Friday, June 13, 2014

New (Middle-East) states bloom in (Jihadi) Spring

Run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi jihadist, ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000-5,000 in Syria, ...nearly a thousand from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.....Even al-Qaeda has deemed ISIS too violent. Ayman Zawahiri, leader of the core group, has long disagreed with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s leader, warning him that ISIS’s habit of beheading its opponents and posting such atrocities on video was giving al-Qaeda a bad name.

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A century ago, the Middle-East was artificially carved up into states by the British and the French. Now it appears (as a result of nationalist movements everywhere, ho ho ho) the real states will finally take shape via numerous partitions. 

We are clear as to our own preferences: partitions are bad for the minority and also for the majority- once the genie of bad blood is poured out the bottle it will bleed the new nations dry for a long long time.


Normally it would be a straight-forward division: Sunnis and the rest, but there are a few local complications such as Bahrain which is Shia majority but ruled by Sunnis (with 5th Fleet support from Americans). Also Sunni Kurdistan seems more progressive than most and may even support the co-existence of minorities (such as Christians and Shias).

Everywhere else we can look forward to (not really) brutal ethnic cleansing and the coming-to-life of larger-than-life Sharia states. The left-liberal brigade can indicate disagreement from a distance but this much is probably true- populations everywhere are fed-up with the status quo and do not really mind the social upheavals. After all the benefits are to be measured in the long run and in the next life.
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WHOEVER chose the Twitter handle “Jihadi Spring” was prescient. Three years of turmoil in the region, on the back of unpopular American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have benefited extreme Islamists, none more so than the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a group that outdoes even al-Qaeda in brutality and fanaticism. In the past year or so, as borders and government control have frayed across the region, ISIS has made gains across a swathe of territory encompassing much of eastern and northern Syria and western and northern Iraq. 

On June 10th it achieved its biggest prize to date by capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and most of the surrounding province of Nineveh. The next day it advanced south towards Baghdad, the capital, taking several towns on the way. Ministers in Iraq’s government admitted that a catastrophe was in the making. A decade after the American invasion, the country looks as fragile, bloody and pitiful as ever.
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After four days of fighting, Iraq’s security forces abandoned their posts in Mosul as ISIS militiamen took over army bases, banks and government offices. The jihadists seized huge stores of American-supplied arms, ammunition and vehicles, apparently including six Black Hawk helicopters and 500 billion dinars ($430m) in freshly printed cash. Some 500,000 people fled in terror to areas beyond ISIS’s sway.

The scale of the attack on Mosul was particularly audacious. But it did not come out of the blue. In the past six months ISIS has captured and held Falluja, less than an hour’s drive west of Baghdad; taken over parts of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province; and has battled for Samarra, a city north of Baghdad that boasts one of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines. Virtually every day its fighters set off bombs in Baghdad, keeping people in a state of terror.
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As The Economist went to press, it was reported to have taken Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, only 140km (87 miles) north-west of Baghdad. The speed of ISIS’s advance suggested that it was co-operating with a network of Sunni remnants from Saddam’s underground resistance who opposed the Americans after 2003 and have continued to fight against the Shia-dominated regime of Nuri al-Maliki since the Americans left at the end of 2011.

It was barely a year ago, in April 2013, that ISIS announced the expansion of its operations from Iraq into Syria. By changing its name from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) by adding the words “and al-Sham”, translated as “the Levant” or “Greater Syria”, it signified its quest to conquer a wider area than present-day Syria.
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Run by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi jihadist, ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000-5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
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It is ruthless, slaughtering Shia and other minorities, including Christians and Alawites, the offshoot to which Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, belongs. It sacks churches and Shia shrines, dispatches suicide-bombers to market-places, and has no regard for civilian casualties.
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Its recent advances would have been impossible without ISIS’s control since January of the eastern Syrian town of Raqqa, a testing ground and stronghold from which it has made forays farther afield. It has seized and exploited Syrian oilfields in the area and raised cash by ransoming foreign hostages.
Rather than fight simply as a branch of al-Qaeda (“the base” in Arabic), as it did before 2011, it has aimed to control territory, dispensing its own brand of justice and imposing its own moral code: no smoking, football, music, or unveiled women, for example. And it imposes taxes in the parts of Syria and Iraq it has conquered.
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In other words, it is creating a proto-state on the ungoverned territory straddling the borderlands between Syria and Iraq. “This is a new, more dangerous strategy since 2011,” says Hassan Abu Haniyeh, a Jordanian expert on jihadist movements. If ISIS manages to hold onto its turf in Iraq, it will control an area the size of Jordan with roughly the same population (6m or so), stretching 500km from the countryside east of Aleppo in Syria into western Iraq.
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It holds three border posts between Syria and Turkey and several more on Syria’s border with Iraq. Raqqa’s residents say Moroccan and Tunisian jihadists have brought their wives and children to settle in the city. Foreign preachers have been appointed to mosques. ISIS has also set up an intelligence service.
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Whether in Iraq or Syria, ISIS has sought to terrify people into submission. On June 8th, as a typical warning to others, it crucified three young men in a town near Aleppo for co-operating with rival rebels. It has kidnapped scores of Kurdish students, journalists, aid workers and, more recently, some Turkish diplomats.
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Even al-Qaeda has deemed ISIS too violent. Ayman Zawahiri, leader of the core group, has long disagreed with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s leader, warning him that ISIS’s habit of beheading its opponents and posting such atrocities on video was giving al-Qaeda a bad name.
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The forces best equipped to face down ISIS may be Kurdish ones: the Peshmerga guerrillas, who have protected Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region for the past two decades, and the People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG, the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which dominates north-eastern Syria. The Kurds’ regional government in Iraq has mobilised its forces on the east side of the Tigris river, which runs through Mosul, and may well block ISIS from heading east and north into Kurdish territory; on June 12th the Kurds captured all of Kirkuk city from fleeing Iraqi forces.

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Link: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21604230-extreme-islamist-group-seeks-create-caliphate-and-spread-jihad-across

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regards