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The Islamic State in 214 Seconds

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The Islamic State through the looking-glass

The long essay below was contributed by friends of the blog Peter Harling and Sarah Birke. A previous essay from a year ago can be read here.

They will say, “Our eyes have been deceived. We have been bewitched.”
Surat al-Hijr (15:15)

One of the particularities of the movement calling itself the Islamic State is its investment in the phantasmagorical. It has an instinctive understanding of the value of taking its struggle to the realm of the imagination as the best way to compensate for its real-world limits. Even as it faces setbacks on the battlefield, it has made forays into our collective psyche, where its brutality and taste for gory spectacle is a force multiplier. Perhaps more than merely evil, the Islamic State is diabolical: like the Satan of scripture, it is a creature that is many things to many people, enjoys a disconcerting allure, and ultimately tricks us in to believing that we are doing the right thing when we are actually destroying ourselves.

This may explain, in part, how it is increasingly resorting to crimes that are not just horrific but spectacularly staged, such as the immolation of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh or the mise-en-scène of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts on a Libyan beach. The Islamic State is at its most dangerous in its interaction with the psyche, the fantasies, the frustrations and the fears of others, from the converts it attracts to policy-makers and analysts.

The semantics deployed in response to it are telling: each party projects its own national traumas and anxieties. In the West, the threat posed by Islamic State has been equated with anything from Auschwitz to the genocide in Rwanda to the siege of Sarajevo, even though none of these precedents has much in common with the phenomenon at hand. Among Muslims, the comparisons tend to point to Islam’s early traumas – Sunnis refer to the Khawarij, Islam’s first radicals, while Shias draw comparison with the Umayyads, the Sunni dynasty whose rise the partisans of Ali opposed. These sectarian-tinged views duel with the Islamic State’s own depiction of itself as the embodiment of pious, brave, ruthless and egalitarian comradeship – a utopian image of early, conquering and united Islam that it cultivates meticulously (and which works all the better the less versed in Islamic culture its audience actually is).

source and full article

Lure of the Caliphate

Art Resource

Tombs of the Caliphs in Cairo, Egypt, circa 1880

 

 

It has now become clear that Barack Obama is under enormous pressure to intensify the campaign against ISIS. Last week, as the White House held a summit on countering extremist violence in which Obama declared, “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” sources at the Pentagon told reporters that the retaking of Mosul, possibly with significant US military support, had been planned for as early as April. This followed the president’s recent announcement that he is seeking formal authorization from Congress for an all-out assault on ISIS in western Iraq and eastern Syria and that “our coalition is on the offensive” and the group “is going to lose.”

But the challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, having captured large quantities and varieties of weaponry from Syrian and Iraqi forces. Its senior commanders include former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq, a battle-hardened Chechen Islamist and former Georgian army sergeant, and veterans of the conflict in Libya. Above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West itself—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture and thought in which the region of Greater Syria, known as Bilad al-Sham, is given paramount importance.

According to Europol, some five-thousand European nationals—mainly from the wealthier countries of northern Europe—have now joined the group, with around one thousand each from Britain and France. Among them are hundreds of young men and women still in their teens. Meanwhile, the caliphate’s tentacles now stretch from Afghanistan, to Yemen and to Libya, with Sunni affiliates and tribal groups making their allegiance (baya) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph of ISIS. As Sarah Birke has recently written in The New York Review, US officials are wondering why “ISIS has attracted so many fighters—the most rapid mobilization of foreign fighters so far, outstripping recruitment in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.”

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Yazidis tell horror stories about ISIL captivity

Yazidis freed from ISIL captivity are still haunted by their memories and wondering about the fate of their loved ones.

 

While younger Yazidi women were taken as wives or sex slaves by ISIL fighters, many men were killed [Mohammed A. Salih]
While younger Yazidi women were taken as wives or sex slaves by ISIL fighters, many men were killed [Mohammed A. Salih]

 Ayshan Feli, 52, and her husband lay down on a white mattress on the floor of a building inside the complex of the Yazidis’ holiest temple site, Lalish. Their faces were at times expressionless, and at other times gripped with sorrow.

 

When the couple was  released on Saturday night along with nearly 200 followers of the ancient Mesopotamian faith, the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took away their one-year-old granddaughter.

 

“They asked me to give them my granddaughter. I refused,” recalled Feli, who was wearing the typical Yazidi black dress and white scarf. “They pulled her out of my arms and said if you protest, we will kill you.”

