Why ISIS Won't Stop With Iraq
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 06/18/2014 18:30 -0400
Submitted by Claude Salhani of OilPrice.com,
The slaughterhouse that Iraq has become in the past week is the stuff that nightmares are made of. And this is just the beginning.
The threat emanating from the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is so serious to the stability of the region -- and beyond – that even Iran said it would not oppose U.S. military intervention if it were aimed at the Islamists who have embarked on a rampage of murder and looting across Iraq.
The stunning and unexpected victories by the Islamists are very worrisome. In a region that is no stranger to conflict, this one is particularly frightening and has far-reaching consequences, including the threat of spin-off groups similar to ISIS taking root in surrounding nations.
A militarily successful Islamist force straddling over parts of Iraq and Syria will pose a real threat to the security and stability of those countries’ immediate neighbors. Even Syria, where government forces are fighting their own civil war, has offered to send troops to Iraq.
Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and, of course, Israel, would be the first to feel the effect of a takfiri victory. But so would Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Yemen. If ISIS is successful in Iraq, there is little reason to believe they would stop
Left unchecked, the Islamists could eventually threaten the stability of countries in Central Asia.
Here’s why the threat goes beyond Iraq and Syria.
In English-language news reports, there are at least two ways in which the group is referred to: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
In Arabic, of course, neither words – “Syria” or “Levant” -- are used; instead, the word “Sham” is used. The closest translation of that into English is “Greater Syria.”
Many in the West are fooled by the use of the word “Syria,” and may fail to see the real dimensions of the threat because they think of Syria in the modern geographic sense. But that word, in Arabic, is “Souriya.”
Most Middle Easterners, when they hear, “Sham,” or “As-Sham,” know it refers to Greater Syria.
What’s the difference?
Modern Syria is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan and Israel to the south and Lebanon to the west.
“Greater Syria” incorporates most of the territories of each.
“This is what "Syria" means in the mind of Middle Easterners, says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and author of the respected blog SyriaComment.com.
“If we can teach people that so many Arabs still think of Syria as Greater Syria, they will begin to understand the extent to which Sykes-Picot remains challenged in the region,” said Landis.
Sykes-Picot, of course refers to the secret agreement drawn up by two British and French diplomats -- Sir Mark Sykes and Francois George-Picot -- at the end of Word War I dividing the spoils of the Ottoman Empires between Britain and France by drawing straight lines in the sand.
To this day, many Arabs refuse to accept that division and think of “Syria” as “Greater Syria.” Some go so far as to include the Arab countries of North Africa – which from the Nile to the Euphrates forms ‘the Fertile Crescent,” the symbol of many Muslim countries from Tunisia to Turkey. And some even go as far as including the island of Cyprus, saying it represents the star next to the crescent.
Given that, anyone who thinks ISIS will stop with Iraq is delusional.
Iraqi Islamists' gains pose challenge to al Qaeda leader
(Reuters) - If the battle in Iraq and Syria were being fought by tycoons rather than jihadis, it might be called a hostile takeover in defiance of the main shareholder that has created a powerful multinational brand with an uncertain future.
The price is being paid in blood as fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a scion of the al Qaeda militant jihadist franchise, carve out a cross-border empire by killing government troops and former Islamist allies alike.
With stunning speed, ISIL has captured swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city of Mosul, seizing large amounts of U.S.-supplied modern weaponry from the fleeing Iraqi army and looting banks.
The story begins more than a year ago when the leader of a group then called the Islamic State in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had led radical Sunni resistance to the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, decided to move into Syria.
He declared a merger in April 2013 with the Nusra Front, then the main al Qaeda affiliate battling President Bashar al-Assad, without consulting either its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, or global al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri.
Ironically, it was Baghdadi who sent his lieutenant Golani into Syria in 2011 to build up al Qaeda's presence, taking advantage of a popular uprising against Assad to found Nusra.
