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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Ex Syrian diplomat explains Syria ISIS connection

Bassam Barabandi, ex Syrian diplomat with the foreign ministry who served in Washington, has given an interview into the inner workings of the Assad regime. It is a fascinating insight well worth reading. He goes into detail explaining the ISIS Syria connection.

One of the key points he makes is how the growth of ISIS was not only permitted but encouraged as a way of increasing sectarian division and diverting global attention away from Bashar al Assad’s actions against the Syrian people.

You can find the article at this link Inside Assad’s Playbook: Time and Terror.

The interview I did with Zaid Tlass in April last year also gives interesting insight into how the Syrian regime works. Link: Interview with Zaid Tlass

On a side note it is nice to be vindicated in my views and analysis of the situation, that ISIS is an instrument of Iran and Syria. I received a lot of negative feedback saying that it could not possibly be true. Today I can say quite happily that I was about the only person in the West who was correct in making the connection between ISIS, Syria and Iran.

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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The growth of ISIS

Thanks to ISIS or ISIL or Daash as it is also known, the Middle East is in the process of descending into chaos. The USA was warned last year that the growth of ISIS in Syria would lead to a regional conflict, the warning it appears, fell on deaf ears. The result of the growth of ISIS has led to a situation which is only just starting.

As ISIS becomes stronger, it is attracting more and more support from disenfranchised Sunni muslims. How can that be? It is after all a very ruthless and bloody organization. The simple fact is this, if you are loyal to them, they are loyal to you and will look after you. There are many poor Sunni muslims who feel betrayed by their governments, in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, if you belong to the right tribe or family then you will have a host of economic advantages and opportunities for education, the rest are left to make a living as best they can. These disenfranchised Sunni muslims see what ISIS is doing as an opportunity to change the status quo, to rebalance and redistribute opportunities to those who follow ISIS. Its ambitions are supranational and do not stop at just Syria and Iraq. Many poor Sunni muslims in the entire region are putting their doubts about ISIS to one side if they feel there is the chance it can bring down those governments which ignore so many of the population.

I stand by my opinion, which I wrote about here, that ISIS is ultimately funded by Iran as an instrument of chaos in the Sunni world. Many commentators say it must be Saudi Arabia which is funding ISIS but honestly I don’t see the advantage for them to do this, Saudi is just as worried as its neighbours and is in the process of trying to improve relations with Iran, it knows it will need Iran’s support in the not so distant future as the USA can no longer be relied upon to assist in the Middle East. ISIS is against all Sunni who don’t support it, an example of this is how in Syria it spends more time fighting against moderate Syrian rebels than against the Syrian army of the Alawite/Shia government of Bashar al Assad.

Due to the supranational nature of ISIS and the support it is receiving, it seems a time is coming when many poor Sunni muslims will be drawn to it. What we could be seeing is the start of a revolution spanning many countries but under one banner, a larger scale version of both the French and Bolshevik revolutions. A situation where the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have nots’ of the Sunni world go to war against each other.

This should terrify governments all over the world, with the squeezing and shrinking of the middle classes in many countries around the world,  there is potential for what is developing in the Middle East to happen globally. In the Middle East it will happen in the name of religion but the underlying principles apply everywhere. If the situation in the Middle East continues as I think it will, imagine the impact on oil prices and the global economy. What would happen if such a revolution were to succeed in the Middle East? Might not people of other countries follow suit as the impact on the global economy global shatters lives and security on a much larger scale than happened in the financial crisis of 2007 or the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

It is now one hundred years since the assassination of Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which rapidly led to the start of the First World War. Today, the global economy is very fragile, many countries are competing to increase their spheres of influence, nationalism is on the rise, the middle classes are being squeezed from all sides. We are living in a global tinderbox, it only needs a small spark to set it alight, as did those 2 shots fired on 28 June 1914.

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Coming Soon. Video Interview with Syrian Revolutionary and Ex Fighter

Soon I will publish an interview with a Syrian who was deep inside, he fought against both the Syrian government as well as ISIS as the leader of his own brigade in Menbij in northern Syria as well as being very active at the political level in Menbij. We need to protect his identity but he was happy to talk to me. He is very candid about his role as well as his experience of how ISIS seems to be working with the Syrian government. He also explains how many Free Syrian Army brigades are controlled by foreign countries. In the end he quit the fight and explains why. There is about an hour of video to go through and edit as well as clean up the sound. I’m a photographer more than a videographer so please be a little patient with my work. Video interview coming soon, watch this space.

Interview with a Syria rebel

Interview with a Syrian rebel

ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Who is it good for?

I know that many will disagree with what I am about to write here but I want to give you another point of view to think about. When you dig under the surface of what ISIS is doing you will see it is of huge benefit to certain countries.

