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The Growing Power of States Within States
One of the great successes of the Islamists, particularly the Shi'ites, is the ability to create separate states within weak and failing states. The prime examples are Hezbollah and, as the Washington Post chronicles today, Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.

One could argue that there are groups within the Iranian intelligence and security apparatus that also form non-state groups. The alliance of these elements, with no formal power, to ally in transnational, borderless associations and alliances, is what poses one of the largest threats to the Middle East and beyond.

The weakness of the states that allow these groups to flourish gives these groups, along with Hamas and other Islamist and non-Islamist organizations, the priceless ability to provide social services, remedy injustice and corruption and generally make people's lives better on a measureable level.

At the same time, the states in which they reside do not have the strength to drive them out or confront them. Hezbollah was able to launch a war the state of Lebanon probably did not want and certainly could not win.

One of the most fascinating elements of the al Sadr piece was the recognition in the group that attacking the U.S. forces would be counterproductive. The U.S. troops are already leaving so they have no reason to bring on pain. They clearly understand that they will be stronger than the Iraqi state when the dust settles.

These groups are all fed by state actors (Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia), and derive significant funding from them. But it is the internal weakness of the states themselves that allow non-state armed groups to grow like parasites, hollowing out the state from the inside.

These groups all have their own access to resources as well, giving them a degree of autonomy from their state backers. In the end, their agendas may serve the agendas of other states, but are seldom one and the same. Most of these groups, like Hamas has found, fail when actually given power. But formal power is not the aim. Informal, real power, with little responsibility or accountability, is a much better political position.

The ability to replace the state on even a limited scale offers Islamist groups a prime recruiting tool. They show weak and corrupt states to be what they are. They can promise-and deliver-more than the competition. When you are preaching separation from the world, the corruption of the apostate state leadership and the necessity of a radical new world order, this is a big prize.

These groups often over-step their bounds and flame out. The ELN in Colombia began campaigns of "social cleansing" in cities, shooting hitmen, drug dealers and prostitutes. But eventually the campaign spun out of control, and the population turned on them.

This could happen with Hezbollah and the al-Sadr group, but so far both seem to have been careful not to over-extend themselves. If they are not careful, they just might win.
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