Tag Archives: Iraq
As the 2011-2012 Syrian Uprising begins to get into full swing, we at Mediolana were perusing Al Jazeera English’s excellent Syria Live Blog earlier today to try and get handle of the latest developments on the streets of Damascus and Aleppo when something stopped our scrolling in its tracks: the grim news that the government of neighbouring Iraq has ‘urged all Iraqis living in Syria to escape being wounded or killed‘.
On one level, this may represent something of a nadir for the entire Arab Spring process: a minority which is significantly constituted of the human fallout from Operation Iraqi Freedom being advised to hot foot it back to their violence-defined homeland; amongst other things, it implies that the state of affairs in Syria is truly dire. But it also set us thinking: while the present wave of change in the Middle East and North Africa has claimed far too many victims – a sobering c.50,000 souls are estimated to have perished across the region since the beginning of the tumult – is this really surprising given the context of the transformation?
1. High Stakes. The immense efforts being invested by both the status quo and the various oppositional forces give a clue as to what is at stake: the destiny of arguably the most strategically significant region in the world. To take Syria as an example, for both world and regional powers alike there are huge real and symbolic consequences concomitant with the fate of the troubled al-Assad regime. There is more than a hint of self-reflection in the desire of Russia, China and Iran for maximal stability in Syria, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s wish to effect change also correlates with the variegated goals of these increasingly ambitious states.
2. Selective Memory. Eastern Europe’s democratisation process of the late 1980s and 1990s – a trajectory taken for granted today – was not without its bloodier moments. The wars in the former Yugoslavia – a one-party socialist state which has been supplanted by no less than seven much smaller republics – claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, with Bosnia and Herzegovina being scarred by concentration camps, mass rape and virulent ethnic cleansing from which that country has still not recovered. The Arab Spring begins to look benign by comparison.
It seems incredible that almost a decade separates the date of this blog post and the beginning of the Iraq War, almost indisputably the most controversial military operation in the first decade or so of the twentieth century; bewilderingly and despite its recency, there is still much about it that is uncertain. There are profound disagreements over the precise reasons that the United States – ultimately joined, though mostly symbolically, from forces spanning nearly forty countries – pursued this conflict, and it remains to be seen whether the incredible fiscal drain placed on America’s resources, conservatively estimated at US$3trn by Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, will prove to be a burden of decisive proportions.
But one thing is becoming ever-clearer: the geopolitical effect of military engagement in Iraq has been to turn one of the largest oil producers in the world into a state with a symbiotic relationship with Iran. In fact, so strong is the bond between Iraq and Iran – neighbours locked in a one million casualty conflict of their own for much of the 1980s – that the two countries are now forming an alliance with OPEC to counter Saudi Arabian influence within that organisation. This is particularly significant because despite Saudi Arabia’s dire international image, it is perceived as a reliable partner when it comes to pumping sweet, black crude out of the ground and supplying it to world markets with few questions asked; Iran, much like Venezuela, is keener to utilise the political potential of OPEC towards its own geostrategic goals.
Naturally, this feeds back into the United States’ present economic predicament, which is characterised by sensational levels of wealth destruction and, in the form of astonishing quantities of monetary printing, desperation; the last thing that the energy-intensive American economy needs is for the price of its key production and transportation input to undergo a structural increase in price because of a shift within the dynamics of OPEC. Yet that is precisely what it is being confronted with, the irony being that the status quo of the early 2000s would have precluded such an outcome.
The key events of the 2000s – the millennium celebrations, the events of 11th September 2011, the attempted US remodelling of the Greater Middle East, the emergence of the BRICIS – seem, from some perspectives at least, a long time ago. Many of the key protagonists of that era have moved on, either in this world (Tony Blair, Jiang Zemin) or the next (Ahmad Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden). The Iraq War – particularly to many observers outside of the Middle East – may seem to be an artifact from the increasingly distant past, commencing as it did way back on 20th March 2003.
