The Balkanization of Syria & Iraq: The Roadmap to US-Israeli Hegemony in the Middle East (From NewsBud)

We are often told that the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the war in Syria are disastrous failures of Western foreign policy. This article, however, argues that the architects of these wars were, and are, well aware of the destabilising consequences of their military efforts, and in fact, had always regarded the breakup of Iraq and Syria along sectarian lines as a desirable outcome. The millions of deaths and injuries resulting from these horrific wars, as well as the displacement of several more millions, then, are nothing more than “collateral damage” to achieve US-Israeli hegemony in the region. Viewed from this perspective, post-9/11 Western Middle East policy in retrospect is not a failure, but a success.

Part I: Partition, the only solution?

“Let’s look at the reality on the ground in the Middle East: Iraq and Syria are effectively partitioned along sectarian lines. […] In the current, chaotic moment, we see two post-imperial systems collapsing at once: the state boundaries drawn by the Versailles Treaty in 1919 to replace the Ottoman Empire […], and a U.S.-led system that kept the region in a rough balance [which has been shattered] by America’s failed intervention in Iraq. The ‘line in the sand’, as author James Barr called the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the region, is dissolving before our eyes, and the primary beneficiaries are ruthless Islamic terrorists.”[1]-David Ignatius, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a 2014 article in the Washington Post

In early 2016, then US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that “it may be too late to keep [Syria] as a whole,” and that “I know that [partition] is the best way to try to end the war and it is the only alternative available to us if indeed we are going to have a political settlement.”[2] Kerry coined the possible breaking up of Syria as “plan B,” making it sound like the proposal was a desperate move to save the peace. Both the Syrian government and the armed opposition rejected federalism, let alone partition, however,[3] and even the Kurdish National Council strongly denounced the federalism declaration of its PYD rivals in the wake of Kerry’s statement.[4] In addition, Maram Susli has pointed out that partitioning Syria would happen along sectarian lines instead on whether or not any particular state would be able to sustain its population. Therefore, as Syria’s scare water resources, as well as its agriculture and oil, would end up in the hands of only a small percentage of the population, perpetual war between divided Syrians would be the likely result.[5] So, if breaking up Syria is a recipe for endless conflict between weakened enclaves and is opposed by almost all Syrians, why did Kerry brought it up? Was it just a hastily mistake in his otherwise brave humanitarian endeavour to save the Syrian populace, or are there other agendas at play?

Actually, Kerry’s plan B sounds an awful lot like the plan A of various Anglo-American policy makers, strategists, think tanks and imperialist organs. Six months prior to Kerry’s statement, the Brookings Institute argued for the establishment of Western-backed “safe zones” that would eventually develop into more or less autonomous areas.[6] In October 2015, the author of the Brookings article, Michael O’Hanlon, specified his vision of Syrian balkanisation in an op-ed for Reuters as follows:

“One largely Alawite (Assad’s own sect) [sector], spread along the Mediterranean coast; another Kurdish, along the north and northeast corridors near the Turkish border; a third primarily Druse, in the southwest; a fourth largely made up of Sunni Muslims; and then a central zone of intermixed groups in the country’s main population belt from Damascus to Aleppo.”[7]

From 2013 onwards, variations to this plan have repeatedly been proposed by US establishment figures, such as Henry Kissinger for instance, who in June 2013 contended that he preferred “an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions.” Interestingly, he also claimed that although he supported the expulsion of Assad, he prioritised balkanising Syria.[8] John Bolton, another neocon war-hawk, advocated for the creation of an American-backed Sunni state, which he admitted would be “unlikely to be a Jeffersonian democracy for many years,” in an op-ed for the New York Times. This would counteract “the vision of the Russian-Iranian axis and its proxies,” he asserted, because “their aim of restoring [the] Iraqi and Syrian governments to their former borders is a goal fundamentally contrary to American, Israeli and friendly Arab state interests.”[9]

Most proponents of balkanisation imagine a threefold partition into an Alawitestan – perhaps ruled by Assad, but perhaps not – and Kurdistan aside from a Sunni heartland.[10] A year before ISIS declared its caliphate, Robin Wright, scholar at two Washington-based think tanks, even proposed a Sunni state crossing the Sykes-Picot border into Iraq:

“Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland. Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom. […] Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority – notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-governments protests – may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan.”[11]

Barak Mendelsohn, in an article in Foreign Affairs – the quarterly of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – bluntly called “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” also argued for a US-backed “independent Sunni state that would link Sunni-dominated territories on both sides of the border.”[12] Although most of the time this dramatic measure is promoted as a solution to the only recent threat posed by ISIS, disclosed DIA documents reveal that the US and their allies desired a Sunnistan based on the principles of Salafi Islam at least since 2012, prior to ISIS’s emergence. “If the situation unravels,” the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality [aka Islamic State] in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition [defined elsewhere in the document as the West, the Gulf countries and Turkey] want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”[13]

For Iraq, division was of course already longer on the table. Plans to split the country into three parts have often been advocated by US officials since the 2003 invasion of the country. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the CFR, was the first to officially propose a three-state solution – “Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south” – in an op-ed for the New York Times a mere eight months after the US and Britain had entered Iraq.[14] Three years later he adjusted his plan to try to get all parties on board, reformulating it as “unity through autonomy” by way of decentralisation in an article published in the same newspaper, which he co-authored with Joe Biden, future Vice President under Obama and likewise a CFR member.[15] Also in 2006, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters outlined a map comprising a divided Iraq that circulated widely in US and NATO military circles,[16] and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provisioned the rise of a “new Middle East” out of the ashes of Israel’s aggressive assault on Lebanon.[17] By 2007, amid rising sectarian violence, many Anglo-American strategists and think tanks that would years later push for the balkanisation of Syria began to argue that breaking up Iraq into three statelets would be the only viable solution to the conflict their governments had created. Indeed, in January 2007, John Bolton, one of the leading architects of the 2003 invasion, stated that the US had no strategic interests in keeping Iraq united,[18] and later that year, the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center produced a paper calling for the “soft partition” of Iraq.[19] Interestingly, the report was co-authored by Michael O’Hanlon, who in 2015 was one of the first to call for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria, which essentially is just a stepping stone towards partition.

