The calamity that unfolded following the Syrian uprising in 2011 and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following its blitzkrieg advance across a large swath of territories in Iraq and Syria has led to one of the most devastating humanitarian crisis in the history of mankind. It has drastically changed the geopolitical situation of the Middle East and has surfaced the deeply rooted unsettled issues in the greater region.
The underlying reasons for the constant turmoil in the Middle East are linked to the creation of artificial borders which were the outcome of the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement signed in 1916 between the allied forces, France and Britain, and the Sunni-Shia split lines in the schism that occurred following the Islamic prophet Muhammad's death in the year 632.
In the post World War One era, the borders of the Middle East were drawn without taking into account the historic boundaries and the ethnic and religious divisions. Moreover, global powers often supported tyrannical dictators to further their nation's economic and political interests. For instance, Kurdistan was forcefully partitioned and annexed into Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. In addition, with the help of the British Empire, the Sunni Arab minority of Iraq became the new masters of the majority Shia and the Kurds.
Yet, while the oppressive Middle Eastern regimes subjugated their citizens, especially the minorities, the global players kept a blind eye on the brutality, often supporting and arming the oppressors. A prime example is the Obama administration's support of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Maliki, in spite of his dictatorial and marginalizing policies, which ultimately allowed the Sunni regions to turn into breeding grounds for ISIS.
For the most part, the Middle East has become further polarized across Sunni and Shia spheres as the Sunni and Shia powers intensified their proxy wars against one-another to settle old scores. For example, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have been exploiting and arming the Sunni-armed groups in Syria (including ISIS and Al-Qaeda) to fight against the regime of Bashar Assad, a Shia. On the other hand, Iran has continued expanding its influence and military presence in Iraq and Syria.
Consequently, these developments have led to new alliances, while old ones have mended. For instance, for the first time since the Sykes-Picot agreement, Kurds have become one of the leading players in the region as Kurdish security forces have demonstrated to be the most effective force against ISIS. Further, the secular, pluralistic, and democratic nature of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has also influenced the United States and the European Union to support the Kurds.
In contrast, revelations of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar funding, arming, and training the jihadist groups, especially Turkey's support of ISIS against the Syrian Kurds, has strained their diplomatic relations with the United States and the European Union. On the other side of the spectrum, Russia's support of the Syrian and Iranian regimes has split the international community into two camps: East vs. West.
Today, the unfolding events in Iraq and Syria confirm the notation that ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the other jihadist terrorist groups are the greatest threat to the very existence of humanity and democracy. Further, the ongoing crisis can potentially transforms the chaos into broader regional conflicts.
In essence, in the modern era of global communication and technology, societies are more than ever interconnected and interdependent. It has brought people, cultures, and religions closer to one-another and has facilitated the movement of goods, capital, and ideas across the globe. Hence, a new era of globalized terrorism has emerged where non-state actors are easily disseminating information and mobilizing their terrorist activities through social networking sites, which has become the nucleus of their power.
Having said that, international peace and security requires politics based on moral principles and respect for human dignity, rather than the Machiavellian realpolitik approach. In today's globalized world, the interest of the global community should set precedence. Hence, genuine and enduring peace requires a comprehensive remedy where the underlying issues are carefully addressed. Thus, supporting dictators and despotic regimes leads to further turmoil, which is also the impetus that has inspired many disillusioned Muslims to join jihadist groups.
In the case of Iraq and Syria, the core issues that are inflaming the sectarian and ethnic divide must be addressed; a political solution that respects the will of the major ethnic and religious groups to establish their own federal regions or to break away as independent sovereign states is at the core of the solution, which has been neglected for nearly a century.