Regional conflict formations: Is the Middle East next?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Northeastern University]On: 05 November 2014, At: 20:24Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Regional conflict formations: Is the MiddleEast next?Reinoud Leenders aa Department of International Relations , University of Amsterdam ,Oudemanhuispoort, Room 336, Achterburgwal 237, Amsterdam, 1912, DL, TheNetherlands E-mail:Published online: 30 May 2007.

    To cite this article: Reinoud Leenders (2007) Regional conflict formations: Is the Middle East next?, ThirdWorld Quarterly, 28:5, 959-982, DOI: 10.1080/01436590701371660

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01436590701371660

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  • Regional Conflict Formations:is the Middle East next?

    REINOUD LEENDERS

    ABSTRACT As Iraq is plunging into civil war, politics and violence in theMiddle East are increasingly perceived to be highly interconnected andentwined. This article offers an attempt to understand the nature and scope ofthis regional interconnectedness involving three of the regions statesIraq,Syria and Lebanon. Its approach takes advantage of the work by scholars ofother regions than the Middle East, more precisely those analysing the newwars and Regional Conflict Formations (RCFs) of primarily Central and WestAfrica and the Balkans. The article suggests that, provided some methodolo-gical problems are addressed or at least acknowledged, the RCF model offers auseful approach to studying and addressing this regions multiple conflicts. Itsassessment of the RCF models utility in reference to the Middle Easbrokendown along the suggested levels of military networks, political networks,economic/financial networks and social networkssuggests that its emphasis onmaterial physical linkages neglects important symbolic political resourcesthat easily cross borders and are equally determining in fuelling and framingconflicts. This lacuna is echoed in US policy making toward the Middle East.The article concludes that, in order to avoid myopia in both analysis and policymaking, such more discursive processes ought to be integrated into and madecomplementary with the RCF conceptualisation of conflict-related cross-bordertraffic. This will also allow for better analysis of the complexity of identitypolitics and it underscores the fallacy of assumed Western exogeneity to thisregions conflicts.

    As Iraq is plunging into civil war, the Middle East appears to have become amuch smaller place. Even if for the regions ordinary citizens it is still easierand quicker to travel to remote destinations away from the Middle East,events in neighbouring countries shape the ways in which they feel, think,argue and act like never before. Politics and violence in the Middle East areincreasingly perceived to be highly interconnected and entwined. This articleoffers an attempt to understand the nature and scope of this regionalinterconnectedness involving three of the regions statesIraq, Syria and

    Reinoud Leenders is in the Department of International Relations, University of Amsterdam,

    Oudemanhuispoort, Room 336, Achterburgwal 237, Amsterdam 1912 DL, The Netherlands.

    Email: reinoudleenders@yahoo.com.

    Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2007, pp 959 982

    ISSN 0143-6597 print/ISSN 1360-2241 online/07/05095924 2007 Third World QuarterlyDOI: 10.1080/01436590701371660 959

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  • Lebanon. Its approach will take full advantage of the work by scholars ofother regions than the Middle East, more precisely those analysing the newwars and Regional Conflict Formations (RCFs) of primarily Central andWest Africa and the Balkans. However, the article will not unreservedlysuperimpose the notions of new wars and RCFs onto the Middle East. Itsuggests that, provided some methodological problems are addressed or atleast acknowledged, the RCF model offers a useful starting point to studyingand addressing this regions multiple conflicts. Yet an assessment of themodels utility in reference to the Middle East strongly suggests that itsemphasis on material physical linkages neglects symbolic political re-sources that easily cross borders and are equally determining in fuelling andframing conflicts. Taking such more discursive resources seriously allows usto better analyse the complexity of identity politics and to underscore thefallacy of assumed Western exogeneity to this regions conflicts.

    New wars and regional conflict formations

    Since the mid-1990s a growing volume of studies on war has highlighted thechanging nature of armed conflict in comparison with the cold war era. Aperceived proliferation or intensification of civil wars or intra-state armedconflicts, as opposed to the inter-state wars prevailing up to the 1980s,warranted new analytical frameworks for the study of the motives and natureof combatants, the techniques and channels they use to sustain themselvesand to acquire resources to confront their opponents and the implications ofthese practices for non-combatants, the notion of the state, and internationalefforts at conflict resolution. One of the most debated notions in this respecthas been Mary Kaldors concept of new wars, which she placed inopposition to conventional or old wars fought between states by armedforces in uniform and where violence continued to be monopolised andapplied by states according to certain rules, with their ability to exertterritorial control at stake.1 Kaldor contends that new wars take place in thecontext of the disintegration of states and that they are fought by networks ofboth state and non-state actors who direct their violence mostly againstcivilians. On the battlefield it is not decisive victory that is pursued but thecreation of new political identities (mostly sectarian, ethnic or tribal) basedon a perpetual sense of hatred and fear. Key to the new wars is that they bluronce-important and conventional distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, between public and private actors, between political andcriminal violence and between legitimate trade and illegal war-related modesof generating revenues.New wars are also said to be characterised by transnational networks and

    resource flows crossing state borders that not only sustain armed conflicts butalso tend to expand them to areas outside the immediate territory where theprime conflict originated. Others, in favourable reference to the notion ofnew wars, have further developed this latter point by contending thatcontemporary intra-state wars, mostly in the less developed world, not onlytend to spill-over or are contagious to neighbouring countries, as professed

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  • in most earlier analyses, but are, in fact, driven and sustained by processesand networks that are inherently regional in nature.Interchangeably termed regional conflict complexes, network wars and

    regional conflict formations,2 intra-state wars have increasingly turned outto be regional in nature and become sets of transnational conflicts that formmutually reinforcing linkages with each other throughout a region, makingfor more protracted and obdurate conflicts.3 Prime examples of such RCFsare suggested to be West Africa, Central Africa and the Great Lakes region,the Balkans and Central Asia, areas where organised political violenceroutinely crosses borders and can no longer be reduced to any one particularintra-state conflict. In Rubins much-quoted conception, RCFs are char-acterised by fourmostly overlappingtypes of transnational networks:military (facilitating the flow of arms and mercenaries), political(pertaining to linkages between political elites across borders), economic(pertaining to cross-border trade in conflict goods), and social (defined byoccupational, familial and diaspora affiliations, and based on cross-bordershared identities).4 In brief, the concept of an RCF accords with thetransnational character of many contemporary conflicts, which have usually,and perhaps misleadingly, been designated as internal.5

    Are Iraq, Syria and Lebanon part of a regional conflict formation?

    The debate on new wars and RCFs thus far has rarely touched on the MiddleEast, except for Kaldors attempt to apply the first notion to Iraq.6 From theview of RCF theorists themselves, this would appear to be unjustified. Even acursory inventory of the applicability of the RCF notion to politics andviolence involving Iraq, Syria and Lebanon suggests a strong fit. SomeMiddle East observers have begun describing this regions conflicts in termsreminiscent of the RCF approach but seemingly without realising its richliterature focusing on other regions.7 More generally many have suggested agrowing interconnectedness of these three countries politics and conflicts, iffor conflicting reasons and to more or less persuasive effect. Disaggregated interms of Rubins four types of transnational networks, the degree to whichthe three countries appear to constitute part of a wider RCF is striking.

    Military networks

    At the military level the conflict in Iraq has generated a host of plausible andless plausible claims regarding cross-border movements of arms andcombatants fuelling violence, primarily in Iraq but also in the two othercountries under study.The Syrian authorities have been repeatedly accused of harbouring Iraqi

    Baathists and members of jihadi groups, including those associated with al-Qaida in Iraq, and of actively or passively providing them with a conduit toIraq, where they joined the insurgency against US and British forces. Indeed,Syrian nationals appear, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, to havebeen instrumental in the establishment of Abu Musab az-Zarqawis network

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  • of insurgents in Iraq, especially in the early stages following the US-ledinvasion. For instance, Mahmud Qul Aghassi, alias Abu Qaqa andpurportedly from Aleppo, is believed to have been pivotal in the recruitmentof jihadi volunteers to Iraq from 2003 onwards. Immediately after the USinvasion of Iraq various Syrian sources claimed that Abu Qaqa was holdingmass weddings in Aleppo that turned into rallies against the USA, withSyrian volunteers dressed in black uniforms parading in the streets of Aleppoand watching videos of anti-Muslim violence in Chechnya and Palestine.8

    The newly wed jihadis were sent off to Iraq, prompting US accusations ofSyrian culpability. Syrian human rights activists asserted that Syrianintelligence services allowed and even encouraged thousands of jihadis, bothSyrians and other Arab nationals, to slip into Iraq.9 In response to USpressures, the Syrian regime imposed tighter security measures to stem theflow of insurgents. Yet accusations over its purported role in the Iraqiinsurgency have continued unabated.10 Syrian nationals are believed to beheavily represented among Al-Qaidas top operatives in Iraq,11 and tocomprise 18% of all foreign insurgents there; the highest number after thosefrom Saudi Arabia.12 US military sources have estimated that each monthbetween 70 and 100 insurgents of various nationalities cross the Syrian Iraqiborder.13

