ISIS. Do we really know what we are doing?

Much is being made of attempts to destroy ISIS but the question needs to be asked, will the current strategy work or will it lead to increased chaos in the Middle East?

ISIS

ISIS

 ISIS, or Daesh as they are called in the Middle East,appear not to be too worried about the USA-led coalition air-strikes. In fact they seem to have had very little impact so far.

The question being asked by governments in the region and around the world is what can be done to stop ISIS. They are effectively re-drawing the map of the Middle East, the Sykes-Picot Agreement has finally come undone. One of the things I find interesting is how little direct effort the governments of the Middle East as well as Egypt are putting into the fight considering the existential crisis which confronts them. Part of this comes down to culture, diverse Arab cultures do not have a history of being able to work together and coordinate efforts. Organization works along tribal lines rather than being based on national institutions. For this reason it is very difficult for them to collaborate in any coherent fashion.

More importantly however, is the fear of what could happen back home if they start fighting directly against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As an example of this, as reported to me by personal contacts in Jordan, Jordan has chosen not to get involved in the fight with ISIS at the moment due to the sheer number of supporters it has in the country. The cities of Al Zarqa and Ma’en are hotbeds of support for ISIS and in many cases the police are too afraid to enter large parts of those cities. If Jordan were to get involved in fighting directly against ISIS it is quite likely domestic terrorism would be a result. The same goes for many countries in the region, underground support for ISIS is growing rapidly.

The question has be asked, why is this the case? From conversations I have had with sources in the region there seems to be a twofold reason. The first is disenfranchisement of large portions of the populations in the region. Unless you are born into the right tribe or family, your opportunities for education and a good job are severely curtailed. The view taken is that the governments of the region are seen as self-serving, corrupt and not caring about large parts of the population. In this respect, support for ISIS is more political rather than religious. ISIS is seen as a great equalizer, making sure that those who live under its rule will be equally looked after. As an ideal, it is very powerful in the minds of many who have been deprived for so long. It is difficult for our Western mindset to grasp this, but many in the region feel ISIS is the only way to deal with government corruption.

The second reason for support for ISIS is religious. Not in the sense of agreeing with its brand of Islam but rather the US led air-strikes are being seen as an attack on Islam in general. A source told me that when he takes a taxi, he always asks the driver for his opinion of ISIS. Invariably the response is always the same, that while he doesn’t like ISIS, attacks by the USA are understood to be part of a wider attack against Islam and if the situation called for it, he would go fight.

All of this brings us back to the USA’s strategy of how to deal with the extremists. Air-strikes are proving to be ineffective. Even if the decision were made to send in ground forces, it would be unlikely to have success, ISIS are very good at disappearing into the population, when I was in Menbij in Syria last year, it was already in the city but nobody knew it — they were simply waiting for the right time to take over. Added to this, if the USA and allies put boots on the ground, support for ISIS would explode, memories of the last war in Iraq are still very raw for many in the region. ISIS is trying to draw the USA further into conflict as it knows doing so will make it stronger.

So what is the solution? This is not an easy question to answer, at base this is an Arab problem which requires an Arab solution. First, the political reasons for why there is so much support for ISIS need to be addressed, being more inclusive for large parts of the population across the region and reducing government corruption.

Secondly, if there is going to be military action against ISIS it should be Arab led to avoid the strong impression of this being a war on Islam. Can it happen? I’m not so sure. There is too much division in strategy between the various countries of the region. For them to work together would require a huge change in mindset. Unfortunately, I see no end to the current situation and this war has the potential to carry on indefinitely.

For me personally, this is a very sad situation. I have a great fondness for the Middle East, based on my own experience and family history. I’m considered a brother by the Al-Zoubi family — actually they are a huge tribe which spans the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Arab people and also the Persians of Iran, are some of the warmest you could ever hope to meet. Across the region, the ordinary people want to live in peace but are having this opportunity torn away from them because of international politics as well as the governments of the region vying with each other for regional dominance. It is these things which allowed ISIS to grow and I don’t see them going away anytime soon.

