This US Air Forces Central Command photo shows an F-22A Raptor refueling in the US Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria on September 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. (Photo: AFP-US Air Forces Central Command via DVIDS / Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)
The majority of US pundits have not fallen into the trap of Gulf “magnanimity,” or believed the good intentions of the Arab states taking part in the anti-ISIS coalition. Those who are knowledgeable about the Saudi way of thinking were not charmed by the images of a Saudi prince as a pilot, nor did they content themselves with Barack Obama’s assertion that Washington “is not alone.” While this may be true, the states taking part in the US-led campaign are not fighting for the same goals, it seems.
Only a week before it was announced that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain would take part in the US-led campaign against ISIS, the media was commemorating the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Articles were published recalling that 15 out of 19 individuals who carried out the attacks were Saudis, while others blamed Washington for failing to hold Saudi Arabia adequately accountable for what happened that day.
Some pundits preempted the US-Saudi alliance and wrote, “Let’s Be Realistic in Partnering with Saudi Arabia Against ISIS.” Lori Plotkin Boghardt, writing in the Congressional publication The Hill, addressed the partnership and questioned its realism, focusing on Saudi Arabia’s uneven record in the fight against terrorism and the kingdom’s efforts and achievements in this field.
Boghardt explained, “The country’s political leadership (the al-Saud royal family) and religious leadership (adherents of the austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam) have coexisted in a symbiotic relationship for more than two centuries. They have depended on each other for support and legitimacy among the population. Too much pressure from one on the other puts the power and influence of both groups at risk.”
Boghardt concluded, “Today…the Saudi political leadership views ISIS as a direct threat to the kingdom.” Therefore, Boghardt adds, Washington must recognize the benefits and limits of a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia and the small Persian Gulf states, as their political interests sometimes converge and at other times diverge from US interests.
Boghardt made two warnings that she said Washington must heed in the context of specifying an approach to the partnership question, namely:
First, “beyond the ISIS fight, it would be foolish to consider Saudi Arabia as a partner to help work toward a just political solution – including a democratic character – in Iraq and Syria,” because “Saudi Arabia is blatantly antipathetic to democratic agendas,” in Iraq, Syria, and Bahrain for example.
The second warning had to do with Saudi’s understanding of terrorism. Boghardt wrote, “When it comes to defining a terrorist, Saudi Arabia does not distinguish between deadly militants and nonviolent political activists.”
The new US-Saudi partnership was also the focus of an article in The New Republic, written by analyst and pundit Simon Henderson. The principal interest Washington has in Riyadh is to maintain low oil prices, Henderson wrote. But when it comes to the partnership on combatting terror, the writer returned to the Saudi conduct in this area, including “sending religious youth to fight in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, and elsewhere.” Add to this what Prince Bandar bin Sultan said regarding the instructions he received from King Abdullah when he was appointed intelligence chief, where “he stated that he was charged with getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, containing Hezbollah in Lebanon, and cutting off the head of the snake (Iran).” Bandar said at the time that “he would follow his monarch’s instructions, even if it meant hiring ‘every SOB jihadist’ he could find.”
Why is Saudi taking part in strikes against ISIS then? Henderson explained, “The House of Saud will likely continue to try to balance the threat of the head-chopping jihadists, while also trying to deliver a strategic setback to Iran by overthrowing the regime in Damascus.” From the perspective of Saudi Arabia, the journalist adds, “the move of ISIS forces into Iraq contributed to the removal of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, who they regarded as a stooge of Tehran.” Henderson continues, “Despite official support by Riyadh for the new Baghdad government, many Saudis who despise Shia probably regard ISIS as doing God’s work.”
So what warning does Henderson have for Washington in this context? He wrote, “As with the then-nascent threat of al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia’s view of self-preservation now (both toward the Islamic State and the looming prospect of a nuclear Iran) will probably involve policy hypocrisy toward Washington.”
This Saudi “self-preservation” against threats from ISIS, which criticizes the way the House of Saud implement Islamic law, was repeated across many press analyses. Gary Leupp, writing for Counterpunch, said, “Riyadh fears ISIL. It has now succumbed to Washington’s pressure and agreed to take part in some sort of alliance to defeat the Islamic State.” However, Leupp, like other writers, added another reason, namely, the Saudi fear of Iran. Leupp wrote, Saudi “has no rational fear of an Iranian attack…What Riyadh dreads is the prospect of a Shiite rebellion within the Saudi kingdom, backed by Iran,” for example in the oil-rich regions in a way that could lead them to declare independence from the kingdom. This is why, he added, “it should be obvious why Riyadh is concerned about the possibility that U.S. actions might advance Shiite interests at its expense.”
In addition to Saudi concerns, others wrote about Saudi ambitions. Analysts writing in The New York Times opined that Saudi and Gulf participation in the anti-ISIS campaign “has as much to do with the countries’ hope that the United States will eventually come around to helping oust Mr. Assad.”
Jamie Dettmer wrote it explicitly in The Daily Beast: “Attacking ISIS is only part of the game, and the monarchs flying with the U.S. have their own agendas.” Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, explains Dettmer, are “determined to use the intervention to undercut them [the Muslim Brotherhood] and regional rivals that back them: Turkey and Qatar,” after succeeding to dislodge the Islamist group from power in Egypt.
Regarding the price Washington would have to pay in return for these Arab countries’ participation in the anti-ISIS coalition, a Washington Post editorial from a few days ago said that this partnership could force the US to soften “pressure on regimes that responded to the Arab Spring’s demand for democratic change with brutal repression.”
The Washington Post editorial highlighted the dismal track record of some of the participants in the campaign in human rights and freedoms, focusing on Egypt and Bahrain in this regard. Addressing Obama, the editorial concluded by recommending that he “should…recognize a lesson Mr. Bush drew following the attacks of Sept. 11: While it may be tactically useful in campaigns like that against the Islamic State, alliance with repressive Arab regimes ultimately does more harm than good to US strategic interests.”
Advice for Obama: Seek an alliance with businesspeople and clerics
A report submitted by an expert on the affairs of the region to the White House recently quoted a Saudi source as saying that ISIS rules in the same way as the House of Saud, and on the same premises, therefore threatening the Saudi regime and the legitimacy of the ruling family, being a Sunni group that is spreading terror and recruiting supporters in an unchecked manner.
