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Monday, September 29, 2014

Origin of evil: Where did Islamic State come from?

US and UK have done it. Australia could be dropping missiles on the Islamic State by the end of the week. 

Who really is the depraved group and how did the world get in this mess?

The war-torn expanse of Syria has been an ideal breeding ground for terrorist organisations since its civil war began in 2011. With government forces struggling to retain control over key military and population centres and highways, a broad range of insurgent groups have sprung up in the ungoverned land in between.
One of these is the spawn of al-Qaeda, now known as the Islamic State.
The group’s self-declared capital is the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. It is their administrative centre, logistics hub and the heartland of their support.

War-torn ... A boy rides his bike past a heavily damaged building in the city of Aleppo,
War-torn ... A boy rides his bike past a heavily damaged building in the city of Aleppo, struck by US airstrikes. Source: AFP
From Raqqa the tentacles of the Islamic State follow the major highways out of Syria and into Iraq. It doesn’t actually have enough warriors to occupy every minor town in the sparsely populated expanses. But then neither does Syria. Or Iraq.
But IS has managed to capture US-made armoured vehicles and artillery and has taken them back over the border to assist in Syria, strengthening their position against tyrant President Bashar al-Assad.

Source: News Corp
Source: News Corp Source: News Corp Australia
In the Middle East, enemies can also be allies.
Syria’s President Assad, and most of his government, belong to a form of Shiite Islam. It is a similar faction to that which runs Iraq.
Regional superpower Iran is also Shiite. It has already been supporting Iraq with military advisors. It has been less willing to openly do so with Syria – mostly because of the open hostility directed towards Syria by the US.

Blurred lines ... An anti-Assad activist group protests against the US-led airstrikes in
Blurred lines ... An anti-Assad activist group protests against the US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Source: AP
President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people almost saw it become a target of US and allied airstrikes. But Russian support – and the surrender of weapons of mass destruction for disposal – headed off such attacks.
Now the United States finds itself in the position of bombing the opponents of its publically declared enemy, President Assad.
Then there are the Kurds.
Both the Shiite and Sunni factions of Islam are suspicious of this ethnic group’s territorial ambitions. In recent years, the downtrodden Kurds have managed to carve out their own homeland in Iraq’s north. These desert people live in a narrow strip along the northern borders of Syria and Iraq. They also live inside Turkey, which has been attempting to suppress their language and culture for decades.
And then there’s Turkey. The US wants Turkey’s support to combat the Islamic State and wants them to support the Kurds with armaments and military action.
But Turkey is reluctant to actively oppose the jihadist cause and support its NATO allies because it means arming their steadfast enemy - the Kurds. As a bonus, any difficulties the Kurds face at the hand of IS can only distract them from their struggle within Turkey itself.
Beneath all this remains the ancient divide at the heart of Islam itself. Islamic State is Sunni. Syria and Iraq are governed by Shiites, but have large Sunni populations. This makes most of the United States Middle Eastern allies strange bedfellows in the air raids.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar are all dominated by the Sunni Islam sect and the idea of Sunni killing Sunni will not be a popular in these countries despite the extremist threat.

Source: News Corp
Source: News Corp Source: News Corp Australia
The US led air-raids are just the start of a long-term campaign. First to be hit were the large buildings and openly obvious weapons depots and training facilities in Syria. Next comes the challenge of finding the hidden stuff.
Raqqa is the declared capital of the Islamic State and as such has already been hardest hit. The jihadists have been in control of Raqqa now for more than a year enforcing Sharia law with brutal beheadings in the city square and through street patrols. IS, however, also provides the population with a steady supply of food and fuel.

A pair of British war planes return to base near the southern city of Limassol.
A pair of British war planes return to base near the southern city of Limassol. Source: AP
Aleppo: This city controls the vital lines of communication between Damascus in the south and Syria’s Mediterranean ports in the north-west. Islamic State and other insurgent groups have been making inroads upon government forces on the city’s outskirts in recent weeks. If it fell, President Assad’s economic lifeline would be under dire threat.
Kurdish strongholds: Thousands of Kurds have begun streaming over Syria’s border into Turkey. At least six of their towns had fallen to Islamic State fighters. Turkey, however, was not happy to receive them.