This article is cross-posted from digitaljournal.com

United Nations vs ISIS?

This week is going to be a busy one at the United Nations. As well as the General Assembly meeting there will be others to address the situation with ISIS (Daesh) and Ebola in west Africa.

Now that airstrikes in Syria against Daesh have started, led by the USA and Arab states, it is time to understand what is happening. Before I do, I want to tell you the reaction of my Syrian friends regarding the airstrikes. None of them are happy about it, not because they like Daesh but because they only see Bashar al Assad benefiting from the situation rather than the majority of the Syrian people. In general the view is that when the USA gets involved, the resulting situation is always worse than it was before. It has to be said, history tends to back them up on this.

A few weeks ago, President Obama spoke of the need to build a global coalition against the global threat of Daesh, their network is spread around the world and they have been preparing for for attacks by the West for quite some time. The USA has been leading talks behind the scenes with all the members of the U.N as a way of confronting the crisis.

While the act of attacking Daesh and stopping them in their tracks can only be a good thing there are many risks involved, in particular who or what will fill the vacuum which will follow. This is the real fear of the Sunni muslims in both Syria and Iraq. It could lead to expanded sectarian conflict across the region rather than bringing any sort of peace. Russia has already condemned the airstrikes in Syria as there has been no agreement by the Security Council of the U.N. It seems that Obama is going to try and rectify the lack of agreement this week by arguing that as Daesh are a global threat the response also needs to be global and there is only one global organization which can do the job, the U.N. In order for that to happen it would need all U.N member states to give real teeth to what until now has been little more than a corrupt talking shop. By giving the U.N genuine power it would be the only organization capable of confronting Daesh at the international level. This is why I believe this week will be quite interesting, there really could be moves to make this happen.

The crisis in the Middle East isn’t the only crisis in town. Ebola in west Africa is threatening to decimate populations and I use the word literally. It is a crisis which also requires a global response as it has the potential to spread far beyond where it is now. It has arrived to the point where there are now infected bodies in the streets, there are not enough medical facilities or staff to cope with the outbreak. There are cases where highly infectious bodies lie in the streets. It does not require a huge leap of the imagination to see how easy it would be for terrorists to extract blood from these bodies for extraction of the virus to be used as a weapon, the process is not complicated. Ebola is something which has the potential to effect us all and requires a global response of the same level that militant Islam is receiving.

Finally, I want to go back to the way most ordinary Syrians view Daesh compared to the government of Bashar al Assad and illustrate it with something I saw today. They don’t want Daesh but the Sunni majority hate the Syrian regime even more. By destroying Daesh they feel it will allow Assad to kill even more people and the USA with its military action will inadvertently help him to do it. These are not my opinions but are based on numerous conversations I have had with Syrians in the last few days.

Syrian Regime vs ISIS (Daesh)

Syrian Regime vs ISIS (Daesh)

Political Impotence and ISIS

President Obama’s recent statement that, “we don’t have a strategy yet” with regard to confronting ISIS or Islamic State, is a clear demonstration of the impotence of the West.

A large part of this is down to the sheer disunity of all of all the different groups in Iraq. Some Sunni tribes support ISIS while others don’t. All the talk is about arming the Kurds and letting them fight ISIS, however I think too much importance is being given to this. The Kurds are obviously interested in defending their territory but they are also asking the question why they should have to shoulder the bulk of the battle against ISIS when this is an Iraqi problem more than a Kurdish problem, Baghdad should be taking more of a lead. The simple fact is that the Kurds are fighting more for their independence than anything else and they have no real desire to fight well away from their own territory. In Baghdad they are still trying to put together a broad-based government which will address the issues of minorities, particularly the Sunni, they are certainly taking their time about it. Until that happens it is difficult for there to be any really coordinated government policy on how to address the ISIS crisis. It also keeps the hands of the USA tied, there really isn’t anybody in Iraq at the moment who is in a position of authority to unite all the tribes and coordinate with the USA.