The report’s author argued that moderate Sunni support for the US-led campaign on ISIS was not guaranteed, and that Washington would be mistaken to believe that this support has to come from Saudi or the UAE, because Sunnis in Iraq and Syria would not wait for what the monarchies in the Gulf will say, but will look more inwardly. The author proposed that the White House and Washington, in the course of the war on ISIS, to resort to conservative and moderate Islamists, clerics, and dignitaries who represent Sunni businesses and interests, as well as leading families in cities.
LONDON — Breakfast last week in New York with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was a cordial affair, bereft of the fireworks of his predecessor, whose antics made headlines and not much more. Rouhani, flanked by his twinkly-eyed foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was composed, lucid and, on the whole, conciliatory. He said a nuclear accord was doable by the deadline of Nov. 24 “if there is good will and seriousness.” He revealed that he had spoken last year with President Obama about “a number” of possible areas of collaboration in the event of an accord. He did not underplay the difficulties, or the implacability of a deal’s opponents in Iran and the United States, but suggested the “short-lived dustbowl” thrown up by any resolution would dissipate as win-win awareness grew. He even alluded to the aroma of roses. It was a polished performance full of the subtleties intrinsic to the Iranian mind. The question, as always with Iran, is what precisely it meant.
The interim agreement with Iran, reached in November 2013, has had many merits. Iran has respected its commitments, including a reduction of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and a curbing of production. The deal has brought a thaw in relations between the United States and Tehran; once impossible meetings between senior officials are now near routine.
The rapid spread over the past year of the Sunni jihadist movement that calls itself Islamic State has underscored the importance of these nascent bilateral relations: ISIS is a barbarous, shared enemy whose rollback becomes immeasurably more challenging in the absence of American-Iranian understanding. Allies need not be friends, as the Soviet role in defeating Hitler demonstrated. President Obama’s war against ISIS makes war with Iran more unthinkable than ever. Absent a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful,” in the words of last year’s accord, the drumbeat for such a war would almost certainly resume. From Jerusalem to Washington countless drummers are ready.
It is critical that this doable deal get done, the naysayers be frustrated, and a rancorous American-Iranian bust-up not be added to the ambient mayhem in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic, 35 years after the revolution, is — like it or not — a serious and stable power in an unstable region. Its highly educated population is pro-Western. Its actions and interests are often opposed to the United States and America’s allies, and its human rights record is appalling, but then that is true of several countries with which Washington does business.
An important recent report from The Iran Project — whose distinguished signatories include Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Thomas Pickering, Ryan Crocker, John Limbert (the former U.S. hostage in Tehran), Joseph Nye and William Luers — put the U.S. strategic interest in a deal well: “There is a strong link between settling the nuclear standoff and America’s ability to play a role in a rapidly changing Middle East.” A nuclear agreement, the report said, “will help unlock the door to new options.” From Syria to Afghanistan by way of Iraq, those options are urgently needed.
For them to be opened up, a workable narrative has to be found, one that satisfies Congress that Iran’s road to a bomb has been sealed off through curtailment and rigorous inspection of the nuclear program, and satisfies Iran’s hard-liners that the country’s ability to develop nuclear power for peaceful use has not been permanently infringed or its rights as a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons irrevocably curtailed. That is a tall order. But subtlety and ingenuity are no strangers at this table. Both sides have an enormous amount to lose if talks fail.
Obama has put his personal prestige behind this effort. Collapse would amount to another Middle Eastern failure for him. He knows that the sanctions drive against Iran would likely unravel in the event of failure, as cooperation with Europe, Russia and China frays. He would be pushed once again toward military action against Iran. (Of course, he would also prefer to concentrate visible progress in the talks between Nov. 4 and Nov. 24, so that Republicans cannot brandish “softness” on Iran against the Democrats in the midterm elections.)
The difficulties are considerable. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told me, “Those we talk to can’t deliver and those who can deliver can’t talk to us.” Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who does not do New York breakfasts, is a hard-liner. On issues from the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to the duration of any deal, the two sides differ. Sadjadpour believes “managed irresolution” is the best that can be hoped for, a failure that preserves some gains. I think failure would be unmitigated: Renewed estrangement, war drift. A deal can and must be done for the simple reason it is far better — for Iran, the United States, Europe and Israel — than any of the alternatives.
Hundreds of young women and girls are leaving their homes in western countries to join Islamic fighters in the Middle East, causing increasing concern among counter-terrorism investigators.
Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media.
Women and girls appear to make up about 10% of those leaving Europe, North America and Australia to link up with jihadi groups, including Islamic State (Isis). France has the highest number of female jihadi recruits, with 63 in the region – about 25% of the total – and at least another 60 believed to be considering the move.
In most cases, women and girls appear to have left home to marry jihadis, drawn to the idea of supporting their “brother fighters” and having “jihadist children to continue the spread of Islam”, said Louis Caprioli, former head of the French security agency Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire. “If their husband dies, they will be given adulation as the wife of a martyr.”
Five people, including a sister and brother, were arrested in France earlier this month suspected of belonging to a ring in central France that specialised in recruiting young French women, according to Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister.
Counter-terrorism experts in the UK believe about 50 British girls and women have joined Isis, about a tenth of those known to have travelled to Syria to fight. Many are believed to be based in Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city that has become an Isis stronghold.
Those identified by researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College London are mainly aged between 16 and 24. Many are university graduates, and have left behind caring families in their home countries. At least 40 women have left Germany to join Isis in Syria and Iraq in what appears to be a growing trend of teenagers becoming radicalised and travelling to the Middle East without their parents’ permission.
“The youngest was 13-years-old,” Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the Rheinische Post. “Four underage women left with a romantic idea of jihad marriage and married young male fighters who they had got to know via the internet.”
In Austria, the case of two teenage friends, Samra Kesinovic, 16, and Sabina Selimovic, 15, who ran away from their homes in Vienna to join jihadis in Syria, may be “only the tip of the iceberg”, said Heinz Gärtner, director of the Austrian Institute for International Politics. An estimated 14 women and girls are known to have left Austria to fight in the Middle East, according to the interior ministry.
The US does not have available data on women and girls joining Isis fighters in Syria, a senior intelligence official said in an emailed statement. “We do not have numbers to share on the number of women linked to [Isis] or fighting for them,” the official said.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counter-terrorism expert at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, downplayed the issue in the US, saying the number of women and girls joining Isis was of concern, but not an epidemic. “It’s a threat, but it’s [one] among many potential threats coming out of Syria,” he said.
Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.