Although officially the above-mentioned map for a “new Middle East” envisaged only the loss of Syria’s upper northeastern part in favour of a “Free Kurdistan,” leaked Wikileaks cables show that the US was as far back as 2006 already working on fomenting a civil war in the country. William Roebuck, at the time chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus, clearly expressed hostility towards the Syrian leadership, focusing an entire briefing assigned to both Washington and Tel Aviv to possible actions to destabilise the Assad government. Aside from highlighting Kurdish complaints, he advised his superiors to coordinate more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims inside the country.[20]

Although plans to break up Iraq and Syria into microstates based on religion or ethnicity are always presented as humanitarian efforts, they completely ignore the fact that it is Western post-9/11 policy that created much of the problems to which NATO strategists and officials are now offering self-serving solutions. In Syria, balkanisation proponents suggest that their ideas are the only solution to a civil war that has naturally unfolded after the Syrian people rose up against the dictatorial and tyrannical Assad government in the wake of the “Arab Spring” protests in northern Africa. They fail to mention, however, that rather than a civil war, the six-year debacle is actually an artificial proxy war on Syria; a war that likely would not have happened – or at least would not have raged on for so many years and killed so many people – absent 1) the financial, logistical, ideological and armaments-support that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO provided from the very onset of the conflict to the armed insurgency, and 2) the influx of foreign jihadis from all around the world from 2012 onwards, who were allowed to cross the borders into Syria by the Turkish and Jordanian governments and were often trained by the CIA in advance.[21]

Furthermore, they completely disregard the popular support the government maintained throughout the whole conflict, which can almost completely be established by admissions in sources linked to Assad’s adversaries. A Turkish poll from late 2011 showed that only 5% of the Syrian respondents supported violent protest, while 91% opposed it,[22] and a Qatar-sponsored enquiry from around the same time found that 55% of the Syrian population wanted Assad to stay.[23] In addition, an internal NATO study in 2013 estimated that 70% supported the president in contrast to a mere 10% support for the armed opposition.[24] After constitutional amendments following a referendum, the first real democratic and competitive presidential elections in decades were held in 2014. Although Western media were quick to dismiss the credibility of the elections, the over 100 international observers present – coming from allied (e.g. Russia and Iran) as well as nonpartisan (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela and Uganda) countries around the world – issued a statement in which they declared that the elections were “free and fair” and were held “in a democratic environment, contrary to Western propaganda.”[25] Assad won the elections against his two opponents with 88,7% of the vote, with a massive participation rate of 73,4%.[26] This means that a staggering 64% of the eligible voters chose for Assad to remain in power, which is more than double of the 26% of the eligible American voters that put Donald Trump into office. As Sunnis make up 75% of the population and Alawites only 11%, this completely shatters the false representation put forward by Western media and officials of the Syrian government’s rule as a sectarian Alawite dictatorship suppressing a Sunni majority.

In Iraq, on the other hand, tensions between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds had existed for several decades, although the image of a sectarian divided country prior to the war is to a large extent an American self-fulfilling prophecy as well.[27] The architects of the 2003 invasion were nonetheless well aware of the ethnic and religious tensions, however, and they clearly sought to exploit them. In 1996, David Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith predicted the chaos that would follow an invasion not long after they published their Clean Break report, a neocon-Israeli policy plan that sought the removal of Saddam Hussein and the containment of Syria. Contrary to arguments of certain scholars, they believed that Iraq would be “ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families” because “underneath facades of unity enforced by state repression, [the country’s] politics is defined primarily by tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition.”[28] In addition, Carne Ross, a British diplomat who negotiated several UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, admitted in retrospect that in the build-up to the Iraq war “we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.”[29] The American intelligence community, too, knew the consequences of a potential invasion. A 2007 report published by the US Senate Intelligence Community revealed that many of the country’s intelligence documents had predicted that violent sectarian divides would follow an invasion. Specifically, intelligence assessments that widely circulated within the Bush administration in January 2003, three months before the war, suggested that an “American invasion would bring about instability in Iraq that would be exploited by Iran and al Qaeda terrorists.”[30]

Rather than trying to control the internal sectarian divisions, Washington actually even further exacerbated them during the occupation. In abolishing the Iraqi army (as well as large parts of the massive state sector), thereby making some 400.000 armed and embittered soldiers jobless, the US created a vacuum that was filled by a Sunni-dominated insurgency. To counteract that insurgency in the short term, the occupation started to back the larger Shia population and effectively gave them control over the central government. Shia leaders were soon running militias and death squads of their own, however, and due to Iran’s influence with Iraq’s Shia community, Washington began to support extremist Sunni jihadis, thus abetting the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which would eventually morph into ISIS.