 

Hama Faris Khudeda, 58, Feli’s husband, who lay covered in a blanket with only part of his face visible, added: “I said, ‘Why are you taking away our granddaughter? She is ours.’ One of them said, ‘Shut up or I will shoot you. If you talk more, we will take your wife too.'”

 

The family was abducted from the Nisiri village, south of Mount Sinjar, by a group of ISIL fighters in early August. The villagers were allowed to stay at their homes for a few days if they converted to Islam to save themselves from ISIL’s wrath.

 

“We converted so they wouldn’t harm us,” said Khudeda, a disabled man sporting a thick white moustache.

 

 

But one day, ISIL fighters ordered Khudeda and other villagers into trucks and stripped them of all valuable belongings such as money and jewelery, and took their cars.

 

They were kept for three months in the nearby village of Kucho, the site of a reported massacre where hundreds of male Yazidis were slaughtered by ISIL in August.

 

Then, along with scores of other Yazidis, the couple was moved to Talafar, a town northwest of Mosul, which has witnessed its share of ISIL brutality as many Shia Turkmen residents were killed and the rest had to flee.

 

Later, the family was moved to Mosul, the largest urban centre under ISIL control with a population of nearly two million.

 

While younger Yazidi women were taken as wives or sex slaves by ISIL fighters, many men were killed. Younger boys have been put through ideological training by the group in the hopes of detaching them from their roots and turning them into future fighters.

 

The group that was released on Sunday was a mix of elderly, ill and mentally or physically disabled individuals.

 

The area of Sinjar, in the western part of Iraq’s Nineveh province, had the largest concentration of Yazidis in Iraq and the world until last August, when the area was attacked by ISIL fighters. The group has been subjected to extensive brutality by ISIL, which deems them “infidels”.

 

Maltreatment was the norm for the freed Yazidis, who were held in a wedding hall in Mosul for the last month of their captivity.

 

Those Al Jazeera spoke to unanimously said they were given “dirty”, low-quality food, often improperly cooked. They were scarcely allowed to take a shower. One woman said she did not get a chance to shower for 28 days, and even when they were allowed to do so, there was no warm water.

As a result, some of the detained Yazidis developed skin diseases. Some of the children and elderly could be seen with skin ulcers. As aid workers roamed around to distribute food and water, some of them covered their faces with masks for fear of contagious diseases among the released Yazidis.

 

Mayan Faris Qassim, 45, and her two sons were among the group released by ISIL while her husband, three sons and two daughters, one aged nine, remain in ISIL detention.

 

Qassim and her two sons have all developed skin ulcers. Her four-year-old son is in serious condition as his cheeks, forehead and nose are covered with severe ulcers. Now free, the priority for Qassim is to get her sons and herself treated.

 

For a community whose identity has been shaped for millennia around their religion first and foremost, being forced to change that religion has been psychologically and emotionally devastating.

 

For a community whose identity has been shaped for millennia around their religion first and foremost, being forced to change that religion has been psychologically and emotionally devastating.

 

Qassim says her nine-year-old son even went to the mosque to pray, but she did not. “We never converted deep in our hearts. We are Yazidi,” she said.

 

The members of the group were notified on the night of their release that they would be set free “because Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [ISIL’s leader] had issued a pardon”.

 

Many did not believe the fighters and as they were forced into buses, they feared something ominous was awaiting them. But relief took hold when the Yazidis were ordered off near a position of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk province, a key battleground between ISIL and the Peshmerga.

 

The trauma they endured and the painful memories of loved ones still in captivity has left the Yazidis here overwhelmed with sorrow, despite being free at last.

 

As she sips from a small water bottle, Feli sums up the mood here.

 

“Our life is no more,” she says, overwhelmed by emotions. “We cry so much. We grieve so much.”

source

 

 

Should We Oppose the Intervention Against ISIS?

Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Kobani prepare to fight against ISIS on November 7. The Kurds are receiving U.S. military aid. (Ahmed Deeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Kobani prepare to fight against ISIS on November 7. The Kurds are receiving U.S. military aid. (Ahmed Deeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Most U.S. leftists say yes. But voices we rarely hear—Kurds and members of the Syrian opposition—have more ambiguous views.

BY DANNY POSTEL

To consider ending the war, which is what all of us want, without considering what’s at the root of this entire monstrosity—which is the Assad regime itself—is unacceptable.

