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Is the Greater Middle East War imminent?

I decided to go with a political article this month due to the situation in Northern Syria and Iraq that has recently taken a horrible turn. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, ISIL or simply IS depending on which abbreviation you prefer) has strengthened its presence over the last few weeks in predominantly Kurdish areas near the southern Turkish border and forced many to flee their homeland. The ongoing battle for the control of Kobani, a small town that has strategic importance for both Kurds and the ISIS threatens once again the fragile balance between Turkey, Kurds living both in Turkey and Iraq and the PKK.

This is not the first time (and probably not the last) the Middle East’s future looks bleak and uncertain. However, more and more political analysts started to offer their version of the « New Middle East » that includes new countries and a whole different array of borders.  Last year before the ISIS made the covers of magazines all around the world an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times published a redrawn Middle East map showing how 5 countries could become 14. The article of Robin Wright that goes along with the map argues that Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen could be divided into 14 independent entities based on ethnic and/or religious divisions. Surprisingly, the map did not become as popular as the notorious New Middle East Map that was brought out as part of the Neocon Greater Middle East Initiative among lovers of conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the map is as interesting, if not more, in terms of revisiting the invented borders of Middle Eastern countries.

Current borders of the countries in the region were loosely drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed between France and the United Kingdom in 1916. It is therefore not shocking to see that regional elements want to have a say in establishing states that comply with national and religious aspirations. However, any formation of a new country would spark devastating wars and bring further chaos to the region. In fact, another political forecast made by the American author George Friedman asserts that the Middle East is unlikely to cause threat to superpower(s) or emerging countries within the first half of the 21st century simply due to ever-lasting social divides that will prevent the region to act as a unified actor.

All these assertions should not immediately frighten you or lead you to believe that a tremendous war is about to break out anytime soon. Nevertheless, to put things into perspective, it is still good to keep in mind that the World War I had started by the simple assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Then again, other forecasts about the future, such as the 2001: A Space Odyssey did not turn out to be entirely true. So, after reading this article feel free to warmonger or to keep on living in the mindset of the famous John Lennon song “Imagine”.

Bilal Müftüoğlu

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