On December 27th 2015, the Iraqi forces tasted triumph when they recaptured the town of Ramadi from the clutches of the Islamic state(IS). Islamic state (IS) was Islamic state of Iraq and greater Syria(ISIS) at inception.
Vali Nazr in his book “The Shia revival” details the extent of divide that runs between the dominant two religions in Islam, the Shiah and Sunni. The book clearly reveals an ingrained sense of disdain between the two religions. A divide devoid of emotions, human and economic considerations.
To my knowledge, Islam has 5 different denominations: Shiah, Sunhi, Kurds, Alawites, Rohingyas. Alawites practices resemble that of Shiah. 75% of muslim population across the world is sunni, 10-15% is Shiah and the balance constitute the rest.
The world was given an impression that ISIS was a result of the Syrian civil war. On the contrary, the Syrian war added fuel to undercurrents of dissent that was already prevalent in the region. It was the declaration of the caliphate that succeeded the Syrian war and not the formation of ISIS.
The malefactors in the ISIS story are two countries Russia and Turkey. Russia for supporting Bashar al Asaad and and Turkey for allowing fighters to cross over to Syria. Russia has traditionally been an enemy to US in a quest to establish regional hegemony. Turkey, though a NATO ally does not harmonize well with US.
One event that has been conveniently omitted is the deposition of Saddam Hussein. The disbanding of his personal army and establishment of a rubber stamp government in Iraq, treated as the victory of democracy over tyranny, has been conveniently forgotten. The defectors were plausibly the strategic advantage that was given away to ISIS.
Saddam was a sunni muslim. The population of Iraq is 60-65% Shiah and 32-37% sunni and the rest were kurds who are mostly sunni. A clear case of minority ruling the majority, may not be by consensus, probably by force.
Areas around mosul, Tikrit(his home town) and Ramadi were replete with fertile agricultural land, oil wells, refineries, cement factories, wheat silos, salt mines and also loyal sunni muslims favoring the regime.
With the seizure of Mosul, the next big town to Baghdad, ISIS became the richest terror organization in history with access to large central banks and pipelines filled with abundant oil. Money spinning machinery bestowed on them.
Basher al asad belongs to alawites, a branch of Shiah Islam. The population of Syria is 74% Sunni and the remaining is Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians. A political parallel to iraq
The civil war in Syria broke out in 2011 against the tyrant Bashar-al-asad and his truculent regime. Russia was supporting the regime and US was supporting the rebel groups. Barack Obama procrastinated his intervention into Syria due to strategic reasons.
In fact, it was the ineptitude of the US army at construing the ground conditions that led to the delay in intervention. There were numerous factions fighting for and against the regime. There were a number of instances when US army erroneously bombed their allied groups mistaking them for asad’s army men.
Another caveat, some months into the war, ISIS managed to lure fighter contingents from both the rebels and asads army with the promise of monetary benefits and perks. The defected men hijacked modern weapon contingents into ISIS. As a result, ISIS was strengthened with advanced weaponry made by Russian as well as US.
The announcement of the caliphate converted ISIS to IS, an entity with a formal organization structure along with a full-fledged pay-roll system for their fighters. The compensation to the expat fighters is at-least 5-10 times higher than the local fighters along with perks such as accommodation in the seized bungalows. The pay-scale disparity will lead to mayhem sooner or later. As of now, IS has managed to clamp down dissent. 30% of IS fighters are expatriate.
The jingoism, cruelty and the operating style distances IS from any traditional terror outfit. This calls for an approach commensurate to the class of organization that IS belongs. Profound thinking, diligent planning and copious funding have nurtured its formation. US, Russia, UK, France whoever sends troops to fight them have to fathom the territorial threat that Iraq and Syria offers.
A vast network of tunnels built across the key cities of Iraq, during the Saddam regime and IS’s current possession of these is a critical strength. The Iraqi army has been vanquished numerous times because of this.
The absence of robust ground intelligence network is the challenge in Syria. Russia has long been an ally to Asad’s regime and whatever intelligence infrastructure is remaining, is under its possession. It was no surprise that Russia was successful in eliminating key target of IS compared to the US
Though the end of IS doesn’t seem imminent, few steps can surely deter its growth.
- Russia should be used as an arbitrator to achieve peace between Asad and the rebel camps
- OPEC should not be allowed to reduce oil production to revive the falling oil price
- The purchase of illegitimate oil from IS should be tapered. With nosediving oil prices, this will sharply affect their finances
- The arms lobby in the US and Russia should abstain from any direct or in direct business with IS and their allied outfits
- Finally, the clerics of both Shiah and Sunni islam should synergize and reach out to dissolve differences
Some of the recommendations involve long drawn processes and procedures. But unless preempted, the world will be filled with miseries emanating from different parts even in 2016.
In the words of Nicholas cage from the Lord of War, “there are two types of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want and other is getting it”. Let’s hope that IS is forced to settle with the former and not the latter.