When I talk to contacts in the middle east, all come to the conclusion that Iran is behind the incredible growth and expansion of ISIS. Kurdish media also agrees that it has Iranian backing (Kurdish News Article in English)

ISIS began their expansion in Syria, mostly in the north and east of the country. When the Free Syrian Army fought back against them in the winter, many ISIS fighters ran for cover in Syrian regime held areas before they were able to fight back and regain lost territory. Also, what is interesting is the fact that ISIS are not trying to push towards Damascus, rather they are trying to take over territory held by the FSA. They also paint their headquarters with their colours and have huge flags waving above, yet not once have they been bombarded by the Syrian airforce. So many of my contacts in Syria have told me about this. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence coming from the modus operandi of ISIS, that it is working in collaboration with the Syrian government, which itself is backed by Iran. If ISIS is collaborating with Bashar al Assad and Iran is his main supporter then there must be a connection, ISIS have to get their funding from somewhere and Saudi Arabia will not support a group which is helping Assad.

Then we come to Iraq. The Shia majority government of Nouri Maliki is known to have very close ties to Iran. The last few years have been spent buying the latest military hardware from the USA so that it could defend itself after the US army fully withdrew. On paper it has, or should I now say had, a standing army of about 900,000, yet when fewer than 10,000 ISIS fighters advanced on Mosul, the second city of Iraq, they fled, leaving behind all their equipment and bases. They didn’t even try to resist, despite the huge advantage in numbers and weapons. Then at this time of crisis the government couldn’t even get enough votes to declare an official state of emergency. Neither did they ask the Kurds to send their well armed and experienced Peshmerga forces to help. Everything about this is suspicious. Considering how close Maliki is to Iran could it be that it was all a plan, a way of being able to arm ISIS with all the latest military hardware?

But why would Iran, which is Shia, help an extremist Sunni group? The answer is simple, to create havoc and chaos in Sunni dominated areas. Over time you will see that ISIS will not concentrate on trying to capture Shia areas. Baghdad is mixed between Sunni and Shia so they may try to take it but it is unlikely. However, the south-east of Iraq is by far majority Shia, I will be very surprised if they try to push into this part of the country. It will give a further strong indication that they are working with Iran.

Of course, to keep up appearances, Iran will make a show of helping Iraq to resist ISIS but it is more likely that Iraqi Sunni militias will be created from the remains of the army and other groups. It will end up similar to Syria, where the FSA while fighting the government, is also spending a lot of time trying to fight back against ISIS. The entire region will descend into a state of perpetual conflict, with only the Shia areas of Iraq remaining quiet. This is what Iran wants. The danger of using a proxy such as ISIS is that you have to keep control of it. Has Iran got ISIS on a short enough leash? Time will tell.

The question that comes to my mind is why has this happened now? The simple answer is oil, or rather the price of oil. Over the last year, oil has spent a lot of time below $110 per barrel often closer to $105. The chaos created by ISIS has pushed the price up to $113 at the moment. Iran and Russia are very close, Russia has been using a lot of its cash reserves to prop up its banking system as capital flight increases, people and businesses are taking their money out of Russia. Oil and gas are the main sources of income for the Russian economy but it needs a price of about $117 per barrel to have enough to top up its cash reserves and keep the economy going. Could it be that Iran has arranged events in Iraq to help its closest ally Russia? Of course this helps all oil-producing countries but the main benefactor is Russia, it is desperate for cash and the events in Iraq could not have come at a better time. Iran also benefits greatly, the war in Syria has cost it a fortune as it supports Bashar al Assad, extra money is always needed. Of course Saudi Arabia also benefits but they already have a mountain of cash, the increased income while welcome will not really change anything for them.

As I said in my previous post, Saudi Arabia is attempting to improve relations with Iran. It can see the coming tsunami of chaos which is about to engulf the region, I think it finally understands that Iran has the upper hand in what is going on. As a result I think we will see a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran with regards to Syria, they will settle on a division of the country. In return Saudi will get assurances that ISIS will not invade, this has to be one of their greatest fears. ISIS could make havoc, especially as it now has a huge amount of modern American made military hardware. This all depends on Iran maintaining control over ISIS, if it loses control then all bets are off.

Extreme Islamist group ISIS go from strength to strength, for the moment

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) had a huge win a couple of days ago. They were able to enter with out opposition, the Iraqi city of Mosul. Such is their fearsome reputation that the Iraqi army there abandoned everything and fled, leaving behind all their equipment, weapons and uniforms. Tens of thousands of Mosul residents, mostly Sunni, have fled and continue to flee the city to nearby Kurdish controlled areas.

This is a major win for ISIS. Under the strict control and command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what started as a small splinter group after its ejection from Al Qaeda for being too bloodthirsty even for them, has grown over the last 2 years into a well-organized, trained and equipped army. The capture of Mosul extends their area of control and influence that holds in its deadly embrace large areas of both Syria and Iraq. See map graphic below.