Part II: Divide and rule: the US-Israeli quest for a new regional order

“The Iraqi situation cannot be separated from the Palestinian issue. Our failure in dealing with the Iraqi situation means our failure in dealing with the Palestinian issue. [This war] will give them [the Israelis] the ability to completely surround the [Arab] resistance and will lead to the final solution; that is, a peace imposed by the Israelis, which is rejected by us all. And this could lead to the partition of Iraq in order for Israel to gain legitimacy in the region. When Israel would be surrounded by smaller nations, divided, Israel will gain then its legitimacy politically and socially. So when we are talking about the Iraqi situation, let us not forget our brothers in Palestine, and let us not forget the legitimate rights of the peoples in Syria and Lebanon.”[31] -Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League two weeks before the 2003 Iraq war

The Israeli-American goal is “the drawing of a new map for the region. [Partitioning Lebanon, Syria and Iraq would leave Israel surrounded by] small tranquil states. I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states. In other words, Israel will be the most important and strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”[32]

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in an interview with Seymour Hersh in 2007

The idea of balkanising the Middle East has deeper roots than the current era of imperialism under the guise of the fraudulent “war on terror.” The carving up of the Arab world was brought up for the first time in NATO strategist circles by British-American historian Bernard Lewis. Lewis – a British military intelligence officer during the Second World War, advocate of the clash of civilisations theory, longtime supporter of the Israeli right and, you guessed it, member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – wrote an article as far back as 1992 called “Rethinking the Middle East,” published in the CFR’s own Foreign Affairs. In it, he predicted the “lebanonisation” of the Middle East:

“Most of the states of the Middle East – Egypt is an obvious exception – are of recent and artificial construction [sic][33] and are vulnerable to [“lebanonisation”]. If the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common national identity or overriding allegiance to the nation-state. The state then disintegrates – as happened in Lebanon – into a chaos of squabbling feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions and parties.”[34]

According to Lewis, American policy is mainly aimed at preventing adversarial regional hegemony (whether in the form of multilateral pan-Arabism or in the form of one strong regional power) that would establish monopolistic control over the Middle Eastern oil reserves. The US does not pursue this policy of “lebanonisation” in a classical imperial fashion, hints Lewis, but instead by invigorating Islamic fundamentalism, as religious opposition groups are the only ones that have at their disposal a network outside the control of the state.[35] Hence, just like Zbigniew Brzezinski would advocate for playing out the newly-created weak states in Central Asia and the Caucasus region and the ethnic minorities residing in them against each other in order to maintain American hegemony over Eurasia five years later,[36] Lewis laid out a model for American domination by divide and rule over the Arab world.

But there is another player involved, however, one that would benefit even greater from the disintegration of Syria and Iraq, who happen to be two of its main adversaries. The tactic of breaking up existing Arab states into small and inter-fighting weakened microstates was described in detail for the very first time not by an American or European strategist, but an Israeli one. Oded Yinon, a journalist with a past in the country’s Foreign Ministry, published an article called “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties” in the journal of the World Zionist Organisation in 1982, in which he argued that in order for his country to become an imperial regional power, it must affect the division of all existing Arab nations into microstates based on ethnicity or religion. According to Yinon:

Lebanon’s total dissolution into five provinces serves as a precedent for the entire Arab world including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and is already following that track. The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power of those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states such as in present day Lebanon, so that there will be a Shi’ite Alawi state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbor, and the Druzes who will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan. […] Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other, is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. […] Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and in Lebanon. In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and Shi’ite areas in the south will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north. It is possible that the present Iranian-Iraqi confrontation [1980-1988] will deepen this polarization.”[37] (emphasis added)

Ironically, according to Yinon, “this state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area in the long run.”[38] Of course, he means that weakened Arab enclaves in a state of perpetual warfare with one another will bring “peace and security” only to Israel. Interestingly, some analysts have pointed out that the area Yinon wanted balkanised roughly coincides with “Greater Israel,” which, according to Theodor Herzl, extends all the way from the Brook of Egypt [i.e. the Nile] to the Euphrates.”[39] Indeed, just as biblical references are often used in legitimising the colonisation of Palestine, Zionist mythology might one day strengthen Israel’s imperial claims over the Arab world as well. This is not to say that Israel seeks to annex large parts of the Middle East, but rather that it wants to establish a new regional order in which the Zionist state asserts control over an ethnically and religiously diverse Arab world.

Noam Chomsky has called this the “ottomanisation” of the Middle East; that is, the recreation of the state of affairs that existed prior to the arrival of the European colonialists but with Israel replacing the Ottoman Empire as the dominant power exercising hegemony. Chomsky further noted that Israel’s drive for an Ottoman-style imperial domination over the Arab world has been advocated by figures in the Israeli mainstream as well, such as Daniel Elazar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, and Yoram Peri, former advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and European representative of the Labor Party. The former argued that ethno-religious communities, not states, are the natural form of organisation in the Middle East and suggested as an alternative to the present-day situation an Ottoman millet system, which was a system in which each ethno-religious group had its own internal administration but under Ottoman rule; while the latter observed that a “true revolution” was taking place, in which Israeli foreign policy is gradually replacing co-existence for hegemony, as the country is increasingly becoming committed to the destabilisation of the region. Rather than seeking recognition with the status quo, Peri advocated that Israel should use its military dominance to expand its borders and to create a “new reality,” a “new order.”[40]

It is remarkable that most major Middle East conflicts following the publication of the Yinon plan served this agenda. In the short run, before 9/11, the US-backed Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Syria’s Hama,[41] the Iran-Iraq war[42] and the First Gulf War[43] all weakened Ba’ath central governance or at least led to outrage and isolation from the international community, and in the long run, the post-9/11 Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the NATO-Gulf-Turkey-orchestrated proxy war on Syria reinforced the minorities mentioned by Yinon and eventually brought partition into the picture.