It is ironic that the first country to supply weapons to the Kurds was not one of the Sunni Arab countries in the region but rather the Persian Shia of Iran. This demonstrates again the lack of unity in approach of the Arab world to the ISIS threat. The Arab world all talk about the threat but to be honest they couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery when it comes to working together on a regional level. Not that they would organize a piss up in a brewery, that would be haram (forbidden) A perfect example of this lack of unity of purpose is Syria, instead of working together they funded different moderate groups of fighters that are more in competition for personal glory rather than all uniting together, this is also part of the reason why ISIS has been successful in Syria, they took advantage of all the divisions. ISIS is essentially an Arab problem and until the Arabs unite there is very little that the USA or anybody else can do to help.

Estimates put the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq at about 15,000, a concerted regional effort could severely diminish their strength. While ISIS are on a winning streak they are attracting Jihadi fighters from around world to the cause of Islamic State. A few serious blows against ISIS would have a huge psychological impact and reduce the attractiveness of the cause. It is well known that Jihadi fighters are more likely to join a cause they think they can win rather than one they can’t. At the moment they think they can win.

The current situation in Iraq is very fluid, after massive gains ISIS are now having to fight to hold and gain territory, with some wins and losses it seems now is the crucial moment when a concerted regional effort could break the back of ISIS. Will it happen? I doubt it. In the meantime Iraqi Shia militia groups funded by Iran are playing a larger role in the battle. These militia are also turning on Iraqi Sunni. The threat to Iraq is not only ISIS but also the increasing danger of conflict between Sunni and Shia in the capital Baghdad and beyond.

With all this in mind it is understandable when President Obama said, “we don’t have a strategy yet”, the whole thing is a mess. In the meantime our glorious politicians in the UK are talking about existential threats and the risk of terror attacks on home soil, ramping up security powers of the police and state. There is so much talk from them of how the world should be united in dealing with the threat of ISIS but in reality they know there is very little they can actually do. For all the hot air, they are actually demonstrating how powerless they really are.

Add to this the Russia/Ukraine situation, which will become far worse, with a real risk of spreading to other countries, and it shows just how useless the global political system is at dealing with serious problems.

USA being sucked into confrontation with Islamic State

Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL or Da’ish as it is known in arabic  is doing a good job of drawing the West into the quagmire of conflict in the Middle East. A year ago, after chemical gas attacks on civilians in Syria, it seemed for a brief moment the USA and UK would approve missile strikes against the Syrian regime and try to bring an end to the conflict. That has not happened and the death toll in Syria now stands at over 190,000 people, mostly civilians. As always, it is the innocent who suffer most in war.

A year later and and here we are again, IS (Islamic State) attacked Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, and then there was the execution of James Foley by a probably British member of IS. This time, the USA is carrying out airstrikes against IS positions to help local Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces on the ground. It seems inevitable that at some point there will be a USA led armed force entering Iraq, “boots on the ground” Not only this but maybe also airstrikes against IS targets inside Syria. It is a slippery slope lined with many dangers.

If this happens, many more young muslims from around the world will flock to Iraq and Syria to take up the fight. As is often reported, there is support around the world by disenfranchised young muslims, not only in the UK, USA and Europe but also in Indonesia and other countries with muslim populations, IS has a global network. This network is funding the travel of those who want to join the Islamic State and has been preparing for a long time for this situation

One question, why are Russia and Iran, who support Bashar al Assad of Syria, not also talking about taking the fight to IS in Syria? They seem happy to allow the USA to get sucked into this situation. It seems to me that once the West gets involved, it will be very hard to extricate itself. It was Assad who allowed ISIS to build up in Syria, the Syrian government even buys oil from them. Assad wanted the war to become sectarian and extremist and in so doing put himself in the position of being the only person left in Syria who can work with the West against IS in Syria, thereby regaining international legitimacy, a clever and callous tactic that has so far cost the lives of over 190,000 Syrians and created millions of refugees.