    From Lebanon too volunteer fighters have travelled to Iraq, primarilyafter having been recruited in Palestinian refugee camps, including Ayn al-Hilweh in Tripoli and the western Biqa, by Sunni Islamist jihadi groupsincluding Esbat al-Ansar, Esbat an-Nour and Jund as-Sham.14 Other smallgroups, such as Fatah al-Islam (a faction that surfaced after breaking withFatah al-Intifadah in the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared in northernLebanon), reportedly act as a passageway for logistical and financial supportto al-Qaida in Iraq.15 Assessments of the nature and scope of these armedgroups capabilities and their intentions vary wildly, but it seems certain thatmost of them at least have some ties to likeminded jihadis in Iraq.The emerging picture of the sub-regions interconnected conflicts and

    armed groups gets even starker if one is to believe incessant US accusationsthat the Lebanese-Shiite Hizbullah party has established ties with itsreligious and ideological counterparts in Iraq and provided them withmilitary equipment and training. After considering the possibility thatHizbullah was sending operatives into Iraq during and following the USinvasion in 2003,16 US and UK diplomats began stating that Hizbullah haddefinitely done so in 2004.17 This was at a time that the Iraqi Shiite al-Mahdi movement of Muqtada as-Sadr clashed heavily with US troops.Hizbullah repeatedly denied the charge, but its leader sheikh HassanNasrallah appeared to contradict these denials by publicly offering thepartys military assistance to Iraqi Shiite insurgents during the siege of Najafin May 2004.18 Sadr has similarly declared his allegiance to Hizbullah onnumerous occasions, most recently during the latest Lebanon war, therebyfurther fostering the impression of military co-operation between the twoparties.19 In June 2006 US officials again pointed a finger at Hizbullah forproviding training and weapons to members of Shiite extremist groups, and

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  • for taking part in military actions against US troops in Iraq.20 More recentlyUS intelligence sources have claimed that Hizbullah is training Muqtada as-Sadrs fighters in Lebanon; an allegation reiterated to the author by an Iraqiobserver of Shiite politics in Beirut.21

    While most reports on cross-border military traffic focus on the ways inwhich the latter has fuelled or exacerbated the violence in Iraq, frequentclaims have also been made regarding the reverse effect of violenceoriginating in Iraq affecting Syria and Lebanon. Early anticipation of abacklash of returning fighters from Iraq causing havoc in Syria wasprompted by an attack by a small group of Salafi jihadists, including oneIraq veteran, on a building formerly owned by the UN on the al-Mezzehhighway in Damascus in April 2004. Syrian observers began to wonderwhether the war in Iraq was causing a phenomenon of al-mujahidin al-Iraqiyyin, not unlike the trouble caused by the AfghaniyyinArab fightersreturning from their battles against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan andcontinuing their jihad at home in north Africa.22 Ensuing jihadi attacks andclashes between Syrian security forces and Iraq veterans appear tocorroborate this view.Lebanon appears to struggle with similar problems. Especially after Syrias

    forced withdrawal from this country in April 2005, reports have swelledabout jihadi insurgents, including veterans from Iraq, preparing for armedoperations in Lebanon under the new banner of Al-Qaida fi Bilad as-Sham(al-Qaida in the lands of the Levant).23 Lebanese involvement in orassociation with al-Qaida has been suspected for some time, but onlyrecently has its Iraqi branch claimed responsibility for anti-Israeli attacksfrom south Lebanon and expressed a keen interest in expanding its militarypresence.24 Ostensibly driven by his fervent anti-Shiite programme andperhaps prompted by a turf fight with Hizbullah, Zarqawi subsequentlybegan denouncing the latter for serving as a shield protecting the Zionistenemy against the strikes of the Mujahidin in Lebanon.25 For his partAyman az-Zawahiri, Al-Qaidas deputy chief, announced that al-Qaidawould start playing a role in Lebanon in order to resist the Israeli militaryonslaught against that country in July 2006.26 In November 2006 a statementclaimed by a group idenitifying itself as al-Qaida and issued from thePalestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon said theorganisation has arrived in Lebanon and will work on destroying thiscorrupt [Lebanese] government that receives orders from the Americanadministration.27 In March 2007 Lebanese security forces arrested at least 12members of Fatah al-Islam, on suspicion that they were responsible for thebombing of two coaches a month earlier.28 Yet thus far no real evidence hasemerged substantiating suspicions that al-Qaida has effectively stepped up itspresence or operations in Lebanon, or on whether such a presence includesIraq veterans or not. Even more contentious are recent allegations that somegroups associated with al-Qaida have received financial support from theSunni Future movement, itself aided by the USA,29 purportedly in order todeter or counter Hizbullahs armed capabilities in the current stand-offbetween the Lebanese government and the Shiite-led opposition (see below).

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  • Political networks

    Proponents of the RCF argument proceed by analysing the political level ofthe regional interconnectedness of conflict and violence, primarily byfocusing on cross-border personal connections between political elites. Suchconnections, of course, are omnipresent in the three countries under study.Many Iraqi politicians now holding high political office spent much of the1990s in exile in Syria, where they built excellent relations with senior Syrianofficials.30 In addition, some Iraqi Kurdish entrepreneurs who are now activein politics operated for years in Syria and similarly established intimaterelations with Syrian officials, if only to be able to conduct their business in ahighly restricted economic climate wherein personal connections (wasta) arekey to making money.Yet the most intricate personal networks involve Shiite political religious

    leaders from Lebanon and Iraq. During the mid-1970s Lebanese Shiiteclerics studied at the theological seminars (Hawza) of Najaf until SaddamHussein began expelling them for alleged subversive activities. Among themwas Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who was born in Iraq ofLebanese parents and who studied under the prominent Iraqi cleric GrandAyatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khui, the father of Majid al-Khuiwho was killed upon his return to Najaf in April 2003. Fadlallah is also thecousin of Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim, who founded the fiercely pro-IranianSupreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). In the 1960s,however, Fadlallah, helped establish the Iraqi Ad-Dawa party. His writings,most prominently his Islam and the Logic of Force, became stronglyinfluential among Ad-Dawa activists and Lebanese radical Shiites alike.31

    The latter, including the future first secretary general of Hizbullah, Subhi at-Tufayli, (who also had studied in Najaf) and Hizbullahs current leaderHassan Nasrallah, established a Lebanese branch of Ad-Dawa in 1979. Afew years later this became one of the major factions which, with the help ofthe Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, merged into Hizbullah.32

    That same year the leader of the Iraqi Ad-Dawa, Ayatollah MuhammadBaqer as-Sadr, (a second cousin of Muqtada as-Sadr) was assassinated, uponwhich a collective leadership was appointed that included a Lebanese cleric,Sheikh Hussein Korani, who later became a high-ranking Hizbullah official.The list could go on, but what matters here is that for RCF theorists there is

    certainly no shortage of material for studying personal networks tyingtogether Shiite political leaders on both sides. Indeed, the tightly wovennetwork of personal contacts between the Shiite leadership in Lebanon andIraq fuelled speculations following the US invasion in Iraq about LebaneseShiite clerics and political leaders preparing themselves to fill the supposedleadership vacuum caused by Saddam Husseins repression of Iraqs Shiitepolitico-religious class.33 For a host of reasons such expectations largelyfailed to materialise. Yet the logic of personal connections underlying themhas been so strong that calls were made on Nasrallah and Fadlallah toprevent Shiite radicals from attacking Sunnis in escalating clashes in Basra.34

    To some observers Hizbullahs presumed influence in Iraq also appeared to

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  • follow from its connections with Iranian officials operating in Iraq. Someinterpreted the violent uprising of self-professed Hizbullah sympathiserMuqtada as-Sadr in 2004 as having been triggered by the expulsion of theIranian ambassador in Iraq, Hassan Qazemi Qummi, who reportedly servedwith the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon in the 1980s.35

    Economic and financial networks

    Real or alleged economic and financial ties and networks, especially those ofan illicit nature, also appear to corroborate the argument that the sub-regionhas become an essential part of an RCF. In terms of its sheer magnitude thesmuggling of oil and fuel constitutes the most important aspect of illicit cross-border trade that helps finance the insurgency in Iraq. The Iraqi governmenteach year spends nearly US$5 billion on fuel subsidies, causing steep pricedifferentials with neighbouring countries, including Syria.36 As a result,smuggling fuel out of the country has become an extremely lucrativebusiness. Accordingly, 10%20% of subsidized oil byproducts importedinto Iraq are believed to be illegally re-exported, costing the Iraqi treasury$4.2 billion in 2005.37 Moreover, because of the lack of security at Iraqs oilinstallations and pipelines, and of high-level corruption among officials atIraqs State Oil Marketing Company, crude oil is seized and sold on blackmarkets outside Iraq.38 According to some estimates, the costs of thesesmuggling schemes amount to almost 10% of Iraqs GDP, or $29.3 billion in2005.39 It is generally believed that insurgents are heavily involved in thistrade in order to finance their violent campaigns in Iraq. A US governmentinteragency report on the subject estimated that insurgents annually raisebetween $25 and $100 million through oil and fuel smuggling.40

