Like it never even happened: Tikrit and the unwriting of modern history

Iraqi fighters of the government-controlled Popular Mobilisation units take part in a military operation to take control of Tikrit, 160km north of Baghdad, from jihadists from the Islamic state (IS) group, on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP

The pace at which the Westphalian order [i.e., the concept of the nation-state] is falling apart in Mesopotamia is accelerating.

It’s important to stipulate up front that this is not because the order was uniquely weak, or because it was bound to fall due to having been miscast in the first place. Those factors are present to some degree. But the Western-style, Westphalian order is falling because the basis for all political order among humans is force, and no force is being exerted (by the leading nation, the United States) to bolster the one we are watching slip away…

The guiding vision of ISIS may drive us to peel history back in great chunks all the way to Abraham and his travels through Canaan, in order to understand what ISIS is about. But the Persian perspective on the plain of Zahab requires making more recent stops in history.

The mindset that’s essential is understanding that in the last few centuries, the interests and warfare modes of outside powers have effectively imposed a geopolitical framework on the border of Iran and Iraq. Most battles there have been fought over the interests of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Western powers: Britain, France, Germany, the United States. Because of trade, rail transport, the maritime borders, the oil industry, and the wars of the great powers over other things, this factor has made the northern and southern border crossings relatively more important, in a military sense, than the crossing at the plain of Zahab.

But the current recession of Western power has lifted the clamp of that imposed framework off of the region. Very old patterns – patterns that predate Western hegemony – are now free to reassert themselves.

Baghdad, situated at the confluence of the two great rivers, is regaining importance, although that isn’t visible to many observers yet…


Video: Just before the Shia assault on Tikrit began, a video was posted online showing Kataib Hezbollah fighters heading for the battle.


Side note: The music in the vid — presumably chosen by the Shia — has elements that Islamic State would consider haram. See this discussion and translation of the Islamic State anthem — called a “nasheed”.

Note how different it sounds. See the Wiki entry for “nasheed” and all the restrictions.

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  • Chatillon

    Wow! Iranian shia against ISIS! What’s not to like? Let’s you and him fight! And may they bleed each other dry.

    If the remaining Christians can’t or won’t be protected by western powers, let them adopt a posture of well-armed neutrality.

    • Frau Katze

      It’s a real mess.

    • Kit Ingoldby

      What’s not to like is Iran turning Iraq into an Iranian puppet State.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    The nation-states in this region are artificial constructs cobbled together by the World War I imperial powers and do not reflect the self-determination of the people therein. The current fighting is now sorting out the demographics and conflicts are likely to intensify before things are sorted out.