Syria: fall of Dabiq fails to spark apocalypse

Well, here's some good news. Free Syrian Army forces, backed by Turkey, this week took the town of Dabiq from ISIS. The small town in northern Aleppo governorate is of little strategic significance but great symbolic import. ISIS had promised a final apocalyptic battle between the Muslims and unbelievers would take place there. Instead, faced with Turkish warplanes, the jihadists ignominiously withdrew. Conveniently reinterpreting a prophetic hadith, ISIS promptly changed the name of its magazine from Dabiq to Roumiya. That means Rome—taken to signify Europe and the West. According to the hadith of Abu Hurayrah, a companion of the Prophet, Muhammad said: "The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A'maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best of the people of the Earth at that time will come from Medina [to defeat them]." (ARA News, Oct. 17; RFE/RL, Oct. 9)

It is very heartening to see ISIS' hubristic dreams thusly humbled. The downside is that this was a victory for the Turkish state, and consolidation of its "buffer zone" in northern Syria. In its own show of arrogant ambition, Turkey carried out air-strikes on towns held by the US-backed Kurdish YPG militia. Turkey claimed that up to 200 combatants were killed in the strike; the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in the area said dozens had been killed. Doubtless trying to save face, a Pentagon official said the groups struck by Turkish jets were not themselves US-backed but were "close to and friendly with" the fighters Washington is working with. (Reuters, Oct. 20) This presumably means they were not actually units of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

This comes as Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan issued another display of his unseemly Ottoman nostalgia fetish. Protesting his exclusion from the US-led offensive against ISIS in Mosul, Erdogan warned that Turkey "will not wait until the blade is against our bone" but could act alone against its enemies. He charged that Turkey is constrained by foreign powers who "aim to make us forget our Ottoman and Seljuk history," when Turkish empires stretched across the Middle East.

"From now on we will not wait for problems to come knocking on our door, we will not wait until the blade is against our bone and skin, we will not wait for terrorist organizations to come and attack us," he told a meeting of hundreds of muhtars, or local administrators. "Whoever supports the divisive terrorist organization, we will dig up their roots," he said, obviously referring to the PKK and its Syrian allies like YPG. "Let them go wherever until we find and destroy them. I am saying this very clearly: they will not have a single place to find peace abroad." (Reuters, Oct. 19)

Given Erdogan's own past connivance with ISIS, the fall of Dabiq to Turkish-backed forces is something of a mixed blessing.

  1. More Turkish air-strikes on Syrian Kurdish forces

    Turkey carried out airstrikes on Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) positions in northern Syria in order to prevent Kurdish forces from reaching al-Bab—the next ISIS-held town they hoped to take after liberating Manbij. (Rudaw)

    Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Ash Carter blinked and said that Turkey could be allowed to participate in the battle for Mosul. "I think there is agreement there in principle," he said. "I am confident that we can work things out and there are things that would be productive for Turkey to do and we just need to work through these practicalities." (ARA News)