It may therefore come as a genuine surprise to many that the best part of a decade after the official beginning of hostilities in Iraq, the country is still not safe to host international football matches: tomorrow is the deadline for the Iraqi Football Association to notify FIFA of the neutral venue in Asia where they wish to hold their remaining 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2012 Summer Olympic Games preliminary matches.
This is an especially sobering development because it represents a clear backwards step in the country’s reintegration into the wider world. For virtually all of the period since 2003, the Iraqi national team have been forced to play ‘home’ matches at a number of stadia outside Iraq’s borders, engendering matches played in eerie atmospheres in glistening, virtually empty arenas in Qatar and the UAE, as well as more colourful encounters elsewhere in the region. Indeed, since 2003 Iraq have only played two competitive home games – the most recent of which was the World Cup qualifier against Jordan on 2nd September 2011 - within Iraqi territory; moreover, even this tie was not hosted, as one would expect, in Baghdad, but instead in Arbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan and a settlement closer to the Turkish border than the capital of Iraq.
What makes this peripatetic existence doubly depressing is that Iraq are one of the finest teams in West Asia: a team replete with talents such as holding midfielder Nashat Akram (refused a work permit for a transfer to Manchester City in the summer of 2007), tricky winger Hawar Mulla Mohammed (the first Iraqi to play in the UEFA Champions League) and goal machine Younis Mahmoud should arguably have achieved far more than even their incredible attainments to date in the twenty-first century: a run to fourth place in the 2004 Summer Olympics followed by a miraculous sequence of results in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup which saw the Iraqis crowned champions of their continent.
Presently coached by Brazilian legend Zico – formerly boss of the Japanese national football team, Fenerbahçe, CSKA Moscow and Bunyodkor – Iraq clearly have the technical expertise both on and off the field to make a big impression in the remaining eleven months of the Seleção icon’s contract. But circumstances beyond even Zico’s control may sabotage his charges’ attempts to make the impression they are capable of on forthcoming international tournaments.
The ultimate consequences of the still-unfolding events in Libya remain to be seen, but while the world’s eyes are focused on the spectacle of a courageous revolution against a dictator whose probable final days at the helm of his country have been characterised by a mixture of industrial bloodletting and surreal performance art, two developments which have barely flickered on the global consciousness could yet prove to be the most profound results of the Libyan uprising:
1. On 22nd February 2011, the price of Brent crude oil rose to US$108 per barrel; six days later, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid reported that the opposition authorities now in control of eastern Libya ‘are scrutinising contracts with the intent to cancel any that they deem to be illegal‘;
2. On 25th February 2011, the Spanish government announced that effective from 7th March 2011, motorway speed limits would be lowered, train ticket prices cut and usage of biofuels would be intensified. Around 13% of oil consumed in Spain is sourced from Libya; deputy prime minster Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba stated that a €10 per barrel increase in oil prices would cost Spain – a country already on something of an economic precipice – an extra €500m per month. Spain was alone in instituting such measures.
These developments are significant because they illustrate two interrelated phenomena: the strong possibility of a recalibrated relationship between oil-producing nations and their clients, and the rather moderate response of oil-dependent territories to this recalibration. As this blog examined on 7th February 2011, uber-economist Nouriel Roubini has convincingly posited that there is nothing less than a symbiosis between recessions and high oil prices. And this makes recent developments in Libya even more salient, because while its revolutionary predecessors Egypt and Tunisia possess relatively small oil reserves, Libya is a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (‘OPEC’), pumping 1.6 million barrels per day and meeting almost 2% of the entire global demand for oil.
OPEC itself is replete by countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are presently experiencing or have rich potential to experience significant unrest; indeed, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia make up nearly half of the organisation’s membership. If the thirst for reform in these countries proves as unquenchable as the planet’s desire for palatably priced oil, a lot more contracts might be abrogated, and many more speed limits – not least that of the world economy – reduced.