THE BLOG
07/17/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2014

The Strangest Disaster on the Planet Right Now

Who even knows what to call it? The Iraq War or the Iraq-Syrian War would be far too orderly for what's happening, so it remains a no-name conflict that couldn't be deadlier or more destabilizing -- and it's in the process of internationalizing in unsettling ways. Think of it as the strangest disaster on the planet right now. After all, when was the last time that the U.S. and Russia ended up on the same side in a conflict? You would have to go back almost three-quarters of a century to World War II to answer that one. And how about the U.S. and Iran? Now, it seems that all three of those countries are sending in military hardware and, in the case of the U.S. and Iran, drones, advisers, pilots, and possibly other personnel.

Since World War I, the region that became Iraq and Syria has been a magnet for the meddling of outside powers of every sort, each of which, including France and Britain, the Clinton administration with its brutal sanctions, and the Bush administration with its disastrous invasion and occupation, helped set the stage for the full-scale destabilization and sectarian disintegration of both countries. And now the outsiders are at it again.

The U.S., Russia, and Iran only start the list. The Saudis, to give an example, have reportedly been deeply involved in funding the rise of the al-Qaeda-style extremist movement the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Now, facing that movement's success -- some of its armed followers, including undoubtedly Saudi nationals, have already reached the Iraqi-Saudi frontier -- the Saudis are reportedly moving 30,000 troops there, no doubt in fear that their fragile and autocratic land might someday be open to the very violence their petrodollars have stoked. Turkey, which has wielded an open-border/safe haven policy to support the Syrian rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime, including ISIS and other extremist outfits, is now dealing with kidnapped nationals and chaos on its border, thanks to those same rebels. Israel entered the fray recently as well, launching airstrikes against nine Syrian "military targets," and just to add to the violence and confusion, Assad's planes and helicopters have been attacking ISIS forces across the now-nonexistent border in Iraq. And I haven't even mentioned Hezbollah, the Jordanians, or the Europeans, all of whom are involved in their own ways.

Since 2003, Dahr Jamail, a rare and courageous unembedded reporter in Iraq, has observed how this witch's brew of outside intervention and exploding sectarian violence has played out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. It couldn't be a sadder tale, one he started reporting for TomDispatch in 2005 -- even then the subject was "devastation." Nine years later, he's back in "A Nation on the Brink" and the devastation is almost beyond imagining.