On one hand, people may say It’s about time that the Muslim nations in the world do something to clean up their own back yard. On the other hand, will this alliance fight terrorism, or the ancient Sunni-Shi’ite war that has raged for more than a millennium? Based on who is — and who isn’t — part of this alliance, and who’s fighting whom right now, bet on the latter:
Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that 34 nations have agreed to form a new “Islamic military alliance” to fight terrorism.
The announcement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency said the coalition is being established because terrorism “should be fought by all means and collaboration should be made to eliminate it.” …
The new counterterrorism coalition includes nations with large and established armies such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt as well as war-torn countries with embattled militaries such as Libya and Yemen. African nations that have suffered militant attacks such as Mali, Chad, Somalia and Nigeria are also members.
Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Shiite Iran, is not part of the coalition. Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposite sides of in the wars raging in Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia is currently leading a military intervention in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels and is part of the U.S.-led coalition bombing the Sunni extremist ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Oh, and about the one government that is fighting ISIS on the ground, even if they’re not doing a good job of it:
Iraq and Syria, whose forces are battling to regain territory taken by ISIS and whose governments are allied with Iran, are not in the coalition.
Seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia on the opposite sides of a regional conflict is obviously nothing new. However, ISIS is a Sunni phenomenon, not a Shi’a group. They attack Shi’ite mosques within their reach, which is one reason among several that Iran has provided resources and military personnel to fight ISIS in Iraq’s Sunni-held areas. Iraq may be a client state of Iran more than in the past, but it needs to find ways to get the Sunni tribes allied with Baghdad to some extent if Iraq is to defeat ISIS in its own territory. The obvious partner for that would be Saudi Arabia, and for Saudi Arabia, the government in Baghdad is essential to that counter-terrorism fight too … if that’s what the priority truly is. Clearly, the new alliance has other priorities.
The Saudis aren’t the only entity nominally in the anti-ISIS fight with a curious set of priorities, either. Russia has escalated its diplomatic and military clash with Turkey (also in the Saudis’ new alliance) by bombing targets near Turkey’s borders to target anti-Assad forces there. The Russian attacks have set off a new humanitarian crisis to boot, the Washington Post reports:
Aid agencies are warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Syria as sharply intensified Russian airstrikes paralyze aid supply routes, knock out bakeries and hospitals and kill and maim civilians in growing numbers.
Air attacks have escalated significantly since Turkey shot down a Russian warplane along the Turkey-Syria border on Nov. 24, the aid agencies say, with Russia responding to the incident by stepping up its effort to crush the anti-government rebellion in the insurgent-held provinces bordering Turkey.
Among the targets that have been hit are the border crossings and highways used to deliver humanitarian supplies from Turkey, forcing many aid agencies to halt or curtail their aid operations and deepening the misery for millions of people living in the affected areas, according to a report this month by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Hospitals and health facilities also have been struck, reducing the availability of medical care for those injured in the bombings. According to the U.N. report, at least 20 medical facilities have been hit nationwide in Syria since Russia launched its air war on Sept. 30.
The Russians have other priorities, too. Their first priority is to prop up Assad. Turkey’s first priority is to depose Assad. Iran wants to prop up Assad too, but they’re more interested in expanding the grip of Shi’a Islam in the region. The Saudis and their new alliance have as their first priority to boot Iran out of Yemen and roll back both Shi’a and Iranian influence in the region.The only players that actually have ISIS as its first priority are the Kurds and the US, the latter of which has withdrawn from leadership in the fight and the former of which are the only effective force in the field against ISIS. And the latter won’t directly support the former with arms and materiel, but insists on working through Iran-based Baghdad instead.
This is what happens when the US decides to lead from behind.