ISIS (or ISIL, or the Islamic State) sent shock waves through the Middle East and beyond in June when it seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The organization has now laid claim to a swath of territory “stretching from Baghdad to Aleppo and from Syria’s northern border to the deserts of Iraq in the south,” in the words of Patrick Cockburn, author of The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.

In August, the United States assembled an international coalition (eventually including more than a dozen countries) to conduct a campaign of air strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq, coordinating with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Then, in October, the coalition expanded the intervention into Syria, coordinating with Kurdish fighters on the Syrian-Turkish border and Free Syrian army forces.

American progressives have been relatively uniform in opposing the intervention against ISIS. But to most Kurds and many Syrian activists, the intervention is more welcome. Turkish and Syrian Kurds along the border watch the battles against ISIS from hilltops, breaking out in cheers and chanting, “Obama, Obama.” Within the Syrian opposition, one finds a range of perspectives—some support intervention, others oppose it, and many, like the Syrian leftist intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh, are torn. In late September Saleh told me,

On the one hand, I would like to see this thuggish gang wiped from the face of the earth. ISIS is a criminal organization that has killed thousands of Syrians and Iraqis while leaving intact another criminal organization—the Assad regime—that is responsible for the deaths of close to 200,000 people. ISIS has destroyed the cause of the Syrian revolution as much as the Assad regime has destroyed our country and society. On the other hand, an attack against ISIS will send a message to many Syrians (and Iraqis and other Arabs) that this intervention isn’t about seeking justice for heinous crimes, but is rather an attack against those who challenged Western powers. This will lead to more resentment against and suspicion of the outside world, which is the very nihilist mood on which ISIS capitalizes and profits.

Some Syrian activists question how committed the Kurds are to toppling the Syrian dictator. The Kurds, for their part, distrust Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition. These debates and dynamics are mostly unknown to American progressives.

Given that ISIS and the intervention against it directly impact the peoples of the region, it behooves us to know what they have to say about it. So when In These Times asked me to convene a roundtable discussion on the ISIS intervention, I saw it as an opportunity to bridge this gap—to explore some of these contending perspectives and stimulate a conversation between U.S. progressives and some of our Syrian and Kurdish counterparts.

Richard Falk has been one of the leading voices of peace and human rights over the last half century. He was the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights and a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. His blog, Global Justice in the 21st Century, is a constant source of thought-provoking and self-reflective analysis. His essay in The Syria Dilemma, the book I co-edited with Nader Hashemi, is among the most thoughtful and challenging arguments about the Syrian tragedy I have read.

The Kurdish region of Rojava in northern Syria has been likened to the Zapatista autonomous territories of Chiapas and has inspired  international solidarity efforts with its experiment in democratic autonomy . The anarchist writer and activist David Graeber has written a forceful plea to stand with the beleaguered Kurds as they fight for their lives. With Graeber’s help I reached out to Alan Semo, the UK representative of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to get his perspective on the ISIS intervention.

I also deemed it essential to include a Syrian opposition voice in the discussion. There has been and remains deep confusion about the Syrian conflict amongst many leftists. So I reached out to Rime Allaf, who serves on the board of directors of The Day After Project, an international working group of Syrians building toward a democratic transition in Syria. She is a former advisor to the president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and former Associate Fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank.

There are few people I hold in higher regard than Rafia Zakaria, a lawyer, board member of Amnesty International USA, columnist for Al Jazeera America and the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, and the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (forthcoming in February from Beacon Press). Rafia brings both an international human rights perspective and the painful knowledge of what U.S. military intervention, in the form of drone strikes, has wrought in her part of the world.

Richard, with only one or two exceptions (notably Kosovo), you have opposed U.S. military interventions for the past 50 years. As someone who has opposed those interventions as a champion of self-determination—especially self-determination for formerly colonized peopleswhat do you make of the current U.S. intervention against ISIS? And specifically, the siege of Kobani and the Kurdish resistance against ISIS along the Turkish-Syrian border?