Zawahri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, who lives in hiding, urged the two groups to work together in a sort of joint venture. Baghdadi defied him and ISIL turned its guns on Nusra, quickly gaining the upper hand over its rival, which until then had been the most feared and effective anti-Assad rebel group.
In disrespectful language, ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani posted an audio statement on Twitter in May rejecting the al Qaeda leader's call for ISIL to disengage from Syria and go back to Iraq.
"You made yourself and your al Qaeda a joke and a toy in the hands of an arrogant traitor-boy (Golani) who broke the pledge of allegiance that you did not see," Adnani said.
Despite an ultimatum from Golani to pull out of Syria or face eradication, Baghdadi's men proved more ruthless. They slaughtered Nusra prisoners, posting grisly videos of the decapitations online as a deterrent and recruiting tool.
Enforcing their rule with public executions, they now control the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the only major urban area entirely in rebel hands, and hold territory from the Turkish border to the oil producing eastern deserts of Syria.
Many Arab and foreign fighters defected from Nusra to ISIL, but the struggle among Assad's enemies helped government forces regain ground and alarmed foreign backers of the rebels in the West, Turkey and Gulf states.
TURF AND TACTICS
The differences between ISIL and Nusra were not so much over ideology - both advocate strict enforcement of a mediaeval-style Islamist rule - as over turf, tactics and personal allegiances.
ISIL includes thousands of foreign fighters and has become the main recruiting magnet for jihadi volunteers from Europe and North Africa, Western intelligence agencies say.
"ISIL is fast eclipsing al Qaeda as the bête noire of international politics," said Charlie Cooper of the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based think-tank devoted to combating jihadi radicalisation.
"While al-Zawahri is sitting stagnant in a safe house, ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has taken control of nearly a third of Iraq and much of Syria, amassed a fortune that rivals the economy of some small states, and commandeered millions of dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art American-made weaponry."
He cited Iraqi intelligence information that ISIL, estimated to have up to 10,000 fighters, has amassed assets of about $2 billion, some by selling oil from eastern Syria to Assad's government. The Iraqi guerrilla chief has not only sidelined Nusra but challenged the authority of the al Qaeda leader himself.
ISIL has many attributes of a state - territory, armed forces, guns, oil and money. But it has moved faster than Zawahri advocates to create an Islamic caliphate at the risk of concentrating fighters in areas where they may be vulnerable to superior Western firepower. The United States may be reluctant to take any action that could strengthen Assad in Syria, but is under pressure to attack ISIL forces in Iraq and prevent them destabilising the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Critics say Baghdadi may have overreached. He has alienated many Syrian rebels, who see him as a brutal figure focused less on toppling Assad than on imposing a radical Islamist rule including religious courts and public executions, publicized in gruesome videos.
Many accused him privately of hijacking their revolution. "We reject his presence here on the ground. He should take his fighters and go back to Iraq," a Nusra source close to Golani said last year. "We are not happy with the way he operates nor with his methods."
The source, and other Syrian Nusra fighters who spoke to Reuters at the time, said they feared Baghdadi's supporters would alienate Syrians in the same way that the jihadis had turned Iraqis against them.
That enabled U.S.-backed Sahwa militias to turn the tide against al Qaeda in western Iraq in 2007.
One Nusra fighter said he believed Baghdadi held a personal grudge against Golani, his former aide, because of his standing in Syria.
Golani, a radical Sunni Muslim, won popularity even among some Christians, according to the Nusra fighter. "Baghdadi did not like this," the fighter said.
"Baghdadi and the (al Qaeda) leadership consider the Muslim Brotherhood, the Free Syrian Army and other factions including Christians as infidels and when they saw Golani was on good terms with them they were not happy."
Attempts to mediate collapsed in February after senior al Qaeda member Abu Khaled al-Soury, a friend of bin Laden sent by Zawahri, was killed in a suicide attack in Syria.
Nusra accused ISIL of killing him, a charge sources close to the Iraqi-based group have denied.
