Iraq (Creation of the Modern Middle East)

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While the US and other countries have committed some aid for refugees, the United Nations says it's not nearly enough to provide them with basic essentials. Iran is the only Middle Eastern country was never conquered by a European power, but it came pretty close in the s. It lost a lot of territory to Russia the red stripey part.

This remains a point of major national resentment in Iran today.

Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East

Iran is most associated with the Persians — the largest ethnic group and the progenitors of the ancient Persian empires — but it's much more diverse than that. This map shows the larger minorities, which includes Arabs in the south, Kurds in the west, and Azeris in the north Iran used to control all Azeri territory, but much of now belongs to the Azeri-majority country Azerbaijan.


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The Baloch, in the southeast, are also a large minority group in Pakistan. There is significant unrest and government oppression in the "Baluchistan" region of both countries.

How the Europeans’ creation of Iraq, Syria and Libya contributed to today’s chaos | MinnPost

This is a glimpse at two of the big, overlapping geopolitical issues in which Iran is currently embroiled. The first is Iran's nuclear program: the country's leaders say the program is peaceful, but basically no one believes them, and the world is heavily sanctioning Iran's economy to try to convince them to halt the nuclear development that sure looks like it's heading for an illegal weapons program. You can see the nuclear development sites on here: some are deep underground, while others were kept secret for years.

That gets to the other thing on this map, which was originally built to show how Israel could hypothetically launch strikes against Iran's nuclear program. Israel-Iran tensions, which have edged near war in recent years, are one of the biggest and most potentially dangerous things happening right now in a part of the world that has plenty of danger already. Israel is worried that Iran could build nukes to use against it; Iran may be worried that it will forever be under threat of Israeli strike until it has a nuclear deterrent. That's called a security dilemma and it can get bad.

So, first ignore everything on this map except for the light-orange overlay. That shows the area where an ethnic group called the Pashtun lives. Now pretend it's the s and you are a British colonial officer named Mortimer Durand, and it's your job to negotiate the border between the British Indian Raj and the quasi-independent nation of Afghanistan.

Do you draw the border right smack across the middle of the Pashtun areas, thus guaranteeing decades of conflict by forcing Pashtuns to be minorities in both states? If you answered "yes," then you would have made a great British colonial officer, because that's what happened. The "Durand Line," marked in red, became most of the border between modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many Pashtun now belong to or support a mostly-Pashtun extremist group called the Taliban, which wreaks havoc in both countries and has major operating bases shown in dark orange in the Pakistani side of the border.

Thanks, Mortimer! In , the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to defend the pro-Moscow communist government from growing rebellions. The CIA deliberately chose to fund extremists, seeing them as better fighters. When the Soviets retreated in , those rebel groups turned against one another, fighting a horrific civil war that you can see on this map: the red areas were, as of , under government control.

Every other color shows a rebel group's area of control.


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Some of these rebels, like the Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin, are still fighting, though most of them were defeated when the Taliban rose up and conquered the country in the s. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This is to underscore the degree to which Afghanistan's current war the war that began when the US and allies invaded in , not the to war against the Soviets or the civil wars from to is and is not about ethnicity.

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The Taliban does very broadly, but not exclusively, overlap with the Pashtuns in the south and east. That's especially important since there are so many Pashtuns just across the border in Pakistan, where the Taliban have major bases of operation.

Pan-Arab unity and strongman rule

But there are rebel groups besides the Taliban, not all of which are Pashtun. Generally, though, the north of the country is stabler and less violent than the south or east. The Afghanistan War is extremely complicated, but this map does a remarkable job of capturing the most important components: 1 the Taliban areas, in orange overlay; 2 the areas controlled by the US and allies, in depressingly tiny spots of green; 3 the major Western military bases, marked with blue dots; 4 the areas of opium production, which are a big source of Taliban funding, in brown circles, with larger circles meaning more opium; 5 the supply lines through Pakistan, in red, which Pakistan has occasionally shut down and come under frequent Taliban attack; 6 the supply line through Russia, which requires Russian approval.

If this map does not depress you about the prospects of the Afghan War, not much will. The Arabian peninsula has a very, very long history, and the Saudi family has controlled much of it since the s. But to understand how the peninsula got to be what it is today, go back about a years to The Saudis at that point controlled very little, having lost their territory in a series of wars. The peninsula was divided into lots of little kingdoms and emirates. The Ottoman Empire controlled most of them, with the British Empire controlling the southernmost third or so of the peninsula — that line across the middle shows how it was divided.