As for Iraq, they don’t seem to be able to form any sort of unified government which shares power evenly between the Shia, Sunni and Kurds. If the West were to go into Iraq without the agreement of a newly formed and unified government, it will be seen as western imperialism, which will drive even more Iraqi’s into the arms of IS. The Shia of Iraq are forming many militia groups and they seem to be well equipped and trained, many of them spent time in Lebanon in Hezbollah training camps. The scene is very much set for there to be general conflict between Sunni and Shia, not only with IS.

Into all this the West is talking about becoming more deeply involved, citing the threat of IS terrorists targeting the USA and UK etc.This is an unwinnable war and one that involvement can only make worse. The West is trying to win a war against an idea, a perverted idea but one with very deep roots, an idea which appeals to large numbers, millions of disenfranchised young muslims around the world.

Middle East crisis. Region on fire

Now it is finally recognized that Iran and Syria helped ISIS get started, it is time to look at what happens next in the MIddle East crisis as the storm clouds continue gathering.

The Middle East is on fire and the speed with which events have happened has taken many by surprise. There is a real potential for further escalation of the chaos which is engulfing the region. ISIS control a vast swath of territory which crosses the border between Syria and Iraq. The fighting in this area is growing in intensity. Add to this the current war between Hamas of Gaza and Israel and it becomes clear we are living in critical times.

Among all this chaos, the most stable country in the region is Iran. It is a country with a very rich culture and history. They are not Arab, they are Persian, there is a huge difference in mentality between the two. The Persians are strategic, long term planners and extremely good game players. They understand the power and effectiveness of well run institutions when it comes to managing the population. The leadership in Tehran is also totally amoral and ruthless. One fact which escapes many is this, although the leadership portrays itself as being very religious, it is not. Rather it uses religion as a way of uniting Shia muslims under a common banner.

Against this background, Iran together with the Assad regime in Syria permitted and helped ISIS to grow. The objective being the creation of chaos in Sunni muslim regions of Syria and Iraq. In Syria it allows Bashar al Assad to now portray himself as the only possible stabilizing force in the country, that all rebels are terrorists, taking attention away from what was a popular uprising and using extremists to create a sectarian conflict. The vast majority of fighting by ISIS in Syria has been against moderate rebels in Sunni areas rather than the Syrian regime which is Alawite and Shia. In Iraq ISIS has been focusing most of its efforts on Sunni areas of the country, now it is concentrating a lot of attention on Baghdad and its environs.

While Iran and Syria helped ISIS become established this is not to say they have total control over the organization. Recently Syria has engaged ISIS fighters in battle as have Iranian forces in Iraq. They are not engaging ISIS at a huge level but this is part of the play by both Syria and Iran to create an image that they are the good guys, needed to help combat the expansionism of ISIS.

There are conversations happening that the USA should consider working with Iran to combat ISIS. Not in the sense of boots on the ground, although the neo-cons would love for this to happen and may yet get their way, but in other more discreet ways. If this were to happen it would work entirely in Iran’s favour. Allow me to explain why. By so doing, it will mean that Iran becomes accepted as the dominant power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia on the other hand will be humiliated and forced to accept the situation. Most of this has already happened and is the reason why KSA is working to improve its relations with Iran. The other part of Iranian strategy is to continue using ISIS to create chaos in Sunni areas while fighting them in areas that have Shia populations. It really is playing both sides of the coin as it did in the past, when it allowed Sunni group Ansar al-Islam, the fore-runner of Al Qaeda in Iraq to pass through its territory. Yes, Shia Iran has cooperated many times in the past with Sunni extremist groups. Now the fighting is coming closer to Baghdad on a daily basis, with its mixed Sunni/Shia population we can expect to see Iranian involvement increasing as it works to show it is the good guy by helping resist the group it created. The leadership of ISIS understand this but the foot soldiers of ISIS who are fighting on the ground have no idea they are being used.

