Official deals mean little in face of influence of regional chiefs

Solving legal, commercial and political problems in the West is invariably determined by a rule of law emanating from parliaments, implemented by government bureaucracy and monitored by independent courts of law.

To our minds this well established formula is a simple solution and in our arrogance or ignorance, many presume that all civilised societies should embrace a similar model of governance.

For better or worse however, many countries and cultures rely more on traditional forms of social control and none more so than the Middle East where today chaos reigns.

A university professor in Middle East history or a foreign ministry bureaucrat with several years' exposure to that region from inside the diplomatic tent may genuinely claim to have expertise in the Middle East.


But there is another route to understanding and often it is the odyssey of a business person who, having risked capital and physical safety by venturing repeatedly into the labyrinth of foreign fields, gains a practical knowledge devoid of protections afforded by university compounds or the diplomatic obsequiousness which too often may colour reality.

With a Bachelors degree in politics, nine years as an MP and since 2007, persistent exposure to commercial initiatives in the Middle East (and Russia) and most recently being anointed as a diplomatic representative of a Middle East nation, I may claim that I have the benefit of each of the above categories as I accumulated knowledge of the Middle East.

Many would insist that oil reserves in the Euphrates basin (in Syria) are the cause of the chaos. Others might claim the real cause of today's chaos in Iraq and Syria, goes back to President George W Bush's unlawful (according to the UN) invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2003 under the now widely accepted false pretext of weapons of mass destruction.

Whatever the cause of the chaos, the consequences now include the reality of warlords.
Warlords in the Middle East are nothing new. For example, Palmyra (the ancient Roman outpost on the Old Silk Rd) which recently suffered unforgivable damage, was once ruled by Zenobia. This Queen Regent of the desert afforded protection on payment of tolls to all caravans transiting her territory. Plunder was the alternative.

Doves are release by a monument for the victims of Halabja massacre on its 20th anniversary in Halabja, Iraq , Sunday, March 16, 2008. Photo / AP
Doves are release by a monument for the victims of Halabja massacre on its 20th anniversary in Halabja, Iraq , Sunday, March 16, 2008. Photo / AP

Saddam, by all accounts I receive, was in fact no more than a very powerful modern day warlord who imposed the Rule of Saddam administered through lesser warlords or vassals.

As with Queen Zenobia and many who followed her, in desert fiefdoms which flourished through the centuries, patronage was power. Passing on territories to vassals for administration who in turn ruled their fiefdoms semi-autonomously - in the name of the chief warlord, was the accepted form of governance.

Sometimes the vassals overstepped the mark. In 1988 for example Saddam dispatched Defence Minister Ali Hassan, notoriously known as Chemical Ali, to the city of Halabja where about 7000 citizens were terminated or terrorised by chemical attack. Kurdish vassal Mustafa Ali Barazani, had obviously overstepped the boundaries of semi-autonomy and was taught a lesson.

Today in the same province; Kurdistan in northern Iraqi, a Kurdish sovereign state emerges (for I detect that the Kurds are the only beneficiaries of the current chaos). But the rule of law which emerges is the rule of a new warlord. He is the son of Mustafa - Masoud Al Barazni.


Masoud Al Barazni, and his nephew, Najerban are the emerging force but warlord is rarely synonymous with benefactor.

Prior to the 2014 elections in the Kurdistan province, Masoud Ali promised the people of the region that they would share in the allocation of oil revenue Kurdistan receives from the central government in Baghdad (another dimension of patronage as a means of maintaining some control of rebellious provinces).

According to my sources (a long established family of medical professionals); Masoud has failed to implement the 'trickle down' theory. The result is a population devoid of spending power which exacerbates the economic plight of the region. Presumably however, Masoud's coffers prosper but this is a manifestation of the extent of power which can reside in a vassal.

As one who has been in a joint venture (aqua culture) with the Syrian government I am mindful when I visit, for example Damascus or Latakia, the fact that although my company has a deal with President Assad's government, these deals cut little mustard with the oligarchs or warlords who rule as vassals in the cities where I must do business.

But where as my journey may have afforded me some qualification to comment on past events, I am not so sagacious as to presume I have any solution.

Ross Meurant. Photo / Supplied
Ross Meurant. Photo / Supplied

Ross Meurant

is a former

New Zealand police officer

and former

National MP