by Denis Churilov
ISIS/Daesh is likely to be defeated in Syria and Iraq very soon. But will it bring peace to the region? No. There are many potential local conflicts that can break out in the nearest future. Some of them are already going on, some of them are in the dormant state, waiting to be triggered. Other conflicts might be created spontaneously out of thin air.
Let’s try to predict the upcoming conflicts in the Middle East. The following list contains the worst case scenarios that are not mutually exclusive and can, in fact, facilitate one another in a domino effect style:
A civil war in Iraq between Kurdish Erbil and Iranian-backed Baghdad government. We have already seen reports on the clashes between Peshmerga forces and the Shia militias in 2016. The recent developments with the referendum may soon exacerbate the situation, especially considering that ISIS has been seriously weakened and now can’t serve as a unifying common threat factor.
Kurds in Turkey. The clashes between various Kurdish militants and Erdogan’s government have been occurring in southern provinces on a regular basis for the last few years, at times forcing Turkey to conduct full scale military operations, with tanks and helicopters (there are videos from 2016 on the Internet which show Kurdish fighters taking down assault helicopters with Soviet-made manpads; those events have been largely under-reported in the mainstream press). It is also important to note that Turkey has 1-5 million of Zazas, who have similar culture with Kurds (some researchers even consider them a sub-type of Kurdish ethnos). Many Zazas have been involved with the PKK. If escalated to a full scale, the civil war in Turkey may be worse than what we have so far observed in Iraq and Syria.
Kurds in northern Syria…
Kurds in Western Iran. The Iranian government has already banned fuel trade with the Iraqi Kurdistan and held joined border drills with the Iraqi government after the recent Erbil referendum.
So, if Kurds really start fighting for their independence, at least four countries will become involved directly: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
Then there is also Yemen. The Houthis (supported by Hezbollah and the Iranian government) have been fighting the official government and Saudi Arabia for years there, with the latter facilitating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes the world has seen in the 21st century. The conflict might potentially spread to southern provinces in Saudi Arabia, like the Najran province, which was annexed from Yemen in 1934. Those provinces are populated by, predominantly, Ismaili people. The pro-independence group Ahrar al-Najran (which formed as a response to Saudi aggression in Yemen) has been gaining political weight in the region, and the clashes between their groups and the government forces are coming out every couple of weeks nowadays.
Lebanon and Israel. Those two have been fighting wars against each multiple times since the late 1940s. Hezbollah, by the way, formed during the 1982 Lebanon War, and has, since then, acted as a strongly anti-Israel group. Lebanon and Israel still have border disputes, which may escalate into an armed conflict again if the political/economic situation worsens there.
Syrian-Israeli dispute around Golan Heights. If it escalates to a military conflict, Syrian Druze, most of whom live near the border, are likely to fight on the Israeli side, given the abundant presence of Druze people at all levels in the Israeli military ranks (and Druze are well known for their exceptional combat spirit).
Since ISIS is now nearly defeated in Syria and Iraq, the security services of Saudi Arabia and Qatar can potentially start financing new Salafi sects/organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda in numerous regions in the Middle East to fulfil their geopolitical goals (the human material for those wouldn’t be hard to find, considering the ever falling living standards in the war-torn countries and the subsequent radicalization of young population in those regions).
Also, we can’t rule out direct US aggression against the Syrian government (they already fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat airbase in April this year; the US Airforce has also “accidentally” attacked Syrian Arab Army positions a few times in the past, most notably when the US-led coalition killed over 80 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez-Zor in September 2016) and Iran.
Note that these conflicts will have an impact on other regions (in form of refugees, the vortex of economic instability, propaganda/information campaigns, which, in the age of fast communication technologies, can radicalise people all over the world). The large-scale wars are likely to spread to the Caucasus region (including Russia’s Chechnya and Dagestan), Central Asia, China’s Xinjiang, Pakistan, India, and so on.
We are entering turbulent times.