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Articles on Syria after 2015
ISIS - Not the terrorist group but the screwball comedy
ISIS is both Islamic and a state
Articles on Syria before 2015


  • (december 2015) ISIS - Not the terrorist group but the screwball comedy
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    Every now and then the world wakes up to ISIS. Within a few days 224 people (mostly Russians) were killed in Egypt, 43 in Beirut and 129 in Paris. What is different this time is the absolutely comic response from the various countries that are involved. This would be a great script for a slapstick movie of the silent era.
    France's reaction to the Paris attacks consisted in bombing ISIS' capital Raqqa, i.e. mostly abandoned buildings because ISIS' leadership has long left the city. Russia, even before ISIS blew up a passenger plane full of Russian passengers in Egypt's Sinai, was bombing pro-democracy pro-Western anti-Assad rebels with the pretext of bombing ISIS, and probably killing a lot more civilians than ISIS killed Russian tourists: days after ISIS blew up that plane in Egypt a Russian air strike hit a busy market in Ariha (a town controlled by the al-Nusra Front) killing 44 people (see this article) and this happens almost every day. Turkey (which is very much responsible for the rise of ISIS, having allowed thousands of European jihadists to reach Syria through its territory and having allowed ISIS to trade oil for arms through its middlemen) is bombing the Kurds with the pretext of bombing ISIS, and has even invaded Iraqi territory risking a war with Iraq (see this article). Saudi Arabia (which harbors the Wahabi ideology that inspired all of these jihadist groups in the first place, and is the country that originally funded and armed the Sunni rebels in Syria) is bombing Shiite rebels in Yemen with the pretext of bombing Islamists. The United Arab Emitates is hiring Colombian mercenaries (see this article) to fight ISIS,
    Then Turkey shoots down a Russian plane because Russia's president Putin is on Assad's side (i.e. on the side of the pro-Iranian Alawites) while Turkey's president Erdogan (a Sunni Muslim) wants Assad gone (and replaced by a friendly Sunni government). Russia's president Putin got so angry at Turkey that he told publicly what everybody in Turkey knows: that Turkey's president Erdogan has helped ISIS sell oil and buy weapons, a theory further supported by the fact that Britain's first air strikes (yes, Britain decided to join the party) hit the ISIS-controlled Omar oil fields in eastern Syria near the Turkish border, which Turkey could have bombed at any time if Erdogan had wanted to stop the flow of oil out of Syria and the flow of (Turkish) money and weapons into Syria. Besides the obvious fact that Putin supports Assad while Erdogan supports his enemies, don't underestimate that Turkey also supports the Tatar minority in Crimea, a much more valuable region, which Putin annexed from Ukraine, and the Tatars just blew up the power line bringing electricity to Crimea from Ukraine.
    Everybody (especially in the USA) seems to agree that Shiite Iran is a threat even though it has consistently opposed ISIS and even though, from Morocco to Pakistan, and from Spain to the Philippines, and from Nigeria to Somalia, all the main terrorist groups are Sunni Muslims, and consistently it is Sunni militias killing Shiite civilians all over the world (recently 30 in Saudi Arabia and 45 in Pakistan, but hardly ever reported in Western media).
    The USA government approved the sale of $1.3 billion of smart bombs to Saudi Arabia (see this article) with the pretext of promoting "stability within the region," despite the fact that Saudi Arabia ran out of bombs while bombing the Shiites in Yemen and not ISIS in Syria/Iraq. In general, Shiites hate and are hated by both ISIS and Al Qaeda. For the record, the nongovernmental organization Yemen's Civil Coalition estimates that six months of Saudi bombing of Yemen have killed at least 6,000 people, half of which are women and children, a number that makes ISIS look reasonable people (see, for example, this article). Saudi Arabia was trying too restore to power the wildly unpopular president of Yemen, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which has only increased the determination of the Yemeni people to side with the "terrorists". Al Qaeda has thus been able to seize cities like Zinjibar.
    Meanwhile, almost nobody spoke out about Boko Haram, that, having killed 6,644 people in five countries in 2014, was the deadliest of all Islamist groups and the only one that successfully strikes in four countries (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger); even less was said of Al Shahab, that a few months earlier had killed 147 non-Muslims at the university of Garissa in north-eastern Kenya.