Richard: It’s a tough question. We need to contextualize this a bit further. In my view, there is no basis for the United States to play a constructive role in this region. Its role in Iraq and Syria—much less, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and elsewhere in the region—figures into an overall strategy of dominating the region and supporting highly reactionary forces in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. The notion that the United States can be a liberating actor by narrowing the focus to one specific battle site isn’t convincing to me. The plight of the Kurds in Kobani and their courage in resisting ISIS poses a tragic predicament that does challenge the kind of anti-interventionism that I feel is justified overall, particularly in the Middle East. But to overcome the presumption against military intervention, especially from the air, one needs very powerful evidence. And one needs a full-fledged diplomatic initiative, which I see lacking so long as Iran continues to be excluded from any effort to resolve the Syrian conflict. Like the drone attacks, the ISIS intervention doesn’t seem designed to actually deal with the problem. Rather, it looks like a projection of U.S. power in the region.

Where do you stand on the intervention, Rafia?

Rafia: I oppose it. Look at what the U.S. has done in South Asia in the past ten years. As someone who has covereddrone attack after drone attack in Pakistan, I can tell you that the dynamics are very similar. When the U.S. began its drone campaign in north and south Waziristan, where the Taliban were headquartered, there was a lot of support from Pashtun tribal leaders, similar in a way to the current situation between the Kurds and ISIS. The narrative was that the drone attacks were empowering the indigenous people of area who were facing incursions from the Taliban. It’s been beyond a miserable failure. The drone attacks have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Whenever you have communities that are displaced—and this is precisely what is happening in Syria and Iraq as a result of ISIS incursions and the airstrikes against ISIS—their social mechanisms, their political allegiances, their forms of governance all collapse. Once that happens, those populations are far, far more vulnerable to being recruited by groups like ISIS. Or they become disenchanted with any effort to rebuild or organize. The consequence of intervention is displacement. And the consequence of displacement is further civil war, which is what you have in Pakistan right now.

Syrian activists have expressed a range of views on the intervention against ISIS. Rime, how do you see it?

Rime: I very much share the ambivalence of Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Many of us in the Syrian opposition do. Everything that has happened in Syria was predictable—and indeed was predicted. The rise of these Islamist terror groups…before they became an organized entity calling itself ISIS, they were smaller groups fighting in various areas in Iraq but mostly in Syria, where they had free reign because the only forces fighting them during roughly their first year on the scene [2013] were the Free Syrian Army. The FSA—the bulk of the Syrian armed opposition to the Assad regime—thus found itselffighting two very brutal forces, the Assad regime on one side and these Islamist groups on the other—and those two forces were not fighting each other. This is an essential point. It was inevitable that this would weaken the opposition and strengthen the regime. Because the Assad regime was not attacking this Islamist plague, it was to be expected that these terror groups would gain ground. They had help from al-Qaeda type groups in Iraq. Plus they had the advantage of their enemies [the FSA] being bombed relentlessly by the Syrian regime. So they gained strength.

Let’s be very clear that for the longest time, the Syrian opposition was not asking for a “boots on the ground”-style intervention, or even for a bombing campaign led by the U.S. What was being requested early on was the establishment of humanitarian corridors with the help of a “no-fly-zone” and/or weapons for the FSA to defend liberated areas from the relentless barrel bombing campaign of the regime. Since none of this happened, it was to be expected that these Islamist groups have been able to gain so much ground and find themselves with a weakened opponent in the FSA. Now the Assad regime doesn’t even need to worry about ISIS because it’s got the U.S. fighting [ISIS].

Alan, where does the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which you represent, stand on the U.S. intervention against ISIS? The PYD has opposed external military intervention in the Syrian conflict, but hasn’t the Kurdish struggle against ISIS benefited from the coalition airstrikes?

Alan: I think the American-led international intervention against ISIS has been efficient. The Americans realized that the expansion of ISIS is serious and threatens the region—it has to be stopped and eliminated. The U.S. has been relying on air strikes alone, and they know they need troops on the ground. The forces on the ground fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and now in Kobani, in northern Syria, are Kurdish troops. They have been defending themselves very efficiently against ISIS, which is a real threat to the region. So I think eliminating this threat is the right step, both for the Syrian people and for regional security and stability.

Rime: From January roughly until the summer, what happened is that ISIS was allowed to spread its terror throughout the Jazira region of Syria without any intervention of any kind from outside Syria—or within Syria. The only people fighting them were the Free Syrian Army—alone, without ammunition. So I agree with Alan that the intervention is proving useful, but only up to a point. It is proving useful in a very limited area, and—this is critical—it is not tackling the origin of this plague, which is the Assad regime.