“There’s a certain fascination even with the head and throat-cutting. It’s an adventure.” Some may feel more respected and important than in their home countries, he added.
But Shaista Gohir, of the UK Muslim Women’s Network, said little was known about the young women’s motivation or what happened to them after leaving home. “Some of these girls are very young and naive, they don’t understand the conflict or their faith, and they are easily manipulated. Some of them are taking young children with them; some may believe they are taking part in a humanitarian mission,” she said.
Social media plays a crucial role in recruiting young women to join Isis in the Middle East, according to many experts.
Some British women and girls have posted pictures of themselves carrying AK-47s, grenades and in one case a severed head, as they pledge allegiance to Isis. But they are also tweeting pictures of food, restaurants and sunsets to present a positive picture of the life awaiting young women in an attempt to lure more from the UK.
Mia Bloom, a security studies professor at Massachusetts University and author of Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, said the recruitment campaign painted a “Disney-like” picture of life in the caliphate. Some young women were offered financial incentives, such as travel expenses or compensation for bearing children.
Women already living amid Isis fighters used social media adeptly to portray Syria as a utopia and to attract foreign women to join their “sisterhood in the caliphate”, she said. “The idea of living in the caliphate is a very positive and powerful one that these women hold dear to their heart.”
But the reality was very different, she said. Both Bloom and Rolf Tophoven, director of Germany’s Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy, said reports indicated that women had been raped, abused, sold into slavery or forced to marry. “[Isis] is a strictly Islamist, brutal movement … the power, the leadership structure, are clearly a male domain,” said Tophoven.
Messages between a British Isis fighter in Syria and his common-law wife, read in a UK court last month, revealed that many fighters are taking several wives.
“For example, the United Nations last month estimated that [Isis] has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that [Isis] abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse.
“Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of [Isis] fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.”
• Nora el-Bathy was an ordinary French schoolgirl who wanted to be a doctor. She was 15 but looked young for her age: a slight, smiling youngster in jeans and trainers posing for a photograph under the Eiffel Tower.
When Nora left her family home in the southern French city of Avignon one morning last January, with her school bag, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But, when her classes ended that day, Nora did not return home. Instead, she took a train to Paris, withdrew €550 (£430) from her savings account and changed her mobile phone to cover her tracks. She boarded a flight for flew to Istanbul, and from there took an second internal flight to the Syrian border.
Back in Avignon, her parents – practising but not strict Muslims – reported Nora missing to the police.
Her eldest brother, Fouad, trawled local hospitals convinced she had been in an accident, searched his sister’s bedroom, and examined her Facebook account for clues. There were none, except her hijab, which she had started wearing a few months before, in the wardrobe.
It was only when Fouad quizzed her closest school friends that the reason for Nora’s disappearance emerged.
The el-Bathy family discovered that found she had opened a second Facebook account where she was in contact with “jihad recruiters” in the Paris region and had posted videos of women appealing for recruits to go to Syria. In one picture, a completely veiled woman, brandishing a Kalashnikov, appeared with the caption: “Yes, kill! In the name of Allah,” in French.
Fouad, a former French soldier, was devastated. “She had a second Facebook account on which she spoke of making hijra [going to live in an Islamic country], and a second mobile phone to call the ‘sisters’,” Fouad told his local paper.
Nora had begun talking of wearing the full veil and of helping the wounded in Syria, particularly children; and shortly before she disappeared, she asked her parents if she could have her passport, claiming she had lost her identity card.
But nobody in the el-Bathy family imagined she was planning to run away to war. “We absolutely didn’t see what was coming,” Fouad said.
Three days after her disappearance, Nora telephoned her family. Police traced the calls to the Turkish-Syrian border. She told them she was fine, eating well, happy and that she did not want to return to France.
She also sent Fouad a text message to say she had arrived in Aleppo, Syria, and that she “preferred being there”. The family received two further phone calls: one from a man speaking Arabic and a second from a man speaking French. The caller asked them to give their permission for Nora to marry. Her parents refused.
Fouad decided to go to Syria to rescue his sister, but was turned back at the Turkish border. While there, he received a call from Nora. In the brief conversation, she described how she had learned to shoot, but promised she would not be fighting.
Fouad later succeeded in getting to Syria and seeing Nora. Afterwards, he said she had told him: “‘I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.’
“She was thin and sick. She never sees any light. With other women she has to look after young children, orphans, but she lives surrounded by armed men.”
The el-Bathy family is now taking legal action for their daughter’s kidnap, believing that while Nora went to Syria of her own free will, she had been brainwashed by extremists.
Their lawyer, Guy Guénoun, told journalists that her recruitment and disappearance appeared to have been well planned. “It’s obvious she’s been taken in hand by a very intelligent and structured network,” he said.
The girls – whose parents came to the UK as refugees from Somalia – passed their GCSEs last summer after attending Whalley Range high school for girls in Manchester and went on to study at Connell sixth-form college.
They left home in the middle of the night and were reported missing by their parents. Now both are reportedly married to Isis fighters.
A social-media account believed to belong to Zahra shows her in a full veil posing with an AK-47 and kneeling in front of the Isis flag. Recent postings describe how she had lost her kitten, after her husband threw it outside.
Mahmood, 20, has described the difficulty of telephoning her parents from the Turkish border to tell them she wanted to become a martyr and would see them again on judgment day.
In her blog she wrote: “The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. Your parents are already worried enough over where you are, wether [sic] you are okay and what’s happened.
“How does a parent who has little Islamic knowledge and understanding comprehend why their son or daughter has left their well-off life, education and a bright future behind to go live in a war-torn country.”
In a post earlier this month she described the type of young women who, like her, had joined Isis from all over the world.
“Most sisters I have come across have been in university studying courses with many promising paths, with big, happy families and friends, and everything in the Dunyah [material world] to persuade one to stay behind and enjoy the luxury. If we had stayed behind, we could have been blessed with it all from a relaxing and comfortable life and lots of money. Wallahi [I swear] that’s not what we want.”
She made a direct appeal on 11 September this year for others to join her. “To those who are able and can still make your way, hasten hasten to our lands … This is a war against Islam and it is known that either ‘you’re with them or with us’. So pick a side.”
Earlier this month her parents, Muzaffar and Khalida Mahmood, publicly appealed for their daughter, who was privately educated and went to university, to return home. Her father said: “If our daughter, who had all the chances and freedom in life, could become a bedroom radical then it’s possible for this to happen to any family.”