    Most of Iraqs neighbours are heavily involved. A few details have emergedabout Syrias role. In April 2006 Iraqi police seized thousands of barrels ofcrude oil that were being smuggled into Syria using the Rabiya bordercrossing.41 Given the large quantities involvedIraqi police confiscated 1200trucks carrying illicit loads of crude oil within one day42complicity ofsenior Iraqi and Syrian officials is deemed likely. Finally, one Iraqi suspectedof oil smuggling, MP Mishan al-Juburi, reportedly relied on tight relationswith Syrian officials to run his business, the proceeds of which he channelledto the insurgency.43

    The oil and fuel smuggling across Iraqs borders can be considered a classicexample of the cross-border war economies characterising RCFs. Anotherdevelopment confirms this assessment. Ties established in the 1990s betweenIraqi regime officials and political and financial elites in Syria and Lebanon tofacilitate oil smuggling and trade in contravention of UN sanctions againstIraq appear to have been reinvigorated to serve the new aim of bankrollingthe insurgency. For instance, the US government and the Iraqi authoritiesclaim that funds placed in a Syrian-based escrow account by the regime ofSaddam Hussein have been used to finance Baath-led insurgents in Iraq.44

    The exact amount held in the account is disputed and no evidence hasemerged to substantiate US claims about how these funds are being used.

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  • However, such allegations are congruent with beliefs held in Syria that the oiland fuel smuggling referred to above centre around some of the same Iraqiand Syrian middlemen that facilitated the illicit trade in the Oil-for-Foodscandal.45 In Lebanon the recent arrest of Mudhir Abdul Karim Thiyab al-Kharbit, a member of a wealthy Iraqi family that was on good terms withSaddam Hussein, raised suspicions that former regime elements werecontinueing their relations with Lebanese banks. According to the Iraqigovernment, Al-Kharbit was Saddam Husseins financial liaison in Beirutand now finances insurgents in his native al-Anbar province borderingSyria.46

    Social networks

    RCF theorists have emphasised the importance of shared identitiestranscending national bordersprimarily in terms of ethnic, sectarian andother cultural identitiesas they are viewed as linking groups within statesto cross-border networks that play a role in warfare.47 This would also soundhighly familiar to Middle East observers. The territories of Sunni tribes, suchas the Karabila, Dulaym and Shammar, cross the Syrian Iraqi borderextending from the Syrian Jazira to Mosul in northern Iraq. They are likelyto have played an important role in cementing the smuggling networks and infacilitating border crossings by jihadi fighters. Ferocious fighting between USforces and insurgents occurred in the regions under these tribes control, suchas Husaybeh and Qaim in al-Anbar. In several instances such clashesescalated, with US and Iraqi armed forces shelling targets up to and acrossthe border with Syria and chasing insurgents into Syrian territory, causingcasualties among Syrian troops.48

    Cross-border identities have also been alleged to promote the interests andpolitical projects ascribed to the regions Shiites. Such claims have beenmainly raised in the context of the rising regional prominence of Iran, and itsreal or purported role in stirring and supporting violent conflicts involvingShiites in Iraq and Lebanon. By making allusions to Iranian support forarmed Shiite parties in Iraq and for Hizbullah in Lebanon, some Arableaders, most prominently Jordans King Abdallah, have even warnedagainst an emerging Shiite crescent carrying dire consequences for theentire region.49 Some academic accounts, for example an influential analysisby Vali Nasr, have elaborated on such views by predicting a future clashbetween the regions Sunnis and Shiites.50 Indeed, Nasrs analysis containsstrong echoes of the RCF literature. Drawing on the same sentiment, mediareports and statements by Lebanese politicians interpreted Hizbullahs recentmilitary actions against Israeli forces as signifying yet another step in thepurported rise of an Iranian Shiite axis in the region fuelling tensions andviolent conflict.

    RCF analysts emphasise how flows of refugees and large diasporas can beinstrumental in perpetuating, sustaining and regionalising armed conflicts.51

    Some Middle East observers concur.52 Because of the rising levels of violencein Iraq, the refugee problem has now reached alarming proportions. It has

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  • been estimated that, since the US invasion until April 2007, over 2 millionIraqis have fled their country.53 Neighbouring countries took the bulk ofthese refugees, with Syria absorbing 1.2 million of them, adding to the 50 000Iraqi nationals already in the country before 2003.54 According to the UNHigh Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), this refugee population swellseach month by another 40 000 entrants.55 The impact and implications ofthese vast refugee flows in terms of armed conflict are, to date, much lessevident and direct compared with, say, the exodus of Hutu refugees fromRwanda, an RCF textbook example. Yet there are some indications that Iraqirefugees may bring their conflicts to their neighbours and trigger newconflicts by their sheer presence. The USA has made strong accusations thatsenior Iraqi Baathist officials are plotting their insurgency while hidingamong the Iraqi refugee population in Syria; several of them were extraditedfollowing US pressure. Seemingly testifying to their influence, Iraqs vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi has reportedly asked the Syrian government tohelp initiate negotiations with Iraqi Baathists residing in Syria on ending theinsurgency.56 It has also been suggested that Iraqi refugees, given theincreasing numbers from the disgruntled Sunni community, have played animportant role in the cross-border networks facilitating conflict-relatedsmuggling and the supply of insurgents from Syria.57 Iraqi refugees also bringtheir sectarian animosities to that country, with each community beingrepresented by one of the many Iraqi factions who set up branches inDamascus, and given segregated housing in urban neighbourhoods. Alreadythere has been some friction between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites in Syria.58

    Moreover, the large influx of Iraqi refugees is draining Syrias scarceresources and has boosted consumer prices, primarily in housingmuch toordinary Syrians chagrin.59 In turn Iraqis in Syria complain aboutrestrictions imposed on them, despite general Syrian hospitality, such as inobtaining work permits. Resentment towards their hosts is further fuelled byforced or quasi-forced employment of Iraqi female refugees in the local sexindustry, which for long has been rumoured to be a moonlighting businessfor some Syrian military and intelligence officers, and by subdued lawenforcement against the phenomenon.60 Some observers fear that grievanceson both Iraqi and Syrian sides may become a source of future clashes withinSyria, especially when Iraqi refugees are there to stay indefinitely in theincreasingly probable event of a long-lasting Iraqi civil war.61 Such potentialclashes may acquire sectarian overtones, since recent arrivals from the Sunnicommunity in particular, who are fleeing from Shiite persecution in Iraq,may already begin to relate to Syrian Sunni grievances against the Alawiteclans dominating the Syrian regime.

    Merits and flaws of the RCF model in Middle Eastern context

    The various conflicts raging in the Middle East appear to be highly connectedas cross-border networks fuse the boundaries between intra-state conflicts tothe extent of blurring them into one larger imbroglio. Such, of course, hasimportant implications for the ways in which we analyse the various conflicts

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  • under discussion. Policy makers would also be advised to take into accountthe high probability that the effects of their positions and measures pertainingto some aspects of the Middle Eastern RCF will be mitigated by seeminglyexternal factors that initially appear to have little direct bearing. The otherway around, local politics and policies are bound to affect the region atlarge. It is against this background that advocacy groups have suggestedregional solutions to the Iraqi crisis by arguing that Iraqs neighbours may bemore effective than the USA at conflict management and at averting an Iraqicivil war.62 Such recommendations have gained urgency following assess-ments warning against direct military interference by Iraqs neighbours.63

    Likewise the USA has been advised to involve Syria (and other neighbours ofIraq) in efforts to seek a regional security structure in order to ease theregions multifold tensions and resolve its conflicts.64

    The RCF literature has produced quite similar policy proposals by generallyhighlighting the need for sets of policies that address multiple arenas andsources of conflict within a given region in an integrated way.65 Much of thisappears to make good sense. Yet, especially when limited to the levels ofanalysis proposed by the RCF model, an understanding of the intricate andinterconnected regional conflicts suffers from a series of daunting methodo-logical and analytical problems and flaws. First, because of its focus on oftenclandestine and secretive networks, the model appears to be much moresophisticated in theory than it can possibly and plausibly corroborateempirically. As became apparent above, much of the available data do notconstitute much more than haphazardly collected pieces of a larger puzzle orassertions informed by hearsay or often equally unreliable US intelligencesources. RCF theorists have little to say about how to deal with such highlevels of uncertainty in their required data, thereby allowing for wildlyvarying assessments of the nature and extent of cross-border networksalacuna that also hampers sound analysis for the Middle East.Second, the RCF model appears obsessed with identifying static manifesta-

    tions of cross-border linkages without offering an exhaustive theory of thedynamics and processes through which they are formed, and through whichthey cause, fuel or prolong conflicts. Accordingly, the RCF approach still hasmuch in common with rival theories, such as the state-centred school ofRealism in the study of international relations, that often fail to unpack theprocesses and stream of events locked up in a kind of black box situatedbetween actors interests and political outcomes.66 For example, Rubinsdiscussion of ethnic networks crossing borders offers no real analyticalframework for the study of ethnic politics other than containing hints ofprimordialism or equally crude instrumentalism.67

