Tag Archives: Sunni

Commentary: Coming To Your Neighborhood — ISIS

Today it is hard to keep up with the headlines and to form rational responses. Though neither you nor I are making decisions that will affect our government; we are seeking information to regulate our emotions and intellectual responses to events as they unfold. Do we moan, do we cheer; do we reach out to text? Do we rant on Facebook? And in the midst of the United States’ political-constitutional-tornado there is international violence. ISIS is high on that list.

As you turn to any map of the turmoil created by ISIS, the very first thing you will notice is that on the ground their control has diminished and continues to do so drastically. Yet their attacks and battles rage on—on two fronts, as I will later discuss. A year ago it was reported that ISIS had lost at least three Syrian cities and towns within a short six weeks. That trend has escalated. On the ground, nearly three years after the resurrection of its caliphate, the Islamic state is on the cusp of complete dislodgment from Iraq, and in Syria its remaining centers are faced with imminent destruction. But, please, do not stand and cheer. The dangers they pose are not over, not by “a long shot”.

It is important to remember how ISIS morphed into the power it exerts. It did not merely create itself one day when a couple of jihadists decided they needed a vehicle to attack all non-believers. History teaches us (if we listen) that with the demise of one terrorist group, there is so often a small number within the embattled group that decides it must fight on. Or within a movement there is a divergence of views, and one segment decides it must go “its own way”. Their “cause is too important”, the dying group was “mismanaged”, or their focus was “misdirected”. Find a reason and you will find the creation of a terrorist group in a different form and, in many instances, more deadly.

For ISIS it began in late 1999, and became more deadly than al-Qaeda. In an excellent 2014 article written by Aaron Y. Zelin for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “The war between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement”, we are introduced in great detail to the social, economic and educational backgrounds of both groups. Although they ultimately become fierce competitors in their war of terrorism, my conclusion is that they are really two ends of the same stick: Destroy those who do not “believe”. Who is ISIS– initially they were called the J Amaat al-Tawhid WA-i-Jihad (JTWT) who in late 1999 were the forerunners who command today’s headlines.

We have all seen the words: Caliphate and Caliph. In Arabic Caliphate means “succession” and, as an institution, it came into being upon the death of the prophet Muhammad. The “succession”, or who was to succeed the prophet Muhammad was the issue that split the Arab world between the Sunni and Shias. The nasty politics of control. One writer has said that ISIS is a “charter member of al Qaeda in Iraq”. Another writer has called ISIS a franchise of al-Qaeda. Not quite true. Two very different men, with very different social and educational backgrounds, were pressed to create groups propelled by violence and vision with the same goal: destruction of the non-believers. The caliph embodies both a political and religious leader and, it is he who becomes the successor (caliph) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Once appointed, his power and authority is absolute.

Although I am sure that President Trump in the months ahead will claim credit for the demise of ISIS, it was military operations planned and placed into execution during the Obama era that started its destruction. And while ISIS may be described as terminally ill in Iraq and Syria, please let us not celebrate too soon.

Visualize this: the antlers of deer have the amazing ability to grow back, and this is one of the most extreme examples of regeneration. With ISIS, although they may be in the process of defeat on the ground, they will and have already regrown their “antlers” (far beyond Iraq and Syria), and evidence of that has been its attacks in Europe. Think of an octopus whose bulbous body has been killed but whose severed tentacles live on as separate deadly arms. Think last night in Manchester, England

John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs, correctly noted that the caliph, as the successor to the prophet, is the head of the early transnational Islamic empire. The word “transnational” has important significance– it reflects that the Caliphate and Caliph transcend national boundaries and are supreme throughout the world—they govern by erasing national boundaries. Do not doubt for a moment that ISIS does not have exit plans in either Iraq or Syria and will carry their movement through its franchises and believers in Europe and, at some moment in the not distant future, here in the United States. They have already demonstrated that ability and their terror. Manchester, England. To conclude otherwise is sheer folly.

