By Zhao Jinglun
Beaver County Peace Links via China.org.cn
June 16, 2014 - All eyes are on Iraq, as the situation there is deteriorating fast.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda offshoot, captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a population of 1.5-2 million, and is pushing toward Baghdad.
Why has ISIL been successful so far despite the fact that it was outnumbered by Iraqi government's security forces 15 to one in the fight for Mosul.
Al-Maliki's Shiite dominated government pursues a repressive sectarian policy that has alienated the Sunni population, so Sunni tribes and townspeople support ISIL and join in the attacks on the Iraqi military, which is green, corrupt and demoralized. It just melted away under pressure of fierce fighting.
In contrast, ISIL led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since 2010, is battle-hardened as it has been involved in guerrilla war for two years. And it is way ahead on tactics. It keeps Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure by striking where security forces are weak and withdrawing where the government has concentrated its combat power.
Veteran journalist Robert Fisk reported that ISIL is bankrolled by Saudi Wahabis and Kuwaiti oligarchs. So far, the Saudis are keeping quiet, for a reason.
But in the last analysis it was the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which instead of bringing about democracy and the rule of law, greatly intensified sectarian conflicts.
Iraq, in effect, is splintering into three major groups: the Shiites who control the government; the Sunnis, who are the major opposition; and the Kurds, who took advantage of the confusion to seize the long-coveted oil city Kirkuk. All three have their own armed forces. The Kurdistan paramilitary Peshmergas now controls the whole of Kirkuk Province.
The U.S. efforts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad have given ISIL and other radical Islamic groups the space and means to fight in northern Syria and Iraq. ISIL has been heavily involved in fighting with more moderate Syrian rebels. It has gradually turned its attention to Raqqah and Deir el-Zour. The latter serves as a direct link with its established presence in western and northern Iraq, especially in Anbar Province. It is through this link that it transfers foreign fighters and captured Syrian equipment to Iraq.
The struggle has much wider implications:
U.S. President Barack Obama ended the Iraq war two and a half years ago and withdrew all American combat forces. But he cannot afford to allow ISIL to gain a firm foothold in Iraq, especially since this is the year of the mid-term elections. He declared: "My team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them [the Iraqis]". Washington has already stepped up shipments of military hardware to Baghdad. It may respond to Iraqi request for air strikes. The carrier USS George H.W. Bush is already in the Gulf. But Obama made it clear that the United States will not again commit boots on the ground.
Turkey and Iran may intervene to protect their interests, as 49 Turkish diplomats are still in the hands of ISIL. The Turkish government has also maintained an important stake in energy development in northern Iraq. It is increasingly concerned about the growing reach of ISIL, and has already clashed with militants on its border with Syria.
Tehran has repeatedly denied reports that two battalions of the al-Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been deployed in Iraq to guard the Shiite holy sites Najaf and Karbala, as well as the capital city Baghdad. But reports persist, even claiming that al-Quds Force commander General Qassem Suleimani is in Baghdad, leading the defense of the city.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country cannot tolerate the growth of terrorist groups so close to its borders. He even said that he envisions the effort to save Iraq's al-Maliki government from al-Qaeda as something his nation and the United States can agree with and cooperate on. But the Pentagon is not willing to acknowledge that.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, called on Iraqi men to enlist in the national army and fight ISIL. Thousands have responded. They are untrained, but would be better motivated.
Al-Maliki has also mobilized paramilitary forces, who are proving to be more effective fighters. They are already slowing the advance of ISIL.
Keeping the big picture in mind, it is clear the crisis in Iraq is a result of U.S. policy failure. But the situation is still salvageable provided the anti-terror forces pursue a correct course of action.
Note: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) Readers are referred to my earlier column "The Resurgence of al-Qaeda" (April 6, 2014).
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
The Resurgence of al-Qaeda
By Zhao Jinglun
China.org.cn, April 6, 2014
Three years ago, U.S. navy seals killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama gloated: "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaeda."
And on many occasions, he claimed that the al-Qaeda leadership has been decimated and that the operatives are on the run.
Yet today, al-Qaeda and like minded jihadists are stronger than ever. Its black flag is flying over Fallujah and much of the upper Euphrates valley, as it now controls the Sunni heartlands of northern Iraq.
In its fight against the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, its bombing campaign killed 9.500 people, mostly Shiite civilians, last year alone. A further 2006 were killed in the first two months of this year. It reinforced its ranks by attacking prisons. Its assault on Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in July last year freed 500 captives, many of them hardened fighters.
In Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) operates from the outskirts of Damascus to the border of Turkey. They are now the most powerful force fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Western-backed "moderate" Free Syrian Army has collapsed, as Jihadists overran their supply depots and killed their commanders.
The jihadists are fighting in Syria in the hope of establishing an Islamic caliphate under Sharia law.
The United States is now backing a Saudi plan to build a "Southern Front" based in Jordan against al-Qaeda in the north and east, with the "Yamouk Breigade" as the leading force in that new formation. But it has frequently fought in collaboration with Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate which has affirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. And a faction of Nusra is acting under the name of ISIS.
Al-Qaeda jihadists are not only active in Iraq and Syria, their resurgence is also evident in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt.
It is well-known who the pay masters of al-Qaeda jihadists are. Going back to the official 9/11 report which states that al-Qaeda relied for its financing on "a variety of donors and fundraisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia." In 2009, a cable from Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, revealed by WikiLeaks, says: "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."
Pakistan's military intelligence service, "Inter-Services Intelligence," (ISI) is another sponsor of al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, an alliance was formed between Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States which has proved durable.
Al-Qaeda has grown explosively by taking advantage of the instability created by the Afghan and Iraq wars, and later by the "Arab Spring." In other words, the U.S. "war on terror" has been counterproductive.
A sectarian struggle between the Sunnis and Shiites is spreading throughout the entire greater Middle East. In the case of Syria, each side is back by foreign forces with the Alawites (Shiites) backed by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah; and the Sunnis backed by the West and Gulf states.
It is supreme irony that Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, openly bankrolls al-Qaeda and is getting away with it. In fact even Washington itself shares the same cause with the jihadists, fighting the regime of al-Assad.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/zhaojinglun.htm