Monday, October 27, 2014

The Muslim players

One of my devoted readers asked me to clarify who are all the Muslim players now active in the region, the number of extremist groups is so extensive it becomes over-whelming.
Here is the basic state of play:
The major division in the Muslim world is between the Sunni (based on the Arabic for "tradition"), that forms about 75% of all Muslims in the world, and the Shia or Sh'ite (based on the Arabic for "the party").  [This schism comes from the earliest days of Islam and developed over the succession to Mohammed the Prophet.  Since he failed to specify his successor, his leading followers decided to appoint one of their own as his successor and he was called the Caliph.  But, the Shia believe that this was unacceptable and that only the actual "seed" of Mohammed could be leader of the Muslim world, and that was his grandson Ali.  The dispute came to a head at the battle of Kerbala (now in Iraq) where Ali's son Hussein and his followers were defeated and Hussein was killed.  Although the Shia comprise only ca. 25% of the Muslim world, because they are predominant in Iran, they constitute 40% of the Muslim population of the Middle East.]
The first organization to propose a political form of Islam to wage war against the West was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian who visited the USA and then wrote books against the spiritual corruption of the West.
In the modern era, terrorism by Sunni Muslim groups was started by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1960's, including airplane hijackings.  The PLO consists of various groups, including Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  But they were predominantly nationalist and socialist.  The failure of these groups and various Arab dictators, such as Nasser or Assad, to either defeat Israel or to improve the lot of their people, led to a resurgence of Islamist views within Muslim society.  Hamas or the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was probably the first.such terrorist group. 
Following the successful Afghan war against the Soviet Union, al Qaeda (meaning the base) of Osama bin Laden turned its attentions against the West and declared war on the US.   The 9/11 incident was the first major successful attack by an Islamist group against the US.
In Lebanon after the civil war, all the sectarian militias disarmed except Hizbollah, the Shia terrorist organization, supported by Iran and the Assad regime, which is dominated by the Alawite minority (ca. 12%) in Syria that are an offshoot of the Shia.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) is the military organization that trains and supports Hizbollah (and formerly Hamas), and particularly its sections the Basij and the al Quds Force.
The so-called Arab Spring, or uprisings against the military dictatorships in the Arab world, resulted in theoverthrow of Pres. Mubarak in Egypt and several others.  In Egypt, the Army eventually overthrew the MB Pres. Morsi and retook power, followed by the election of Pres. al-Sisi.  In Syria, the opposition to Pres Assad was initially led by moderate elements and the Free Syrian Army.  But, eventually the fighting was largely taken over by an Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda including the al Nusrah Front.  The al Nusrah front split again and formed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also called ISIL, where L represents the Levant, including Syria and Lebanon.  After they had expanded and made great strides in Iraq, taking over most of the Sunni-dominted Anbar province, they changed their name to simply the Islamic State IS.  [Although al Qaeda, al Nusrah and IS have overall the same aims, to defeat the West and establish a Muslim Caliphate, their priorities are different and they occasionally clash. Al Qaeda concentrates on attacking the West, particularly the USA, the al Nusrah Front concentrates on defeating Assad, who is supported by Shia Iran, and IS concentrates on establishing the Caliphate in what was Syria and Iraq.]
The Kurds are an independent force, who have enclaves in northern Iraq, termed the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR) with their army the Pesh Merga, and in northern Syria with their fighters the People's Protection Units (YPG).  They are currently battling against IS in Kobani.   Apart form that there are Islamist groups fighting in Nigeria, the Boko Haram, in Kenya and Somalia Al Shabaab, in Yemen and in practically all parts of the Muslim world.
Overall there are about 20 different groups fighting on Assad's side in the Syrian Civil War and about 20 on the opposition side. Each group has its own sectarian, political and military preferences.  What will come out of this mess eventually is impossible to predict.     


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