Shannon Conley’s plan to serve as a nurse for Islamic State militants in Syria ended in April when the Colorado teenager was arrested on the runway at Denver airport.
A 19-year-old nurse’s aide, Conley had converted to Islam. According to court documents, her family was shocked to find she was interested in “violent jihad”.
Conley was reported to police in October 2013 by a local pastor, after church staff became suspicious of her. For the next five months, Conley had a series of open conversations with undisguised federal agents, during which she repeatedly told them she intended to “wage jihad” overseas. “She also intended to train Islamic jihadi fighters in US military tactics,” the complaint said.
Agents said they attempted to dissuade her from taking up the violent cause, even suggesting she turn to humanitarian efforts instead.
Conley told investigators she planned to marry an Isis member she met online in early 2014. Agents believe this man is 32-year-old Yousr Mouelhi of Tunisia.
Mouelhi reportedly encouraged her to receive additional training so she could assist fighters once she arrived in Syria. In February, she attended a US army Explorers cadet training camp in Texas to learn US military tactics and practice shooting. In March, Mouelhi organised Conley’s flight, arranging for her to travel from Denver to Germany, and then to Turkey. At the time of her arrest, Conley was carrying a list of contacts, a National Rifle Association certificate and a first aid manual. In her bedroom, investigators found literature on al-Qaida and other jihadi groups.
Earlier this month, Conley pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaida and other terror groups such as Isis. She faces up to five years in a US prison and a $250,000 (£154,000) fine.
The images of two young smiling schoolgirls – Samra Kesinovic, 16, and her friend Sabina Selimovic, 15 – have become symbols of Austria’s concern about young people being radicalised and going to fight in Syria.
The girls, whose families came to Austria from Bosnia, ran away from their Vienna homes in April to fight in the “holy war”, telling their families in a note: “Don’t look for us. We will serve Allah – and we will die for him.”
It is thought the girls were radicalised after attending a local mosque run by a radical preacher, Ebu Tejma. Samra’s school confirmed that before her disappearance she had been a vocal advocate of the “holy war”’, writing “I love al-Qaida” around the school.
Recent reports in Austrian media suggested that one of the girls had died, although police have not been able to confirm this and it was contradicted by a WhatsApp message from Sabina to friends that said: “Neither of us are dead.”
Police believe both the girls were married to Chechen fighters shortly after arriving in Syria and it is suspected that they are both now pregnant, as their names on social media have been changed to include Umm, the Arabic word for ‘“mother”. However, Austrian police have warned that it is likely their social media accounts are being controlled by men.
Samra and Sabina have been described as “jihad poster girls” whose story is inspiring other young women to join the holy war; earlier in September the government said they stopped two other young girls – a 14- and 15-year-old – from leaving the country on their way to fight. Authorities said they had been lured by “false promises” of a beautiful country and houses and had no intention of carrying out terrorist acts, although it was reported that one of the girls said she wanted “to support Isis – it doesn’t matter where”.
In October 2013, Sarah O, 15, did not come home from school in Konstanz, southern Germany. Her father reported her missing two days later. Soon after, she posted pictures of herself on various social-media sites holding a machine gun, wearing a burqa and black gloves. She said she was being trained to use the gun, and that her day consisted of “Sleeping, eating, shooting, learning, listening to lectures.” She also wrote: “By the way, I’ve joined al-Qaida.”
Sarah, who is half German, half Algerian, called her father a few weeks later with a young man, Ismail S, an Isis fighter from Germany. He asked her father for permission to marry Sarah; the father refused, demanding that she return home. She stayed in Syria and married Ismail in January.
REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House Last year President Obama held a historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was the first time leaders of the countries had spoken in over 30 years. Both Presidents have sunk significant political capital into the success of the talks.
Since November 2013, the Obama administration has engaged with Iran in tense, drawn-out nuclear negotiations which optimists hope could bring an end to decades of hostility and mistrust.
Throughout it all, Congress has threatened to play the spoiler, with a tough sanctions bill passing the House and looming in the Senate which would almost certainly scuttle the fragile talks over the Iranian nuclear program.
Now, as the deadline for the end of the talks approaches, a coalition of legislators, advocacy groups, and White House officials are working to hold Congress back from the brink of thwarting what they see as a historic window of opportunity. They’re fighting against legislators and conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation and The Free Enterprise Institute who are pushing for the US to take a hawkish stance.
Legislators, led by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, have been maneuvering quietly behind the scenes in Congress to keep the talks alive. At the same time, officials from the White House have been leaning heavily on Senate Democrats to refrain from bringing a sanctions bill to the floor.
On the outside, a diverse range of pro-diplomacy groups, led by organisations like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the liberal Jewish organization J Street, have found a common cause and rallied together to lobby for restraint. Even the Quakers are energized
NIAC Unconventional Allies: Trita Parsi, founder of the NIAC with Dylan Williams, Director of Government Affairs at J Street.
“This is a do-or-die moment, either we succeed, or we go in a much more negative direction,” said NIAC co-founder Trita Parsi at the group’s annual conference last weekend.
Parsi sees the negotiations as a historic moment during a narrow window of opportunity. Presidents on both sides have sunk significant time and energy into the talks and Parsi believes the current leadership in both countries is more likely to make a deal than those who came before — or might come after.
“The next president, whatever political party they’re in, is not going to spend precious political capital battling Congress… [Obama] is the guy,” Parsi said.
Supporters fear that failure of the talks could trigger increased sanctions, the rise of hardliners in Iran, and relations spiraling toward military confrontation.
For his part, Congressman Ellison said he was urging fellow members to restrain from exploiting domestic fears with inflammatory rhetoric.
“What you say on the floor of the house in Washington DC is going to be heard in Tehran,” he told the NIAC conference.
NIAC Representative Keith Ellison says J Street is crucial in convincing legislators that there’s more than one way to be a friend to Israel.
Some of the organizations that support the talks have been working on grassroots campaigning while others are utilizing personal connections at higher levels.
“There’s been a perception for decades now in Washington DC, that if you step out of line on Middle East issues, in the sense that you fail to enunciate the most hawkish issues, there will be a significant punishment,” said Dylan Williams, Director of Government Affairs at J Street.
William’s told the conference that while the perception certainly existed, the reality was false. More than 80 significant political donors had written to political leaders to warn them against disrupting the ongoing negotiations, Williams said.
“It is in both Israel’s and America’s interests to ensure that diplomacy succeed… the vast majority of Jewish Americans understand that and the vast major to Jewish Americans support that,” Williams added.