As I was about to review my initial draft of this Commentary, two things occurred. First, I came across a must read article  posted on- line in Politico magazine written by Bayan Bender ( Letter from Israel –5.22.17) and, second, as I finished rereading Mr. Bender’s conclusions, my screen flashed the initial reports of the Manchester bombing . I felt as if I was reliving the horrors of the Paris attacks in 2015.  I became more convinced of my initial thoughts and expanded my conclusions.

The “transnational” component of ISIS and the Caliphate in particular is not understood by most: the extent of its mission. Its mission reaches far beyond the Mideast. Each attack outside the Mid East is not a mere thrust to test either its own capabilities far from home or our resolve or our ability to resist its movement. Second, understanding the transnational aspect of ISIS and its caliphate is fundamental to our combating its force and presence. ISIS, notwithstanding its loss on the battlefield, is in the process of weaving is presence into the very frabric of our daily life and is doing so with the force of each explosion. Do you go or allow your child to go to that concert? Do you spend an afternoon in Trafalgar Square? Do you walk the Boulevard St. Germaine in Paris? And at the very same moment how do we plan our next moves? Fear, it is claimed, allows ISIS to win. But bombings and death are real.

Upon rereading Mr. Bender’s article in Politico, my focus has shifted a bit. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have been myopic and appear to be able to focus on one threat-object at a time and fail to understand the entire peril we, as individuals and nation, face. Iran is a formidable enemy—nothing less. Its capabilities and influence overshadow that of North Korea. Iran should be more than in our vocal condemnation of its action but also in our gun sights. Iran’s present and future plans clearly evidence their ever present involvement in the violence in the Mid East. They are a major player in the chaos in that part of the world. At the very same moment, we should be planning our engagement in Syria and Iraq with a greater understating of the combination of fighting forces in those war-torn countries. Mr. Bender writes: “the United States has failed to understand the competing interests and constantly shifting alliances among what the IDF estimates are between 400 and 500 different groups fighting in the Syrian civil war—including underestimating the level of local support ISIS actually has. Take Mosul, for example. Mosul is a million-citizen city and the largest estimate said [there were] 8,000 militants. You can’t control a million-people city with 8,000 people if you don’t have some support within the population.”

This is a powerful indictment of what we do not understand in the terrorist we face today. Which threat is the more potentially deadly for us as a nation and individuals? Mr. Bender writes that the Israelis believe it to be Iran. We should allow, they claim, ISIS and al-Qaeda to destroy each other in their fierce competition for domination. But then we must recognize that Israel has more to fear from Iran than ISIS or al-Qaida. We, though, live thousands of miles away from Iran’s weapons, and we do not have the internal security systems in place as does Jerusalem. We need to stop both the bombastic, uncontrollable language pouring out of the White House and the escalation of forces and, stop for a moment and to reassess what is actually happening and the interplay of the various tribes on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Could we be competing with ourselves?

There are some 12,000 ISIS foot soldiers that remain in the Mid-East. How many of them have made their way to the European continent? How many of them have crossed the boarders from rural areas in Canada and live quietly in the United States? How many of them are men and women who were born and raised in the United States but who have an affinity to their cause? How many have become motivated to carry that belief, to wear vests of bombs or fill their pickup truck with bombs and drive through Times Square, or deliver saran gas to the subway lines of New York or attend a concert at Madison Square Garden or any other city with a congested area of “just people” ? And the answer is not how many of these persons do in fact exist, because it does not take too many to create deadly havoc. One man, some help and with one vest, Manchester, England. Where Tomorrow?

So by the end of this year, when it is announced, by whoever is president of the United Sates, that ISIS has been defeated, keep two things in mind: However defeated they may be on the battle field now raging in the Mid-East, they are far from defeated in the death and destruction they are capable of inflicting here at home. And, second, please let us not ever forget in the 21st Century: terrorism is and will be a fact of life for us and generations to come.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

 

“Islam is the Religion of War” – Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi (ISIS)

One Sunday morning, I realized that I was slowly but surely being sucked into a vast spinning ball where the speed and collision of events were beginning to scatter my brain. What I am referring to, obliquely, is the multiple wars and collisions of facts and interests in the Middle East and across a significant span of North Africa. Our Government is not only deeply divided on how to defeat or even contain the major threats of terrorism, but as one commentator said, how mired we have become in this thing called “the war on terrorism”.