Alan: Now, Kurdish forces are working together with some sections of the Free Syrian Army and other forces in northern Syria.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based organization, has recently put forward a proposal to end the Syrian conflict that includes the creation of a Peace and Reconstruction Authority that would implement local ceasefire agreements and serve as an interim governing authority. The report also suggests that once a deal has been struck, the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition could focus their energies on fighting ISIS. What do you make of this idea?

Rime: It’s an absolutely obscene proposition because it takes the position that anything is better than ISIS, whereas most Syrians view ISIS and the Assad regime as being on an equal level of savagery. Many Syrians will tell you the Assad regime is actually worse than ISIS and has killed far more people.

To consider ending the war, which is what all of us want, without considering what’s at the root of this entire monstrosity—which is the Assad regime itself—is unacceptable. To propose that in order to end ISIS we have no choice but to work with Assad is not a solution at all.

Alan: At the end of the day, we have to end Syria’s war. To end the war requires a solution on three levels: the internal balance on the ground inside Syria; the regional circumstances; and the international level. I believe the will of the Syrian people has been hijacked by regional powers and by global powers—America and Russia. But the Syrian people have to determine their own destiny. The Syrian opposition has to be united. And they have to have a clear vision of how they can end this war. I do not agree with Rime’s statement that you have to fight the regime before fighting ISIS.

Rime: I did not say that. I said that you can’t just get rid of ISIS. You cannot just get rid of Assad. You have to get rid of both.

Alan: The Syrian people are defending themselves. They are fighting against ISIS. The people of Kobani have been protecting themselves for two months with their limited resources.

Rime: But the coalition’s airstrikes are helping them. For three years Assad has been dropping barrel bombs on civilians and yet no help has come from anybody. But now you have the coalition bombing ISIS, which helps the Kurds in Kobani to defend themselves.

Richard, what do you think of the idea of a Peace and Reconstruction Authority?

Richard: I think that a proposal of this sort is somewhat suspect given both how it originated and what it’s proposing, because it’s really a plea to, in effect, enlarge the anti-ISIS military coalition. I agree with what Rafia said earlier, that bombing only contributes to destabilizing the whole underlying reality. And we still have to address why Iran hasn’t been brought into the process as a major political actor that needs to participate in any kind of diplomacy to resolve the Syrian crisis.

I think there are desirable elements [in the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue proposal], such as trying to respect the ceasefire, but it overlooks the complexities and contradictions that have emerged in the Syrian conflict. To try to solve the problems of the Middle East from above is very unlikely to have constructive effects.

Finally, there’s an absence of political imagination. The American approach has become so militarized over such a long period of time that it’s just about incapable of thinking outside of the military box. It therefore keeps reinventing a military solution to essentially political problems—and is undeterred by a record of failure because it’s the only way it knows how to project its power. The U.S. is so addicted to hard-power ways of behaving in the world. It has very little credibility in my view—even when you narrow the focus and it looks like it’s better to help those beleaguered in Kobani than to ignore them. That’s why I say it’s a tragic predicament: Every alternative is repugnant under these conditions. I’ve always felt that when all alternatives are repugnant the one point of moral clarity is, don’t add to the killing. And, echoing what Rafia said, don’t add to the displacement, which is subverting any possibility of benevolent political reconstruction.

Danny Postel is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and co-hosts its series of video interviews with leading scholars. He is the author of Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran  and co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future and The Syria Dilemma, which was named one of the best books of 2013 in The Progressive. He is a co-editor of PULSE and blogs for Truthout, Critical Inquiry and the Huffington Post. He was a member of Chicago’s No War on Iran coalition, communications coordinator forInterfaith Worker Justice, and communications specialist for Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of labor unions and grassroots community organizations.

source via PULSE

Three Monsters

September 23, 2014 

threemonstersPart of me, of course, is happy to see bombs fall on the heads of the international jihad-fascists tormenting the Syrian people (I refer to ISIS, not the Shia jihad-fascists fighting for Assad, who I’d love to see bombed too). Mostly, I’m just disgusted. In the name of disengagement the West not only refused to arm and supply the democratic Syrian opposition – even as Assad launched a genocide against the people – the United States actually prevented other states from providing the heavy weapons and anti-aircraft weaponry the Free Army so desperately needed. It was obvious what would happen next. The Free Army – and the Syrian people – were increasingly squeezed between Assad and the ISIS monster. And now the Americans are bombing both Iraq and Syria. This is where ‘disengagement’  and ‘realism’ has brought us.