    Third, the proposed analytical levels regarding cross border linkages areunlikely to generate exhaustive analyses of interconnected conflicts and may,at times, not necessarily be the most significant carriers of resources fuellingor framing these conflicts. What is being overlooked is that regional politicsand violence are as much driven by knowledge systems shaping perceptions,and their underlying logics, as by physical and material networks supplyingweapons, cash and organisational tools for violence. This omission may have

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  • a lot to do with the RCFs intellectual origins in economics and securitystudies, which generally have little patience for such domains of research.68

    Yet such more discursive imperatives may travel as easily as the resourcesidentified by the RCF model and, in doing so, have an equally profoundimpact on politics and violence transgressing borders. Below follows anattempt to address this third lacuna of the RCF model in reference to our casecountries.

    The missing regional link: symbolic capital

    The regional link that the RCF models fails to explore may be captured byreference to the term symbolic political capital, which can be provisionallydefined here as political actors ability to carve out a cognitive political andsocial space for themselves that is recognised and respected by a critical mass.It enables political actors to authoritatively impose their views and readingsof events and processes that are otherwise contentious to the core. Ourregional focus will reveal that actors strategies to effectively generatesymbolic capital are often placed in the context of regional developments orevents beyond their immediate national borders, thereby affecting peoplesperceptions and understandings of politics and violence in multiple locations.Accordingly, symbolic capital helps frame the manifestations of conflict. Indoing so, it travels across borders via or in dialogue with the physical andmaterial networks emphasised by the RCF model. Yet symbolic capital can attimes stand on its own and travel regionally, regardless or even without suchphysical networks. Furthermore, regional events or developments beyondnational borders may both help political actors generate symbolic capital andcontribute to their losing it, depending, among other factors, on their abilityto offer persuasive interpretations of the existence and strength of competingunderstandings each hoping to attain leverage. Finally, in the quest forsymbolic capital, facts and fictionsand their manipulationare all essentialin framing politics and violence within states and across their borders. A fewexamples derived from the three countries of interest here will suffice by wayof illustration.

    Syrias quest for regional symbolic capital

    Many observers of Syrian politics have emphasised that ideology no longeraccounts for the regimes durability as much as its political opportunism, itspatron client networks and its repressive apparatus. Theorists of the newwars would eagerly concur by arguing that ideology generally no longerconstitutes a significant aspect of contemporary armed conflicts.69 Yet, incontravention of such analyses, the Syrian regimes desire to appearideologically consistent was particularly evident in the course of theunravelling violence in Iraq. Despite repeated calls by the US governmentand Iraqi political elites on Syria and other neighbouring countries torecognise the new Iraqi state institutions, the Syrian regime dithered aboutbeing associated with what many Syrians and the various opposition groups

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  • alike dismissed as illegitimate creations of foreign occupation.70 When theregime finally appeared to capitulate by attending, under heavy US pressure,a regional conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2004, Syrianopposition groups and Arab media critical of the Syrian regime fumed overthe regimes betrayal, especially at a time when their Sunni co-religionistswere being massacred by US forces in Falluja, Samara and Ramadi.71 Syrianofficials emphasised how their hands were tied in formulating policies vis-a-vis Iraq, while the Syrian population were glued to their televisionsbroadcasting gruesome pictures of US forces killing Sunni insurgents andcivilians in Iraq.72 Consequently the Syrian regime continued to withholdformal recognition of the Iraqi government and, until November 2006, failedto restore full diplomatic relations with Iraq. As one Syrian commentatorremarked, the regime has little to fear from the opposition as they offer fewalternatives anyway. Yet as soon as the opposition is about to overtake theregime on the left in terms of anti-imperialist rhetoric, the regime getsnervous and steps up its own rhetoric by bolstering its uncompromisingpositions [on regional issues including Iraq].73 Perhaps because of theresulting popular impression of the Syrian regimes obdurate stand on Iraq,Syrian opposition groups gave up on their attempts to outflank the regime onthis issue and, instead, began to argue that, in order for its principled stand tobe effective in resisting a possible US invasion of Syria, the regime ought tobuild a front together with the opposition in the service of anti-imperialism.74

    Because of real or perceived similarities between the regime types andsocial characteristics of the various countries in the region, local events mayhave a powerful demonstration effect transcending borders. In this contextsymbolic capital used to help preserve or challenge domestic powerconstellations could be affected, depending on what cognitive interpretationof external events predominates. Accordingly, the rapid fall of the regime ofSaddam Hussein was initially read in Syria through the prism of localpolitics. By drawing parallels between Baath repression in Iraq and Syria,the fall of Saddam Hussein appeared to open up real possibilities for animplosion of the Syrian Baath regime.75 In response, Syrian officials wentout of their way to highlight the differences between the Syrian and Iraqiregimes.76 Yet their otherwise plausible arguments were initially lost on manySyrians, since Saddams fall had made them overcome much of their fears ofthe regime in Damascus. Thus opposition activists began raising voices thathad been largely silenced since the regimes tolerance for the pro-reformexponents of the Damascus Spring had been abandoned in 2001.Syrias Kurds went furthest in capitalising on this change of perceptions,

    thereby reflecting the regained confidence particularly among Iraqi Kurds.For the first time Syrian Kurds, spearheaded by the re-energised Yekiti Party,held street protests and sit-ins calling for respect for human rights and for thenaturalisation of Syrias 200 000 stateless Kurds and their offspring (al-maktumin). Reminiscent of the Iraqi Kurdish drive for autonomy, terms likeWest Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan became increasingly used amongSyrian Kurdish activists. Regardless of the question of what exactly triggeredthem, the riots that broke out in Qamishlu in March 2004, and which

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  • subsequently spread to other Kurdish areas, were riddled with references torecent and past developments in Iraq.77 For instance, in several villagesstatues of Hafez al-Assad were torn down, as if Kurdish protestors wanted toremind the Syrian regime of the much-publicised fate of Saddam Husseinsstatue at Firdawz Square in Baghdad, which symbolised the collapse of theIraqi regime.78 When the demonstrations entered their fifth day, protestorswere mobilised by capitalising on the anniversary of the chemical attacks onHalabja, for which Iraqs Kurds were now able to demand vengeance. Forthe first time Kurdish flags were carried during funerals of victims of theregimes harsh repression of the riots. Driving the parallels with Iraq evenfurther, Kurdish media spread rumours about a mysterious aeroplane thathad landed in Qamishlu, carrying US officials demanding the regime stop itsrepressive measures in quelling the revolt; this way it was suggested that theUSAs special relations with Iraqs Kurds would become a model for SyriasKurds too. Yet equally striking is that, during the disturbances, the regimeand its supporters also made strong references to developments in Iraq byhighlighting their own interpretations of what was happening next door.Supporters of the visiting (Arab) football team from Deir az-Zur, whoappear to have provoked the unrest, shouted slogans insulting Iraqi Kurdishleaders and carried portraits of Saddam Hussein. Arab vigilante militias,purportedly sent or tolerated by the Syrian regime, retaliated against Kurdishprotestors by looting and burning down Kurdish shops, as if they werequoting from the chaotic scenario that unfolded in Iraq following theregimes collapse. Syrian state media drew explicit parallels with thebreakdown of law and order in Iraq by portraying the Kurdish riots inSyria as nothing less than attempts to evoke chaos and fitna (civil strife), aview finding strong echoes in the position of the secular Arab nationalistopposition, which similarly loathes Kurdish nationalism.79 In other words,even if not a single agent provocateur or weapon had crossed the borderbetween Syria and Iraq, Iraqs imprint was all over the riots as all sidesfought a discursive yet very real battle in which Iraq was at centre stage.The contest over the symbolic capital generated by the unfolding violence

    and chaos in Iraq has arguably been won by the Syrian regime thanks to itslong-standing habit of reinventing its [domestic positions] based on therhythms, developments and details of foreign affairs.80 The regime hasconsistently played on rising fears that Syria is awaiting a similar scenario ofethnic and sectarian violence triggered by Iraqi-style foreign invasion andoccupation. Potential counterpoints of reference, such as the Iraqi elections,which involved about 17 000 Iraqi voters within Syria, have been over-shadowed by the harrowing images of the collapse of stability in Iraq and bythe sectarian nature of the vote.81 Accordingly, not only has the regimeeffectively outflanked the opposition in its rejection of the US occupation ofIraq; it has also used events in Iraq to bolster its own position by effectivelypresenting itself as the sole alternative to an Iraqi-style pandemonium. AsBashar al-Assad put it succinctly, If we put aside the interest of the UnitedStates in Iraq, we have an interest in having stability because any effect inour region will be like a domino effect, especially if we have chaos. If what is

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  • going on in Iraq is bad, this will have bad effects on Syria.82 Bashar addedthat he feared an Iraqi civil war might spill over into Syria, because we havethe same mosaic of society, and part of this chaos will be based on the matrixof our society.83 Against this background Iraqs sectarian strife gainsdomestic relevance from the stream of Iraqi refugees into Syria, as thethousands of Iraqis are viewed as preferring the stability of authoritarian-ruled Syria to US-style democracy in their homeland.84 In the Syrian regimesdiscourse the reason why Syrias promised political reforms have remainedpiecemeal and that arrests of opposition activists have continued unabatedappears self-evident. After all, as Bashar asked rhetorically with a clear nodto Iraq, is democracy more important than chaos? What is it based on? Is itbased on a better economy, on security? What are the benefits of democracyif you dont have the essential things in society? Democracy isnteverything.85

    Arqana of Lebanon?

