This week, Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq was quickly overrun by Islamist rebels. A few weeks before, Falujah was captured and is still in rebel hands.
Today it is reported that the same rebels have captured the town of Tikrit and a major oil installation and that up to 500 000 people are fleeing the captured areas.
The Iraqi army has proved totally ineffective, abandoning their posts after only putting up a token resistance to their attackers. Reports of officers being the first to run, leaving their men to their own devices.
This is one part of a larger movement to establish a separate state across the North of Iraq and Syria. A state controlled by brutal Sunni Islamists aligned with Al-Qaeda.
A former US ambassador to Iraq today suggested that now is the time to support “moderate” Syrian opposition with weapons so that they can defeat both President Assad and the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant.
This could be a huge mistake for two reasons.
The Syrian opposition is in disarray, it has lost ground to government forces and is split into various factions ranging from pro West to those linked to Al-Qaeda.
There is more than a fair chance that any weapons supplied to “moderate” forces would soon find their way into Islamic militant’s hands.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly, there is no single strongman in the opposition camp to hold the ravaged country together should the campaign to oust Assad be successful.
Notwithstanding relative stability in Morocco and Tunisia, the failure of democracy to flourish in the countries affected by the turmoil of the “Arab Spring” indicates yet again that Western style democracy is not the best form of government for the countries in the region.
Under Mubarak, Egypt was more stable than it has been since he was overthrown. He was imprisoned because under his command some protesters were shot, but the new president is celebrated for squashing all opposition, while responsible for the deaths of greater numbers of protesters. Hundreds more have been sentenced to death.
Since the end of Gaddafi’s rule, Libya is fast becoming a failed state controlled by various militia. A threat to Europe because its lawlessness is providing a conduit for illegal migrants from across North Africa and beyond.
Before the civil war in Syria, there was relative peace and stability. Now there is chaos with millions of refugees creating huge problems for neighbouring states and hundreds of thousands of casualties.
If we turn a blind eye to the mass gassing of Kurds and a protracted war with Iran, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was fairly stable.
All those dictators were, by our standards, awful dictators, nasty and ruthless. But they kept control. What we consider “human rights” were denied to most citizens, but most of them stayed alive, had a roof over their heads and food to eat.
Thousands of American, British and other nations’ lives and billions of taxpayers dollars, pounds and euros have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to prop up systems that were doomed to fail.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that most of the countries now in turmoil need strong dictators, not ineffectual and unenforceable democracy, as unpalatable as that may be to sensitive liberals in the West.
Many of the borders in the region were lines on a map drawn by the colonial powers early in the last century. It seems that Al Qaeda determined to replace them with the originals.
The West does not need an unholy alliance between a strong Syria under Assad and a radical Iran with nuclear capability. It needs that and a new state controlled by Al Qaeda even less.
It’s time to put our Western arrogance aside and accept that peace and stability in the region will only come when strong, effective and probably ruthless, leaders fight their way to the top.
With hindsight, the West should certainly have propped up Mubarak and there is now a case for suggesting many lives would have been saved in Libya, Iraq and Syria if we had left the despots in place and not weakened by sanctions.
graphic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net