Congressman Ellison said the role of J Street was critical to “helping congress see that there is more than one way to be a friend of Israel.”
AP President Rouhani has spoken of the US—Iranian relationship as an an “old wound, which must be healed.” The reformist president will likely loose influence to Iranian hardliners if negotiations fail.
As well as pushing back against increased sanctions, the groups have been responsive to diplomatic hiccups, and have been fastidiously laying the groundwork for a potential deal. The deadline for the talks runs out Nov. 24.
Williams said J Street was committed to seeing diplomacy succeed. Supporters must “make sure congress doesn’t screw it up at the eleventh hour,” Williams said.
For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has suggested the “short-lived dustbowl” kicked-up by opponents of the negotiations would dissipate as awareness a deal could be a win-win grows on both sides.
Congressman Ellison says representatives have to be prepared for compromises in the deal, “it doesn’t matter if you’re negotiating international diplomacy or buying a cow, you never get everything you want, that’s the nature of a deal.”
Urging congressional support, Ellison said, “Whatever comes out of the deal on November 24, it’s better — in my opinion — than what is going on now.”
Senator McCain mentioned Elizabeth O’Bagy’s op-ed during the Senate hearings, when he wasn’t playing poker, and tweeted it. That should come as no surprise, considering that O’Bagy is credited with arranging McCain’s infamous photo op with the Syrian rebel leadership.
The Wall Street Journal lists O’Bagy’s role as the Institute for the Study of War. It leaves out the fact that she is the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force making her an activist.
O’Bagy doesn’t matter much. She’s a friendly Western face plastered over a foreign organization. Of more interest is Mouaz Moustafa, the smiling man in the Keffiyah on the far right of McCain in this photo.
Mouaz Moustafa is a Palestinian Arab and the Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force which arranged for McCain’s visit.
Senator McCain called Moustafa a “patriot”, but it’s not clear which country he’s a patriot of, since it’s not Mouaz Moustafa’s first time around on the regime change bus tour.
Before the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Moustafa was the Executive Director of the Libyan Council of North America, which like the SETF existed to help push regime change. Before that, he mentions working with “rebels” in Egypt. On his Twitter feed, he denounces the overthrow of Morsi making it rather clear which side he was on.
His Twitter account frequently features anti-Israel material, including calls for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. On his YouTube account, he “liked” a video featuring Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, “crying while praying”.
He also Favorited an anti-Israel video from a channel titled “JewsExposed”
Predating his international period, Mouaz Moustafa did stints as a Field Organizer for the Democratic National Committee and a senate staffer. On Instagram, he calls himself a Freelance Revolutionary.
Mouaz Moustafa, patriot of four countries, none of which is the United States, appears to be holding McCain’s hand on Syria through the Syrian Emergency Task Force. And the Syrian Emergency Task Force appears to be funded by “prominent” Syrians in the United States. It’s not technically a foreign organization. Technically.
And that’s just from a casual glance at a disturbingly incomplete list of names and functions.
Mouaz Moustafa’s message is that United States must arm the Syrian terrorists without asking questions, and claims that most of the Al-Nusra Front’s members are not really Al Qaeda or enemies of America.
“Let’s look at the Jabhat al-Nusra. Didn’t exist, then existed. Came up to numbers [of] about 5,000 or 6,000. Then we put them on a terrorist list — increase their profile and people stood with them. I think the way they were thinking is, ‘you don’t support us, you don’t give us arms, you don’t give us anything, but then you tell us whose good and whose bad within us?’ So first support, then dictate.”
While advocating for greater intervention in Syria, Moustafa says he has gone to Tampa to meet with Central Command, to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and to the White House “every couple of months” to meet with staff of the National Security Council.
And if you are wondering who is sorting through the Syrian morass to find groups that are suitable for American aid — in other words, not members of al-Qaida — Moustafa says it’s a task his group performs as well.
“What we try to do is make sure is that the aid is going from the State Department is going to the right people,” he said.
And these are the politicians he claims are most helpful to his cause
Among the legislators who have been most helpful to his cause, he said, are McCain, New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, as well as Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
It’s strange that no one has called attention to the fact that a group headed by people with such extreme ties and beliefs is dominating American foreign policy on Syria and controlling the itinerary of senior senators like McCain.
CAMBRIDGE, England — IN the last few years, there has been a dramatic rise of a seemingly new type of polity: the Islamic rebel state. Boko Haram in West Africa, the Shabab in East Africa, the Islamic Emirate in the Caucasus and, of course, the Islamic State in the Middle East, known as ISIS, or ISIL — these movements not only call for holy war against the West, but also use their resources to build theocracies.
Though in some respects unprecedented, these groups also have much in common with the Islamic revivalist movements of the 18th century, such as the Wahhabis on the Arabian Peninsula and the great jihadist states of the 19th century. They waged jihad against non-Muslim powers, and at the same time sought to radically transform their own societies.
One of the first groups to engage in anticolonial jihad and state-building was the fighters led by Abd al-Qadir, who challenged the French imperial invasion of North Africa in the 1830s and 1840s. Qadir declared himself “commander of the faithful” — the title of a caliph — and founded an Islamic state in western Algeria, with a capital in Mascara, a regular army and an administration that enforced Shariah law and provided some public services. The state was never stable, nor did it ever encompass a clearly defined territory; it was eventually destroyed by the French.
Equally short lived was the Mahdist state in Sudan, lasting from the early 1880s to the late 1890s. Led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi (“redeemer”) Muhammad Ahmad, the movement called for jihad against their Egyptian-Ottoman rulers and their British overlords, and it established state structures, including a telegraph network, weapon factories and a propaganda apparatus. The rebels banned smoking, alcohol and dancing and persecuted religious minorities.
But the state was unable to provide stable institutions, and the economy collapsed; half of the population died from famine, disease and violence before the British Army, supported by Egyptians, crushed the regime in a bloody campaign, events chronicled in “The River War” by the young Winston Churchill, who served as an officer in Sudan.
The most sophisticated 19th-century Islamic rebel state was the Caucasian imamate. Its imams rallied the Muslims of Chechnya and Dagestan into a 30-year holy war against the Russian empire, which sought to subdue the region. During the struggle, the rebels forced the mountain communities into a militant imamate, executing internal opponents and imposing Shariah law, segregation of the sexes, bans on alcohol and tobacco, restriction on music, and the enforcement of strict dress codes — all hugely unpopular measures. Czarist troops confronted the imamate with extreme brutality, eventually shattering it.
