Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How Imran Khan plotted to overthrow Sharif’s Government?

Imran Khan and General Musharraf.
During Imran Khan’s four-months-long sit-in and political demonstrations in front of the parliament in Islamabad from August to December 2014, the allegations of election rigging and the demand for electoral reforms were only a red herring. A question would naturally arise in the minds of curious observers of Pakistan’s politics that what prompted Imran Khan to make a sudden volte-face?

The stellar success of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections of 2013 was anything but a pleasant surprise for the PTI leadership. Imran Khan and his political party were accustomed to winning only a single seat in the parliament right up to the general elections of 2008 which the PTI boycotted.

In the parliamentary elections of 2013, however, Imran Khan’s PTI mustered 35 National Assembly seats and completely wiped out Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s Pashtun nationalist party, Awami National Party (ANP), and formed a coalition government in the province with the tacit approval of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), because PML-N could easily have formed a coalition government in the province.

These facts prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the demonstrations and protests by PTI from August to December 2014 were based on political opportunism rather than any genuine grievances against the government. Imran Khan came forward with a very broad and disjointed agenda: from electoral reforms to the resignation of the prime minister to seeking justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in which 14 workers of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police in Lahore.

When the government agreed to the demand for electoral reforms, Imran Khan began insisting on the unacceptable demand of the prime minister’s resignation; and when people and media criticized him for being unreasonable and causing disruption to the normal functioning of the state, he immediately occupied the high moral ground by drawing attention to the Model Town tragedy.

Evidently, Imran Khan’s “wish list” was only a smokescreen to hide his real motive, which was to permanently banish Nawaz Sharif and his family from Pakistan’s politics by sending them into another decade-long exile to Saudi Arabia with the help of Imran Khan’s patrons in Pakistan’s military establishment.

This obstructionist politics by Imran Khan was a clever Machiavellian strategy; he knew that he couldn’t beat Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N through electoral process, at least in the next couple of elections. The difference in parliamentary seats was just too big to have been easily bridged: Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N’s 166 National Assembly seats to Imran Khan’s PTI’s 35 seats.

Some Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) stalwarts hinted during the course of 2014 protests that the PTI was open to a military takeover for a few years. So, if things had gotten out of hand during the street demonstrations and the army chief had taken over, say for an year or two, and had sent Nawaz Sharif and his family to another decade-long exile to Saudi Arabia, the political arena would then have been wide open for Imran Khan.

Imran Khan’s PTI could then have easily competed with the only other mainstream political party, Pakistan People’s Party’s 45 National Assembly seats. By wheeling, dealing Imran Khan could have formed a coalition government with the help of the defectors from Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N who would then have joined General Musharraf’s PML-Q, which already got cozy to Imran Khan during the 2014 protests.

Truth be told, Imran Khan’s PTI played the same spoiler role in Pakistan’s politics which the elusive Tamarod Movement had played in Egypt in June 2013, only an year before PTI’s demonstrations in Pakistan. Apart from a small number of Egyptian liberals, Tamarod was mainly comprised of a few thousand football nuts, known as “the ultras,” who claimed that they had purportedly collected “millions” of signatures endorsing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood, who has had only an year-long stint in power in Egypt’s more than sixty-years-long political history. By what statistical logic, a few thousand cultist demonstrators got the right to forcefully remove an elected prime minister who enjoyed the confidence of tens of millions of voters?

Most Pakistanis don’t have a clue that how close Pakistan came to yet another martial law in its turbulent history; Imran Khan’s PTI’s demonstrations in 2014 were not spontaneous uprisings, they were cleverly planned and choreographed by some unconstitutional forces that have a history of subverting the constitution in Pakistan.

Those protests should be viewed in the backdrop of the Euromaidan demonstrations of Ukraine in 2013, the Rabaa square massacre of Egypt and the mass protests and the ensuing military coup in Thailand only a couple of months before the announcement of street demonstrations against the government by Imran Khan.

Apparently, the “scriptwriter” of 2014 protests first realized the potential of PTI’s zealots to stage a sit-in when the latter blocked NATO’s supply route in Peshawar; it must have then occurred to Pakistan’s military establishment that Imran Khan’s PTI’s highly motivated youth supporters were very much capable of staging months-long demonstrations against the sitting government.

Notwithstanding, there were actually two groups of perpetrators that carried out an assault on democracy and constitution during the mass demonstrations against the government in 2014. Imran Khan’s PTI is a nation-wide political party which has a mass following; however, Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran is a subversive organization which is as dangerous as the Taliban.