Although a common-held view about the 2003 Iraq invasion is that it was all about oil, Israeli pressure played a pretty unacknowledged yet fundamental role as well. In their in depth article called “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” distinguished American professors John Maersheimer and Stephen Walt have shown that the central focus of American foreign policy lies not in its own interests but rather in its relationship with Israel. Writing at the height of the US occupation of Iraq in 2006, Maersheimer and Walt put forward a myriad of evidence that Israeli pressure in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was absolutely crucial in the final push towards Washington’s decision to invade Iraq.[44] British-Israeli journalist Jonathan Cook further corroborated this thesis in his eye-opening book Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East, published in 2008. When the US invaded Iraq, Cook argued, it broke with its traditional policy of rewarding and punishing strongmen and resorted instead to regime overthrow and direct occupation. This policy change, which predictably brought sectarian divide with it, was opposed by the oil industry as well as the US State Department, however, as both preferred the old tactic of replacing Saddam Hussein with another US handpicked dictator. Rather than the oil giants, Cook concluded, it was the Israel lobby that persuaded the neocons that this new policy of invasion and occupation would be beneficial not only to Israel, but to American interests, too.[45]

A full month prior to the invasion of Iraq, senior Israeli officers were already foreseeing a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq followed by the demise of Israel’s other enemies, from the PLO’s Arafat to Hezbollah’s Nasrallah, the ayatollah in Iran, Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad.[46] Just after the US started military operations in March, Uzi Benziman wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that “after the war in Iraq, Israel will try to convince the US to direct its war on terror at Iran, Damascus and Beirut.”[47] Once Baghdad fell in mid-April, Israeli officials, the Zionist lobby in the US and pro-Israel American officials started to put pressure on actions against Syria,[48] and since the outbreak of the war on Syria, many of them have voiced support for Assad’s extralegal removal from office. In December 2016, Israel’s right-wing defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, reiterated that the balkanisation of the Middle East would be vital to Israeli “national interests:”

“Many of the countries in the Middle East were established artificially, as a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and based on colonial considerations that did not take into account the pattern of inhabitance and the deep sectarian rifts within the respective societies. Thus, to genuinely solve the region’s problems, borders will have to be altered, specifically in countries like Syria and Iraq. Boundaries need to be redrawn between Sunnis, Shia and other communities to diminish sectarian strife and to enable the emergence of states that will enjoy internal legitimacy. It is a mistake to think that these states can survive in their current borders.”[49]

Taking all this into account, it might be easier to grasp why Ze’ev Schiff, the military correspondent of Ha’aretz, proclaimed just before Israel’s 1982 Lebanon war that the best that can happen for Israeli interests in Iraq is its dissolution into three states;[50] or why American-born Israeli journalist Caroline Glick in 2007 postulated that Israel should wage a preemptive war against Damascus as a follow-up to Washington’s invasion of Iraq in order to destroy Syria’s central authority;”[51] or why a leaked 2012 e-mail forwarded by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed Israel’s welcoming of a destructive ethnic standoff in the Middle East, because “the fall of the House of Assad could well ignite a sectarian war between Shiites and the majority Sunnis of the region drawing in Iran, which, in the view of Israeli commanders would not be a bad thing for Israel and its Western allies;”[52] or finally, why Efraim Inbar, an Israeli think tank director, recently expressed his belief that the destruction of ISIS would be a strategic mistake for his country, saying that “allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys.”[53]

Part III: Different president, same plan

“As the international community continues to search for ways to resolve Syria’s civil war, this Perspective argues that recent developments in Syria and the region – including the cessation of hostilities that was sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey – reinforce the prospects for a national ceasefire based upon agreed zones of control backed by external powers. […] After nearly six years of humanitarian catastrophe and geopolitical upheaval from Syria, the prospects of the removal of the Assad regime and a near-term transition to the ‘moderate opposition’ are poorer than ever. But there is a chance for the new administration in Washington to make real progress on de-escalating the conflict and contributing to stability in Syria if it focuses on a realistic but achievable end-state: a decentralized Syria based on agreed zones of control recognized and supported by outside partners.”[54] -RAND Corporation in its third proposal for a “peace plan” for Syria in February 2017

While Hillary Clinton was the pre-eminent candidate for war in the 2016 US presidential elections, Donald Trump campaigned on a more non-interventionist policy. Campaign-Trump spoke out against attacking the Syrian government many times, suggesting that American involvement could embroil his country into a global war with Russia. Although he said he would continue the war against ISIS, he expressed reservations about supporting the “moderate rebels” and also about ousting Assad, as he shared a mutual enemy with him.[55] On 30 March, following steady Syrian army military gains throughout the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a dramatic u-turn in Washington’s long-held policy of removing Assad, stating that “the long term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”[56] Following Tillerson’s remarks, a senior Trump administration official admitted that the policy change is “a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground,” adding that “Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country.”[57] A week later, however, both Trump and Tillerson signalled they again sought Assad’s expulsion.[58] The reason? Assad, in a most suicidal move one can think of, supposedly gassed his own people in an area of no strategic significance on the eve of peace talks that would most likely have consolidated his future.