ISIS territory

ISIS territory. Link to map source here

It is interesting that ISIS were allowed to develop in strength in Syria by Bashar al Assad. He wanted the civil war to become sectarian and helped them to grow. In this he has been very successful, however in so doing he allowed, for want of better words, a monster to develop. ISIS is causing worry in many countries in the middle east. This is why in Syria both Jordan and Israel are helping the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to create buffer zones along their borders, ISIS has intentions to take over most if not all Syria and many governments have finally woken up to the fact that their political games have led directly to the situation which exists today. Now on the doorstep of Europe is a very strong Islamic fighting force which is going to be hard to resist.

It is difficult to see how Iraq will be able to deal with the situation. Although it has a large well equipped army of 900,000 soldiers, most of those are patronage jobs, they are there for the money and not because they want to fight. Add to this, the fact they have very little training in guerrilla warfare, which is the modus operandi of ISIS, and one has to consider the real possibility that ISIS will make further large gains in the country. It could be that the Kurds will send Peshmerga fighting units to fight ISIS in Iraq, they have a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare and will want to protect their regional capital of Arbil against any possible threat.

This will not be the type of war where you can send in the air force to strike at well-defined targets, ISIS operate very much in a hit and run style, they are very good at disappearing while at the same time holding control. They really have become masters of psychological warfare as demonstrated by the huge exodus from Mosul by both the army and civilians. They are known as heartless butchers and their reputation precedes them wherever they  go.

Looking at what their ultimate goals might be could also give a possible explanation for other developments in the middle east. ISIS believe they have a god given mission to set up an Islamic caliphate, one that would rule very harshly based on their narrow understanding of Islam. This religious caliphate would ultimately need to have Muslim holy sites such as Mecca at its centre. With rapid growth in strength and territory of ISIS over the last 2 years and with no sign of them slowing down, Saudi Arabia must be starting to worry that they will come into the cross-hairs. Saudi Arabia has a well equipped army but to be honest has no fighting experience and most of its commanders wouldn’t have a clue how to defend the country as many have the job as a result of royal patronage, to be honest they are not up to the job. ISIS would see the country as a soft target. This could also explain why Saudi Arabia has recently been making peaceful overtures towards Iran. Iran is possibly the only country in the middle east which can deal with ISIS. There are many in Saudi who are totally against any rapprochement with Iran, for them it is their biggest enemy mainly because the Shia Muslims of Iran and the Sunni Muslims of Saudi see each other as religious heretics. The new Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a contentious figure among the Saudi royal family because he is willing to talk to Iran, publicly many members of the family are against him because they say his is not a legitimate heir but privately it must also be due to his stance on Iran. However they can’t say this too loudly as the ageing King also backs better ties with Iran and he could cut off the funds of many royals if they were to jeopardise his wish for better ties. The problem is that many don’t realize the threat ISIS could pose to their comfortable existence, few have ever done any real work, they simply live off the oil wealth of the country, out of touch with reality.

The main sticking point in Saudi/Iran relations is their support for opposing sides in Syria. Iran supports the government of Bashar al Assad, it has committed huge resources in what is a very expensive war, not only financial but also in manpower. Saudi Arabia supports the Sunni revolt, Sunni are the majority of the population but with nearly half the population now displaced the Sunni majority is greatly reduced. The fact that ISIS is a rapidly growing problem in Syria and Iraq could lead to the 2 countries making some sort of compromise in Syria so that they can confront ISIS together. You can be sure Iran does not want to see Mecca in the hands of ISIS any more than Saudi Arabia does.

This situation also plays into the hands of Iran, if Iran is to lead the fight back against ISIS then it will also expect to be recognised as the leading power in the middle east, which has been its intention all along, its hegemonic ambitions are hardly a secret. Could it be that Iran secretly supported ISIS even though it is Sunni? Bashar al Assad has certainly done so in Syria and he is backed by Iran. Once a deal is done between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria this could be the moment Iran steps in to confine ISIS in the areas it generally holds now, both in Syria and Iraq. Saudi will be forced to accept Iran as the dominant power in the middle east. With ISIS being so close to the Turkish border it could also be the moment that Turkey steps in the create a buffer zone in northern Syria probably working in conjunction with the Kurds with whom it now has a better relationship. In Syria, this will leave areas of permanent warfare in the north and centre of the country between Syrian rebel militias and ISIS. In the south and east of Syria there is bound to come a time when the rebels know they can’t advance any further towards Damascus, it is too well supported by Iran and Russia so will settle for a semi autonomous area buffering Israel and Jordan and supported by those 2 countries against any threat from ISIS. Bashar al Assad will be weakened but still in power which will suit Israel perfectly. Syria will be divided.

As for Iraq, ISIS will hold power in certain Sunni dominated areas which is going to create yet another enormous refugee crisis. I wonder if ISIS realise how much of a pawn they are in this bloody game of chess. It will certainly resist any attempts at confinement. I’m sure the eventual plan is to reduce its power, which will lead to all sorts of other complications, there are always consequences. For the moment ISIS is being allowed to go from strength to strength as part of the bloody games being played in the middle east.