In all of these cases, there were two distinct, though intertwined, conflicts, one against non-European empires and one against internal enemies, and both struggles were combined with state-building. This pattern is in fact not unique to the emergence of Islamic rebel states. The sociologist Charles Tilly once identified war as one of the most crucial forces in the formation of states: The foundation of a centralized government becomes necessary to organize and finance the armed forces.
At the same time, Islam was at the center of these movements. Their leaders were religious authorities, most of them assuming the title “commander of the faithful”; their states were theocratically organized. Islam helped unite fractured tribal societies and served as a source of absolute, divine authority to enhance social discipline and political order, and to legitimize war. They all preached militant Islamic revivalism, calling for the purification of their faith, while denouncing traditional Islamic society, with its more heterodox forms of Islam, as superstitious, corrupt and backward.
Today’s jihadist states share many of these features. They emerged at a time of crisis, and ruthlessly confront internal and external enemies. They oppress women. Despite the groups’ ferocity, they have all succeeded in using Islam to build broad coalitions with local tribes and communities. They provide social services and run strict Shariah courts; they use advanced propaganda methods.
If anything, they differ from the 19th-century states in that they are more radical and sophisticated. The Islamic State is perhaps the most elaborate and militant jihad polity in modern history. It uses modern state structures, including a hierarchically organized bureaucracy, a judicial system, madrasas, a vast propaganda apparatus and a financial network that allows it to sell oil on the black market. It uses violence — mass executions, kidnapping and looting, following a rationale of suppression and wealth accumulation — to an extent unknown in previous Islamic polities. And unlike its antecedents, its leaders have global aspirations, fantasizing about overrunning St. Peter’s in Rome.
And yet those differences are a matter of degree, rather than kind. Islamic rebel states are overall strikingly similar. They should be seen as one phenomenon; and this phenomenon has a history.
Created under wartime conditions, and operating in a constant atmosphere of internal and external pressure, these states have been unstable and never fully functional. Forming a state makes Islamists vulnerable: While jihadist networks or guerrilla groups are difficult to fight, a state, which can be invaded, is far easier to confront. And once there is a theocratic state, it often becomes clear that its rulers are incapable of providing sufficient social and political solutions, gradually alienating its subjects.
In this light, the international community should continue to check the expansion of groups like the Islamic State, and intervene to prevent widespread human rights abuses. But given that the United States and its allies are unlikely to commit the massive military resources necessary to defeat the Islamic State — let alone other jihadist states — the best policy might be one of containment, support of local opponents and then management of the groups’ possible collapse.
We need to recognize what these groups really are. Referring to them as a “cancer,” as President Obama has, is understandable from an emotional standpoint, but simplifies and obscures the phenomenon. Jihadist states are complex polities and must be understood in the context of Islamic history.
BAGHDAD — Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite cleric, on Friday urged vigilance against Western political interference in Iraqi affairs but stopped short of opposing the American-led military campaign against the extremists of the Islamic State.
“All political leaders of the country must be aware and awake to prevent the external assistance against the Islamic State from becoming an entrance to breach Iraq’s independence,” Ayatollah Sistani said. “Cooperation with the international effort shall not be taken as a pretext to impose foreign decisions on events in Iraq, especially military events.”
His carefully balanced comments, in a statement read by his spokesman at Friday Prayer in the Iraqi city of Karbala, underscored the challenge facing the United States and its allies in their efforts to push back the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, without bolstering or antagonizing rival Shiite factions.
The ayatollah’s comments came shortly after the office of President François Hollande of France announced that French fighter jets had carried out their first attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq, fulfilling his pledge a day earlier to join the international military campaign against the group.
In recent days, a handful of other Iraqi Shiite leaders or militias with closer ties to Iran have made statements expressing more wariness or opposition to the American-led military efforts, and American officials have said the Iranian proxies may be seeking to remind the Western states that Tehran, too, should be taken into account. On Friday, the Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr, another influential voice with ties to Iran, called for a demonstration in Baghdad on Saturday to protest a potential incursion by American ground forces.
But Ayatollah Sistani, considered both independent and uniquely popular here, was more judicious. While he warned Iraqis to guard against foreign interference, he also appeared to endorse the idea that foreign help may be required to successfully engage the Sunni extremists.
“Iraq may be in need of assistance from its friends and brothers to combat black terrorism,” Ayatollah Sistani said. But he insisted that for Iraq, “preserving its sovereignty and independence must be the most important thing and must be taken into consideration.”
He also appealed for intersectarian solidarity in the fight against the extremists by specifically urging support for Dhuluiya, a Sunni town that has held out for months against a siege by the Sunni extremists. “Our brave Iraqi forces should help and defend Dhuluiya,” he said, “because its people are our brothers and they are the sons of our country.”
Elsewhere, French Rafale warplanes struck a logistics depot belonging to the Islamic State in northeastern Iraq on Friday. Mr. Hollande said in a statement, “The objective was hit and entirely destroyed.”
Mr. Hollande said other operations would take place in the coming days.
Remarking on the violent tactics employed by the Sunni militants, who have conquered wide areas of Iraq and Syria, Mr. Hollande said Thursday at a news conference in Paris that the group had been able to grow partly because the international community had failed to intervene. But he emphasized that France’s role would be limited to providing air support, including strikes, in Iraq.
dicated that France would not expand its mission into Syria, and French officials have made it clear that the government does not want to give the impression that it supports the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad.
France was a vociferous opponent of the American-led effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, and analysts say the French public remains wary of sustained Western intervention in the region. Mr. Hollande, whose domestic political approval rating has hit a low of 13 percent amid persistent economic troubles, has framed the fight against Islamic State as important for French national security.
In Washington, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said American troop levels in Iraq could increase as Iraqi security forces and Kurdish pesh merga fighters press their fight to retake territory seized by the Islamic State.
General Odierno, who served as the top American military commander in Iraq, said the 1,600 American troops who are currently on the ground in Iraq was “a good start.” He added, “I don’t think there’s a rush — a rush to have lots of people in there now.” But during a breakfast meeting with reporters, he did not rule out the possibility of sending more American military advisers to Iraq.
President Obama has repeatedly said that he will not send American ground combat troops to Iraq.
In northern Syria, an Islamic State offensive has driven thousands of Syrian Kurds from their homes, with many fleeing across the border into Turkey on Friday, prompting a call by an Iraqi Kurdish leader for international intervention.