While at first hand it looked like Trump’s Middle East policy would have differed to some extent from that of his predecessor, it does not seem likely that he is going to put a halt to the agenda of balkanisation. To the contrary, a few days into office, Trump said he “will absolutely do safe zones” and reportedly requested the Pentagon and State Department to craft a plan within 90 days for setting them up.[59] Moreover, the temporarily frozen CIA funding of “moderate rebels” was restored in early April after a Western, Gulf and Turkey-backed new military alliance was set up, with al-Qaeda clone Ahrar al-Sham likely to play a dominate role.[60] Finally, the debate over “safe zones” coincides with the increased involvement of US troops and military assets into both Syria and Iraq,[61] which would in all likelihood further exacerbate sectarian tensions as the US keeps playing the divide and conquer-game by providing logistical support and funding to ethnic and religious minorities with whom it is aligned. Following the recent missile strikes on a Syrian army airbase near Homs, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster even advised Trump to sign off on a plan that would put 150.000 troops on the ground in Syria.[62]

All this suggests that Trump is not really in charge of US foreign policy. In addition to his unconditional support for Israel, a myriad of hawkish war-hungry generals occupy senior posts in the Trump administration. In his article “The president who loved generals,” William Hartung has shown that Trump’s foreign policy will in all probability be led by the military rather than by diplomats.[63] Indeed, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has observed that:

“the Trump regime is not operating outside the deep state, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. [It] is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis over a wider transnational deep system [and] to save the deep state from a decline caused by the failures of successive American administrations. […] It would be mistaken to assume that Trump’s conflicts with the US intelligence community mean he is necessarily at odds with the military-industrial complex. On the contrary, his defense appointees and advisors are embedded across the military-industrial complex.”[64]

So, while mainstream pundits opposed to the Trump administration – such as the New York Times (Thomas Friedman; Bilderberg attendee and member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Trilateral Commission) and the Guardian (Hamish de Bretton-Gordon)[65] – keep advocating for the breakup of Syria, Trump happily follows their advice. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, even suggested a multinational occupation of Syria in a 2015 interview with Der Spiegel:

“The sad fact is that we have to put troops on the ground. We won’t succeed against this enemy [ISIS] with air strikes alone. […] We can learn some lessons from the Balkans. Strategically, I envision a break-up of the Middle East crisis area into sectors in the way we did back then, with certain nations taking responsibility for these sectors. […] The United States could take one sector, Russia as well and the Europeans another one. The Arabs must be involved in that sort of military operation, as well, and must be part of every sector.”[66]

The Trump administration, and the influential generals in it, are thus likely to follow orders from the Pentagon. Therefore, current US policy might be close to a strategy for partitioning Syria as laid out in a three-part series called A peace plan for Syria published by RAND corporation, a think tank closely aligned to the Pentagon. The first paper was initiated after Philip Gordon, senior fellow at the CFR and Bilderberg attendee, resigned as advisor to Obama and wrote an op-ed for Politico arguing for radical decentralisation in September 2015.[67] In the first RAND report, the authors, among them Gordon, claimed that establishing “safe zones” was “far better than the status quo and far more practical than any of the available alternatives;”[68] in the second piece, they presented a number of options, ranging from decentralisation to autonomy;[69] and in the last one, published in February 2017, they advised the new administration to enforce a balkanised Syria by establishing “control zones,” even though by then the Syrian army had retaken Aleppo and had made other military and diplomatic gains that shattered RAND’s previous plans.[70]

From their first publication onwards, RAND, just like Kissinger (who started advising Trump not long after his election), prioritised breaking up Syria over Assad’s removal, and in their last article, the authors even acknowledged that “it is now virtually certain, and widely accepted, that Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future.”[71] Moreover, whereas they in 2015 envisioned the sovereign Syrian government’s “control zone” to stretch only from the border area with Lebanon from Damascus through Homs to Hama to the Latakia and Tartus governorates along the Mediterranean coast, they were now forced to accept government control over the whole of Western Syria, including Aleppo and Palmyra but absent the area around Daraa in the south and Idlib and the Kurdish and Turkish controlled areas in the north. RAND did not recommend the US to leave the cleansing of the remaining pockets of the Western- and Gulf-backed terrorist insurgency to the Syrian government, however, the latter which has proven to be capable of doing just that with the help of the Russians, certainly if foreign countries would stop aiding and abetting the jihadis. Rather, the think tank proposed to carve out as much territory from sovereign Syria as possible, which they deemed possible because:

“In the west, the regime would be primarily focused on consolidating its rule, stamping out pockets of resistance, dealing with extremist threats from JFS [Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nursah, aka al-Qaeda] in Idlib, and rebuilding areas devastated by six years of war. Russia and Iran, having committed to preserve the Assad regime but not to assist in efforts to reconquer the areas it does not currently control, would focus their assistance on reconstruction and defense, rather than continued offensive operations.”[72]

RAND recognised that Idlib will likely fall to the government, but that does not mean that Turkey, the Gulf states, Israel and the US are going to let their proxies go down without a fight. Due to an agreement Turkey made with Russia, Turkish-supported armed groups, with their weapons, were allowed to leave for Idlib in the wake of east Aleppo’s liberation from years of extremist occupation.[73] Indeed, thanks to the Western media’s hypocritical outcry surrounding the retaking of Aleppo and their heroisation of the foreign-backed jihadis, thousands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters were allowed to be bussed out to rebel-held Idlib.[74] In addition, two days after the Khan Shaykhun chemical weapons attack in early April, the CIA restored logistical support and funding to the insurgents in northern Syria after a new military alliance of “rebel groups” was set up to “consolidate military control over Idlib province, the western part of Aleppo province and parts of Latakia province” under the auspices of the “Friends of Syria” coalition.[75]

