De-Ummafication: Understanding the Flux in the Middle East- Part I

Qassem Sulaimani's assassination has created fresh instability in West Asia. Source:

(Part I of a two-part series)

The last few days have been heady even by the unpredictable standards of the Gulf. The assassination of an Iranian senior military operative, the elite commander of the Sepah-e-Pasdaran-e-Enqelabe or the Army of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force has sent a moderate political tremor across the region.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are a 120,000 strong and report directly to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There has been a barrage of wonky reportage on the killing of General Qassem Sulaimani, a near mythical figure worthy of a 2013 New Yorker Biography Long Read.

An honour which is bestowed to a chosen few, General David Petraeus, the former CIA Director and Soldier Scholar has called this particular intervention bigger than Osama Bin Laden’s assassination in Abbottabad. He was in charge of extra-territorial operations in the Shia realm of influence from Damascus to Sana’a via Baghdad.

The drone strike was a page right out of the Israeli Counter Insurgency Playbook, and it has no ‘Silver Linings’ here. 

This killing will galvanise Iranian State in the face of sanctions that have crippled the economy leading to protests over fuel prices and protests that have resulted in a loss of several lives. The sanctions stem from Iran’s insistence of a domestic nuclear program as a sovereign nation which is a just demand from an Indian perspective. 

Iran, a civilizational state of 86 million people with geographical contours from the Azeri Border in the North to Bandar Abbas in the South has been in a state of intermittent conflict since 1979, when the Clerical State took over from the pro American Shah. The eight-year Iran-Iraq War and the post 2003 invasion of Iraq has meant, many theatres of action including Beirut in Lebanon with the Hezbollah-Israel 2006 conflict. 

The seeds of anti-Americanism were sowed further back in 1953 when a democratically elected government was deposed in favour of the Shah, as they were contemplating nationalising oil in Iran.  History has shown that any government which stood in the way of western oil access has been demolished, including the winning back of Kuwait by American forces in the 1990 Gulf War. 

The ‘Umma’ is the notion of one Muslim Community under God. However, the Middle East has been fractious since 632 AD with the deep Sunni- Shia fissures, hence the ‘Umma’ is a contested space rather than a monolith.

In the words of Dilip Hiro, Middle East Scholar and Writer, the region is under an ‘Islamic Cold War’ (the name of his brilliantly written new book as well). The region is divided between Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Wahabbi School and the counter Shia revolutionary project of the Mullahs of Mashhad. Mr. Adel Jubeir, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the IISS Manama Dialogue 2019 Plenary Session Two spoke of Iran as having ‘a Vision of Darkness’.

His eloquent speech did not hide the distaste for the Shia State.  This should come hardly as a surprise as Saudi Aramco Facilities have been hit in the past few months by drones, and rockets from Houthi controlled territory has attached Abha airport as well. Oil Tankers off Fujairah, a prominent oil bunkering port in the UAE (the only one on the Sea of Oman side) have been under attack in the geographically strategic Straits of Hormuz.

The way conditions stand today, the region is being reconfigured in to two camps with Iran, Turkey and Qatar with Russia forming an alliance in counter to the Saudi led grouping with UAE, Bahrain and Egypt with Pakistan, along with a thawing alliance with arch rival Israel.  

Qatar is known for its activist foreign policy overtures in Libya, Egypt and the Horn of Africa. Foreign Policy efforts of the UAE have acted in a constructive manner between Eritrea and Ethiopia to achieve peace and is playing a part in Yemen as well. Saudi Arabia has gone in for a full-fledged war with Iran-supported Houthis which it is trying to get out off with a face-saving solution after a no-win scenario emerging after years of fighting.

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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