    In the USA, where a radical Christian had just staged a mass shooting at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs and two radical Muslims had just killed 14 people at a health-care facility in San Bernardino, the main news channel Fox News staged experts advising more prayers as the remedy to religious fundamentalism (the Muslim one, of course, not the Christian one); and the US president blamed the attacks on radical Islam when in fact it was just one of the 300 mass shootings of the year in the USA, all the previous 299 ones having been carried out by Christians for a grand total of more than 2,000 dead. A presidential candidate, Donald Trump, suggested banning all Muslims from visiting the USA (it is not clear whether he also wants to keep out the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the presidents of Turkey and Pakistan) and an outraged British public responded with a petition to ban Donald Trump from entering Britain (an idea that might catch momentum in the Muslim countries).
    Nobody in the Middle East believes the narrative that, apparently, every tv viewer and analyst in the USA believes: two radical Muslims who wanted to help the cause of ISIS methodically prepared a terrorist attack buying a lot of weapons and constructing pipe bombs, and then staged that attack against... a center for people with developmental disabilities. Yep, that's the strategic target that they chose to bring down the USA: not an airport, not a military installation, not a power plant, not a shopping mall, not Disneyland, but a center for people with developmental disabilities. If these two hapless terrorists were indeed inspired by ISIS, i can see ISIS' boss rolling his eyes. If presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is famous for firing people, were the boss of ISIS, he would certainly fire members who go out of their way to wreak havoc in a center for people with developmental disabilities. And, yet, virtually nobody in the USA seems to be puzzled that two ferocious terrorists would spend so much time and money to attack a humble center for people with developmental disabilities. If we could poll all the world's terrorists and ask them to list the most strategic targets, i don't think that "centers for people with developmental disabilities" would get a single vote. Yet, according to the US narrative, that's what this couple decided to attack in the name of Allah. Maybe it makes perfect sense to the average US citizen, but i guarantee this narrative will not fly in the Islamic world, and this time i side with the Islamic world. (Read World War IV, ISIS is both Islamic and a state, and Allah is great before you accuse me of pro-Islamic views). These two "radical Muslims" were not armed by ISIS: they bought their weapons legally in the USA, thanks to terrorism-friendly laws passed by corrupt politicians on behalf of the National Rifle Association. These radical Muslims were armed by the NRA, not by ISIS. But the now the USA will certainly go out and bomb ISIS, not the NRA.
    And, of course, all these mighty powers who are fighting the tiny ISIS army of 30,000 soldiers (a CIA estimate), have absolutely no plan for what to do next with Syria if they do succeed in defeating ISIS. If ISIS surrendered tomorrow morning, there would be panic in the presidential/royal palaces of these powers: "what do we do now?"
    They all lack a strategic vision for the Middle East once the Islamic State is actually defeated, thanks to the world's obsession for the existing borders, no matter how silly they might be. Obviously, ISIS did not become a state without the explicit or implicit consent of the local Sunni population. The Syrian Sunnis were a majority oppressed by an Alawite dictator, and the Iraqi Sunnis were a minority oppressed by the Shiite majority. If ISIS is defeated but the Sunnis are simply divided again and returned to the rule of their previous governments, a new "terrorist" movement will emerge. (See ISIS is right: give the Sunnis a state). Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan within Iraq's borders. It can never become independent because both Iraq and Turkey would oppose the idea, but that Kurdistan is actually the most stable state in the region.
    It is truly unpredictable what will happen in the next episode of this hilarious sitcom. The only thing that we can easily predict is that people will keep dying for real out there while these clowns entertain us with their jokes.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (july 2015) ISIS is both Islamic and a state.
    Those like me who have been warning since the 1980s against the threat of Islam should feel vindicated that now we have Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shahab and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to prove that we were right. Every three or four years a new group comes out to fight a holy war in the name of Allah. Every time we are told that this is not Islam, that "Islam means peace". Every time the world's appeasement leads to the emergence of a new and more ferocious Islamic group. I wonder what has to happen for people to stand up and clearly state that the issue is Islam, the violent movement founded by Mohammed (which may or may not be a religion).
    Turkey's president Erdogan spoke for many when he declared that the Islamic State "is neither a state nor Islamic". Obviously he didn't study the history of his own country, not to mention the history of Islam itself. His country was founded centuries ago by the Ottomans, who came from Central Asia to invade Turkey. Erdogan speaks the language of those invaders and worships the god of those invaders. The Ottomans did exactly what ISIS is doing today. And Saudi Arabia is named "Saudi" after the man who went on a rampage in the Arabian peninsula and eventually unified the larger part of it, and adopted a form of Islam, Wahabi Islam, that is precisely the form of Islam that inspires Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc. As for the very birth of Islam, Mohammed did the same: he organized a rebel army and marched on the rulers of the state, conquered that state and then conquered some other states. His successors marched against other states and conquered more land. All of this in the name of a god named Allah. What exactly is the difference between the campaign of Mohammed's army and the campaign of ISIS? What exactly is the difference between the Ottoman state (that existed for centuries and eventually evolved into today's Turkey) and the state created by ISIS?