    Lebanon has been struggling with its own intricate sectarian and otherdivisions and yet been fully preoccupied with regional politics. Oneimportant rubric under which its internal divisions have been expressed isthe controversy about foreign interference in the country. Following theinitiation of a UN inquiry into the assassination of former prime ministerRafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, the forced Syrian pullout of Lebanon laterthat year, heavy Western pressure on Hizbullah to disarm, and the virtualgreen light given by the USA to Israels onslaught in summer 2006, Lebanesesocietys manifold divisions have crystallised around two main camps. One,led by the 14 March Movement of the Beirut spring in 2005, believes thatWestern pressures helped push Syria out of Lebanon. It relies on US andFrench support to confront Syria and Iran and their Lebanese allies. In thisversion the latter are viewed as infringing on Lebanons sovereignty andkeeping Lebanon hostage to the wider Arab Israeli conflict and to Iransnuclear stand-off with the USA. The other camp is led by Hizbullah andasserts that US and French interference in Lebanon is eating into Lebanonssovereignty and ultimately serves the interests of Israel. In this view analliance with Syria is indispensable in order to counter US hegemony in theregion at large and to put a halt to its meddling in Lebanese internal affairs. Ido not argue here that such fault lines are necessarily an accurate orexhaustive characterisation of Lebanons multifold divisions; yet the ways inwhich political actors deliberately frame their agendas in such terms allowthem to muster symbolic capital and domestic support.The war in the summer of 2006 only sharpened the divide as both camps

    stepped up their references to regional politics. Crude analogies arefrequently used to simplify and empower actors messages. For the 14March Movement, the Iraqisation (arqana) of Lebanon has come to refer toShiite paramilitary groups usurping the states monopoly on violence or tothe outbreak of political chaos generally, a phenomenon that is presented ascharacterising the situation in both Iraq and Lebanon. Furthermore, the

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  • terms connotation here refers to Irans purported rising influence in Iraq andthe region at large, echoes of which are believed to be found in Lebanon byway of the increasing prominence of Iran-supported Hizbullah. In contrast,Hizbullah and its supporters understand the arqana of Lebanon in referenceto US attempts to include Lebanon in its regional hegemony, an analogue tothe USAs occupation of Iraq and its purported strategy there of causingcreative chaos vis-a-vis Iraqs ethnic and sectarian communities and theirpolitical elites. Hizbullah is dreading what it views as a US ploy to ride thewave of international concern about Lebanons peace and security. As oneHizbullah MP put it, the UNs special representative in Lebanon, who wasonce solely concerned with observing the Lebanese Israeli border, has nowgained powers and ambitions matching those of General Jay Garner andPaul Bremer, the two former US administrators of occupied Iraq.86 Finally,more independent Lebanese voices have accused both camps of copyingIraqs divisive politics and of similarly capturing their differences in crudesectarian terms.87 Again, such analogies may or may not be valid. Yet, moreimportantly, they are powerful tools expressing and shaping manyLebaneses cognitive frameworks of what their own conflicts are really about.The ways in which regional developments shape and are shaped by actors

    political discourse were also apparent in Hizbullahs wartime rhetoric andsubsequent appeal to Arabs across the region. By acrobatically connectingnumerous sources of popular discontent, including widespread regionalresentment over the US occupation in Iraq and many Arab leaders tacitconformity to US policies, Hizbullah effectively managed to appeal to manyordinary Arabs.88 In doing so, it bolstered its own symbolic capital at homewhile at the same time discrediting Arab leaders criticisms of Hizbullahsmilitary operation against Israel. Most strikingly Hizbullahs condemnationsingled out the USA for its ill-fated and wicked plans for a new Middle Eastby suggesting a clear correlation between the USAs occupation of Iraq andits support for Israel, both generally and in the more specific context of thewar of July and August 2006. Thus Israel is portrayed as a mere pawn in theservice of the US governments imperialist designs for the entire regionaremarkable reversion of order compared with the partys earlier statements.89

    Clearly, Hizbullahs focus on the USA was made possible thanks to a longrange of grievances associated with, among other factors, the US occupationof Iraq and shared by many Arabs: the false intelligence information bywhich the US justified its invasion, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the killing by USforces of Iraqi civilians, and the vast destruction caused by US counter-insurgency operations, as highlighted during the sieges of Najaf and Fallujain 2004. With Iraq and also Palestine in flames and Arab leaders being widelyviewed at best as incompetent accomplices in US and Israeli attempts todominate the region, the gap between state elites and citizens feelingdisparaged and humiliated is readily filled by a radical and seemingly effectiveresistance movement restoring some sense of dignity (karama).90 Using itsmedia outlets, Hizbullah was extremely effective at catering to many Arabsneed to restore, if only temporarily and imperfectly, this sense of dignity.91

    Sunni Islamist parties across the region eagerly echoed the perception of

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  • Hizbullah resisting a joint Israeli US onslaught, thereby reversing theirrecent accommodationist policies vis-a-vis incumbent regimes that they nowaccused of betraying the Arab cause.92

    The analytical instruments offered by the RCF model fail to register such ahigh level of interconnectedness of the regions politics, let alone to enable usto analyse its significant effects in terms of both broadening and narrowingpolitical actors room for manoeuvre. Worse still, and once again within thecontext of the latest war in Lebanon, the RCFs emphasis on cross-bordernetworks capitalising on shared primordial identitiestranslated in theMiddle East by pointing at the rise of a Shiite crescentprovides adistorted and simplistic image of the complexities involved. After all, as oneLebanese commentator put it, one of the strange developments of this Israeliwar on Lebanon is that while the Lebanese Shiites are being accused offighting for Iran and its interests, their Arab identity and support is growingamong the Arab masses, and many sensitivities are starting to dissipatebetween them and their Sunni brothers.93 A recent survey of Arab viewssuggests that the public of the Arab world is not looking at the importantissues through the Sunni Shiite divide. They see them through the lens ofIsraeli Palestinian issues and anger with US policy (in the region). MostSunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.94 Suchfindings underline the need for a more sophisticated approach to cross-border identity politics than the one provided in the RCF literature andechoed in alarmist speculation of a region-wide Sunni Shiite clash.

    Labnana of Iraq?

    Hizbullahs appeal also reached Iraq. On 4 August thousands of IraqiShiites, mostly sympathisers of Muqtada as-Sadrs Al-Mahdi movement,went out in the streets of Baghdad to express their support for Hizbullah,carrying banners emphasising an analogy between their own battles againstthe US occupation and the fierce resistance put up by Hizbullah.95 In anextensive interview at Hizbullahs Al-Manar TV station, As-Sadr lambastedUS policies vis-a-vis Israel and drew strong parallels with the US occupationof Iraq against which his own forces, as he put it, fought as formidably asHizbullah did against Israel.96 The nature and significance of the mutualreferences and exchanges of admiration between Hizbullah and Muqtada as-Sadr are different from what the RCF approachand US policy makerswould want us to believe. What matters here is not so much their directphysical co-operation or cross-border personal military networks, but thefact that both parties use their ties to boost their symbolic capital, each fortheir own reasons and in their own immediate contexts. ConsequentlyHizbullah provides a platform to as-Sadr to reinforce its regional referencesdirected against the USA, while Muqtada as-Sadr capitalises on Hizbullahssymbolic capital to score some points against his own rivals among the Shiitepolitical and religious establishment in Iraq. The latter is weary of the Mahdimovement and its record of armed resistance against the US occupation,preferring more accommodationist strategies towards US occupying forces.