According to a “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) source, Turkey is planning to install a unified rebel army to lead a second phase of Turkish operations in Syria which would focus on Idlib province.[76] In addition, RAND estimated that it is unlikely that Turkey will give up the territories it acquired under Operation Euphrates Shield, adding the possibility that Turkey will seek to further expand its “control zone” to include al-Bab (which it indeed captured from ISIS not long after the publication of RAND’s report) and Manbij (currently still under Kurdish control). As Turkey is now training a “Free Syrian Police” to assist the FSA with “secondary operations,” it does indeed look like Turkey is not going to leave Syria any time soon.[77] Regarding the Kurdish-Turkish rivalries in northern Syria, RAND foresaw a freezing into three zones of control – two Kurdish zones, separated by an Arab one controlled by the FSA and backed by Turkey. It concluded that “the United States could continue to support – but also restrain – both its Kurdish and Turkish partners,” or in other words, play them out against each other.

In the south, RAND claimed that the opposition around Daraa, where the foreign-backed jihadi insurgency started in March 2011, is comprised of more moderate Western-backed groups. As the area does not pose a strategic risk to Damascus any longer, the authors postulated, the Syrian government might tolerate them in the context of a national ceasefire. In light of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early April expressed his desire to establish a buffer zone against Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on Syria’s border with Israel and Jordan.[78] This would undoubtedly further decrease the chances of Israel ever giving back the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria. As an American company linked to Dick Cheney has obtained the right to explore oil and natural gas in the Golan Heights from the Israeli government in 2013, this would benefit the US, too.[79]

Finally, ISIS-controlled areas in eastern Syria are to be carved out as well according to RAND. On the grounds that it would “antagonize most U.S. allies in the region” and that somehow the Syrian army, contrary to Washington’s “moderate” proxies, would not be capable of preventing a return from ISIS, the authors desired that the US-supported Kurdish forces, along with their Arab auxiliaries, would outstrip and precede the Russian-backed Syrian government’s effort to retake Raqqa. They recognised, however, that a Kurdish-controlled Raqqa would not be tolerated by Turkey and thus proposed that the Kurdish component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should leave the city once it is taken, leaving behind the Arab “liberators.” Lastly, RAND called for a joint American-Russian effort to drive ISIS out of its last stronghold around Deir Ezzor, but given that Damascus already has a foothold there (and held onto it after the US bombed it, supposedly by accident, in September 2016), it acknowledged that the city is likely to fall back under the authority of the Syrian government. Just recently, the US deployed forces along the Syrian-Jordanian border, however, and could therefore nevertheless try to reach Deir Ezzor before the Syrian army following a potential incursion into Syrian territory.[80]

In this way, the Sunni-dominated heartland the Gulf countries, Turkey, Israel and NATO had long hoped to carve out of sovereign Syrian territory would come about after all. But crucial to that effort is the exclusion of the Syrian government from the operation to remove ISIS from Raqqa. Therefore, when government forces were making rapid gains east of Aleppo and southward alongside Lake Assad, the SDF, with ample support from the US, was able to cross the Euphrates river in March, thereby cutting off possible government advances towards Raqqa (see map). By the end of March, the SDF had also reached the strategically important Tabqa Dam, which sustains its reservoir Lake Assad, thereby gaining control over one of the country’s main sources of water for agriculture and livestock.[81] This echoes concerns raised by Maram Susli, who has pointed out that the Kurdish controlled al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria holds many of the country’s agriculture and oil riches. Whereas the governorate’s wealth was previously shared by all of Syria’s 23 million inhabitants, federalism or partition will leave the recourses to only a fraction of the population.[82] The Syrian government might thus have consolidated control over the country’s main population centres, less populated parts of the country, with resources that are badly needed to sustain those populous regions, might never return to their previous owners.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the years-long Anglo-American occupation, the subsequent rule by Shia-led governments, stronger autonomy grievances of the Kurds, the rise of sectarian militias and the emergence of al-Qaeda and ISIS have all contributed to further sectarian divide, as Iraqis are killing one another like never before. Now, other minorities aside from the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds are vowing for autonomy, too. In 2016, al-Monitor reported that Turkmens were calling for independence in the centre of Ninevah province, while Christians and Yazidis were opting for their own autonomous areas in the same province as well.[83] In March this year, this eventually resulted in the three minorities presenting a joint statement calling for three contiguous semi-autonomous regions in the country’s north: Tal Afar for the Turkmens, Ninevah Plain for the Assyrian Christians and Sinjar province for the Yazidis.[84] It remains to be seen what will happen to Iraq after ISIS has vanished from the face of the earth, but the long process of gradual balkanisation seems almost irreversible today.