Superimposed one upon the other are the volatile issues created by the proposed Iranian Nuclear Agreement before Congress and the violence in the Middle East that has metastasized, creating complex contradictions.

I have never before prefaced any of my writing by stating my avowed political position. Since I have been able to vote in a presidential election, I have voted Democrat. I voted for Obama. Having made that statement, Obama’s nuclear proposal is a disaster for today and tomorrow and for America. I speak seeking to protect nothing beyond the borders of the United States.

Prior to entering politics Obama taught constitutional law; he would be better prepared today if he had studied and taught “contracts”. The art of contract drafting has as one of its first axioms: Don’t create ambiguity in the use of language. To do so will ultimately create conflict.

Certainly, the Iranian nuclear agreement is far from being a joking matter, but at least one person (Jackie Mason) has quipped that New Yorkers” know that in the restaurants of New York, they have an inspection system. You can surprise any restaurant without notice to walk in and inspect them… So we are protected in this city from a bad tuna fish. We’re not protected from a bomb, but we’re protected from a bad quality of a tuna fish.”

My opposition to the Nuclear Agreement is the untenable consequences that flow from it, which are not readily visible, glossed over, and ignored to our peril.

A few examples are:

* There are phrases in the agreement relating to the inspection of important facilities which read: “where necessary, when necessary.” The Administration alleges this means “anytime, anywhere”. That is nonsense, and more important, totally misleading. The Iranian Government can hold off inspection for months after a demand is made. Iranians can begin the long process by asking: “Why is this demand necessary?” Someone said that if the marshal knocks on your door with a search warrant, it means you do not get an invitation to return in two weeks to search for the items in your warrant. “Assurances” between the parties to an agreement are as good as the persons who make them, and it seems that we should have learned by this time that Iran, who seeks our death as it signs the agreement, should not be trusted.  Not now and not tomorrow. Why embrace a person who has a knife in their hands.

* When sanctions are lifted (at the time of complete execution by all the parties), the Agreement will provide Iran with as much as 150 billion dollars in sanctions relief, which will permit Iranian companies (or their hidden middlemen) to have total commercial access to the world. It will become all but impossible to prevent Iran from buying whatever it wants, wherever it wants. Despite a ban on arms shipments to Iran under international sanctions, Russia is proceeding with the sale of their advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles. This weapons system has the ability to bring down, among other planes, US jet aircraft. A number of significant events signal that Russian and Iran now appear to have closer ties both diplomatically and militarily in the weeks since the announcement of the nuclear accord in Vienna. Keep in mind that Iran supports terrorist groups and proxy forces in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. And like its Russian friends, supports the regime of al-Assad’s Syria. There is talk today that the only way “out” for Iraq is partition.

* The question of Syria’s future was nowhere presented in the talks with Iran. And this connects to the previous paragraph. The results are predictable: the flow of fighters, weapons and money fueling the devastating conflict in Syria will only worsen. Iran will now have greater financial resources to protect and help their proxies to gain the advantage on the field of battle. The very groups with whom we are “at war”. It has been announced that Russia has delivered six MiG 31 fighter jets to support al-Assad.

* Since Obama withdrew our entire troop presence from Iraq in 2011, the country has moved further into sectarian fighting. The lifting of sanctions will only escalate that conflict, as arms may readily be purchased and will be freely transmitted to those groups backed by Iran.

* With the lifting of sanctions (at the date of execution of the Agreement) and then a possible “snap back” (on the breach of the terms of the Agreement), those arrangements between Iran and any group or nation executed between those two dates will not be affected.