After World War I collapsed the Ottoman Empire, the Saudis expanded to all of the purple area marked here, as the British had promised for helping to fight the Ottomans. This deal is dramatized in the film Lawrence of Arabia. By the early s, the British effectively controlled almost all of the peninsula, which was divided into many dependencies, protectorates, and mandates. But the Saudis persisted. The Middle East produces about a third of the world's oil and a tenth of its natural gas.

It has a third of all natural gas reserves, but they're tougher to transport. Much of that is exported. That makes the entire world economy pretty reliant on the continued flow of that gas and oil, which just happens to go through a region that has seen an awful lot of conflict in the last few decades. This map shows where the reserves are and how they're transported overland; much of it also goes by sea through the Persian Gulf, a body of water that is also home to some of the largest reserves in the region and the world.

The energy resources are heavily clustered in three neighboring countries that have historically hated one another: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The tension between those three is something that the United States, as a huge energy importer, has been deeply interested in for years: it sided against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the s, against Iraq when it invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia in the s, again against Iraq with the invasion, and now is supporting Saudi Arabia in its rapidly worsening proxy war against Iran.

The global economy depends on this narrow waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. Ever since President Jimmy Carter issued the "Carter Doctrine," which declared that the US would use military force to defend its access to Persian Gulf oil, the little Strait of Hormuz at the Gulf's exit has been some of the most heavily militarized water on earth. The US installed a large naval force, first to protect oil exports from the brutal Iran-Iraq War of the s, then to protect them from Saddam Hussein in the s Gulf Wars, and now to protect them again from Iran, which has gestured toward shutting down oil should war break out against Israel or the US.

As long as the world runs on fossil fuels and there is tension in the Middle East, there will be military forces in the Strait of Hormuz. The Suez Canal changed everything. When Egypt opened it in , after ten years of work, the mile, man-made waterway brought Europe and Asia dramatically and permanently closer. The canal's significance to the global order was so immediately obvious that, shortly after the British conquered Egypt in the s, the major world powers signed a treaty, which is still in force, declaring that the canal would forever be open to trade and warships of every nation, no matter what.

Today, about eight percent of all global trade and three percent of global energy supply goes through the canal.

There are few grimmer symbols for the devastation of the Iraq War than what it did to Baghdad's once-diverse neighborhoods. The map on the left shows the city's religious make-up in Mixed neighborhoods, then the norm, are in yellow. The map on right shows what it looked like by , after two awful years of Sunni-Shia killing: bombings shown with red dots , death squads, and militias.

Coerced evictions and thousands of deaths effectively cleansed neighborhoods, to be mostly Shia blue or mostly Sunni red. Since late , the sectarian civil war has ramped back up, in Baghdad and nationwide. The ethnic group known as Kurds, who have long lived as a disadvantaged minority in several Middle Eastern countries, have been fighting for a nation of their own for a long time.

This map shows where they live in green overlay, and the national borders that they have proposed on three separate occasions, all of them failed. The Kurds have fought many armed rebellions, including ongoing campaigns in Syria and Turkey, and suffered many abuses, from attempted genocides to official bans on their language and culture.

Their one major victory in the last century has been in Iraq: as a result of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurds have autonomous self-rule in Iraq's north. This is an old idea that gets new attention every few years, when violence between Sunnis and Shias reignites: should the arbitrary borders imposed by European powers be replaced with new borders along the region's ever-fractious religious divide?

The idea is unworkable in reality and would probably just create new problems. But, in a sense, this is already what the region looks like. The Iraqi government controls the country's Shia-majority east, but Sunni Islamist extremists have seized much of western Iraq and eastern Syria.

The Shia-dominated Syrian government, meanwhile, mostly only controls the country's Shia- and Christian-heavy west. The Kurds, meanwhile, are legally autonomous in Iraq and functionally so in Syria. This map, then, is not so much just idle speculation anymore; it's something that Iraqis and Syrians are creating themselves.

Noble as the cause was, the destruction of Moammar Qaddafi's dictatorship by a spontaneous uprising and a Western intervention has just wreaked havoc in Africa's northern half. This map attempts to show all that came after Qaddafi's fall; that it is so overwhelmingly complex is precisely the point.

The place to center your gaze is the patterned orange overlay across Libya, Algeria, Mali, and Niger: this shows where the Tuaregs, a semi-nomadic ethnic minority group, lives. Qaddafi used Libya's oil wealth to train, arm, and fund large numbers of Tuaregs to fight the armed uprising in When he fell, the Tuaregs took the guns back out with them to Algeria and Mali, where they took control of territory. In Mali, they led a full-fledged rebellion that, for a time, seized the country's northern half.

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