    It may not be a coincidence that ISIS has been active in many countries, from Libya to Yemen, but it has not molested Turkey. It is also not a coincidence that Turkey's very religious president has refrained from using violence against ISIS, unlike what he did against the Kurds (who are not orthodox Muslims) and unlike the strong dislike he always projected against Assad of Syria (who is an Alawite, another unorthodox Muslim sect).
    Mohammed's followers succeeded not only because they won wars but also because their conquered people welcomed them to some extent (e.g., many of the subjects of Byzantium hated Byzantium). You don't explain the rapid success of a small army by simply looking at the battles they won. The people who live there are part of the explanation. ISIS is conquering Sunni lands, lands inhabited by Sunnis who have been ruled by regimes that are not Sunni, and those Sunnis feel that those regime have been unfair to them. Assad in Syria is an Alawite, and the Alawites are a minority, but the rich minority. Many Sunnis of Syria probably chose ISIS over Assad. The party ruling Iraq is a Shiite party, and the Sunnis of Iraq are a minority that is not represented in the government. ISIS has conquered much of the Sunni land of Iraq, but not a cm of Shiite land. Many Sunnis of Iraq probably chose ISIS over the Shiite government, and are in fact afraid of the day when the Shiite government reconquers their cities. Hence my provocative suggestion: ISIS is right: give the Sunnis a state. The feeling that the Shiite goverment of Iraq is more of a threat to the Sunnis of Iraq than ISIS is widespread among Sunnis worldwide. A july 2014 poll in Saudi Arabia showed a 92% approval rating for ISIS' religious values.
    In the south of Iraq, meanwhile, there is little enthusiasm for fighting ISIS. Contrary to an old conspiracy theory that was popular all over the Arab world, it is not an evil West that wants to partition Iraq, but the Iraqis themselves. The evil West is, in fact, the one that wants to keep Iraq united (for reasons that remain mysterious to me). While the Sunni north and west of Iraq are engulfed in chronic civil wars of one kind of another, the south has improved dramatically since the days of the US-led liberation/invasion. The best way to summarize the difference is to compare what is happening to museums: the south is reopening museums that had been closed for a decade, while in the north ISIS is destroying them.
    It will be hard to go back to "normality". As Shiite militias (mainly the Hashid al-Shabi, trained and armed by Iran on behalf of the Shiite government of Iraq) recapture Sunni towns in Iraq, they tend to expel the Sunni population, suspecting them of collaborating with ISIS. There is no trust between the two sides. Sunni militias will not fight ISIS. Shiite militias will, but then the "liberated" Sunnis might resent Shiite occupation. The other militias that are fighting ISIS are the Kurds, but those too cannot "liberate" Sunni areas because the Sunnis would rise up against them. This whole mess is obviously due to the artificial borders left behind by France and Britain. If we redrew those borders and gave Sunnis their own land, spanning half of Syria and western Iraq (pretty much what ISIS has done so far), support for ISIS would fade away.