* Although the President has readily admitted that Iran supplies both Hezbollah and Assad in Syria and Hamas in Gaza, he quite amazingly implies there is nothing the Allies can do about it. It is worth repeating in opposition to accepting the Agreement that we are not faced with only two options: the Agreement or war. Nonsense. Heavier and tighter sanctions would have a crippling effect in Iran and the Iranians are more than aware of their implication.

* Tehran has consistently violated the UN arms embargo and missile sanctions. Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi made crystal clear last month that Tehran had no intention of complying with any arms embargo, saying “Whenever it’s needed to send arms to our allies in the region, we will do so.” And they will have the $150 billion in sanction relief to do just that.

* Most upsetting, and the nation only learning about it after an Associated Press “bomb shell”, was the revealing of the existence of the Parchin Settlement (named after the Iranian military complex, being the home of Iran’s nuclear-weapon and ballistic program). This Settlement was worked out between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers that negotiated the Nuclear Agreement were not a party to this agreement, but were allegedly “briefed” by the IAEA. When confronted by this news, the Obama administration described the document as nothing more than a “routine technical arrangement”. One cannot image that this Settlement is anything but routine when it allows the Iranians (taking into account its own military concerns) to provide the location and photos of suspected sites to the IAEA”. The Iranians have not been known for their honesty, so why now. Congress, under present legislation, enacted this year, must receive all documents entered into between Iran and any third party. Which includes IAEA Settlement. Congress has been provided nothing.

In addition, we have presently enforced United States’ legislation that Iran not be granted any relief until there is “a certification by the President that Iran is no longer a financier and sponsor of terror. That presidential certification has not been satisfied.” During all of this the White House remains silent.

As I previously mentioned, entwined with the Iranian Nuclear Agreement and at the vortex of the Mideast catastrophe are two countries vying for supreme domination for decades to come: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Parenthetically, while neither of the potential winners is a friend Israel, one overtly seeks its total destruction.

Viewed from afar, one sees the principal objectives of Iran and Saudi Arabia: First, Iran seeks to replace the United States’ control and influence in the Sunni world led by Saudi Arabia, second, to bring to fruition the preaching of Ali Khamenei: destroy Israel.

One of the pieces of supporting evidence is the 2015 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which documents that since Hassan Rouhani assumed the office of the president of Iran in mid-August 2013, the number of people from various minority communities who imprisoned has increased. In 2014, it was reported that religious minorities Baha’is, Christian converts and Sunni Muslims, along with dissenting Shi’a Muslims, are deteriorating and face increased harassment. Today’s news brings horrifying pictures of the treatment of Catholics in the region.

On the other side of this hostile equation, Saudi Arabia and Israel will never be “friends” and do not have any diplomatic relations (playing to its constituents) and probably never will. Nevertheless, both countries are allies of the United States in opposition to the expansion of regional influence by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

News reports, not yet confirmed, indicate that behind-the-scenes diplomatic and intelligence cooperation between the Saudis and Israel have taken place. One public gesture was that Israel had offered Iron Dome technology to the Saudis who publically declined the offer. That does not mean the technology will not be transferred.

This layer of conflict is very much straight forward. It becomes more complex as we examine the surrogates of Iran and Saudi Arabia who seek to destroy each other with impunity.

But first simple mathematics: Sunnis outnumber Shias by nine to one. Those are the simple numbers; least we forget there are other smaller numbers of tribes whose allegiance shift with the wind and bribery. Today there are one thousand organized, armed sectarian militants in the region. Well in excess of 100,000 people who form alliances with other similar thinking groups.

The entire picture becomes more complex when one studies the generally accepted map of the region. At first blush, nothing unusual comes to the fore, there are straight lines forming different countries as one would expect to see on any map of the Mid-East. The problem is that those lines do not represent the reality of what is on the ground. The map lines were drawn and then imposed by the super nations of the world after wars and conquests and do not take into consideration the multiple tribes and diverse groups that have resided separate and apart for generations across the region. Today, there is talk of the partition of Iraq.