Since then, the al Qaeda leader has repeatedly tried to assert his authority over Baghdadi's movement and end the infighting between ISIL and Nusra, to no avail.
In an video message released in early May, Zawahri said ISIL's entry into Syria had caused "a political disaster" for Islamist militants there and a "waterfall of blood". He urged the group to go back to fighting in Iraq.
FROM PAKISTAN TO SINAI
The Quilliam Foundation's Cooper said Baghdadi had clearly decided to go it alone in defiance of Zawahri, taking much of the international jihadist community along with him in the battle for territory that corresponds to ancient Mesopotamia.
"ISIL has repeatedly broken with the al Qaeda norm and a new monster has emerged. We are closer than ever before to seeing a jihadist state in Mesopotamia," he said.
"This is one of ISIL’s greatest selling points and one that draws jihadists from around the world – to go to Iraq or Syria and fight with it is to go and fight for the utopian caliphate."
Before the latest fighting, security experts estimated ISIL had about 6,000 fighters in Sunni areas of northern Iraq and 4,000 in Syria, but the numbers in Iraq may have risen since.
By realizing bin Laden's vision of a Sunni purist state, Baghdadi, 43, is eclipsing al Qaeda's nominal but remote leader, Zawahri, a 62-year-old exiled Egyptian, in a universe where personal allegiance counts most.
"He (Baghdadi) has almost taken his (Zawahri’s) place," said a jihadi fighter interviewed by Reuters in recent weeks inside Syria. "We can say he is now (the leader)."
"What many people do not know or try to ignore is that the real project or goal of the Islamic state is the Caliphate and Zawahri is hesitant," another fighter said. "That is why now his word is becoming less heard and most pledges of allegiance are sent to Emir al-Baghdadi, God save him."
Success on the ground breeds allegiance. Security sources in Egypt's turbulent Sinai peninsula say an al Qaeda-affiliated group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is fighting the army-backed Egyptian authorities that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi last July, has turned to ISIL for support.
One Egyptian security official said the Sinai group, estimated to have about 1,000 militants, had no recognized leader who could formally pledge allegiance to Baghdadi. But the prospect has alarmed Egypt's pro-military media.
"Two or three members from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis were in contact with the ISIL in the months that followed Mursi’s ouster on July 3 to learn from their experience in Syria," said another security source in the lawless peninsula that borders Israel.
Even some al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Zawahri's stronghold, have written to the ISIL leader, pledging their allegiance, according to a Nusra fighter in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
To his followers, Baghdadi represents a new generation of fighters working to fulfil the next stage of bin Laden's dream, moving from al Qaeda - which can mean "the base" in Arabic - towards the fully fledged radical state.
The falling-out between Zawahri and Baghdadi has caused uproar in password-protected jihadi Internet forums, according to the U.S. intelligence company SITE which monitors them.
Some jihadis have called for Zawahri to hand over the leadership to his de facto number two, Nasser al-Wuhayshi.
Others go further, saying Baghdadi's creation of ISIL makes Zawahri's part of al Qaeda's operation redundant. "The group al Qaeda does not exist any more. It was formed as a qaeda (base) for the Islamic State and now we have it, Zawahri should pledge allegiance to Sheikh Baghdadi," said a non-Syrian ISIL fighter.
ISIL car bomb kills rival rebels in Syria: monitoring group
(Reuters) - A car bomb likely planted by al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed two rival rebel leaders and five others in eastern Syria, a group that monitors the violence said on Tuesday.
ISIL, a hardline Islamist group which has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has been fighting rival insurgents for months to consolidate its grip on Syria's oil-producing Deir al-Zor province on the border with Iraq.
The infighting has killed more than 600 fighters and driven tens of thousands from their homes.