The Taliban carry out subversive activities against the state; and in the same manner, Minhaj launched a concerted assault on the paramount institutions of the state: the Parliament, the Prime Minister House and the Presidency.

Here, some readers might draw our attention to the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in Lahore during the course of which 14 workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police. It was a condemnable and outrageous act and the perpetrators must be punished, but keep in mind that it was not the first time that Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj had carried out an assault on democracy in Pakistan.

During the course of Imran Khan’s PTI’s protests, one can make a convenient excuse that Tahir-ul-Qadri was seeking justice for his workers who had died in the Model Town tragedy, but what was his defense for holding Islamabad hostage in January 2013 before the general elections of May 2013?

Those January 2013 protests and sit-in by Qadri’s Minahj-ul-Quran had also been a carefully planned last-ditch effort by the military establishment to delay the elections, which Nawaz Sharif was poised to win and the military had not wanted General Musharraf’s nemesis to dictate terms to them once again. It shows that Tahir-ul-Qadri is a habitual offender and that Minhaj is nothing less than his private militia.

Evidently, the August to December 2014 protests were carefully planned and choreographed. The role played by Imran Khan and PTI was only secondary; the primary role was played by the military establishment’s stooges: Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sheikh Rasheed, Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi.

Imran Khan’s PTI is a broad-based political party which represents the urban middle class; by their very nature, such protesters are peaceful and nonviolent. Left to his own resources, the best Imran Khan could have done was to stage a sit-in at Aabpara Market for a few days.

Both violent charges of the demonstrators, the assault on the Red Zone in Islamabad as well as the Prime Minister House, were led by the Minhaj-ul-Quran workers. Those hooligans were a bunch of highly organized and trained religious zealots who are equipped with sticks, slingshots, gas-masks, cranes and anything short of firearms, which apparently their organizers forbade them from using in order to keep the demonstrations legit in the eyes of public.

The role played by Imran Khan and PTI in the assault on the Constitution Avenue was meant only to legitimize the assault: the peaceful protesters, women and kids, music concerts and revolutionary demagoguery, everything added up to creating excellent optics; but the real driving force in the assault on democracy was Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran, which is a religious-cum-personality cult comparable to the Rajavis of Iran and their Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or the Gulenists in Turkey.

More to the point, the role played by Sheikh Rasheed during the mass demonstrations in Islamabad should not be underestimated. It brings to light the fact that whoever controls the constituencies of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can bring the capital of Pakistan to a standstill.

Protesters from outside the Twin-Cities can only stage demonstrations in front of the parliament for a few days, but the natives of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can stage a sit-in for months in a row. Imran Khan’s PTI had also won 6 out of 14 Punjab Assembly’s constituencies in Rawalpindi, which played to its strength.

Notwithstanding, if we look at the numbers game in the general elections of 2013: Imran Khan’s PTI’s 35 National Assembly seats to Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N’s 166, an upstart party still managed to perform well; but we must keep in mind that PTI won more than 90% of those seats in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Pakhtunkhwa, as we know, has been the worst affected province from terrorism; the elections in Pakhtunkhwa were fought on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which bred resentment and reaction among the Pashtuns.

Pakhtunkhwa’s electorate gave a sweeping mandate to Imran Khan’s PTI which stood for dialogue and political settlement with militants against the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party which favored military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and which was consequently wiped out in the elections. And Imran Khan betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the Pashtun electorate when he endorsed the military establishment-led operation in North Waziristan in June 2014.

Moreover, to add insult to the injury, when the aforementioned military operation led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, who have since been rotting in the refugee camps in Bannu, Mardan and Peshawar districts; instead of catering to the needs of the refugees, Imran Khan staged a four-months-long sit-in in Islamabad on the pretext of alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Identity Crisis: Who is Pakistani and Who isn’t?

Imran Khan, Jemima and Diana.
There are two contrasting styles of debating an issue: those who prefer normative arguments, and those who choose descriptive line of reasoning. Most pop intellectuals nowadays adopt the former approach, but the truth unfortunately is generally bitter.

Let me admit at the outset that I do understand that race relations are a sensitive issue in the modern world, particularly when millions of skilled and unskilled immigrants from the Third World countries flock to the economically prosperous developed countries every year to find a better future for themselves and their families.

