Comments to a journalist

A few days ago I was asked to comment on what the daesh (ISIS) strategies are and what effect the US led coalition would have by a leading journalist for a British newspaper. Below are my original comments as I sent to him, in response to some questions, so they may appear a bit random:

Saudi has shown itself of being barely able to contain terrorism within its borders and certainly a sizeable chunk of fighters, recruiters, funding, support, preachers for ISIS has come from Saudi the country, though probably not the govt or monarchy. Their deradicalization programs have not been hugely successful and the preaching of jihadist ideology is in Saudi, not Egypt or elsewhere. Saudi is an intolerant country, my guess is Obama wants Western leaning Syrian rebels to be trained in Saudi and not Islamist ones, which is a strange mix: using the strict, Salafi based nation where a lot of jihadists and ideology comes from to train Western leaning and secular rebels. Doesn’t seem to be a smart move, can’t think of any positive results likely.

As for examples of mistrust, Iraq was and still is mistrustful of Syria, they believe Assad allowed Baathists to use Syria as a base and allowed foreign suicide bombers to come into Iraq through Syria in order to destabilise it. The govt had wanted Assad to tackle ISIS and recognise that their presence is being taken advantage of by Assad to weaken the FSA and other rebel groups.

The Arab states are mistrustful of any Shia led government in Iraq because they believe it to be too close to Iran and will serve their interests above all. Iraq has fallen fully under the Iranian sphere of influence and the Arab states cannot allow that to remain. Iraq is mistrustful of Arab states because they believe they will never allow a Shia led state to be in place and are finding ways to destabilise Iraq in order to bring back the Sunnis to power.

ISIS would dearly love for Western troops to be deployed to Iraq. That would bring it more recruits, justify some of their actions to the Muslim world, and give their jihadist cause more legitimacy. ISIS has studied the situation, saw how the Maliki led govt was disliked by the West and knows there is much rivalry among the forces fighting it. Above all it has been able to provoke sectarianism and the involvement of the militias means any meaningful alliance against ISIS will either not happen or fall apart quickly. ISIS are strategic, they are not thugs, their leaders are smart and know how to sow discord between its enemies. Remember in Syria ISIS was much hated by the other groups and much weaker but now it has dominated them because they were able to cause friction and avoid head on conflict as much as possible. Fear and propaganda have been their biggest weapons.

Based on this I do not see the defeat of ISIS at the hands of a coalition made of rivals who have much dislike for each other. I think the US recognises this and so the strategy will be one of containment, degradation, and limitation. ISIS knows this too, so is looking for a long term campaign of survival, entrenchment, and influence. Look at the Taliban as an example of how you can outlast your enemies despite their superiority.

The American and Iranians did not cooperate directly in Amerli, it was through the Iraqi intermediaries and both needed to act in Amerli for differing reasons but in essence to save the Shia under siege there. I think the non-aggression pact is now implicit as part of the nuclear negotiations, but that will not stop from either side regularly reminding each other (through very limited actions that they will claim deniability for) that they are willing to go military against each other. The threat of ISIS is forcing states and actors to work with each other but I don’t think that will change views or lead to tolerance or trust in each other. Temporary alliance but not a long term change in attitudes. As you say, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But there is another saying that your enemy today may be your friend tomorrow, and your friend today may be your enemy tomorrow.

I know they have been self-financed for nearly a year now. The methods they use are: extortion and racketeering, ransoms, taxes, sales of seized goods and property, oil smuggling, robbery of cash, bartering. I’ve also heard that they traffick people/sell them, conduct weapons sales, and are involved in drugs sales and smuggling. They also took jewellery from the Assyrians and sold/auctioned it. They’ve taken over farms, land, homes which they use as investments.

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