Security Scenario in Iraq and Syria: Implications for the Middle East and South Asia

Security Scenario in Iraq and Syria: Implications for the Middle East and South Asia

Security Scenario in Iraq and Syria:
Implications for the Middle East and South Asia
 

A round table discussion was organized by United Service Institution on the topic ‘Security Scenario in Iraq and Syria: Implications for the Middle East and South Asia’. The speakers were Ambassador R S Kalha, IFS (Retd) and Lt Gen P C Katoch PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC (Retd). The audience included strategic experts, USI members, representatives from various think tanks and officers from the Service HQ.

(From L to R: Maj Gen B K Sharma, Deputy Director (Research), Ambassador R S Kalha, IFS (Retd)
and Lt Gen P C Katoch PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC (Retd)

Deputy Director (Research), USI, Maj Gen B K Sharma welcomed the participants and introduced the theme. He said that it is not sunshine but a blaze that is happening in Iraq and Syria. The events have regional and global ramifications including South Asia. He stressed the need to assess what could be the ramifications of these events and raised some pertinent questions – Will it lead to the establishment of a Caliphate? Will there be trifurcation of Iraq? What will be impact on energy prices? How will the Muslim world react to this reality and how would the regional and global powers respond?

Ambassador Kalha spoke on the topic ‘Assessment of Security Scenario in Iraq & Syria: Impact on Middle East’. He gave a brief history of Iraq under British rule and how imperial interests created states of Iraq and Syria. The border between the two states was kept porous while they used policy of divide and rule to safeguard their interests in Iraq. British installed a Sunni ruler in Iraq, though Shia-Sunni rift existed even during their rule as well. However, things changed after the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim was sworn in as the Prime Minister in 2006. The Sunnis were marginalized due to existing mistrust under Maliki’s rule which further widened the gap between the two communities. The Shia-Sunni divide is based on different interpretations of Islam between these two Muslim communities. There is no give and take between them and both are equally ruthless against each other. This rift is further exacerbated by the control over oil resources. There are three main factors that make Iraqi oil very important:

  • Iraq has huge oil reserves totaling up to 147 billion barrels.
  • It is found at a comparatively shallow depth of only 600 metres in the oil bearing areas.
  • Sulphur content is very low in Iraqi oil. So, the cost of refining is as low as USD 1 to 1.5 compared to USD 5 to 6 per litre for oil from other countries.

Most of the oil is either in Shia dominated South Iraq or in areas dominated by Kurds in the north. Sunni inhabited areas of Middle East do not have much oil reserves.

The US has two main objectives in Middle East – free flow of oil and safety and security of Israel. National Security Directive 45 issued in 1980s by the US advocates use of force for safeguarding American interests.

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has support among the tribal areas in West and Northern Iraq since the tribals feel that ISIS is comparatively better than the Shia rule. ISIS is trying to clear other dispensations in Syria as well. For India, it is important that India diaspora is protected and our oil supply continues unhindered.

 

Lt Gen Katoch spoke on the topic ‘Assessment of Security Scenario in Iraq & Syria: Impact on South Asia’. He underlined the importance of Middle East as a resource rich region. Middle East produces 1/3rd of world’s oil and 1/10th of world’s natural gas. The energy resources are clustered in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

ISIS holds territory from Aleppo to outskirts of Baghdad and has declared it as a Caliphate.  Its cadres include 5000 Pakistan Taliban, 3000 EU and US radicals and radicals from India and Maldives. It has access to tanks, artillery, oil and gas, finances. It also has access to Uranium and old CW shells of Sarin gas.

He elaborated impact of Iraq crisis on South Asia. Pakistani Taliban group of Tahreek-e-Khilafat (the Caliphate Movement) has already declared its allegiance to ISIS. Further expansion of ISIS Caliphate and seizure of oil fields will seriously affect South Asian economies. Pakistan Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Haqqanis will be buoyed with the idea of Islamic Caliphate. Operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ by Pakistan is not succeeding to desired level and may cause territories to cede from Pakistan. This could lead to a de-facto Af-Pak Islamic Caliphate, with both Talibans joining hands.

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