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  • Given Hizbullahs praise for Iraqis who nevertheless engaged in suchresistance activities, these more conservative clerics have been equally criticalof Hizbullah.97

    Otherwise Iraqi references to Lebanon have been everything but flattering.While many Lebanese invoke the horror scenario of the Iraqisation ofLebanon, many Iraqis warn against the Lebanonisation (labnana) of theirown country.98 Here the analogy serves to reinforce arguments directedagainst the very legitimacy of Iraqs new political institutions, as the latterits most powerful beneficiariesand US officials in Iraq are accused offollowing Lebanons paradigm of distributing power and positions alongsectarian lines.99 Especially allegations against Iraqs new elites corruptionand cronyism have been phrased in reference to Lebanese practices ofpoliticians scrambling to divvy up state jobs and resources among theirconstituencies (a process known in Lebanon as muhasassa or apportion-ment).100 More recently Iraqs very real prospect of a further escalating civilwar has been frequently phrased in reference to the Lebanese civil war, withparamilitary groups inciting sectarian hatred and committing massacres, andassociated with ethnic cleansing and the rise of sectarian ethnic cantons,followed by state collapse.101 US plans at the end of 2003 to invite severalpolitical parties represented in the Iraqi Governing Council to form a jointmilitia to help fight the insurgency were rejected on similar grounds.102 Thefailure of some Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish groups, including SCIRI, Sadrs al-Mahdi movement and the Peshmergas, to demobilise their militias and stopvigilante killings has also been denounced with reference to a Lebanese-stylescenario.103 Here, as before, the power of analogy does not lie so much in itsaccuracy but in the fact that political actors use such references to developtheir perceptions, validate their arguments and discredit those of others.

    Concocting regionalisation

    Blatantly questionable perceptions of the regions political interconnectednesscongruent with the RCF model can become a source of political actors effortsto spawn symbolic political capital. Examples abound. The Syrian regimemay mostly deny the specifics of its cross-border tentacles, but whendiscussed in the right context it is eager to emphasise, exaggerate and evenfabricate its connections with and leverage over Iraqi political actors in orderto present the latter as bargaining chips vis-a-vis the USA.104 Indeed, it islikely that the regimes search for regional symbolic capital motivated itshosting of Iraqi tribal leaders in Damascus just a few months after the USinvasion, as well as the red-carpet treatment granted to Muqtada as-Sadr inFebruary 2006.105 Similarly, and now that Iraqs major factions have movedtheir branches and significant parts of their constituencies to Syria, the Syrianregime appears to be ideally connected to exert influence in Iraq. Meanwhile,it can claim that it is already coming to the USAs assistance in dealing withthe Iraqi refugee crisis.106 In reality, however, the Syrian regimes leverage inIraq is likely to be much less compelling than it likes others, foremost theUSA, to believe. Nonetheless, the Syrian regimes deliberately inflated

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  • conception of what it can do in Iraq is now appearing to find resonancewithin the USA, as illustrated by the report of the Baker Hamiltonbipartisan committee on Iraq, if only because it can be portrayed as a pillarof a new Iraq policy so forcefully called for during the US mid-term electionsin November 2006.In a similar mind game the mere impression of al-Qaida and its Iraq

    veterans now allegedly setting up bases in south Lebanon may soon allowHizbullah to present UN troops and their political backers in Washingtonand Paris with an awkward choice. Either Hizbullahs superior intelligencecapabilities will help track down and neutralise such al-Qaida elements, asit did successfully in the past, or UN troops will go after Hizbullahs arms,as a result of which al-Qaida will have a free hand in plotting attacksagainst them.107 Al-Qaidas presence in Lebanon may be fact or fiction, andso may its purported intention to attack UNIFIL troops,108 but Hizbullah isunlikely to wait for that debate to reach a conclusion before using it to itsadvantage.The USA and its allies also thrive on and help concoct views about the

    Middle Easts interconnecteness that are of dubious validity but thatnevertheless generate real political clout. Most importantly the USadministration persists in portraying the insurgency in Iraq as a foreign-ledand -designed terrorist endeavour to undermine ordinary Iraqis prospectsfor democracy and prosperity, despite the increasing Iraqification of al-Qaida in Iraq in terms of its members, and given the vast number of Iraqisympathisers to the insurgency in general.109 Obviously, pointing atpredominantly foreign identities serves the USAs argument that violentrepression and increasing US troops levels, rather than negotiation, let aloneaccommodation, should be the way forward. Furthermore, US allies in theregion often have their own reasons for emphasising the primacy of intra-regional politics, even when this is based on highly dubious premises. In arather unsubtle attempt literally to cash in on the perceived Shiite crescentnow being portrayed as suffocating Lebanese politics, Lebanons Christian Maronite Social Affairs Minister Nayla Muawwad raised funds for thecountrys current war relief and reconstruction effort by presenting toWestern donors a dark picture of a looming Shiite Iranian axis that canonly be countered by said donors granting massive aid to win hearts andminds.110

    Colaterals of analytical myopia

    The RCFs claim to policy relevance is straightforward: various conflicts thatoutwardly appear to be intra-state conflicts are, on closer inspection, regionalin their nature, causes and effects. From this follows that internationalorganisations such as the UN and Western governments alike should adjusttheir peace interventions. For the Middle East this also makes good sense,especially as the escalating violence in Iraq now has real potential to take therest of the region with it. Among necessary steps feature engaging Iraqsneighbours in a serious dialogue on Iraqs security, helping broker solutions

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  • to other conflicts in the region (such as the Arab Israeli one) in order tofoster regional willingness to help address the Iraqi fighting or prevent itsfurther escalation, countering the demand side of Iraqs illicit oil exports, andassisting Iraqs neighbours to cope with the Iraqi refugee crisis.However, it is remarkable that the RCF model depicts such international

    or Western interventions as mostly external to the regions under discussion;they are mostly portrayed as a potential part of the solution but very rarelyseen as inherent to the problems underlying RCFs.111 This conception of theWests exogeneity is further magnified by the equally questionable claim thatthe new wars in the developing world are very different in quality and effectscompared with the old or conventional wars riddling Western history.Contrary to what proponents of the new wars and RCF theories believe, theend of the Cold War did not give way to a burgeoning of intra-state warsbecause the superpowers no longer put a lid on simmering ethnic strife asbefore. Rather, at least in part, the nature of Western intervention in thesewars changed and became even more penetrating, certainly where the MiddleEast is concerned. In fact, if one wished convincingly to claim that theincreasing regionalisation of politics and violence in the Middle Eastcontained an element of novelty, it would be in reference to the overridingand increasing importance of the USAs role in this regions various politicsand conflicts, primarily stemming from its intervention in Iraq. For thehighly contested role of the USA in Iraq has arguably prompted andfacilitated much of the increase in cross-border traffic of people, goods andideas resisting US hegemony in the region, while simultaneously providingpolitical actors with ample opportunity to capitalise on the US presence andpolicies for fighting their own, otherwise more localised conflicts. It is againstthis background that an Iraqi internet blogger commented: Several times Iheard analysts and politicians warning against the arqana of the situationin Lebanon. [Yet] perhaps amraka (Americanisation) of the conflict wouldbe a better description.112

    The erroneous but common conception of Western and particularly USexogeneity appears to be seriously impeding US policy makers ability toempathise with the regions various political actors, who use their owncognitive frameworks and logics in strategies of resistance. Not so differentlyfrom the RCF analysts, US policy makers seem to view the regionalisation ofconflicts in the Middle East purely in terms of jihadis, terrorists andweapons wildly crossing borders, while having little or no eye for the effectsof their own policies that feed political actors symbolic capital. Whilemissing out on plentiful opportunities to build or restore its own symbolicpolitical capital in the region, the USA offered its fiercest critics andopponents there discursive ammunition to reinforce their agendas withreference to the widely loathed US designs for the region. The USadministration may continue to argue that its overthrow of Saddam Husseinand what it insists calling the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon should beviewed as shining examples of its democratic solutions to the regionsproblems. Most people in these countries beg to differ as they see contendingconceptions of its role being confirmed over and over again.