To be honest, there is very little the USA can directly do about ISIS. If they put boots on the ground then all Sunni muslims, extremist or not, would be against them. The memory of American troops in Iraq and the mess they created is still very much an open wound.

In the longer term the prognosis for the Middle East crisis is one of increasing volatility. The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza will probably lead to a 3rd intifida, there are already calls for this to happen. The current conflict is different, with wide coverage on social media of what is happening in Gaza there is a lot of outrage being directed at the Israeli government, unfortunately there is a lot of anti Semitism about now too, many people now equate being a Jew with being a murderer. What is happening in Gaza, the shedding of innocent blood of women and children is on the hands of the Knesset and the IDF. What the fallout of the current situation will be is hard to say exactly, but this situation will not be allowed to die down as in times past. Social media has put the images of what is happening in the minds of everybody around the world in a way which has never before happened. When global public opinion is focused on the actions of one country then you can be sure there will be consequences.

ISIS will continue creating chaos in Syria and Iraq but will not stop there. Long term objectives are to spread chaos to KSA with the objective of capturing Mecca. They will also have Jerusalem in their sights as they consider it to be one of their holy places. They are not worried about triggering an even bigger conflict in the region, they believe they are doing the work of Allah even if that were to lead to world war 3

All the while Iran will remain aloof as it gives the appearance of having no involvement in the creation of chaos. The only way for this to change would be if some destabilizing situation were to unexpectedly develop in Iran. My personal view of this is to expect the unexpected.

Finally Turkey, it is the wild card of the region. It is slowly progressing down the road to becoming an authoritarian regime. It also allowed ISIS to import heavy weapons from Libya through its ports and across its borders into Syria. Turkey is a majority Sunni population country which until the fall of the Ottoman empire was the spiritual leader for Sunni muslims worldwide. It is a well understood fact that Turkey misses its glory days. As the Middle East crisis develops and instability increases, it will pay to watch Turkey very closely.

The outlook for the Middle East is tempestuous to say the least. As always it is the ordinary people who will suffer the most. While there is the possibility of the short-term situation leading to increased terrorism threats around the world, the current situation means that those who go to fight for ISIS are concentrating most of their energy on expanding the Islamic State that covers territory in Syria and Iraq. For the time being they are generally too busy where they are now to concentrate on terrorist attacks in Europe or the USA. However, as time goes on, the threat level will increase as they consolidate power, it will become necessary for some sort of direct international intervention, more likely than not under the auspices of the United Nations. The only way to deal with a supranational threat will be via supranational organizations.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Unanswered questions.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is without doubt causing a stir in the Sunni muslim world but what do we actually know about him? Not a lot actually, but what has been made public raises certain questions.

Let’s start with what is publicly known about him. He was born in 1971 and went on to research Islamic Studies at PhD level in Baghdad. When the USA and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003 he was still studying and not thought to be part of any militant group. By late 2005 however, he was captured on suspicion of being a mid-ranking figure in the Sunni insurgency against US and British forces. While in detention he was described as being inconspicuous, bad but not one of the worst and generally a nobody. He was released in 2009. Until very recently there were only two pictures of him in the public domain, then suddenly he appeared in public to give a sermon at a major mosque in Mosul. While the video of him speaking is still to be verified, most analysts believe it is the real thing. Finally there is the claim, yet to be challenged, that he is a direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad.

What permitted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to go from being a middle ranking, inconspicuous figure with no real stand out qualities to being the head of an organization, which is not only totally ruthless against those who oppose it but also highly effective at the practicalities of governing, running utilities, schools, hospitals and other social services? ISI before it became ISIS was a part of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda while well funded, have never been able to demonstrate this level of efficiency of organization, to put it simply it isn’t part of Arab culture to operate in this way. Where does this ability come from?