Over decades, the cost, in lost lives and dislocation to vast numbers of individuals is incalculable in this intractable, ongoing conflict. The cost in dollars is staggering. For example, the U.S. has spent in a very short period of time over $2 billion on the air campaign in Syria and Iraq alone.

I recall reading that the King of Jordan had warned the international community that with America’s toppling of Saddam Hussein (clearly, a bad guy) in Iraq, a void would be predictably created and with that an unappealing opportunity would arise for an Iranian-influenced Shia expansion. His words evaporated into thin air. Then as the voids through the Muslim world were being created by one failing government after another, with civil war and protests one after the another, the voids quickly were filled with transnational Shia forces backed by Iran and by violence.

First thing first: In this arena of not merely political posturing but supporting that posturing with weapons, we have been faced with a lot of double talk. Complicating matters, those groups or tribes who seemed not to play any major role in the ongoing conflict are now involved in in the regional violence as they change sides. This complicates the overall picture; weapons that we had sent to help overthrow Assad are now, because of a shift in alliance, being employed against our interests and troops.

While the West extends nuclear negotiations and agreement with Iran, the Islamic Republic continues to enhance its international terrorism infrastructure through its proxies. Hezbollah has operatives in the Western European states while Hamas maintains its operatives, according to a German intelligence reports.

Turkey, a country with one foot in Europe and one in Asia, is viewed as a stable nation in the area, has recently undergone its own political upheaval. This Muslim nation until recently run by a strong man, who had turned this historically democratic, nonsectarian nation into a Muslim stronghold, had his political base damaged severely in recent elections. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan– the Turkish government forcibly opposed Kurdish independence – and at the same moment had been tacitly permissive of ISIS. Erdogan deliberately withheld support from the Kurds, whose troops have been successfully opposing ISIS in the north of Iraq. What changed the dynamic of the regional politics was the political blow to Erdogan following his most recent elections, with the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party entering the Turkish parliament for the first time, thus creating a political crisscrossing of political wires. Erdogan then entered into an agreement with the US and ordered the commencement of vigorous bombing of ISIS strongholds, but, to everybody’s astonishment, also launched bombing Kurdish centers. I guess “duplicitous” is the word for his actions. He now alleges that both the campaigns (US warplanes striking ISIS from Turkish bases and his own jets) are really one fight against the terrorism in “his” region, equating ISIS and the Kurdish centers in the north. Viewed from afar there is no moral or ethical reason for these actions. This has had sever political consequences in Turkey as I write these words: the Turkish prime minister failed to form a coalition government, plunging the country deeper into political uncertainty with the President calling for yet another election. In stepped the voice of ISIS, taking advantage of another political crisis in this region urging Muslims in Turkey to rise up against their “infidel” president and “to capture Istanbul”.

The US is not immune from this sort of ambiguity. We find the US bombing Iran’s enemies in one country and helping to bomb Iran’s allies in another. This Gilbert and Sullivan travesty, played out as Sunni-Shia loathing, can indeed give way to marriages of confusing convenience, all while the world watches as the US debates whether to enter into a Nuclear Agreement with a nation who seeks its destruction.

The Nuclear Agreement discussion in the United States has reached name-calling status, affecting not only our natural allies and those we should engage, but our presidential political election process. The violent conflicts in the Middle-East bring continued killings that are reckless and unnecessary even in wartime. In some instances they are horrific by any standards – beheadings, mustard gas and rape. And the immigrants of all descriptions, of all ages, suffer beyond imagination as they flee their homeland and seek solace by placing their lives in unworthy boats that ply across the Mediterranean only to die at sea or face empty, blank and sometimes hostile stares upon their arrival. The civilized world appears to be in a state of physical paralysis and fills their created void with empty gestures. World leaders are more obsessed with the political implications of their pronouncements than the human implications caused by their inaction.

There is a price to pay for all of this and its cost is “human lives”.

Richard Allan,
The Editor