Only a few days old and 2014 is already starting to look like the year that Syria’s civil war bursts its seams and begins spilling over into neighboring countries. To the west, a series of bombings in Lebanon include some targeting Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia which is allied with the regime in Syria and has long operated as a quasi-state entity in divided Lebanon. For the first time since the Lebanese civil war wound down in 1990, Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other in serious numbers in a kind of mimickry of the sectarian battle lines in Syria. But most dramatically this week in western Iraq, a Syrian-based militia called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has declared the Sunni-Arab-dominated city of Fallujah to be an independent state.
ISIS, which I flagged just a few days ago as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014,” is an outgrowth of two groups. First is the Al-Nusra Front (a.k.a. Al-Nusra Brigades), who have for a while now operated as increasingly well organized jihadist fighters ideologically opposed both to the “heretic” Alawite Shi’a regime of Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, and to the more moderate Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) half-heartedly and warily backed by the West and armed by Turkey and others. (They hate the Kurds too.) Along with Al-Nusra, ISIS is also formed out of elements from the Islamic State of Iraq (I.S.I.) (a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Iraq), a hard-line Sunni militia founded by Taliban and other jihadist fighters hardened by war in Afghanistan who set up shop in Iraq in the power vacuum created by the United States invasion in 2003.
|Abu Waheeb (on phone), ISIS commander for Anbar province|
and presumably de facto ruler of the Islamic State of Fallujah
|Syrian areas of control as of two weeks ago.|
(The original map can be found at the highly recommended blog Political Geography Now.)
|Ramadi’s Army base on fire this week amid the fighting|
|Young Sunnis this week in Anbar resort to American pop culture to make their anti-Qaeda point.|
Where is Sigourney Weaver when Iraq needs her?
January 2014 may be looked back on as the tipping point, when the civil war in Syria could no longer be contained and became a more general regional war, embracing and weaving together numerous smaller wars in the Middle East. In the middle of it all, al-Qaeda is building a network of “emirates” which it is using to found a theocratic, terrorist state, across borders, in the heart of the Arab world. Unless the Iraqi government can somehow regain control. The next few days will tell.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas. The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014. I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]