I have always maintained that Iran is supporting ISIS as a way of creating chaos in the Sunni muslim world. As yet the Shia dominated south-east of Iraq has been almost untouched by ISIS, which is unusual considering how much ISIS hate the Shia. But there is another avenue which could also be worth considering. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was captured by American forces in 2005 he was basically a nobody with no major ambitions. Could it be that he was turned? Not only turned but given training and support in the period leading up to his becoming leader of ISI as it was then known. Until making his face publicly known at the mosque in Mosul he has always kept his face hidden, very few in ISIS had any idea of what he looked like as the two pictures of him were several years old and only released at the beginning of this year. Under these circumstances it would have been relatively easy for him to travel and meet people without being recognized.

Why would I think such a thing could be possible. To do that we need to look at the current situation. The USA is refusing to be drawn back into the Middle East, starting with Syria it has refused to take action despite being warned that by so doing the growth of extremism and terrorism would be inevitable. It seems this has been the plan for a while, by allowing the growth of ISIS a new balance of power between Sunni/Shia is created in the Middle East. Actually balance is the wrong word, what is being created are the conditions for permanent fighting between different groups in the regions with no group supposedly strong enough to win an outright victory. This is the “balance” which will arise from the situation. At the same time it could well be that Iran and the USA have a tacit agreement for it to take over as the dominant power in the Middle East. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been sidelined to a certain extent by the USA forcing it into a situation where it is trying to improve its relations with Iran as a way of protecting itself from tsunami of chaos which is threatening to engulf the region. Now that KSA knows America won’t come riding to the rescue, it is being pushed into making new alliances, including with Israel, as can be seen from the way Israel, Jordan and KSA have been collaborating regarding Syria.

I would suggest that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is little more than an instrument being used to create chaos. This chaos has the possibility to weaken many governments and countries in the region. A chaos which is only just beginning. While the vast majority of mainstream muslims and scholars mock the claim to be Caliph by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi it does not take into account thoughts of millions of young muslims, mostly men but also women, not only in the region but around the world. Many of them feel disenfranchised, ignored by their governments, having limited education and employment possibilities. For them, the ideology of an Islamic State is very attractive, to this they will be looking as a way of finding an identity. You can be sure that at this moment many young muslim men and women are seriously considering going to Iraq, that quiet conversations are happening in mosques all around the world. There is evidence to suggest ISIS is financially helping those who want to join the Jihad in Syria/Iraq. These networks are often connected to mosques as certain individuals use them to identify those who can be convinced to join Jihad. It is extreme but considering the danger posed by the threat of international terrorism, ironically allowed to develop by the USA, the best way to counteract this threat would be to close all mosques around the world for a period of time. Could it ever happen? Expect the unexpected.

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ISIS and Islamic State

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has chosen an interesting time to declare that it is now simply called “Islamic State”, covering the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq. Its leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has been declared Caliph of the new Islamic Caliphate.

Abubakar Al Baghdadi

Abubakar Al Baghdadi. Leader of ISIS

That this has happened so soon after the beginning of Ramadan, a time most holy to Muslims, when many go on Haj, that is go on pilgrimage to Mecca, has several implications. The first is that by declaring the Caliphate with Baghdadi as Caliph, they are saying that only they have the authority from Allah to say what can and can not be done. This is a direct challenge to the authority of Saudi Arabia, which took on the role of leader of the Muslim world after the fall of the Ottoman empire. Because the area held by ISIS is transnational, covering parts of Syria and Iraq, they believe they are on the way to rebuilding the Muslim empire of old, which stretched from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. With this declaration, Sunni Muslims are being asked to decide where they stand. If they don’t side with ISIS, they will be seen as traitors and enemies of the Muslim faith, wherever they are. The declaration of “Islamic State” at this time acts as a clarion call to many young Muslims who have long been searching for an identity and a cause. That it has happened at Ramadan will encourage many more to join the cause. It has been reported that many Muslim families in Europe are extremely worried about the seductive effect of ISIS propaganda on their young men. To the point that some will not allow their sons out of sight for fear they will run away to join ISIS. Another question has to be asked, who gives them the money to travel? There must already be a large underground organization in Europe which helps them get away and join ISIS.

