IRAQ is up for grabs, Syria has irretrievably been damaged, the West Bank sits on a powder keg. And that’s just the regions where some of the worst-case scenarios have come to pass.

On the borders of the Middle East, Afghanistan’s fate remains indeterminate, while the initial repercussions of Pakistan’s military offensive in North Waziristan are reflected in the rapid multiplication of internally displaced persons, amid reports that the intended targets had fled to Afghanistan well before the first air strikes.

The latter arena of conflict was some years ago dubbed Af-Pak by the Americans, and the somewhat Orwellian terminology attracted plenty of flak.

Over the decades, though, it is by no means just the jihadists who have derided the colonial-era Durand Line. On the other hand, the challenge to the post-First World War border between Syria and Iraq has come fundamentally from Islamist warriors.

A maliferous genie has been unleashed.
It is perhaps unlikely that the latter region will be designated as ‘Syriraq’, if only because that would seem to endorse the propaganda of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who has proclaimed himself caliph in an area that straddles parts of Syria and almost a third of Iraq, with the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) now rebranded simply as the Islamic State.

To a large extent, the fate of the ersatz caliphate will be determined by what happens in Iraq during Ramazan. A few days ago, Baghdad announced the recapture of Tikrit, but the claim turned out to have been an exaggeration, with battles still raging in the zone this week.

One of the explanations for the rout of the Iraqi army revolves around the nepotism and corruption that determined its nature under the aegis of Nouri al-Maliki.

Shia militias, the most formidable among them apparently controlled by Iran, have entered the fray, while Maliki, after failing to immediately invite US air strikes against ISIS and its Sunni collaborators, has reportedly spent half a billion dollars on purchasing superannuated Sukhoi aircraft from Russia, which are supposed to turn the tide.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, has solicited exactly that amount of money from the US Congress in the interests of arming ‘moderate’ Syrian militias supposedly challenging the depleted supremacy of Bashar al-Assad. But, as veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk has lately pointed out, moderates are thin on the ground, and those who exist cannot be relied upon not to sell their hardware to the highest bidder.

And that often turns out to be ostensibly their worst enemies. The Obama administration has lately been accused of training ISIS foot soldiers in Jordan. And Assad is said to have not just freed large numbers of Salafi prisoners from Syrian jails in 2011-12, but to have actively promoted ISIS as a means of countering the Al Qaeda-approved Jabhat al-Nusra as well as his more secular adversaries.

There may be some truth in both accusations. It is, after all, hardly unknown for governments to sponsor dubious forces with a view to protecting or advancing their interests. The US was a vigorous proponent of jihad, alongside its regional allies, when the Mujahideen were combating Soviet forces and their proxies in Afghanistan. And there was a time when Israel encouraged Islamists to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Now Israel’s determination to destroy Hamas has been reinforced by the unconscionable murder of three teenage yeshiva students from the occupied territories whom the Islamist organisation is accused of having kidnapped.

Whoever committed this egregious atrocity in the vicinity of Hebron clearly intended it as a provocation — not only against Israel, from where a predictably rash reaction could be guaranteed, but against the unity government lately inducted in Ramallah, a supposedly technocratic outfit that includes no Hamas members but receives its backing.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has meanwhile done the cause of the Kurds no favours by explicitly endorsing a Kurdish state — an idea that is apparently not anathema to Ankara either, provided it does not involve any Turkish territory.

Iraq’s neighbours would do well to remember that the border with Syria is not the only one that ISIS is determined to obliterate.

Iraq is currently a focus of broadly mutual interests between the US, Russia, Iran and Syria. But the situation is much too convoluted to draw any hopeful conclusions from this unlikely alliance.

The unprovoked Western aggression against Iraq in 2003 liberated not the Iraqi people but a maliferous genie. In the event of sectarian strife engulfing not just Iraq and Syria but their (not entirely blameless) environs, precious little credit will accrue to those who continue to argue that a prolonged occupation of Iraq or Western military intervention in Syria would have produced an altogether more desirable outcome.

But even those of us who derided the absurd project from the outset are left dangling with a question that has become progressively harder to answer: what next?