In recent days, extremist fighters seized villages in northern Syria, officials said, and on Friday were attacking the mainly Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, on the Turkish border, news services reported.
“I’d like to ask the international community to take every measure as soon as possible to save Kobani,” Massoud Barzani, president of the largely autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, said in a statement. The militants, he said, “have to be hit and defeated wherever they are.”
BEIRUT, Lebanon — They are sworn enemies who insist they will never work together, but in practice, Hezbollah and the United States are already working — separately — on a common goal: to stop the extremist Islamic State from moving into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the most powerful military and political player and currently shares with Washington an interest in stability.
Weeks after Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party, helped repel an Islamic State attack on the town of Arsal on the Syrian border, new American weapons are flowing to help the Lebanese Army — which coordinates with Hezbollah — to secure the frontier. American intelligence shared with the army, according to Lebanese experts on Hezbollah, has helped the organization stop suicide attacks on its domain in southern Beirut.
“The international community has an interest in isolating the Syria crisis,” Mohammad Afif, Hezbollah’s newly appointed head of public relations and a media adviser to its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said last week in a rare conversation. In the course of the informal hourlong meeting, he shed light on how the party views the often contradictory tangle of alliances and interests in Syria’s civil war, many of them in flux as President Obama contemplates expanding his military campaign against the Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.
“All have an interest to keep the peace” in Lebanon, Mr. Afif said, but added, “Everyone has their own ways.”
There are signs that Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, may see the fight against the Islamic State as an opportunity to gain legitimacy by making the case that it is standing against terrorism.
“We need to open up a new page with the world media, with the Arabs and internationally,” declared Mr. Afif, a former director of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel. He seemed to be starting the process by becoming the first senior Hezbollah official in years to speak at length with The New York Times, in the party’s bright, airy, new external media relations office.
Even the premises suggested a new attention to outreach. The department’s previous cramped quarters had contrasted more sharply with the gleaming studios of the Hezbollah-owned news media that speaks directly to its followers.
For now, though, Hezbollah officials are paying close and wary attention to what the United States is doing to repel the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in the region.
While skeptical of American intentions, they are waiting to see if they can benefit from American firepower turned against the most alarming new foe they have faced in years, say several Lebanese analysts with contacts in the group.
“What Hezbollah wants to see is a genuine, honest, sincere American military campaign against ISIS,” said Ali Rizk, an expert on Hezbollah who has translated some of Mr. Nasrallah’s speeches for the news channel al-Mayadeen. “But you have to stress the word genuine,” he said.
Hezbollah and the United States, deeply antagonistic over Israel and other regional issues, deny any hint of an alliance.
That is especially true in Syria, where even as both condemn extremists, their broader goals and views sharply diverge.
Hezbollah is an indispensable battlefield ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has long provided the group with a crucial conduit for arms from Iran. The United States is ramping up aid to relatively moderate Syrian insurgents bent on ousting Mr. Assad, and says it will not cooperate with him or his allies Iran and Hezbollah.
Mr. Afif, the Hezbollah official, emphasized that Syrian officials will view American attacks without coordination as aggression, and that Hezbollah disapproves of Lebanon’s entry into a United States-led coalition. But he added, “Of course, Syria benefits from hitting the terrorist groups.”
He spoke of the United States as having finally come to its senses about the threat of extremism in Syria. Though Syria’s conflict began with demonstrations and “just demands,” he said, extremism raised its head early, abetted by the West in its eagerness to oust Mr. Assad.
“We yelled, ‘Terror, terror, terror,’ and no one believed us,” Mr. Afif said. “Later, they find out this is the truth.”
He added, addressing Americans, “This beast which you raised up, as in past cases, you find it’s dangerous for you.”
As much as Hezbollah rejects American influence, its top priority right now, the analysts say, is to defeat the Islamic State. The group’s fighters may have shocked the West with the beheadings of two Americans and a Briton, but they have beheaded scores of Shiites, viewing them as apostates who deserve death. And the Islamic State is making inroads in poor and disenfranchised Sunni areas in Lebanon, a country with a freewheeling cultural diversity, a Shiite plurality and a large Christian population that all provide tempting targets.
That prospect troubles both Hezbollah and the West, which has long made Lebanon a focus of its interests in the Middle East.
One of Hezbollah’s main concerns is that the American effort, relying on allies like Saudi Arabia that Hezbollah views as propagators of extremism, will not be sufficiently serious, analysts say. Like Syrian officials, it wonders whether the real intention is to attack Mr. Assad’s forces.
“They are not counting on the Americans,” said Kamel Wazne, an analyst who studies Hezbollah and American politics.
But Mr. Rizk said that America’s entering the fray could bring not only de facto American collaboration with Hezbollah, but also covert coordination through intermediaries, perhaps Iraqi security forces.
He noted that a top Iraqi security official visited Damascus on Wednesday as the United States scrambled to build its anti-Islamic State coalition, and that in Iraq, American-backed Kurds have worked against the group with Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
While the United States cannot ally publicly with Hezbollah without angering allies and appearing to take sides against Syria’s Sunni majority, Mr. Rizk said, “What happens underneath is something totally different.”
With American drones in the air and Hezbollah fighters on the ground, he said, each can argue “there is not official coordination, but two people doing different things for the same goal.”
His view, Mr. Rizk said, is that “if the strikes are confined to ISIS, Hezbollah, even if it might not say so in public, would welcome them.”
Mr. Assad’s opponents blame Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria on behalf of the government, against a primarily Sunni uprising, for inflaming sectarian tensions and fueling Sunni extremism. Mr. Assad’s repressive government, they say, is the magnet bringing jihadists to Syria. But by the same token, the United States faces difficulties persuading the opposition to fight the Islamic State instead.
Hezbollah supporters argue that only it, along with Mr. Assad and Iran, can be counted on to fight extremists, in part because they are Shiites, and vulnerable as a minority Muslim sect. Pro-government fighters from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism that forms Mr. Assad’s base, are also increasingly rallying around Shiite identity, using Shiite religious symbols and slogans alongside Syrian flags.
Hezbollah has clashed little with Islamic State fighters in Syria, fighting around Damascus and near the Lebanese border, where the militant group is less prevalent. But it often fights the Nusra Front, the Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as well as less extreme, Syrian-led insurgents.
The analysts said Hezbollah might move its fighters east to battle the Islamic State in its strongholds, though Mr. Rizk said it would keep its role quiet and portray the fighting as being done by Syrian forces.