Another effect of the declaration of “Islamic State” is to force other Jihadist groups to decide where they stand. In particular this is aimed at Al Qaeda and its supporters. It is being given a choice to join with ISIS or to be seen as heretical, worthy of destruction. ISIS obviously feel they can take on Al Qaeda if need be, they certainly are not short of money, weapons and infrastructure. In fact this is one of the curious things about ISIS, its level of organization and bureaucracy, it has been established that central control of even the tiniest details is very important to the running of the organization. They demand receipts for even the smallest expenses. Why is this interesting? Arab culture does not place much importance on the idea of institutions and deep organisation, yet here we have ISIS very quickly organizing not only the running of a war down to the last detail but also the running of their ‘Islamic State’. While they are known principally for being very bloodthirsty and ruthless in battle and the application of their version of Sharia, (there are several versions), they have also been very quick to manage the practical realities of running towns and cities, the schools, hospitals and social services etc. This is another reason why I do not believe ISIS is being backed by an Arab country such as Saudi Arabia, culturally it would not be something they could get organized in such a short time. One has to ask the question, which country or countries benefit from there being chaos in the Sunni Muslim world and also know(s) how to set up and run institutions along with the bureaucracy needed to manage those institutions? I leave that for you to ponder.

As it is now Ramadan, you can expect to see an increase in the level of fighting, part of the reason for this is due to the fact that ISIS fighters believe that if they are killed fighting in the name of Allah during this period they will be extra blessed in heaven. A fighter in Syria once told me that one time he was fighting alongside a another fighter from Jabhat al Nusra against a Syrian army position. It was Ramadan, the fighter from Al Nusra was shot but his radio stopped the bullet, I think most people would be happy to have a lucky escape, not this Al Nusra fighter, he was sad and felt he must have done something to offend Allah that he didn’t let him die during Ramadan. This is the mentality of ISIS fighters, not only are they very well trained and battle hardened, they are virtually unstoppable. The desire to meet Allah during Ramadan can only mean one thing. If you think ISIS have been pushing hard in Iraq so far, it is nothing compared to what is coming in the next days and weeks.

ISIS has a hard fight on its hands, at the moment it is collaborating with ex members of Saddam Hussein’s regime as well as certain tribal leaders. After he fell and the Sunni lost power in Iraq these Ba’ath party supporters melted away waiting for the right time to show themselves again, A lot of these are ex Republican Guard, those who have experience of fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, tough fighters. They see the situation in Iraq now as an opportunity to re-establish the Sunni Ba’ath party in Baghdad. So for the moment they are collaborating with ISIS. However, it won’t last, ideologically ISIS and the Ba’athists are totally different. It will lead to internecine war in Iraq. Add Al Qaeda into the equation, which is unlikely to accept the spiritual leadership of ISIS and what is brewing is something that could make even the situation in Syria look better compared to Iraq.

Talking of Syria, members of Jabhat Al Nusra are joining ISIS, even with all their funding from Saudi Arabia they know they can’t defeat ISIS as it consolidates its hold in the north and east of the country. Saying this, it could be that Al Qaeda will open up new fronts against ISIS in Syria. As for the moderate rebels, whose revolution has been hijacked, honestly they don’t stand a chance. In the areas held by ISIS they are too weak, fragmented and under resourced. President Obama stating he now wants to aid moderates with $550 million of weapons and equipment is simply words, too little and far too late to do anything about reducing the power of ISIS in the north and east of Syria. In the south it will only help the moderate rebels to secure territory in Syria along the borders of Israel and Jordan, a buffer zone against ISIS.

While the foot soldiers of ISIS really believe that they are helping to create an “Islamic State”, Baghdadi and the country(s) that back him know that the only result will be perpetual war in Sunni regions of the Middle East, no one side, ISIS, Ba’athists or Al Qaeda will be able to win an outright victory. It seems the intention all along is to create a conflagration in the Middle East as fundamentalists, not only Muslim, want to try and bring about the “End of Days”

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