The Islamic State (IS) has been roundly condemned by everyone. It deserves to be. It deserves to be condemned because of its barbaric brutality and its harsh cruelty. It deserves to be condemned because of its collective massacres and its individual murders. It deserves to be condemned because of its oppression of Shias, of Christians, of Yazidis. It deserves to be condemned because of its degradation of women. It deserves to be condemned because of its distortion and perversion of Islamic law.
Nonetheless, many of those who have condemned IS do not want to know how this terrorist outfit came into being in the first instance. It is a direct consequence of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. In order to anchor itself in Iraqi society, the occupier zealously sought to eliminate the power base of deposed President Saddam Hussein by dismantling his security forces and emasculating related Baathist structures. At the same time, the Shias, the majority population, were strengthened in politics and the public services. This heightened resentment among the Sunnis and led to the formation of militias among them.
When democratic elections were held in 2005, Shia parties expectedly swept into power. Shia leaders reinforced their cordial ties with the Iranian Shia elite —- some of whom had been their mentors long before the 2003 invasion. Seeing the increasingly close bond between the Shias of Iraq and Iran, the US began to feel that its invasion of Iraq had enhanced Iranian influence in that country. Ironically, the US had strengthened the geopolitical hand of its adversary! More than the US, Israel which had also encouraged the invasion of Iraq in order to get rid of a staunch Israeli opponent in Baghdad was appalled that Iran, its other mortal foe, had now expanded its reach in the region. The Saudi elite and elites in a number of other Gulf monarchies and certain other Arab governments also viewed Iraq –Iran ties with much apprehension. To add to their apprehension, the Shia based Hezbollah in Lebanon was also emerging as a major actor in Lebanon following its steadfast defence of the nation against Israeli aggression in 2006. This is why a Sunni Arab leader warned his fellow Sunnis of the rise of a Shia arc in West Asia, centred in Tehran.
These Sunni fears, paralleling US- Israeli concerns about their dominance over West Asia, prompted these parties to try to stem what they perceived as Shia influence in Iraq by supporting Sunni militias with arms, intelligence and money. Sunni insurgencies like Al-Qaeda became stronger and created a lot of havoc in Iraq, directed mainly at the Shias. A more radical breakaway group from Al-Qaeda calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams (Syria) (ISIS) established itself as a tough fighting force and moved into Syria with the same aim of ousting a Shia government, namely the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
In Syria, ISIS has outdone other armed rebel groups in its insatiable appetite for violence. ISIS fighters have massacred Christian communities and beheaded scores of Shias. With ruthless efficiency they have captured strategic routes and oil fields. It is alleged that apart from the spoils of war, this terrorist outfit is also financed and armed by some of the same groups that helped the Sunni insurgents in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. It has even been suggested that ISIS has deep links with Mossad. After all, Israel which has conducted at least six military strikes against the Syrian armed forces in the current conflict is determined to oust Assad since he continues to oppose Israeli control over much of the strategic Golan Heights in Syria and insists on protecting his special relationship with Hezbollah and Iran as part of the resistance against US-Israeli hegemony over West Asia.
It is significant that ISIS brutalities in Syria — like those of the other armed groups — have only elicited whimpers from the US and the West. The reason is obvious. They support the larger aim of these groups which is the overthrow of Assad. The US and the West are (or were) on the side of ISIS in Syria. And yet in Iraq they are against ISIS which has now renamed itself as IS. What explains this seemingly glaring contradiction?
If the US has decided to fight IS in Iraq, it is because it threatens US and other Western oil companies in the Kurdistan region in the north. All the big Western oil players — Mobil, Chevron, Exxon and Total — are in the region. Kurdistan, according to Robert Fisk, “accounts for 43.7 billion barrels of Iraq’s 143 billion barrels of reserves, as well as 25.5 billion barrels of unproven reserves and three to six trillion cubic metres of gas.”
Preserving the West’s oil interests in Kurdistan is intimately connected to yet another factor. The US and Israel have always regarded Iraqi Kurdistan as a special ally. For decades its leadership has helped to further their agenda in West Asia. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq for instance the Kurds rendered much assistance to the US and Britain.
One should not be surprised therefore that the US has chosen to defend the Kurds against the IS menace. It is simply a matter of protecting its geo-economic and geopolitical interests. Similarly, if in Syria the US is against Assad, it is because of the pursuit of its hegemonic design over West Asia. Since the US will not be able to eliminate the IS threat to Kurdistan in Iraq without taking military action against the IS in Syria, it is now considering launching military strikes against the IS in certain parts of that country.
US military action against the IS in Syria should signal the beginning of the end of all direct and indirect assistance to the various armed groups in Syria, all of which have committed acts of terror at some point or other. The US’s European and West Asian allies should also desist from providing any form of military support to these groups. Without such external support it is very likely that the violence and bloodshed in Syria will come to a halt. Syrians would then be in a better position to bring about whatever change they feel is necessary through peaceful means.
What is more important, the end of crass political violence in Syria will undoubtedly help to reduce IS generated terror in Iraq. Terrorism in West Asia as a whole may witness a decline. If one is principled and not opportunistic or hypocritical in the fight against terrorism, it is not just IS in one corner of Iraq that will be one’s target. Terrorism, whether it is perpetrated by friend or foe, will be confronted and defeated with courage and integrity.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
29 August 2014.