(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia rejected on Monday the idea of any
foreign interference in Iraq and blamed Baghdad’s “sectarian and exclusionary” policies for a lightning offensive by Sunni insurgents. Rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have seized several Iraqi cities, threatening to split the country down sectarian lines, a deeply worrying prospect for the region and beyond. … Saudi Arabia views Shi’ite Iran as a potentially dangerous rival and like most Gulf Arab states is wary of its support for the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government that came to power after Sunni president Saddam Hussein was forced from power by the 2003 U.S. invasion. … The remarks by Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to worsen relations with Baghdad, which has long accused both of them of backing the insurgents, something they deny. Read more here.
The Reuters news item quoted above should not surprise us. As the article opines, the conflict in Iraq is posited as “sectarian and exclusionary,” i.e., President Nouri al-Malaki has been exclusive to fellow Shias in his government appointments, etc. However, from this writer’s view, the onslaught of ISIL towards Baghdad is not about Malaki’s political decisions. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL,” alternately translated, “ISIS”) is a Salafi-jihadist branch of Sunni Islam1 and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared his organization’s purpose as the establishment of the Islamic caliphate through violent means.2
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is Alawite Shia, a branch of Shiism that comprises approximately 12% of Muslims in Syria.3 Another Salafi-jihadist branch of Sunni Islam, Jabhat al-Nusrah (“al-Nusrah”) is in conflict with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Al-Nusrah was formed on January 23, 2012 during the Syrian civil war. Read more here. Al-Nusrah is currently a branch of al-Qaeda having rejected an alignment with ISIL.4
Sunnis comprise 90% of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, of which most are Wahhabi Muslims, founded in the Arabian Peninsula by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century, and often described as ‘puritanical’, ‘intolerant’ or ‘ultra-conservative’. The late Osama bin Laden was the founder of al-Qaeda, the Sunni militant Islamist organization that claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks on the United States, along with numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets.5
President Malaki of Iraq has never called for the removal of Assad in Syria and has had close relations with Syria for years. The Iranians are aligned with both Malaki in Iraq and Assad in Syria as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Iranians are known to have supplied arms to Assad in Syria through Iraq. To make the alignments more volatile and more of a concern to world leaders, the Russians are aligned with Iran.
Let me sum it up: Malaki in Iraq, Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran are all Shia. ISIS in Iraq and al-Nusra in Syria are both Sunni Salafi-jihadist groups, and although we cannot call them allies, when deciding whether to align with Shias or each other, the choice does not seem very difficult. Of course, an alternative just as easy to imagine — ISIS absorbs al-Nusrah by jihad. The Saudis are in a similar place having to align with ISIS and al-Nusrah. However, the Saudis and Iran are like oil and water — they do not mix. Iran and Iraq have both charged the Saudis as providing both moral and financial support to ISIL. The Russians have long-been aligned with Iran. America is in between the lines.
How might the current alignments and the unpredictable ensuing conflict fit in Bible prophecy? Consider the following passage:
Daniel 7:23-24 (NASB) “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 ‘As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings.
There are two “different” requirements in the end-times prophecy. The first requires that the “fourth kingdom” be different from all the other kingdoms before it (there were three others, Daniel 7:1-8 (generally interpreted to be: Babylon, Persia, and Greece. Rome has been replaced by Islam as the 4th kingdom by those interpreters who follow the “Islamic Paradigm”). The prior kingdoms were all countries. Islam is not a country. It is a religion with both political (society is governed by Sharia law) and religious dimensions, i.e., Islam is a religion and Allah its supreme deity.
The second “different” requirement relates to the “king” of the ten kingdoms that arises from within the different kingdom. That is, if Islam is the fourth kingdom then the second requirement requires that ten “kings” arise from within Islam in the end-days but one of those kings will be “different” from the others. I have always interpreted this last king to refer to Muhammad al-Mahdi, Shia Islam’s future “messiah,” and the Biblical Antichrist. However, I cannot help but wonder if this “different” king could refer to the leader of a “different” Islamic kingdom. That is, the king is “different” because the kingdom is different.
The Islamic caliphate ended with the Ottoman Turks in 1924 when then-president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, abolished both the sultanate and the caliphate following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1924.6 Although some have declared themselves to be the “Mahdi” since 1924, none has successfully established a “revived” Islamic caliphate (think of a “caliphate” as a united, single “community” of Muslims that exists without regard to geographical boundaries; rather, the caliphate is defined by the followers of Islam who come under the authority of a caliph, (or “king”). Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, launched jihad in Iraq not for political reasons or purposes but to establish the Islamic caliphate. Under this line of thinking, al-Bagdadi would be the “different” king.
It is too soon to conclude whether ISIS will extend the caliphate beyond its current advance in Iraq (although it recently succeeded in extending beyond Iraq into Syria). Certainly, it is too soon to determine whether Baghdadi can fulfill this prophecy as well; but the numbers certainly make it interesting. Daniel 9:24 prophesies that three kingdoms will be “subdued” (not destroyed). Do the numbers yourself: What if Shias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are subdued by Baghdadi?
What about Iran? Iran cannot be one of the three that is subdued because Iran is included in Ezekiel 38:5-6 NASB as one of the countries that joins Russia (the nation from the remote north) in the end-times assault against Jerusalem.
Jesus come quickly.
- A “salafi” Muslim follows a “salaf” interpretation or puritan interpretation of Islam as practiced by the first generation of Muhammad’s followers (including violence as the means to bring world dominion to Islam). Read more here. [↩]
- “A Persistent Threat, The Evolution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists” by Seth G. Jones, RAND Corporation, June 2014. [↩]
- Alawite Shias are a branch of Twelver Shias that derive their name, “Alawites,” because they are followers of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law and closest surviving relative (cousin) to Muhammad at his death in 632AD. [↩]
- ibid., Seth G. Jones. [↩]
- Bin Laden was a Saudi Arabian, a member of the wealthy bin Laden family, and a Wahhabi Muslim. Osama bin Laden is known to have opposed the al-Saud Royal family of Saudi Arabia, accusing them of betraying Islam by aligning with the United States, the Great Satan, and thereby rendering themselves infidels (unbelievers). Bin Laden is quoted as follows: “Regarding the criticisms of the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian peninsula, the first one is their subordination to the U.S. So, our main problem is the U.S. government, while the Saudi regime is but a branch or an agent of the U.S. By being loyal to the U.S. regime, the Saudi regime has committed an act against Islam. And this, based on the ruling of sharia [law of Islam based on the Qur’an], casts the regime outside the religious community. See Bruce Lawrence, Editor, Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama bin Laden. [↩]
- See http://www.meforum.org/article/159 at June 13, 2007. [↩]