By Arab News
By Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri*
Our region has suffered for decades due to wars and conflicts. The troubles began with Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which has always been the main priority for Arabs and Muslims. Unfortunately, our attention has been diverted recently to two other problems: Terrorism and sectarianism.
The roots of sectarianism began to spread from Iran after 1979. The so-called Islamic Revolution was in fact sectarian. Since that deplorable revolution, there have been new attempts at exporting devastation and destruction to many countries.
This was done by promoting discord and sectarian strife, which damaged the stability of those countries and harmed their social fabric. Tehran finances and trains sectarian (Shiite) militias, and has hundreds of sleeper cells worldwide, especially in Arab Gulf states.
We have witnessed this clearly every day in Iraq since the US invasion, after which the Iraqi people wanted to rebuild and re-establish their state. However, they found themselves countered by Iraqi militias created by Tehran and parties loyal to it, not to Baghdad. Beyond that, many members of the militias and Al-Dawa party were fighting alongside Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.
All these problems led to divisions within the Iraqi state and between the people of Iraq. What we saw is the government of former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki working according to a sectarian agenda, following Iranian orders against its citizens and refusing any component not sympathetic to Tehran.
Many Iraqis were excluded from important jobs in ministries and the military. Laws were passed that were supposedly anti-terrorist, and thousands of Iraqis were arrested and many were subsequently executed.
This policy was like dynamite to Iraq’s stability and society. Many demands were made to the government by Iraqis and Arab countries that sectarian policies must stop. There were many calls for a stop to Iranian interference in Iraq, but those voices went unheeded. The ultimate result of all this was the appearance of Daesh in Iraq.
We find it today particularly in Mosul, where Iraqi forces deserted and left their weapons to Daesh, which was at that time in 2011 a small group of only a few hundred. Daesh’s opponents — the Al-Maliki government — began a civil war due to Iran and its interference in Iraqi affairs.
This presented the region with a question: Is sectarianism or terrorism more dangerous in our region? Looking at a map of the region, we find Iranian interference is always followed by terrorism, because interference sows the seeds of terror.
Yemen is yet another example of Iranian sectarian policy. Tehran is supporting and smuggling weapons to Houthi militias, which have waged six wars against the Yemeni state since 2004, all of them based on sectarian policy. In 2014, they overthrew the legitimate and internationally recognized government, and overran Yemeni cities.
They seized heavy weapons warehouses and used the weapons against the Yemeni people and the Arab coalition, which stand with the legitimate government. Houthi militias even launched a ballistic missile at Makkah, the holiest place to Muslims. They were condemned and denounced by Muslims and all countries, except for Iran and its militias. Is this not terrorism?
Another example is the Syrian crisis. Most Arab countries wanted a peaceful solution, especially when Iran moved into Syria with Revolutionary Guards and sectarian militias. These included Hezbollah, along with young men from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and others sympathetic to extremist militias. They have fought against the Syrian people and killed demonstrators and civilians. Is this not terrorism and sectarianism?
Six years of suffering, and still the crisis is unresolved because of Iranian interference and its use of terrorist sectarian policies. In the end, sectarianism means terrorism. We have to counter it at the same level and stop Iranian actions in our lands. The last and most important questions are: Why have Al-Qaeda and Daesh never attacked Iran, and why does it harbor their leaders? Is there a real difference between sectarian policy and terrorism?
*Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, political analyst and international relations scholar, holds a Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics and an MA in diplomatic studies from Escuela Diplomatica. He is associated with the Riyadh-based Institute of Diplomatic Studies.