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  • Conclusion

    The RCF approach can help us to understand the highly intricate and complexinterconnectedness of politics and violence in the three Middle Easterncountries under study. Its suggested levels of analysis regarding cross-bordertraffic in conflict-related goods and personnel are a prerequisite forconceptualising how the regions various conflicts have become interlinked.Yet any account that leaves it at that is likely to end up adding to the myopicviews and approaches associated with the US governments current policiestowards the Middle East. The regionalisation of symbolic capital ought to beurgently and firmly placed within the RCF approach to render it a moreeffective tool of analysis and policy advice to address this regions violentconflicts. By doing this, the assumed Western exogeneity to the regionsconflicts will be proven invalid at once. Likewise the RCFs static andunsophisticated notion of identity politics ought to be revised and integratedin an approach that builds on all three pillarsphysical and material cross-border linkages, regional symbolic capital and external interventions.Obviously, with so many variables at stake, it will not be easy to arrive at a

    proper theory or a deliberate simplification of reality that offers a powerfulexplanation of the regional interconnectedness of politics and violence. Muchis still to be done, most evidently by broadening our geographical scope toinclude Palestine, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and by borrowing fromother academic disciplines, including social anthropology, in order to mapout the regions intricate family networks and to understand the role theseplay in cross-border conflicts. Another field of exploration relates to thesignificance and cross-border movement of rumours, popular myths andconspiracies, and to political actors ability to translate these into symboliccapital. Hence, rather than claiming already to have arrived at a exhaustiveexamination of the regions interconnectedness of violence and politics, thisessay hopes to have demonstrated the critical need for an ambitious researchproject that aims to formulate such an analysis. If effectively managing andsolving violent conflicts is ultimately premised on a valid understanding ofthe mechanisms at stake, the escalation of the civil war in Iraq, the possibilityof the country falling apart, and the dire repercussions this will have for itsneighbours all bear out the urgency of such a project.

    Notes

    1 Mary Kaldor, Old wars, cold wars, new wars, and the war on terror, International Politics, 42, 2005,pp 492 493. See also Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era,Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006.

    2 Peter Wallensteen & Margareta Sollenberg, Armed conflict and regional conflict complexes, 1989 97, Journal of Peace Research, 35 (5), 1998, pp 621 634; Mark Duffield, Global Governance and theNew Wars: The Merging of Development and Security, London: Zed Books, 2001; Andre Armstrong& Barnett R Rubin, Conference Summary: Policy Approaches to Regional Conflict Formations, NewYork: Center on International Cooperation, New York University, November 2002; and Barnett RRubin, Andrea Armstrong & Gloria Ntegeye, Draft discussion paper I: conceptual overview of theorigin, structure, and dynamics of regional conflict formations, presented at the conference organisedby the Africa Peace Forum and Center on International Cooperation, Nairobi, 22 October 2001.

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  • 3 Armstrong & Rubin, Conference Summary.4 Ibid. For a more detailed discussion, see Michael Pugh & Neil Cooper, War Economies in a RegionalContext, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2004, pp 25 35.

    5 Pugh & Cooper, War Economies in a Regional Context, p 39.6 Kaldor, New and Old Wars, pp 150 178; and Kaldor, Old wars, cold wars, new wars, and the war onterror.

    7 See, for example, Daniel L Byman & Kenneth M Pollack, Things Fall Apart: What do We do if IraqImplodes?, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, August 2006.

    8 Authors interviews in Aleppo and Damascus, November 2003. See also Washington Post, 8 June2005.

    9 Authors interview with Anwar al-Bunni in Damascus, 2 February 2005.10 The US and Iraqi governments used their own media-outlets to air detailed claims about Syrian

    involvement, including footage of purported confessions. See, for example, Al-Iraqiyya TV, 23February 2005; and Al-Hurra TV, 24 December 2004.

    11 As exemplified by Abu al-Ghadia as-Suri, a Syrian national who is believed to have acted as primefundraiser for Zarqawi. See Sami Moubayed, Abu al-Ghadia to build on al-Zarqawis legacy in Iraq,Global Terrorism Analysis, 3 (26), 5 July 2006.

    12 Brookings Institution, Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-SaddamIraq, 21 September 2006, p 19, at http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf. According toUS military sources, between January and November 2006 US and Iraqi soldiers killed 425 foreigninsurgents and captured 670, 20% of whom were Syrians. Cited in the Daily Star, 21 November 2006.

    13 Daily Star, 21 November 2006.14 See Anthony Shadid,Washington Post, 12 June 2006; International Crisis Group, Lebanon: Managing

    the Gathering Storm, 5 December 2005, p 13; and Tom Masland, Newsweek, 8 November 2004.15 Al-Mustaqbal, 18 January 2007.16 Los Angeles Times, 4 April 2003; and Washington Post, 9 April, 24 November 2003.17 Authors interviews in Beirut, August 2004.18 Nasrallah, cited in As-Safir, 22 May 2004.19 See Haytham Mouzahem, Daily Star, 21 July 2004; and New York Times, 5 August 2006.20 Senior State Department official David Satterfield interviewed in Al-Hayat, 21 June 2006.21 New York Times, 28 November 2006; and authors interview with Faleh Abd al-Jabar, Director of the

    Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, in Beirut, 28 November 2006.22 Authors interview with Ibrahim al-Hamidi, Al-Hayat correspondent in Syria, Damascus, December

    2004.23 On 17 18 September 2006 Al-Jazeera aired a documentary about this new development.24 See audiotape of a message purportedly read out by Zarqawi, broadcast by Al-Jazeera, 8 January

    2006.25 AFP, 1 June 2006.26 Al-Hayat, 27 July 2006. See also Zawahiris statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera, 11 September 2006.27 Cited in Al-Hayat, 13 November 2006. Shortly afterwards another statement appearing on a website

    used by al-Qaidas branch in Iraq called on Lebanese Sunnis to confront (Shiite) Hizbullah. Cited inthe Daily Star, 18 November 2006.

    28 Al-Hayat, 15 March 2007.29 Seymour Hersh, The redirection, The New Yorker, 25 February 2007. In contrast to Hershs earlier

    reports, this article contained very little evidence for its sweeping accusations.30 Imad Mustapha, Syrian ambassador to the USA, proclaimed: Seventeen of the 25 members of the

    [Iraqi] Interim Governing Council . . . once carried Syrian passports!. Interview by Helena Cobban,31 January 2007, at http://justworldnews.org/archives/002368.html.

    31 Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam, Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon, London: I B Tauris, 1986,pp 214 215.

    32 Hala Jaber, Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, p 54.33 For a discussion of Fadlallahs role see International Crisis Group, Hizbollah: Rebel Without a

    Cause?, ICG 30 July 2003, pp 12 14. See http://www.crisgroup.org.34 The call was made by Hamza Mansur, the leader of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front. See Al-Rai,

    1 June 2006.35 This interpretation was given by an unnamed Iraqi security official cited in Al-Hayat, 6 April 2004, as

    quoted by Michael Young, Daily Star, 10 April 2004.36 See Iraq Office of the General Inspector, Taqrir as-Shafafiya at-Thani: Tahrib an-Naft wa al-Muntajat

    an-Naftiyya, 2006. For an English translation see http://www.iraqrevenuewatch.org/reports/052206.pdf.

    37 Ibid.38 Authors interviews with Iraqi oil tanker handlers in Basra, May 2004.

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  • 39 See James Glanz & Robert F Worth, New York Times, 4 June 2006.40 The classified report was leaked to the New York Times, 25 November 2006.41 See IMF, Iraq Country Report, August 2006, p 9; and Washington Post, 15 April 2006.42 IMF, Iraq Country Report, August 2006, p 9.43 See Bilal A Wahab, How Iraqi oil smuggling greases violence, Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2006.

    Facing corruption charges, Al-Juburi fled to Syria, where he openly runs a pro-insurgency satellitetelevision station, Az-Zawra, and a website.

    44 See Al-Hayat, 11 March 2006.45 Authors interviews with Syrian economists and businessmen in Damascus, January 2005.46 See An-Nahar, 25 January 2007.47 See Barnett Rubin, Central Asia and central Africa: transnational wars and ethnic conflicts, Journal

    of Human Development, 7 (1), 2006.48 New York Times, 15 October 2005.49 Cited in the Washington Post, 8 December 2004.50 See Vali Nasr, When the Shiites rise, Foreign Affairs, 2006.51 See, for example, Sarah Kenyon Lischer, Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War, and the

    Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid, New York: Cornell University Press, 2005.52 Byman & Pollack, Things Fall Apart; and Kenneth M Pollack & Daniel L Byman, Iraq refugees:

    carriers of conflict, Atlantic Monthly, November 2006.53 UNHCR, Statistics on Displaced Iraqis Around the World-Global Overview, April 2007. Available at:

    http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tblSUBSITES&id461f7cb92.54 Ibid.55 Cited in the Guardian, 24 October 2006.56 See Az-Zaman, 6 March 2007.57 Authors interviews with Syrian businessmen in Damascus, March 2005.58 Yasmin Ahmed & Nassme Muhammad, Home from home in Syria, IWPR Iraq Crisis Report, 16

    March 2007.59 Ibid.60 On Iraqis in Syrias sex industry, see UNHCR, Strategy for the Iraq Situation, 1 January 2007; UNHCR,

    UNICEF & WFP, Assessment on the Situation of Iraqi Refugees in Syria, March 2006; and IRIN,28 October 2006.

    61 Authors conversation with Peter Harling, ICG Syria and Iraq analyst, in Beirut, November 2006.62 See, for example, International Crisis Group, The Next Iraqi War? Sectarianism and Civil Conflict,

    27 February 2006, recommendations 10, 11, p iii; and Testimony by Robert Malley, InternationalCrisis Group, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 23 January 2007.