Mr. Wazne said the United States, having decided Sunni jihadists are its top threat in Syria, should rethink Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is not representing an imminent threat against the world,” he said. “It represents a threat against Israel, as Israel represents a threat against Lebanon. But Hezbollah is not going to threaten the U.S. and Europe. Nobody said Hezbollah is cutting off heads.”
Correction: September 25, 2014
An article on Monday about the ways that the United States and Hezbollah are trying to defeat the Islamic State, despite being long-time enemies, referred incorrectly to the work of Ali Rizk, an expert on Hezbollah, for the Lebanese news channel al-Mayadeen. He has acted as a translator for the network, not as an analyst. The article also described the Shiite share of Lebanon’s population incorrectly. Shiites are a plurality in the country, not a majority.Source:
The letter from the Speaker of the Syrian parliament, Mohamed Jihad al-Laham, asserts that the “moderate” Syrian opposition which the US has promised to aid and train is identical to the jihadi groups supporting Isis or Isil. What was called the “moderate opposition”, Mr Assad’s parliamentary Speaker writes, “sold to Isil the innocent, beheaded US journalist. There is nothing to prevent those groups from selling US weapons to Isil as … is their proven common practice.” Arming “non-state Islamic jihadi individuals”, the letter goes on, “is a clear violation of [UN] Security Council Resolution 2170 … that any co-operation to combat terrorism should be among the member states”.
Re-emphasising the inherent violent and intolerant nature of the Saudi regime, the Syrian letter says all “terrorists” are the product of “this Salafi, Wahhabi (Deobandi), jihadi ideology – from 9/11, to [the] Boston bombing, to the beheading of the two American journalists – beheading, which is a governmental legal practice in Saudi Arabia”. Mr Obama should not form any coalition outside UN Resolution 2170, “especially with states that have a conflict of interest due to their practised ideology.”
The letter may have been influenced by Khaled Mahjoub, a US citizen and Syrian businessman who is also a personal confidant of Bashar al-Assad, for it repeats Mr Mahjoub’s oft-quoted observation that only re-education of “terrorists’” families and communities through “loving Sufism” can rehabilitate those who use violence. Sufism, with its mystical poetry and its desire to find divine love, is regarded by many Syrians as the very opposite of “jihadism”; Sufi missionaries spread Islam into Africa and central Asia as well as India.
All of which is a far cry from the titanic civil war in Syria where “moderate” schools of Sufism take third place to military hardware and the Russian-Iranian alliance in the regime’s battle against Isis. In truth, Western intelligence agents have for many months now been in contact with their Syrian opposite numbers to secure the kind of collaboration in secret which the regime is now offering in public – though without, it has to be said, much success.
Earlier this month, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched a two-week offensive against Sunni Muslims in Iraq. ISIS is targeting Sunni tribes and residents that have refused to swear allegiance to ISIS.
ISIS’ campaign started on August 28. They issued a notice for the arrest of up to 30 Sunni leaders across Iraq. ISIS unleashed a pre-emptive campaign to get rid of Sunni leaders before they organised their fighters against ISIS. This has claimed over 100 Sunni lives.
The campaign claimed its first victims on September 4 when 40 Sunnis were abducted in Hawija, Kirkuk, a Sunni town in northern Iraq.
Four days later it launched an offensive to capture the Sunni city of Dulu’iyah, 90km north of Baghdad. ISIS penetrated the defences of the town, detonated a number of car bombs, launched mortar rockets and started to attack the defences of the local tribes.
As we go to print, Ra’d Jobouri, the Sunni Governor of Salahi Deen, asked the US to support his defence against ISIS in Dulu’iyah. (Link).
On September 11 ISIS kidnapped over 20 Sunni men, including tribal leaders, like prominent tribal leader Mahmoud Nadin al-Kaka, in Riyad district, near a Sunni town near Kirkuk. The following day ISIS killed three of the captured tribal leaders, with the fate of the rest still unknown.
September 12 saw ISIS kidnapping a further 50 Sunni Muslims in the Rashad district, neighbouring Riyad.
On September 13, intense fighting was reported in the town of Hawija, 60km west of Kirkuk, with 44 Sunnis reported dead.
In Miqdaddiyah, a Sunni city near Baghdad, ISIS kidnapped six Sunnis, including leading tribal figures.
Sheikh Alwan Timimi, a leading Sunni tribal figure, is leading a 500 man militia from the various local tribes against ISIS in Miqdaddiyah. (Link).
In Haditha, Anbar province, on the same day, Sunni tribes, with the support of air strikes from US and Iraqi fighter jets, led an offensive against ISIS. They were successful in capturing Barawanah. ISIS is seeking to capture the town so it could open a new logistics route from Syria to Baghdad.
Ahmed Dulaimi, the Sunni Governor of Anbar, western Iraq, was injured while leading the battle against ISIS in Barawanah. (Link).
On September 14 in al-Zab, northern Iraq, 60km south of Mosul and 200km north of Kirkuk, ISIS abducted two tribal leaders (Sheikh Satam Hamd Sa’ad and Sheikh Mohammed Hasan Saleh) outside Omar al-Khattab mosque.
ISIS often claims that it has come to “protect Sunni Muslims”. It claims legitimacy and manages to recruit a large number of fighters through this cause. If a large number of Sunni tribes go against ISIS, its fighters, who joined to protect the Sunni, will feel demoralised and leave.
ISIS is learning from its failures in Syria. The infighting between rebels in June claimed 7,000 lives, resulting in many fighters leaving. If ISIS pre-emptively gains control of all the Sunni regions, this would avoid a large scale, Syria-like, intra-Sunni war.
This is what Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, called ISIS’ “tribes strategy”.
If ISIS is successful in controlling Sunni areas, it will become difficult for Sunnis to organise their forces.
Without Sunnis it will be impossible for Iraqi Government to defeat ISIS using just Shi’a Muslim militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga. In 2006-2008, the US was not able to defeat Abu Musab Zarqawi’s al-Qa’ida without the help from Sunni tribes.
Iraq’s Sunnis are suffering the most from ISIS’ presence in Iraq. Nearly all the fighting is taking place in Iraq’s Sunni regions. Sunnis have seen their houses and livelihood destroyed with at least one million Sunnis becoming refugees.
Iraq’s Sunnis have always resisted ISIS but their pleas for justice and support from Iraqi Government fell on deaf ears. Empowering them politically and militarily would rid Iraq of ISIS.