First published at Palestine Chronicle, 2015-02-08.
The Rise of the Islamic State - ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Patrick Cockburn. Verso, London/New York, 2014/2015.
When observed from the mainstream media perspective, the rise of ISIS was an apparent ‘out of nowhere’ phenomenon. It only found prominence when they approached Irbil, the Kurdish ‘oil’ city where western companies manoevered for resource control. It was then that it became mainstream newsworthy, and then that the U.S. ordered its bombing campaign and the ouster of Maliki, who was blamed for the ills of Iraq and its ghost army.
In clear concise language and format, Patrick Cockburn presents a more realistic story of the rise of ISIS in his latest work, The Rise of the Islamic State. Rather than being a sudden event, it is seen to be a logical progression of events backgrounded by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
As the wars in the Middle East have progressed they have become more and more violent. It started with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, aided and abetted by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan’s ISI. After successfully getting rid of Soviet forces, those “freedom fighters” morphed into the Taliban, where the ideology of al-Qaeda grew its protected roots.
When Iraq was illegally attacked unilaterally by the U.S. in 2003, al-Qaeda found a new place to spread its influence where it had not been before. At first it found support with the disenfranchised Sunni tribes, later minimized by the “Awakening” - the U.S. big dollar effort to buy out the Sunni leaders.
After the war in Iraq, a highly unstable state was left behind, essentially divided into three parts: Kurds in the northeast, Sunnis in the west, and the Shia in the south. The continuing internecine fighting waged since the U.S. departure has mostly been under the radar of the western news networks. Add to that the new and increasingly fierce fighting by the civil war in Syria, pitting the Assad government, back stopped by Russia, against a web of opposition groups backed by the U.S. and its allies.
The combination of disaffected Sunnis - many former military personnel, many affected by the Sunni-Shia fighting - and well supplied and trained fundamentalist Islamic groups - again with U.S. and Saudi direction - in Syria coalesced into ISIS, a new bigger, badder, meaner, and much more efficient fighting organization.
Because of historical precedents, Cockburn indicates that it is unlikely the “Sunnis will rise up in opposition to ISIS and its caliphate. A new and terrifying state has been born that will not easily disappear.”
The U.S. is acknowledged as being highly to blame for this sequence of events, much more so than Iraq and Syria as stand alone countries, or Turkey as an anti-Kurd, quasi-ISIS supporter.
“There was always something fantastical about the U.S. and its Western allies teaming up with the theocratic Sunni absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to spread democracy and enhance human rights in Syria, Iraq, and Libya….ISIS is the child of war….It was the U.S., Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and [UAE] that created conditions for the rise of ISIS.”
In other words, if ISIS is the child of war, then the U.S. is one of its parents. The Sunni resurgence in Iraq was not an overnight sensation, but had a gestation period of several years.
“A blind spot for the U.S….has been their failure to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilize Iraq and provoke a new round of sectarian civil war….ISIS has been able to exploit the growing sense of alienation and persecution among the Sunni in Iraq.”
Cockburn brings events right up to October 2014, noting that the then imminent pushback of ISIS from Kobani had not prevented ISIS from progressing elsewhere in Anbar province. His presentation is reasonably short and provides a clear summary exposition of whom is involved within the ISIS nexus. It should serve as an honest primer on the overall situation with current events in the Middle East.
The only point I could argue on is the repetition that the war on terror has “failed so catastrophically,” “failed miserably”, and “has demonstrably failed.” I can see both sides to the position.
When looking at the narrow definition of the war on terror as an actual war on terror, yes it has failed by creating many more terrorists in response to its many violent actions that tend to target much more than just terrorists. But no, it has not failed if the goal is to maintain U.S. control over regions through failed states, corrupt states, or otherwise.
After reading PNAC’s “Project for a New American Century”, having digested Paul Wolfowitz’ “Defence Policy Plan” under G.W.H. Bush that called for full spectrum dominance and unilateral pre-emptive nuclear war, after reading sections of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”, and while watching Israel continue annexing more and more territory while staying out of the U.S. wars in the region, perhaps the war on terror could at best be considered a draw.
It is not accomplishing its publicly stated purpose, but it is maintaining U.S. dominance for its geopolitical agenda of controlling resources and politicians. And it is useful for maintaining the ‘fear factor’ for domestic political usage for most western governments.
Regardless, The Rise of Islamic State is a worthy read, clearly defining the major roles and events of this long developing story.