How to stop ISIS, a group too hardline even for al-Qaida, in control of $3 Billion, 30,000 men and a lot of captured U.S. arms, with minds and hearts focused on the creation of a Sunni Fundamentalist Caliphate, is emerging as a most important topic among world leaders. The ISIS video of James Foley’s beheading is shocking in its cruelty and brutality and it seems to have ratcheted up the resolve to bring down the group and its incipient Caliphate. The question is how to do this.
WHAT IS IT?
Led by an Iraqi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isis (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – al-Sham in Arabic) has an well deserved reputation for brutality in Syria, and northern Iraq which it justifies as the will of God required of the Sunni Faithful to purge the world of heretics and infidels. The group employees mass execution, beheading, amputation, crucifixion and wide scale assassination of opposing leader and their families.
Isis has its roots in al-Qaida in Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was indirect at first but Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, an ISI member, established Jabhat al-Nusra in mid-2011, which became the main jihadi group in the Syrian war.
Baghdadi sought to gain influence over the increasingly powerful Jabhat al-Nusra but differences over ideology and strategy soon led to bitter infighting leading to a public repudiation by al-Qaida who called on Isis to leave Syria and return to Iraq.
HOW HAS IT GROWN SO POWERFUL?
Money. The oilfields of Syria, commandeered in 2012, funds from captured banks, the sale of Syrian antiquities, and the direct support of very wealthy sponsors in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent, Jordan and Turkey. Sometimes the support comes with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes. Often it takes advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states.
“Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it’s coming from the Arab Gulf,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Kuwait’s banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq.”
Arms. ISIS has been buying arms from the black market for years and it has plenty of money to do it. But, its invasion of Iraq resulted in a massive windfall of U.S. arms left behind by American force as part of its agreements with Iraq. The Iraq military abandoned huge stockpiles of weapons and ammo.
Zealotry. Baghdadi believes that the world’s Muslims should live under one Islamic state ruled by sharia law, the first step towards which is establishing a caliphate spanning Syria and Iraq. Many of those in leadership top tier are battle-hardened veterans of the insurgency against the US whose ideological purity is clear.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Doha, wrote in a paper last month: “Isis now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaida within the jihadi community and it has publicly challenged the legitimacy of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. As such it has increasingly become a transnational movement with immediate objectives far beyond Iraq and Syria.”
The Iraqis. The failure of Iraqi military forces to stand up to ISIS forces in the north not only resulted in the seizure of lots of territory, arms and money but it gave the ISIS forces an aura of invincibility and inevitability.
WHO/WHAT WILL STOP ISIS?
The “Iraqis”. With the removal of Prime Minister Maliki there will be efforts to create a real coalition government reflecting the Shia-Sunni-Kurd-Christian makeup of the country but there is little doubt that the Kurds are acting more and more as an independent power with the approval of Baghdad. Their armed forces, urged on by Shiite religious leaders and moderate Sunni religious leaders, will be the boots on the ground.
The U.S.. America will provide air power (manned and unmanned), intelligence, training and operations expertise, and arms.
Iran, the UK, France, Germany and ?. It appears that the U.S. and other European allies have been in discussions with Iran for several months. The Wall Street Journal continues to provide update on Washington talks with Tehran on ways to push back the militants. Whether this will extend to military coordination – US air strikes, or drone intelligence in support of Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Iraqi units – is up in the air. Iranian Revolutionary Guard were at the ready to defend Baghdad earlier in the summer and have provided tactical assistance.
Prime Minister David Cameron has noted that Britain must be prepared to ally itself with Iran to combat the “shared threat” of Sunni Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria who want to create “a terrorist state” that could extend to “the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Germany and France have now agreed to participate in arming anti-ISIS forces and to provide other logistical support.
The Home Countries of The ISIS Funders. Pressure is mounting on the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait et.al. to interdict the flow of cash from wealthy sympathizers and supporters to ISIS.
Islamic Religious Leadership. Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Iraq, Indonesia Ulem Council, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam of Egypt, IUMS (the International Union of Muslim Scholars), Mehmet Gormez of Turkey and a host of others have condemned ISIS for a variety of behaviors including the destruction of mosques, shrines and threats to destroy holy cities including Mecca and Medina.
In the U.S., CAIR (The Council on America-Islamic Relations) has made its position clear: “American Muslims view the actions of ISIS as un-Islamic and morally repugnant. No religion condones the murder of civilians, the beheading of religious scholars or the desecration of houses of worship. We condemn the actions of ISIS and reject its assertion that all Muslims are required to pay allegiance to its leader. CAIR strongly urges American imams and other community leaders to continue to speak out against American Muslims traveling abroad to join extremist groups and sectarian militias. While ISIS uses romanticized imagery in its propaganda materials, its human rights abuses on the ground are well-documented.”
Cross-posted at Daily Kos, and Yabberz.