Rise of ISIS : Saudi Iran Rivalry

Rise of ISIS : Saudi Iran Rivalry


Question: Saudi Arabian-Iranian rivalry is now intertwined with regional geopolitics and sectarian equations. Much of this has contributed to the rise of the ISIS. Discuss.


• Rapid rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria(ISIS) is the direct consequence of growth of a small band of Sunni muslims in a sectarian battle into a sophisticated jihad machinery with as many as 8 million supporters by some estimates

• Iran Saudi rivalry is one of the founding factors of the rise of ISIS

• ISIS derives strength from weakening nation states

• External intervention and Arab revolts apart from Saudi Iran antagonism has given the conflict created by the ISIS a new meaning and significance

• West Asian geopolitical factors are also directly responsible for the formation of ISIS

Saudi Iran Competition

This dates back to prior to the Iranian revolution

• The Pahlavi dynasty of Iran and al Saud royal family of Saudi Arabia have always vied for regional influence and a lead in the global energy market

• Islamic revolution of 1979 which overthrew monarchy in Iran brought about conflict between Shia Islamist Republicanism versus Sunni Wahhabism.

• Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s call to the oppressed in the Muslim world to turn against their rulers did not go down well with monarchs in the Saudis, who preferred status quo and saw the revolutionary Iran as a disruptive force.

• Iran as a regional power or turning against of the Iranian people from their own government remain important flashpoint in the conflict

• Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988 was an example of Sunni extremism

• Formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 was designed to combat Iranian influence

• What changed the rules of the game was the American capture of Iraq in 2003

• This set the stage for Shia Sunni rivalry and laid the foundations of a sectarian civil war

• Syria has a Sunni majority with the Alawite-dominated Ba'ath party, where this Saudi-Iranian rivalry played out disastrously.

• Saudi funded Syrian rebel groups played a major role in destabilising the national Baghdadi’s men seized Saudi resources and established the Caliphate

• Saudi Iran conflict has the potential to create more groups like ISIS

Facts and Stats

• Syria is now a divided country with 5 blocs pitted against each other

• Yemen is under attack from Saudi bombers while Houthis are tightening their grip over the nation

• ISIL or ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant

• As of March 2015, it controls areas of over 10 million people with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the head or the caliph hence it is also called the Caliphate
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