January 26, 2021

Volume XI, Number 26

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January 25, 2021

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The Root of Middle East Turmoil

Iranian jets struck ISIL targets in Iraq, according to a senior U.S. defense official.  What makes this report so bizarre is that it means the Iranians are working toward the same objective, destruction of ISIL, as their avowed enemy, the Great Satan, according to Iran’s Supreme Leader.  Here is one more indication that companies doing business in the Middle East must be mindful that events and political alignments are shifting as quickly as the sand in a windstorm.

The Iranian move comes at the same time that Saudi Arabia led an OPEC decision not to cut oil production.  It is impossible to know precisely what drove this Saudi decision.  However, undeniably one consequence of this action by the Sunni Saudi government is to inflict economic pain on Shiite Iran.  And it comes at a time that the Iranian economy is reeling from international sanctions imposed in connection with that nation’s nuclear program.

These two events have a common cause:  The intense animosity between Sunnis and Shiites.  Their battle began in the seventh century in a dispute over Mohamad’s successor.  The issue of whether he should be selected by a committee of wise men or be determined by Mohammed’s bloodline evoked a fierce battle. Peace was never made between the warring groups.  Their dispute has flared over the centuries.  Now it threatens to engulf the entire region in warfare.

One current battle line is in Iraq where Iran is seeking to bolster the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad.  Others have been drawn in Syria and Lebanon.  In both of these states, the Shiite Sunni conflict is the driver of events.  Doing business in the Middle East has always been a complex matter.  Now, trying to discern how the Sunni Shiite conflict will affect host countries is critical. 

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© 2020 Covington & Burling LLPNational Law Review, Volume IV, Number 337
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About this Author

Allan Topol, Covington, Environmental attorney
Senior Counsel

Allan Topol is a resident in the firm’s Washington office.  While practicing law with Covington, he has written ten novels of international intrigue and numerous articles dealing with foreign policy issues in The Huffington PostThe New York TimesThe Washington Post, and Military.com.

Mr. Topol’s law practice has involved extensive civil and criminal litigation, with an emphasis on water, air and major hazardous waste enforcement cases, as well as international environmental law and toxic torts.  He has also advised clients on many of...

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