The Myth of Saddam Hussein Lives On

Feb. 20 2017

Last December, thousands of people in the Middle East took to social media to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Iraqi dictator’s execution. Some even gathered in person for informal memorial services. Gilad Shiloach comments:

The support for Saddam . . . shows that many still consider him a symbol of Arab nationalism and that, a decade after his death, he is still popular in some Middle Eastern circles, perhaps more so among [non-Iraqis]. . . . From [his admirers’] perspective, . . . “Islamic State would not have come about under Saddam,” and his mortal enemies from neighboring Iran are the main beneficiaries of his ousting. . . . Others . . . wrote that the day Saddam was executed was also “the day that Iraq was put to death,” and protested the fact that Americans had turned Iraq over “to the filthiest creatures of Allah—Shiites.”

Within Islamic State (IS), [however], there is also commemoration of Saddam, with posters of him displayed in the organization’s explosives factories and command posts in Sunni strongholds like Fallujah. This symbolism [reflects the fact] that many senior officers in IS are former officials of Saddam’s regime. . . .

The events that occurred in the Middle East following Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003 led to his centrality in a number of myths. The most prevalent narrative in [social-media] posts published by Sunnis represents Saddam as the ultimate defender of Arabism against Iranian-Shiite expansionism. These posts laud Saddam’s success in maintaining the region’s—and especially Iraq’s—Arab identity and territorial integrity.

There is no disputing that Baghdad, currently under Shiite leadership, no longer serves as a counterbalance to Tehran’s influence. As Iran strives to achieve regional hegemony, Iraq has ceased to play a central role in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf. Instead, Iraq has become a failed state, succumbing to Sunni-Shiite conflict and jihadist terrorism. As such, expressions of support for Saddam . . . were more extensive this year [than previously].

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More about: Arab World, Iran, Iraq, Politics & Current Affairs, Saddam Hussein

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey