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    Middle East
     May 18, 2007
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The second coming of Saladin
By Pepe Escobar

The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
- W B Yeats, The Second Coming

DAMASCUS - The discreet green-and-white tomb of the greatest warrior of Islam, Saladin - by the splendid Ummayad Mosque in

the former seat of the caliphate - may be the ideal place to meditate on if, where and when Islam may be shaken again by the advent of a new Saladin, nine centuries after the illustrious deeds of the great Muslim general.

Saddam Hussein, not least because he was also from Tikrit (although Saladin was a Kurd), fashioned himself as the genuine article - fighting (twice) the infidel Christian armies of the US. He is now no more than a martyr for a minority. Osama bin Laden carefully fashioned his iconography as a cross between Saladin, Che Guevara and the Prophet Mohammed. But as in the immortal line in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, "his methods are unsound"; despite the marketing success in the expansion of the al-Qaeda brand, bin Laden will never be able to capture the collective conscious of the ummah.

The new Saladin might be the son of a Palestinian refugee victim of the Nakhba ("catastrophe") 59 years ago. He might be a computer wizard too sophisticated to be tempted by al-Qaeda's Salafi-jihadism. He might be an angry young man straight out of the "sanctions generation" in Iraq - deprived of everything while he was growing up, courtesy of the "international community".

He won't be a tourism developer in Dubai, self-styled "city of captivating contrasts" (between the Western/Arab business elites and the South Asian slaves, maybe?). He won't be the pampered son of the Sunni business aristocracy in Damascus showing off his Porsche Cayenne. He won't be a billionaire international playboy posing as politician a la Saad Hariri in Beirut. He won't be a gas-dealing executive in gas nirvana Qatar.

Divide and rejoice
Conditions are more than ripe for the advent of a new Saladin - after the Nakhba, the 1967 lightning Israeli victory against the Arabs, the failures of pan-Arabism, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli attack on Lebanon, the limited appeal of Salafi-jihadism, the non-stop stifling of nationalist movements by Western-backed brutal dictatorships/client monarchies.

When the future Saladin looks at the troubled and dejected Middle East, the first thing he sees is US Vice President Dick Cheney shopping for yet another war - skipping the "axis of evil" (Iran, unofficial member Syria) and ordering support from the "axis of fear" (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the Emirates) in his relentless demonizing of Iran. After inflating sectarianism in Iraq, this time the imperial "divide and rule" weapon of choice is Arabs vs Persians.

The administration of US President George W Bush may have taken a leaf from former colonial power France - which invented Greater Lebanon as a confessional state, thus prone to perennial turbulence - to apply it in Iraq. But plunging Iraq into civil war to control better it is not enough (and there's still the matter of securing the oilfields).

Forcing a practically de facto partition of Iraq into three warring crypto-states - a Kurdistan, a southern "Shi'iteistan" and a small central, oil-deprived Sunnistan - mired in a sea of blood in the heart of the Middle East is not enough. For Cheney, the industrial-military complex and assorted Ziocon (Zionist/neo-conservative) warriors, the big prize is the subjugation of Iran. Because Iran, apart from its natural wealth, is the only power capable - at least potentially - of challenging regional US hegemony.

Yet the trademark Cheney threats - with the standard high-tech aircraft-carrier background - are not cutting much ice. Al-Jazeera has been rhetorically bombarded by everybody and his neighbor - from retired Egyptian generals to Emirati political analysts - stressing that the Middle East will not support another US war. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, in a swift move, has just been to the United Arab Emirates - the first visit by any Iranian leader since the Emirates became independent in 1971, and all the more crucial because of a still-running dispute over a bunch of Persian Gulf islands.

The House of Saud - for which the only thing that matters is its own survival - desperately wants a solution as soon as possible for the Palestinian tragedy, before they may be buried six feet under by the terrible sandstorms blowing from Mesopotamia (think of hordes of battle-hardened Salafi-jihadis coming home after fighting the US in Iraq).

King Abdullah is not bent on antagonizing Iran. On the contrary: the most important guest at the recent Riyadh conference was Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki. Saudis and Iranians want to prevent US-provoked sectarianism in Iraq from spreading regionally. And King Abdullah wants a better deal for Sunni Arab Iraqis (hence his identification of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as an Iranian puppet).

While Cheney wants to pit Saudi Arabia against Iran, a discreet, behind-the-scenes Saudi-Iranian pact of no aggression may be all but inevitable, diplomats tell Asia Times Online. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said as much on the record: "Stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region."

Iran of course can be very persuasive, holding some tasty cards up its sleeve - such as hard-earned intelligence directly implicating the Saudis in training the Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) in Iraq on explosive form penetrators (EFPs), which the Pentagon foolishly insists come from Iran. Everyone in Iraq knows it is operatives from "axis of fear" allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt - and also Pakistan - who have provided the Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq with technology and training on improvised explosive devices and EFPs.

Thus we have another Bush administration foreign-policy special: Cheney coddling guerrilla-arming Sunni Arabs - who are facilitating the killing of American soldiers in Iraq - to support an attack on Shi'ite Persians (allied with the Iraqi Shi'ites supported by the Americans ...).

Anyway, Iraqi Shi'ites are more than winning the US surge game. The surging US soldiers are fighting various strands of the Sunni Arab resistance and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Meanwhile, the officially ensconced Badr Organization and its shady death-squad spinoffs are free to apply a lot of deadly pressure on the Sunni Arab civilian population. The Mehdi Army, on Muqtada al-Sadr's orders, is just lying low - not taking the bait of fighting the Americans. Nothing will change the reality of this surge picture in the next few months.

About that clash
A possible Saudi-Iranian entente would be a classic case of local powers taking the destiny of the region in their own hands. In a parallel register, in southern Beirut - prime Hezbollah territory - there are plenty of banners in front of buildings destroyed by Israel last summer. They read: "The Zionist enemy destroys, the Islamic Republic of Iran builds."

Unity in the Muslim world is not a chimera: crypto-scientific Western babble of the "Arabs are extinct" variety is plain silly, as 

Continued 1 2 

The true heart of darkness (May 17, '07)

A war guaranteed to damage a superpower (May 10, '07)

Damascus moves to center stage (May 8, '07)


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