We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)
The extremist ISIS—now calling themselves the "Islamic State"—have left a bloody trail of mass murder in their advance across large swaths of northern Syria and Iraq over the past three months, slaughtering and enslaving Christians, Shi'ites and others deemed to be heretics. It is hardly surprising that they've been taking a tough line on cannabis. ISIS militants have posted footage on the Internet showing their men burning cannabis fields in the Syrian governorate of Aleppo. The video, online at The Telegraph, shows men cutting down the plants in a large field, making a number of piles, dousing them with a flammable liquid and setting them alight. ISIS claim they discovered the farm after having captured the town of Akhtarin from the rival Free Syrian Army in recent weeks. The militants claim the farm owner fled over the nearby border with Turkey, according to Huffington Post.
The hope that a Sunni uprising will overthrow ISIS in their areas of control is daily given a boost by each new report of the organization's repression of the traditional "folk Islam" practiced by the common people of northern Iraq and Syria. Reuters on Sept. 13 reports the claim of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that ISIS militants have destroyed several Sufi shrines and tombs in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor—the latest in a string of such desecrations across their territory. In March, ISIS bombed the mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni in Raqqa, once a destination for Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Destroying even sites revered by Sunnis is precisely the kind of overreach that even al-Qaeda warned its regional franchises against when they were in control of northern Mali last year. But the affiliate organizations didn't listen, and the local populace did indeed turn against them. Can we hope for a replay?
Iraq's new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Barack Obama's announcement of a new campaign against ISIS. On the same day Obama gave his speech, Abadi met in Baghdad with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss international support for Iraqi forces in the drive against ISIS. (BasNews, Sept. 12; Aswat al-Iraq, Sept. 10) While Abadi's government continues to be Shi'ite-dominated, there are signs of success in his efforts to forge a pact with Sunnis to resist ISIS. Sunni tribes in Salaheddin governorate have formed a council to mobilize tribesmen to retake the provincial capital of Tikrit from ISIS in coordination with Iraq's army. Significantly, the new command center established for the effort is in Auja, a district recently retaken from ISIS by Iraqi troops—and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, who was buried there following his execution in 2006. (Azzaman, Sept. 12)
Well, it sure gives us a sense of deja vu. Obama's Sept. 10 speech making the case for military intervention against ISIS (Time transcript) comes exactly a year after his call for military intervention against Bashar Assad. Except this time, he seems to really mean it. Last year, he punted to Congress, saying he needed authorization to wage war—which some sarcastically called Obama's "brilliant strategy to keep us out of Syria," despite Assad having called his "red line" bluff with the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. The way it played out, Congress never even had to vote, due to Obama's acceptance of the Russian plan for "voluntary elimination" of Assad's chemical weapons—which has failed to acheive even that, and was really Putin's bid to buy time for Assad to go on killing his people by "conventional" means. Now, in contrast, that a real intervention in Iraq and eventually Syria is in the works—not against Assad but against ISIS—there isn't a peep about asking Congress for permission. Isn't that funny? Hate to say "told you so," but we've long predicted that when the US finally intervened in Syria it would not be against Assad but the jihadists. Note that Obama's speech says nothing about his erstwhile demand that Assad step down—but, on the contrary, invokes the need for a "political solution" in Syria. This implicitly means a deal with the genocidal dictator who has abetted the rise of ISIS by buying their oil. What an insult to the Syrian resistance (including the democratic civil resistance) that has been staking everything to fight the dictator and the jihadists alike.
The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against ISIS that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to the New York Times, citing "senior administration officials." The first phase, an air campaign is already underway, with nearly 145 air-strikes in the past month. The Times says the aims are "to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq." The next phase, to begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish forces and possibly Sunni tribal fighters. The final, toughest and most controversial phase is destroying the ISIS sanctuary inside Syria. This might not be completed until the next administration, some Pentagon planners are said to "envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months." (NYT, Sept. 7)
A video posted by ISIS Aug. 28 purports to show militants beheading a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Mosul. The video, posted to YouTube, says the killing is a warning to the Kurdistan Regional Government to end its alliance with the United States. In the footage, 14 other Peshmerga fighters are shown wearing orange prison suits, urging Kurds to reject their pact with the US against the Islamic State. Three armed militants stand behind one alleged Peshmerga captive near Mosul's iconic mosque, one of them brandishing a knife as he threatens that the rest of the Peshmerga troops will die if the KRG-US alliance does not come to an end. YouTube immediately removed the video. The video release comes as Peshmerga forces have taken several villages from ISIS in the Zumar area (Nineveh). (Rudaw)
ISIS supporters posted photos to Twitter of fighters from the militant group in control of Russian Sukhoi warplanes, as well as missiles and tanks seized after the jihadists overran the Syrian air base of Tabaqa. The fall of the base gives ISIS full control over Raqqa governorate. Syrian government forces withdrew from the base after a battle that lasted five days, leaving 195 government troops and 346 ISIS fighters dead. The images appear to contradict the Damascus governemnt's claim that all aircraft had been evacuated form the base before it fell. (IraqiNews.com, Aug. 28; AP, Aug. 25)