    63 See Byman & Pollack, Things Fall Apart.64 See James Baker & Lee Hamilton, The Iraq Study Group Report, Washington, DC: December 2006,

    recommendation 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. For a similar but earlier approach, see International CrisisGroup, Syria under Bashar (I): Foreign Policy Challenges, 11 February 2004, recommendation 19.

    65 Rubin et al, Draft discussion paper I, p 7.66 The observation is borrowed from James Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine: Development,

    Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho, Minneapolis, MN: University of MinnesotaPress, 1994, p 16.

    67 See Barnett Rubin, Central Asia and central Africa. Such crude conceptualisation of ethnic politicsseems to go against the authors own advice expressed elsewhere. See Barnett R Rubin, Blood on OurDoorstep: The Politics of Preventive Action, New York: Century Foundation Press, pp 11 12. A moredynamicbut case- boundapproach can be found in Stephen Jackson, Regional Conflict Formationand the Bantu/Nilotic Mythology in the Great Lakes, Center on International Cooperation,December 2002. See http://www.cic.nyu.edu.

    68 Pugh & Cooper, War Economies in a Regional Context, pp 24 25.69 Kaldor, New and Old Wars, p 81.70 Authors interviews with Syrian opposition activists in Damascus, November 2002, January 2005.71 In reference to early Islamic history, columnist Abdul Bari Atwan compared the conference with the

    Darar Mosque in al-Madina where the hypocrites conspired against the Prophet Muhammad . . . andhis faithful followers. See Al-Quds al-Arabi, 22 November 2004.

    72 Authors interviews in Damascus, November 2004.73 Authors interview with Syrian opposition activist in Damascus, December 2004.74 Ibid.75 One Syrian political analyst conducted interviews with political activists and local notables all over

    Syria at the timeof theUS invasionof Iraq.Hismain findingwas that his interviewees all speculated aboutthe Syrian regimes durability through an Iraqi lens. Authors interview in Damascus, November 2003.

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  • 76 See, for example, the op-ed by Buthaina Shaaban, then Syrias foreign affairs spokesperson, inAs-Sharq al-Awsat, 18 April 2003.

    77 Much of the details on the Qamishlu events below are derived from the excellent paper by JulieGauthier, Les evenements de Qamichlo: irruption de la question kurde en Syrie?, Etudes Kurdes:Revue semestrielle de recherches, 7, May 2005.

    78 No doubt for the same reason, Syrian state television did not broadcast the famous footage of theremoval of Saddams statue. Instead it interrupted its news broadcast by showing documentaries onarcheology and submarine wildlife.

    79 See, for example, the views of Riyyad at-Turk, the leader of the clandestine Syrian Communist Party,cited in Gauthier, Les evenements de Qamichlo; and the op-ed by opposition lawyer Akramal-Bunni, Al-Hayat, 24 September 2003.

    80 Hassan Haydar, al-Hayat, 12 October 2006.81 Authors interview with senior Syrian official in Damascus, January 2005. Trustful that no Syrian

    would see a shining example in the Iraqi elections, the Syrian regime even allowed electioninformation to be broadcast on state television and radio.

    82 Interview by Charlie Rose at PBS television, 29 March 2006.83 Ibid.84 See op-ed by Abd al-Fattah al-Awad in the Syrian regimes mouthpiece At-Thawra, 20 February

    2007; and op-ed by the Syrian ambassador to the USA, Imad Mustapha, Washington Report onMiddle Eastern Affairs, March 2007.

    85 Interview by Charlie Rose at PBS television, 29 March 2006. Bashar later remarked in the context ofrecent arrests of Syrian political activists: We are not operating in a normal climate. No one, Syriansor others, doubt that there are daily attempts to interfere in Syrias domestic affairs. We cannot benaive and say, everything is ok, everybody is patriotic. This is not a matter of good intentions.Interview on Dubai Television, 23 August 2006.

    86 Ali Ammar, cited in As-Safir, 22 January 2007.87 For instance, Ghassan Salameh, a former Lebanese minister and advisor to the late Sergio Vieira de

    Mello, UN envoy to Iraq, lambasted the Iraqization of Lebanon in a critique of Lebanons 2005elections, which were riddled with sectarianism. See An-Nahar, 16 June 2006.

    88 For details see Reinoud Leenders, How the rebel regained his cause: Hizbullah and the sixth Arab Israeli war, MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, 6, 2006, at http://web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/intro.htm.

    89 Earlier Hizbullah had argued that the USA had an Israeli policy towards the region. Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbuallah: Politics and Religion, London: Pluto Press, 2002, p 91.

    90 Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, 15 August 2006.91 Witness, for example, Hizbullahs al-Manar TVs soaring viewing rates across the region. Jerusalem

    Post, 25 August 2006.92 See Amr Hamzawy & Dina Bishara, Islamist Movements in the Arab World and the 2006 Lebanon

    War, Carnegie Paper, November 2006.93 Sateh Nur al-Din, As-Safir, 29 July 2006.94 Sibley Telhami, cited in Jim Lobe, Arabs less worried about Iran, Inter Press Service (IPS),

    9 February 2007. The poll was conducted by Zogby International and Telhami, a senior fellow at theSaban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

    95 New York Times, 5 August 2006.96 Al-Manar TV, 1 August 2006.97 See, for example, the commentary by Diya al-Shakarji, Al-Bayan, 23 August 2004.98 Ghassan Salameh equally used the notion of Lebanonisation in his warnings against regional

    military interference in Iraq. See his keynote speech at the Iraq, Oil and Money conference,London, 4 November 2003, at http://www.energyintel.com/om/pdf/2003/Salame.pdf#search%22lebanonization%20iraq%22.

    99 Authors interview with Iraqi officials and politicians in Baghdad and Basra, May June 2004. Seealso Raad Alkadiri & Chris Toensing, The Iraq interim Governing Councils sectarian hue, MiddleEast Report, 20 August 2003.

    100 For one such typical critique of Iraqi corruption in reference to Lebanese-style muhasassa, see Az-Zaman, 26 February 2004. The Iraqi medias fragmentation along sectarian ethnic lines has alsobeen dubbed the Lebanonisation of the Iraqi media. See Paul Cochrane, The Lebanonization ofthe Iraqi media: an overview of Iraqs television landscape, at http://www.tbsjournal.com/Cochrane.html.

    101 Authors interviews with Iraqi diplomats in The Hague, 14 February 2007.102 Ghazi Yawar, cited in The New Republic, 22 December 2003.103 Authors interview with Iraqi diplomat in New York, 2 May 2006.

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  • 104 See, for example, the op-ed by Imad Mustafa, Syrias ambassador to the USA, Los Angeles Times,4 August 2006.

    105 A Lebanese pro-Syrian commentator duly reported on the December 2003 Iraq conference held inDamascus: It reflects Syrias leading role in the regions politics at this critical stage. This in itself is amessage to the US saying that given the latest security breakdown, no security is possible if Iraqsneighbours are ignored. As-Safir, 1 November 2003.

    106 Asked whether Syria would place demands on the USA in return for its hospitality to Iraqi refugees,one senior Syrian official said: If the burden placed on us becomes a problem, we will certainly raisethe issue. Authors interview in Madrid, 12 January 2007. An announcement by the Syrianauthorities in February 2007 that they were imposing restrictions on Iraqi refugeesrevoked onlydays latermay have been designed as a reminder to the USA and others that Syrias continuedhospitality will not be free of charge.

    107 In January 2006 13 persons were arrested on suspicion of plotting attacks on behalf of al-Qaida.Hizbullah was widely perceived as having been instrumental in these arrests. Authors interviews withLebanese observers of Hizbullah in Beirut, November 2006. The suggested logic attributed toHizbullah was commented on by some Lebanese and international media. See, for example, Al-Diyar,14 September 2006; and UPI, 7 March 2007.

    108 The Lebanese Defence Minister, Elias Murr, referred to undisclosed intelligence reports pointing atpossible attacks against UN peacekeepers by al-Qaida-affiliated groups. Cited in As-Safir, 9 February2007. UNIFIL officials have been equally concerned about this possibility. See interview with formerUNIFIL commander Alain Pellegrini, Monday Morning (Beirut), 9 October 2006.

    109 A Pentagon assessment found that 75% of Iraqi Sunnis supported the insurgency. Cited by ABCNews, 20 September 2006.

    110 Authors interview with European diplomat in Beirut, November 2006.111 Admittedly Rubin and his colleagues argue that labelling [RCFs] as regional should not obscure

    their links to global actors and structures. Yet their own work fails to put such advice at centre stage,except when it comes to policy advice related to conflict resolution. Rubin et al, Draft discussionpaper I, p 3.

    112 See Iraqi letters, 24 July 2006, at http://iraquna.blogspot.com/2006/07/war-in-lebanon-iraqi-perspective.html.

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