Source: News Corp
Source: News Corp Source: News Corp Australia
IS has amassed a force filled with jihadist warriors drawn from the ranks of its enemies - including Australia, Europe and the United States.
About 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries have joined the jihadists in Syria.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron says 500 of his citizens have joined jihadist ranks. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says 60 Aussies are fighting for IS. But the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters now in Syria and Iraq are from other Middle East and Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco topping the list.
In some ways, the 32,000 IS jihadists are an unintentional byproduct of the West’s opposition to Syria’s Assad regime.
As the despot withdrew his loyal forces to key strategic centres, vast tracts of the country were left ungoverned and lawless.
The Islamic State has stepped into this void with its own brand of Islamic law, brutally imposing it upon the populations with public executions in town squares. But they also brand themselves as the saviour of the Sunnis from the years of tyranny they’ve experienced at government hands around the world.
Many jihadist organisations have fed off such widespread discontent.

Source: News Corp
Source: News Corp Source: News Corp Australia
The Syrian Government: Desperate despot President Assad is now playing the martyr card, offering to assist – and not oppose – allied airstrikes in lands nominally his to defend. He is in a tenuous position. Syrian government troops have all but abandoned much of their country, instead focussing on retaining control of the key centres and facilities in and around the south-western capital of Damascus. They have little hope of recapturing regional centres such as the headquarters of the Islamic State – Raqqa. However, once Islamic State defences have been reduced to rubble by US and allied airstrikes, there will be little to prevent the Syrian army from moving back in.
Kurds: The plight of these people was one of the triggers of the first Iraq War in 1990. Saddam Hussein had used sarin gas against Kurdish population centres. Once again, this minority ethnic group has spurred military action in its support - this time against IS. Initially emboldened by the collapse of Iraq’s government army, its Peshmerga fighters have since been rolled-back by the ever-advancing Islamic State. When their capital city, Erbil, came under attack in August, the US decided to intervene with air strikes.

Standing guard ... Kurdish Peshmerga fighters patrol the front line.
Standing guard ... Kurdish Peshmerga fighters patrol the front line. Source: AP
Syrian Opposition Coalition: This body represents the “moderate” jihadists fighting against President Assad in Syria. It’s president, Hadi al Bahra, has openly welcomed the air strikes against Islamic State. But many of his brothers-in-arms are not so happy. Instead they openly - or secretly - support those who may soon be their Islamic overlords, IS.
Turkey: Sitting uncomfortably on the sidelines is Turkey. It’s member of NATO. It also has problems with Kurdish separatists. Mostly, its the main transit route for the foreign fighters streaming in to support IS and the destination of thousands of refugees fleeing them. Turkey also indirectly benefits from the black-market trade of oil which is keeping the Islamic State cashed-up and capable of sustaining their fight.

Battle lines ... Turkish tanks line up on the border with Syria.
Battle lines ... Turkish tanks line up on the border with Syria. Source: Getty Images
Gulf States: Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates took a bold step when they took part in US-led air strikes against IS forces in Syria. The gulf oil monarchies fear the jihadist threats at their doorsteps. The prospect of a religious caliphate challenging their authority and inspiring their own people is a daunting one. This is why the likes of Saudi Arabia has branded IS as Islam’s “number one enemy”.
Iran: Lurking on the fringes is Iran. On the surface it would appear to be in Iran’s best interest to support Syria’s President Assad and Iraq’s President Fuad Masum. They’re all part of the same Shiite faith. But nothing is ever as it seems in the Middle East and Iran has been isolated by much of the world because of its nuclear ambitions.
Nevertheless, Iran’ president has publically lambasted IS as “barbaric”. It has also sent generals to help get Iraq’s government troops back on track. But it may not have the strength – both economic and military – to activate its influence within Syria and Iraq.
Or it may be biding its time. A catastrophic military event – such as the fall of Baghdad or Damascus – may produce a power vacuum into which it will surge its 350,000-strong army.

Source: News Corp
Source: News Corp Source: News Corp Australia

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