ISIS, like Assad, can be hurt from the air but defeated only on the ground. Obama and the Congress have just agreed to spend $500 million on training 5000 vetted members of the Free Syrian Army – the same people that Obama mocked as irrelevant “pharmacists, farmers and students” a few months ago. The training won’t be finished for eight months, and anyway will be of little use. The Free Army now houses some of the best, most battle-hardened fighters in the world. They don’t need training; they need weapons. In the present balance of forces, in any case, the wounds inflicted by America’s photogenic bombing run may not translate into any improvement on the ground. Only Syrians can improve things on the ground.

The West was not moved to act by 200,000 (at least) slaughtered, or nine million homeless, or by barrel bombs, rape campaigns, starvation sieges or sarin gas. It was only moved when an American was beheaded. The inconsistency is noted well by Syrians. In some quarters, an assault on ISIS which is not accompanied by strikes on Assad and aid to the Free Army will be perceived as a Western-Shia-Assadist alliance against persecuted Sunnis. This could increase the appeal of ISIS and successor Sunni extremist groups.

ISIS has many parents, but the first of these, in Syria at least, is Assad. He released extremists from prison while he was assassinating unarmed democrats. He sectarianised the conflict by setting up sectarian death squads and by bringing in Iran-backed Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon. His scorched earth policy made normal life impossible in the liberated areas, creating the vacuum in which organisations like ISIS thrived. And until this June, he had an effective non-aggression pact with ISIS, not fighting it, buying oil from it. From January, on the other hand, all opposition militias – the Free Army groups and the Islamic Front groups – have been fighting ISIS (and losing thousands of men in the struggle). These fighters are not about to become an on-the-ground anti-ISIS militia, as the Americans seem to want. They know the truth – that both states, the Assadist and the psychotic-Islamist, are absolute enemies. There’s no destroying one without the other. And both must be destroyed by Syrian hands, not by foreign planes.

Worth reading Yassin al-Haj’s comment, from here:

I am ambivalent about a Western attack against ISIS.

On the one hand, I would like to see this thuggish gang wiped from the face of the earth. ISIS is a criminal organization that has killed thousands of Syrians and Iraqis while leaving intact another criminal organization—the Assad regime—that is responsible for the deaths of close to 200,000 people. ISIS has destroyed the cause of the Syrian revolution as much as the Assad regime has destroyed our country and society.

On the other hand, an attack against ISIS will send a message to many Syrians (and Iraqis and other Arabs) that this intervention isn’t about seeking justice for heinous crimes, but is rather an attack against those who challenged Western powers. This will lead to more resentment against and suspicion of the outside world, which is the very nihilist mood on which ISIS capitalizes and profits.

Western powers could have avoided this had they helped the Syrian resistance in its battle against the fascist Assad regime. The right thing to do, ethically and politically, is to build a coalition against both ISIS andthe Assad regime, and to help Syrians bring about significant changes in their country’s political environment.

Let me finally say that I am very skeptical of the plans and intentions of the American administration. ISIS is the terrible outcome of our monstrous regimes and the West’s role in the region for decades, as much as it is the result of grave illnesses within Islam. Three monsters are treading on Syria’s exhausted body.

—Yassin al-Haj Saleh, one of the leading writers and intellectual figures of the Syrian uprising, imprisoned from 1980 to 1996 for left-wing activities, now living in exile in Istanbul

source

We Can’t Destroy ISIS Without Destroying Bashar al Assad First

 

By Fred Hof

On Wednesday evening, President Obama took 14 minutes to articulate, in clear and persuasive language, a counter-terrorism strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” Yet the problem presented by an ersatz caliph and an amalgam of criminals, terrorists, executioners, and foreign fighters goes far beyond one of counter-terrorism. The Islamic State—just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq—cannot be killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president’s strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it remains solely one of counter-terrorism.

The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political legitimacy—to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules of the political game—the Islamic State will remain undead no matter how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America and its partners can influence the endgame—keeping the Islamic State in its grave—is simply incomplete.