    ISIS has created a state, a real state, in the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. All the evidence we have is that ISIS is not just beheading enemies but also administering the lands that it conquered. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum and Abdel Bari Atwan (author of "The Digital Caliphate") have reported how ISIS has created real civic structures, not just terrorized the population. There are even reports (rarely publicized) that ISIS is giving Sunnis water and electricity that they were not getting from their "legitimate" government. Sure: a sharia police force enforces Islamic manners, but that police force is modeled after Saudi Arabia's religious police. And, Saudi Arabia, ISIS allows women to drive, study and work. In fact, ISIS' online magazines had an article on its all-female universities. Crime is now nonexistent in ISIS-occupied areas. Teachers are paid on time for the first time since the US-led invasion. ISIS is building a highway between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. ISIS even "opened Saddam Hussein's palaces for weekend strolls" (Economist, 2015). Far from being a bunch of illiterate renegades, the government of ISIS is more sophisticated than the world-recognized governments of Libya and Yemen, or Kosovo in Europe. The self-appointed caliph, Baghdadi, has drawn his ministers (including both the second and third most powerful men in his government, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani and Abu Ali al-Anbari) from the former Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Several of his ministers are veterans of Camp Bucca, the US-run concentration camp in Iraq where Baathists and Sunni insurgents became buddies. The information minister of ISIS, the Syrian-born Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, the "Goebbels of the Islamic State", has created a sophisticated apparatus of online propaganda: the online magazine, the recruiting videos, etc. Saudi Arabia used to send preachers all over the world in order to recruit volunteers for jihad (initially against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). ISIS doesn't need physical preachers because it has set up an Internet-based infrastructure that serves the same purpose. This is not done by a bunch of hackers, but by a sophisticated media department that employs dozens of photographers, video producers and software engineers. Thanks to that high-tech process, ISIS has been able to recruit highly educated foreigners. For example, a German-Egyptian, Sameh Dhu al-Kurnain, is the head of Mosul University's education department. ISIS' finance minister Mohammed Zaalan al-Afari (killed in january 2015) did a better job at administering ISIS' economy than the variou Greek prime ministers. ISIS' wealth certainly depends on oil and gas (about $2 billion a month), but ISIS has been smart to diversify. It is embarrassing for the West and therefore rarely mentioned in the media, but one major source of revenue is the sale of antiquities, mostly purchased by Western collectors. When in february 2015 ISIS circulated a video of how they vandalized Mosul's museum, it advertised that most of the museum's Assyrian antiquities were intact and for sale. ISIS conquered the ancient city of Palmyra not for strategic purposes but for economic purposes: Palmyra controls two gas fields and a phosphate mine, but also contains a large amount of antiquities that will certainly find their way into the private collections of Western tycoons. It is also a safer business: the USA can bomb the oil fields, but will not bomb the antiquities.
    There is no question that the public beheadings and mass executions of ISIS are repulsive, but that is "terrorism" only if Donald Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" campaign of 2003 (during the US-led bombing of Baghdad) is terrorism too: both have the same goal, of terrorizing the enemy. We think that Saddam Hussein was a valid target of terrorism, they think that "apostates" and "infidels" are a valid target of terrorism. If you think that Mohammed was a prophet sent by the only god Allah, fighting apostates and infidels is more important than fighting dictators. Incidentally, ISIS' terror strategy is based on the most popular of jihadist manuals, "The Management of Savagery" (2004), written by Al Qaeda's ideologue Abu Bakr Naji. That manual was in turn inspired by the writings of Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyyah, same medieval theologian who inspired the 18th-century theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi ideology of Saudi Arabia. No wonder that ISIS and Saudi Arabia staff similar religious police forces.
    ISIS is not a terrorist group. In fact, the USA is not fighting it the way it would fight terrorists: it is bombing its economic infrastructure and command centers the way one bombs an enemy state's center of power. ISIS is better defined and understood as a transnational insurgency, caused, first and foremost, by arbitrary colonial borders and, secondly, by the Islamic ideology. (Incidentally the video of ISIS destroying the artificial border created a century ago by France and Britain separating Syria and Iraq, the Sykes-Picot border, was and still is one of the most successful of ISIS' videos). It is also unique in that volunteers are flocking from all over the world. This was also true in part of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, but that was a defensive war to expel an invader. ISIS' war is a war of conquest that extends to two or more states (groups in Libya and Egypt have also pledged allegiance to ISIS). Despite the highly publicized cases of Western jihadists, the Washington Institute estimates that ISIS' army is made mostly of Arabs: Libyans (21%), Tunisians (16%), Saudis (16%), Jordanians (11%), Egyptians (10%), Lebanese (8%), followed by French (6%), British (4%) and Turks.
    If we accept that ISIS is both Islamic and a state, and it is welcomed by many of the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq (more welcome than the pre-war rulers), then we can understand how a few thousand volunteers have been able to overcome two well-equipped armies (Syria's and Iraq's) in such a short period of time.
    ISIS (and the Houthis in Yemen) is the accidental product of the Arab Spring: once the Arab dictators got weaker, ethnic uprisings told us loud and clear that the people don't like the existing borders. Instead of fighting against the will of the people, the international community (which is really just the West) should work on refounding these states along more natural boundaries.
    ISIS is the winner so far because the Arab royalty, Israel and the West supported ruthless dictators ruling over divided nations. In a sense, we made ISIS brutal and uncompromising by supporting an irrational political order. It is telling that the West is now fighting ISIS alongside Iran and alongside the remaining Arab dictators (emirs and kings): not precisely a company to be proud of.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    Articles on Syria before 2015

Email | Back to History | Back to the world news | Home | Support this website

TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.