A car bomb in the town of al-Shamatiyeh killed seven people including a judge from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and a commander of Ahrar al-Sham, another hardline Islamist group, late on Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Capturing parts of Deir al-Zor would help ISIL link up its territorial gains across Syria and Iraq, where it overran the country's second-biggest city of Mosul last week.
ISIL fought with the rival groups as it tried to advance towards the town of Busayra in the east of Deir al-Zor province on Monday, the Observatory said.
ISIL fought with the rival groups as it tried to advance towards the town of Busayra in the east of Deir al-Zor province on Monday, the Observatory said.
An ISIL fighter also detonated a suicide vest in an assassination attempt on the leader of another rebel brigade in al-Howayij in Deir al-Zor late on Monday, the Observatory said, saying the leader was wounded and several of his relatives killed.
Rebel infighting and the rise of hardline combatants has deterred Western states from providing arms to more moderate opposition fighters and undermined the three-year-old uprising against Assad which started as a protest movement.
The Observatory said last week that the Syrian branch of ISIL had put fighting on hold in Syria while it brought in weapons seized inside neighboring Iraq.
Its fighters appeared to have held back in Syria last week, especially in their eastern stronghold near the Iraqi border, while their Iraqi wing was making rapid military gains.
There is a “tribal revolution” in Iraq: Anbar tribal chief
Ali Hatim Al-Suleiman, Emir of the Dulaim tribe, says tribes, not ISIS, in control of Mosul
Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—A prominent Anbar tribal chief has denied that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is responsible for the recent unrest in Iraq, portraying the situation as a “tribal revolution” against the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, in comment that contradicted the prevailing narrative about what is happening in the country.
“It is the tribal rebels who are in control of the situation in Mosul. It is not reasonable to say that a group like ISIS, which has a small number of men and vehicles, could be in control of a large city like Mosul. Therefore, it is clear that this is a tribal revolution, but the government is trying to force us all to wear the robe of the terrorists and ISIS,” Ali Hatim Al-Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Suleiman is emir of the Dulaim tribe, which with over 3 million members is one of the largest Arab tribes in Iraq. Its members are predominately located in the western province of Anbar, the scene of fighting between ISIS militants supported by some Sunni tribes and government forces since December last year. He affirmed that a number of Arab Sunni tribes, including his own, are fighting against the Baghdad government.
“The time for political solutions has passed. We will not permit a political solution. Maliki has used all his strength against the Iraqi people . . . So how can there be a political solution? The only solution is Maliki’s ouster.
“When we get rid of the government, we will be in charge of the security file in the regions, and then our objective will be to expel terrorism—the terrorism of the government and that of ISIS,” Suleiman said.
But according to media reports, government statements and eyewitness accounts, ISIS took over Mosul on Tuesday of last week, before seizing Tikrit on Wednesday and advancing into the northern towns of Jalula and Saadia on Thursday and Friday. Most recently, they took over the northern Turkmen town of Tal Afar. The Islamist group has pledged to march on the capital Baghdad, with Shi’ite militia forces reinforcing Iraqi army positions today amid fears of a sectarian civil war breaking out in Iraq.
ISIS has claimed to have executed thousands of people, mostly Iraqi soldiers and members of minority groups. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the “recent upsurge of violence in Iraq at the hands of terrorist groups including” ISIS, a spokesman said earlier this week. “Reports of mass summary executions by [ISIS] are deeply disturbing and underscore the urgency of bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice,” the statement added.
Division is the best solution to what is happening in Iraq, Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the advance of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters towards the capital Baghdad is part of a popular Sunni uprising against the central government.
“The revolution does not belong to anyone, but the tribal revolutionaries are the masters of the scene. Iraq is heading towards partition. There are two choices; either Iraq becomes a sea of blood, or each community rules itself. Central government is not the solution. We do not want an Iraq that fails to respect our dignity and religion,” he said.
He added that special “military committees” have been formed to “organize” the revolution. “These committees are located in the provinces of Anbar, Baghdad, Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Diyala. They are under the joint command of tribal leaders and former army leadership.