafi) and Shiite elements.

Saudi Arabia is adamant in its resolve that President Assad cannot be part of a solution to the conflict and must hand over power to a transitional administration or be removed by force.

Riyadh is a major provider of military and financial assistance to several rebel groups, including those with Islamist ideologies, and has called for a no-fly zone to be imposed to protect civilians from bombardment by Syrian government forces.

A position also shared by Turkey. Ankara is a key supporter of the Syrian opposition and presently hosts almost two million refugees. But, according to reports, its policy of allowing rebel fighters, arms shipments and refugees to pass through its territory has been exploited by extremists wanting to join the IS.

On its part, Iran is believed to be spending billions of dollars each year in support of the Assad government, providing military advisers and subsidised weapons, as well as lines of credit and oil transfers.

Assad’s Syria is Iran’s closest Arab ally and Damascus is the main transit point for Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah.

Iran is also believed to be influential in Hezbollah’s decision to send fighters to western Syria to assist pro-Assad forces.

Militiamen from Iran and Iraq who say they are protecting Shiite holy sites are also fighting alongside Syrian troops.

Iran has proposed a peaceful transition in Syria that would culminate in free, multi-party elections. It was involved in peace talks over Syria’s future for the first time at the Vienna meeting. In conclusion, there are many faces to the Middle East crisis and solution may not be in sight yet. But the Saudi effort has to be watched for now.

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2 Comments
  • Esther Haman

    The News Making Machine “Middle East” has kept our so called “Leaders and Government” in the News for so many years and has kept us, the public on our toes. Our Leaders and Government has to fuel the fire every once in a while and help ISIS or Kill some allies to get more hatred increased and more news generated and in turn keep their name in the News.

    Saudis have invaded their southern neighbor “Yemen” as they did in Bahrain with our blessing and without a UN mandate. They have provided ISIS with Money, Weapons and hide outs to help their murdering ISIS Army do their dirty deeds for them and we are turning our eyes the other way. These Tyrants who are accomplices of 911 (19 out of 21 of them were Saudi Citizens) have nothing to offer but oil, but none of our “Leaders” has the Guts to say NO to them.

    Let’s stop this NEWS making machine and oust these tyrants. Let’s see the core of this conflict, lets discuss what the Middle Easterns are looking for and what their Gripping about and what they want, NOT what we want.

    • William Dennar

      Are we not members of IOC?Lets ride on.Nigeria is an Islamic and Arabic Nation.what else are we talking about.Sai Baba.

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