# # # #Bas Spliet, Newsbud Analyst & Author, is a bachelor’s student in History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time on getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. Mr. Spliet is proficient in English, Dutch and Arabic, and his analyses can be found at He can be reached at


[1] David Ignatius, “Piecing together the shattering Middle East,” Washington Post, 17.06.2014,

[2] Patrick Wintour, “John Kerry says partition of Syria could be part of ‘plan B’ if peace talks fail,” Guardian, 23.02.2016,

[3] Sharif Nashashibi, “Is a federal Syria desirable or feasible?”, Al-Jazeera, 17.03.2016,; “Syria government, opposition reject federal system: de Mistura,” Press TV, 17.03.2016,

[4] Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “Kurdish National Council in Syria condemns federalism declaration by Kurdish rival,” ARA News, 19.03.2016,

[5] Maram Susli, “Kerry’s plan at balkanizing Syria,” New Eastern Outlook, 29.03.2016,

[6] Michael O’Hanlon, “Deconstructing Syria: a new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” The Brookings Institute, 30.06.2015,

[7] Michael O’Hanlon, “Syria’s one hope may be as dim as Bosnia’s once was,” Reuters, 06.10.2015,

[8] Paul O’Neill, interview with Henry Kissinger, Ford School (interview, New York, 13.06.2013), 26m00 to 29m05,

[9] John Bolton, “To defeat ISIS, create a Sunni state,” New York Times, 24.11.2015,

[10] E.g. James Stavridis, “It’s time to seriously consider partitioning Syria,” Foreign Policy, 09.03.2016,; James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A Peace Plan for Syria (RAND Corporation, 2015),

[11] Robin Wright, “Imagining a remapped Middle East,” New York Times, 28.09.2013,

[12] Barak Mendelsohn, “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” Foreign Affairs, 29.11.2015,

[13] Defence Intelligence Agency, “Pgs. 287-293 (291) JW v DOD and State 14-812,” Judicial Watch, 18.05.2015,

[14] Leslie Gelb, “The three-state solution,” New York Times, 25.11.2003,

[15] Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb, “Unity through autonomy in Iraq,” New York Times, 01.05.2006,

[16] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “Plans for redrawing the Middle East: the project of a ‘new Middle East’,” Global Research, 18.11.2006,

[17] Toby Harnden, “Death and despair amid US pursuit of ‘new Middle East’,” Telegraph, 30.07.2006,

[18] “French report: former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has ‘no strategic interest’ in united Iraq,” International Herald Tribune, 29.01.2007, as cited in Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 138.

[19] Edward Joseph and Michael O’Hanlon, The case for soft partition in Iraq (Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, analysis paper no. 12, June 2007),

[20] William Roebuck, “Influencing the SARG in the end of 2006,” 13.12.2006 (Wikileaks, Cable 06 Damascus 5399 a),

[21] Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria,” Scrutinised Minds, 03.01.2017,

[22] Mensur Akgün and Sabiha Senyücel Gündogar, The perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2011, transl. Jonathan Levack (Istanbul: TESEV Publications, 2011), 16.

[23] Jonathan Steele, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from Western media,” Guardian, 17.01.2012,

[24] Poll: 70% of Syrians support Assad, NATO says,” Before It’s News, 13.06.2013,

[25] Anahita Mukherji, “Foreign delegation in Syria slams West, endorses elections,” Times of India, 05.06.2014,

[26] Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016), 33-5.

[27] Sectarian identities indeed date back several centuries in present-day Iraq, but violence did not accompany them as a social constant throughout. The dominating Ba’ath Party was secular, and violently suppressed communitarian or ethnic extremism, as a result of which the social divisions reflected the levels of urbanisation, class differences, political power, tribal membership and national identity more so than sectarian affiliation. But American policy makers tended to see only the sectarian divisions between the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, thus laying the groundwork for an “imagined community” that became true after the Anglo-American invasion and occupation: Nabil al-Tikriti, “US policy and the creation of a sectarian Iraq,” Middle East Institute, 02.07.2008,

[28] Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Coping with crumbling states: a Western and Israeli balance of power strategy for the Levant (report, December 1996), reprinted at

[29] “The full transcript of evidence given to the Butler inquiry,” Independent, 15.12.2006,

[30] Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung, “Analysts’ warning of Iraq chaos detailed,” Washington Post, 26.05.2006,

[31] “Arab League summit,” C-SPAN, 01.03.2003,, 57m25 to 59m00.

[32] Seymour Hersh, “The redirection,” New Yorker, 05.03.2007,

[33] Contrary to what is often asserted, Syria is an exception, too. The term Syria dates back to Roman times, and has been used to describe the area for thousands of years. If Syria is not a historical state, no state is. The Sykes-Picot agreement was indeed a colonial endeavour to divide spheres of influence between France and Britain, but if anything, it did not draw the borders of Syria too large, but rather too small, as historical Syria included Lebanon and Iskandaron, too. As I pointed out in part I, the sectarian divisions in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion are to a large extent a self-fulfilling prophecy as well.

[34] Bernard Lewis, “Rethinking the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs 71, no. 4 (1992): 116-7.

[35] Lewis, “Rethinking the Middle East,” 107-16.

[36] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 123-50.

[37]  Oded Yinon, “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties,” Kivunim, translated by Israel Shahak (Massachusetts: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1982), paragraph 26 and 27.

[38]  Yinon, “A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties,” paragraph 22.

[39]  Theodor Herzl, Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. 2 (New York: Herzl Press, 1960), 711.

[40] Noam Chomsky, Fateful triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, 1999), 766-79.

[41] After years of sectarian attacks, the Brotherhood initiated a last final uprising in Hama around the time the Yinon plan was published, which at the same time marked its defeat as a real political force in Syria. The violent crackdown by the Syrian army, however, was met by international outrage. Just like with the events of Daraa in March 2011, which sparked the current crisis, the Islamist militants were backed by foreign countries, and in spite of the fact that the insurrection was initiated by a Brotherhood’s ambush in which 70 soldiers were slaughtered, the events are mainly remembered as a government massacre: Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research Publishers, 2016), 15-6.