Iraq and Syria are extreme examples of the fundamental grievances embodied by the 2011 Arab Spring.  Since the 1920s, much of the Arab World has been struggling to answer one fundamental question: what is it that follows the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph as the source of political legitimacy? The answer suggested by protesters in Tunis, Cairo, Deraa, and elsewhere was compellingly correct: the consent of the governed. That autocrats should reject the answer and push back is hardly surprising. Today only Tunisia seems to be on a clear path to legitimacy. Other Arab Spring countries—notably Libya and Yemen—teeter on the brink of state failure. Syria has taken the plunge. Iraq, though not an Arab Spring country per se, is likewise in the pit.

The Obama administration’s strategy, though counter-terrorist in its essence, hints at the broader problem. In a fact sheet issued on September 10, the White House cites “Supporting effective governance in Iraq” as a key pillar of the president’s strategy. It argues, quite correctly, that “only a united Iraq—with a government in Baghdad that has support from all of Iraq’s communities can defeat ISIL.” An important obstacle to legitimate governance in Iraq will be Iran’s arming and financing of Shia militias, which see Iraqi Sunnis—all of them—as supporters of the Islamic State. Interestingly, however, the fact sheet makes no mention of promoting effective, legitimate governance in Syria.

Today’s crisis—that which obligated the President to speak on September 10—has its roots in the March 2011 decision of Syrian President Bashar al Assad to respond with lethal violence to peaceful demonstrators seeking his protection from police brutality. The Assad regime initially escorted Al Qaeda in Iraq operatives from Syria to Iraq between 2003 and 2011, but its violently sectarian response to peaceful protest drew much of what was left of the seemingly beaten Al Qaeda in Iraq back to Syria, where it was joined by foreign fighters and split into two groups: the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.  Both groups compete with the nationalist opposition to Assad—indeed, the Islamic State engages in de facto collaboration with the regime in western Syria to erase the nationalists, even as Assad and the caliph clash in eastern Syria over oil fields and air bases. And it was from secure bases in eastern Syria that the Islamic State launched its recent assault into Iraq, taking advantage of the depredations of yet another illegitimate, sectarian leader: Nouri al Maliki.

Indeed, if sidelining Maliki was the essential first step to getting to legitimate governance in Iraq, what about Assad in Syria? He is the face of Islamic State recruitment around the world. He is the author of war crimes and crimes against humanity that are breathtaking in scope and consequences.

President Obama decided, correctly if belatedly, to seek more robust assistance for beleaguered Syrian nationalists fighting in two directions: against the Islamic State and the regime. Will it work? It would have been easier two years ago, but now there is no choice. Airstrikes will not suffice in executing the counter-terrorism strategy. A ground element is essential, as it has been in Iraq. Indeed, airstrikes in Syria should focus first on Islamic State targets in western Syria, where nationalist forces are desperately trying to repulse the caliph and his forces.

Over three years ago, President Obama called on Bashar al Assad to step aside. Moving this murderous regime offstage will be neither easy nor quick. Yet unless it is a major facet of American strategy, the Islamic State will not be killed. It has been a gift to the Assad regime, one that will keep on giving so long as that regime exists. Legitimate governance in Syria will require much more than removing Assad. But regime removal is the first step, and without legitimate governance in Syria (as well as Iraq) the undead Islamic State will continue to march.

Fred Hof is a Resident Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He worked on Syria-related issues in the State Department from 2009 through 2012.

source

 

5 Things we don’t know about the Caliphate

August 26th, 2014 – Right now, a lot of people (and media) are asking for information on the “Islamic State”, the “Caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other things related to Jihadist activities in Syria and Iraq. That’s perfectly understandable. But while I am answering as many of these questions as I can, I think it is equally important that we (and by “we” I mean those of us who have followed events there since, let’s say, the days of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi) don’t forget that there are a whole lot ofquestions we can’t answer (even if these are not the questions we are usually asked).So in the interest of self-discipline, academic transparency and self-questioning, here is a brief list of the five most important things we (or I, at least) do not know about the Caliphate, butreally wish I knew:1.- How important is the role of al-Baghdadi?

He is obviously the poster guy of IS, but in what ways does he direct operations, how much power of command does he yield, and what is his relation to his deputies and field commanders, given that at least some of them are apparently former Ba’ath regime military men? How much initiative are commanders in the field allowed? Have rules been laid out of whether or not and if so how to execute people – and if so, before or after the first instances occurred? Mind you, I haven’t read a single article in which even three commanders of IS have been plausibly named. But understanding the extent of al-Baghdadi’s control and wether he is all micro or macro would be very helpful indeed.

2.- Is there a plan for expansion of the “Caliphate”?

