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Deteriorating security situation in the Persian Gulf

 

A region rich in history, land of myth, and the birth place of Islam is interesting in many ways, unfortunately violence is the main reason that draws the gaze of the world to this region. It is located on some of the most vital sea lanes for the global economy, the straits of Hormuz and Bab-al Mandab. This makes any political problems, and acts of violence on the peninsula and near it, a big problem for major powers as it threatens their economic security, and guaranties their presence in the region. Religious and cultural difference and the unfolding so called Middle-East Cold War, between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran create an atmosphere of conflict, violence and mistrust.

Strategically important Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, with Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates and Oman to the south, is rarely far from the center of global tensions. The strait is essential to the global oil trade, handling around 30% of the world’s waterborne oil. It is 161 km long and 33 km wide at its narrowest point, with the shipping lanes in each direction just 3 km wide and with a shallow depth that makes ships vulnerable to mines. Due to its importance, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz several times in recent history, such as in the year of 2018 as a response to U.S. calls to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. Tension around the Strait have been raised by attacks on oil tankers, threatening to finally cause Iran to close the strait and cause significant economic, political and security implications.

As for the cultural aspect that greatly influences this particular conflict it is important to note the difference between the Sunni and Shia Muslims. They differ in doctrine, law, religious organization and theology. The great majority of the world's more than 1.5 billion Muslims are Sunnis - estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90%. In the Middle East, Sunnis make up 90% or more of the populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.Shia constitute about 10% of all Muslims, and globally their population is estimated at between 154 and 200 million.Shia Muslims are in the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and, according to some estimates, Yemen. There are also large Shia communities in Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These two sects dispute over who they believe is the rightful successor of the prophet Muhammad. This ancient schism becomes most prominent when we take a look at Iraqi politics. Both the Sunnis and the Shia Muslims as well as the Kurds live in Iraq.The United States of America strongly support the Sunni coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia whereas the Russian coalition supports the Shia coalition led by Iran which further complicates things.The few available survey measures of religious identity in Iraq suggest that about half the country is Shia.The ongoing and intensifying conflict in Iraq has fallen – at least in part – along sectarian lines, with the Sunni Muslim militant group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) advancing against the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government and Shia militias. Saudi Arabia keeps influencing political life in Iraq and Iran keeps financing militias and armed movements.

One of the most talked about events of last year also took place in Iraq in the form of an American drone strike: the assassination of Qassim Soleimani, Iranian major general and the second most powerful man in Iran, leader of the Quds force, one of five branches of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. The general was on his way to visit the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad.

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