[42] Although the US provided logistical, intelligence and armaments-support to Iraq in the war, it publicly condemned Saddam Hussein’s usage of chemical weapons (many ingredients of which were provide by the US) against Kurdish civilians and Iran, and from the First Gulf War onwards, it was used to ascribe the brutal character of Hussein’s rule.

[43] Israel in fact pushed and lobbied the US both via the diplomatic and covert channels very hard to initiate an attack on Saddam Hussein. The Israelis even regarded the American response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as moderate and wanted a harsher policy, to such an extent that Israeli President Chaim Herzog recommended that the Americans use nuclear weapons. See Harun Yahua, “Plan for Iraq invasion drawn up decades ago,” Rense, 10.07.2004,

[44] John Maersheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” Middle East Policy 13, no. 3 (2006).

[45] Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008).

[46] Aluf Benn, “Background enthusiastic IDF awaits war in Iraq,” Ha’aretz, 16.02.2003,

[47] Uzi Benziman, “Who would give the go-ahead?”, Ha’aretz, 22.03.2003, as cited in Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations, 45.

[48] Maersheimer and Walt, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” 59-60.

[49] Avigdor Liberman, “Israel’s national security in a turbulent Middle East,” Defense News, 02.12.2016,

[50] Ze’ev Schiff, “the Israeli interest in the Iraq-Iran war,” Ha’aretz, 02.06.1982, as cited in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 769.

[51] Caroline Glick, “Fighting the next war,” Jerusalem Post, 19.04.2007, as cited in Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations, 148.

[52] Wikileaks, “H: New intel Syria, Turkey, Israel, Iran. SID,” Hillary Clinton email archive,

[53] Efraim Inbar, “The destruction of the Islamic State is a strategic mistake,” BESA Center Perspectives, paper no. 352 (2016).

[54] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A peace plan for Syria III: agreed zones of control, decentralisation and international administration (RAND Corporation, 2017), 1,

[55] Tom McKay, “Here are 45 times Trump said attacking Syria was a bad idea and might start World War III,” Mic, 07.04.2017,

[56] Tyler Durden, “McCain furious at Rex Tillerson for saying Assad can stay,” Zero Hedge, 31.03.2017,

[57] “US changes its policy on Assad staying in power,” New York Post, 31.03.2017,

[58] Jacob Pramuk, “Trump, Tillerson suggest Assad should be removed, in apparent reversal,” CNBC, 06.04.2017,

[59] Julia Edwards Ainsley and Matt Spetalnick, “Trump says he will order ‘safe zones’ for Syria,” Reuters, 25.01.2017,

[60] Mariya Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance,” al-Jazeera, 06.04.2017,

[61] Whitney Webb, “Safe zones as soft military occupation: Trump’s plan for Syria, Iraq is taking shape,” Mintpress News, 04.04.2017,

[62]  Mike Cernovich, “H. R. McMaster manipulating intelligence reports to Trump, wants 150,000 ground soldiers in Syria,” Medium, 09.04.2017,; “Report: US boots on the ground in Syria by June,” Russia Insider, 09.04.2017,

[63] William Hartung, “The president who loved generals: Trump’s foreign policy will be led by the military, not diplomats,” Salon, 10.03.2017,

[64] Nafeez Ahmed, “How the Trump regime was manufactured by a war inside the deep state,” Insurgence Intelligence, 10.02.2017,

[65] Thomas Friedman, “President Trump’s real-world Syria lesson,” New York Times, 05.04.2017,; Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, “After missiles, the plan: here’s how Syrian safe zones could actually work,” Guardian, 07.04.2017,

[66] Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark, “We were too dumb: ex-US intelligence chief on Islamic State’s rise,” interview with Michael Flynn, Der Spiegel, 29.11.2015,

[67] Philip Gordon, “It’s time to rethink Syria,” Politico, 25.09.2015,

[68] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A Peace plan for Syria (RAND Corporation, 2015), 9,

[69] James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A peace plan for Syria II: options for future governance  (RAND Corporation, 2016),

[70] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III.

[71] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III, 4-5.

[72] Dobbins, Gordon and Martini, A peace plan for Syria III, 7.

[73] Fehim Tastekin, “Is Turkey rattled by Russian-Kurdish deal?”, al-Monitor, 24.03.2017,

[74] Bas Spliet, “Coverage of Aleppo: a new low in the mainstream media’s integrity,” Scrutinised Minds, 03.02.2017,

[75] Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance.”

[76] Petkova, “Syria’s ‘moderate rebels’ to form a new alliance.”

[77] Khaled al-Khateb, “Free Syrian Army getting backup from Turkish-trained police,” al-Monitor, 23.03.2017,

[78] “Israel seeks buffer zone on borders with Syria,” Middle East Monitor, 08.04.2017,

[79] Daniel Graeber, “Cheney-linked company to drill in occupied Golan Heights,” Oil Price, 22.02.2013,

[80] “Syrian war report – april 10, 2017: US deploys forces at Syrian-Jordanian border,” South Front, 10.04.2017,; Tony Cartalucci, “Syria: watching the Jordanian border,” Land Destroyer, 14.10.2017,

[81] “Syria’s Tabqa Dam: a strategic prize,” Arab News, 29.03.2017,

[82] Maram Susli, “Why a Kurdish enclave in Syria is a very bad idea,” Global Research, 06.04.2016,

[83] Wassim Bassem, “Iraq’s Turkmens call for independent province,” al-Monitor, 14.10.2016,

[84] Saad Salloum, “Iraqi minorities move forward with autonomy plan,” al-Monitor, 16.03.2017,