And by that a mean: A real, tangible one, not the ideological version. In propaganda videos, all sorts of targets are being named: Samarra, Najaf, Baghdad in Iraq; Damascus, Mecca, Jerusalem on a more ideologically motivated level; Rome as a symbol. But that is not helpful in predicting the IS’s next moves. These will be determined by their reading of military conditions on the ground, or so I assume. So will they sit in Mosul and Raqqa and consolidate before their next move at a big city or town? Are they busy forging new alliances elsewhere in order to repeat what happened in Mosul? Are they clever enough not to try and take Baghdad – or stupid enough to play with that idea at this point? I can make assumptions, but they are based on my idea of IS, rather than facts.

3.- Does al-Baghdadi/IS want to strike in the West? 

The thing is: With al-Qaida, we always had a pretty good idea of what they thought was in their interest. With IS, we do not. With al-Qaida, we knew that – to a degree – we could rely on their words; they hardly ever struck in places they didn’t mention/threaten/warn before. With IS, we do not know. IS is not like al-Qaida. There is no reason to assume they follow the same lead here. Al-Baghdadi may in fact be plotting huge attacks in the West without ever mentioning any desire of that sort. Or the opposite may be true: He may be all about focusing on the region and not give a thought to striking anywhere in the West.

4.- Is there communication between IS and al-Qaida’s branches? 

Success is sexy. Aiman al-Sawahiri is not. Is it conceivable that one day we will wake up to a video message by the leadership of AQAP or AQIM or both pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi? Absolutely. Or so I believe. And that would be a game changer. Because the “Caliphate” as a state would suddenly become much more supranational/supra-state than it is. Such a move would spell the end f al-Qaida and likely be a rallying cry for many more recruits to come. It is, in a way, a very-bad-case-scenario. Right now, I can’t assess the likelihood of this happening. AQ and its branches haven’t been saying a whole lot about IS at all. So: Is there communication? Perhaps even negociations? I don’t know. I daresay no-one really does. Which means that this 3-a.m.-scenario lingers above our heads….

5.- How stable/instable are relations to allies and helpers? 

It is evident that IS could not have taken Mosul by itself. We have hints that the relation to former regimes cadres and Sunni Sheikhs in Iraq are at least instable. But that’s about it. We don’t know these parties’ calculations well enough to foresee how far these alliances may carry IS. And whether they can be brokered in other areas than the ones where they already exist. Is money a factor here? And if so, how convincing is it? And how much of it does IS have?

There are more questions, of course. Maybe some of you have strong opinions on one of these, maybe some of you have entirely different questions. In any case, I believe that admitting to what we don’t know will eventually help us more than pretending we have all the answers.

As always, I am looking forward to your comments!

Cheers, Y

bandannie got to this article via Syria Comment and it was posted by Juergen

Below is a retort from Syria Lover

96. SYRIALOVER said:

JUERGEN #87 I disagree with that exercise. It is not realistic or worthwhile to waste time and energy analysing ISIS like that.

I repeat, the only purpose of ISIS is to make their dic*s feel bigger (to quote Racan Alhoch after experiencing them)

That Der Spiegel journalist urgently needs to get real and read what is posted in #70 by Hamoudeh, “Fatwa Against ISIS by the Syrian Islamic Council”
http://freehalab.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/fatwa-against-isis-by-the-syrian-islamic-council/

Those guys know the reality, not the social media games that Der Speigal guy is excited by.

He needs to realise that ISIS members are dumb thrill seekers, not holy warriors (see article linked below*). Just an irrational and unstable killer cult, with no ability to plan, create or provide anything of substance.

Every ISIS member inside Syria who comes from elsewhere – including Iraq – has no future but displacement, imprisonment or death. They have lost the right to participate in any society anywhere.

And yes, ISIS-admiring fools and fantasists will attack the west if governments there don’t start seriously challenging and kicking ass inside the communities in their countries that are producing them.

The frequently feeble response, defensiveness and sulking of those communities and their representatives is starting to wear thin. If the President of Indonesia and the religious head of Saudi Arabia can denounce ISIS as an embarrassment and enemy no 1 of all Muslims why can’t Muslims in the west stand up and loudly say the same? (see #28.)

*http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/jamiebartlett/100014154/most-british-jihadis-are-dumb-thrill-seekers-not-holy-warriors-dont-glorify-them-with-prevent

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