However, instead of bending over backwards and demanding from the natives of their host countries to be more accommodating and totally non-communal, the immigrants need to understand that migration is not the natural order of societies.

In order to elaborate this paradox by way of an analogy, when we uproot a flowering plant from a garden and try to make it grow in a different environment, sometimes the plant blooms in the changed environment but at other times it doesn’t, depending on the adaptability of the plant and the compatibility of the environment. If you want to change the whole environment to suit the needs of that particular uprooted plant, such an unrealistic approach may not be conducive to native flora and fauna of those habitats.

The right way to tackle the immigration problem is to discourage it by reducing the incentive for the prospective immigrants to permanently abandon their homes, families and communities to find a better job in a foreign country and a radically different culture, where they could be materially better off but might find themselves socially isolated and emotionally desolate.

In order to minimize the incentive for immigration, we need to revamp the global economic order which makes the rich nations get richer and the poor poorer. Once the relative imbalance of wealth distribution between the developed and the developing world is narrowed down, then there will be no need for the people of one region and culture to relocate to another, except on a temporary basis for education, traveling and cultural exchange.

Notwithstanding, throughout our anthropological evolution, from our nomado-pastoral, hunting-gathering phase to the golden era of agriculture, the humans have never lived as individuals, but as social groups, clans and tribes. The ‘individual’ is only an artificial modern construct that has been conceived to suit the needs of urbanized, industrial economies.

There are no two views about the fact that individuals must have intellectual autonomy and freedom of investigation and information, but “individualism” as an ideology with complete disregard for the innate social nature of human beings only nurtures lost souls who sometimes find solace in existential acrobatics and sometimes in alcoholism and drug addictions.

More to the point, there is an obvious difference between a Chinese and an American: a Chinese speaks Mandarin while an American speaks English; they don’t understand each other, because they can hardly communicate with one another due to the difference of language.

Now, if the difference amongst people on the basis of language is duly accepted and appreciated with the naked eye, then we should try to understand that under the sociological microscope, the cultural ethos and social values of two or more radically different cultures don’t always blend seamlessly.

Humanism only implies that we should be just and fair in our approach: that we should try to understand that subaltern people and cultures also have their legitimate material, moral and social needs and aspirations; instead of imposing our Orientalist ‘vision’ on them, we should let them choose and facilitate and expedite their choice and vision.

The human mindsets, attitudes and behaviors are structured and conditioned by their respective cultures and environments. A person born and bred in Pakistan or India generally has more in common with the people of the subcontinent.

For instance: when the first generation Indo-Pakistani immigrants relocate to foreign countries, they find it hard to adjust in a radically different culture initially. It would be unwise to generalize, however, because it depends upon the disposition and inclination of immigrants, their level of education and the value system which they have internalized during their formative years.

There are many sub-cultures within cultures and numerous family cultures within those sub-cultures. Educated Indo-Pakistani liberals generally integrate well into the Western societies, but many conservative Pakistani and Indian immigrants, particularly from backward rural areas, find it hard to adjust in a radically different Western culture. On the other hand, such immigrants from underprivileged backgrounds find the conservative societies of the Gulf countries more conducive to their individual and familial integration and well-being.

In any case, the second generation immigrants, who are born and bred in the Western culture, seamlessly blend into their host environments; and they are likely to have more in common with the people and cultures where they have been brought up. Thus, a first generation Pakistani-American is predominantly a Pakistani, while a second generation Pakistani-American is predominantly an American, albeit with an exotic-sounding name and a naturally tanned complexion.

Notwithstanding, the rise of Trump in America, Brexit in the UK and anti-immigration protests all over Europe, North America and Australia are the manifestation of the underlying sentiment against the so-called globalists’ normative approach toward the issue of immigration, which generally goes against the interests of the working classes of developed countries.

Therefore, instead of offering band aid solutions, we need to revise the prevailing global economic order; and formulate prudent and far-reaching economic and trade policies that can reduce the imbalance of wealth distribution between the developed and the developing nations; hence, reducing the incentive for the immigrants to seek employment in developed countries.

Keeping this background of immigration, globalization and consequent identity crises in the modern world in mind, in the Pakistani socio-political milieu there are three important political forces: the dominant Islamic nationalists; the ethno-linguistic nationalists; and the Westernized liberals.

The Islamic nationalists are culturally much closer to the traditionalist, ethno-linguistic nationalists, but politically, the latter have been marginalized in Pakistan’s power structure. And as we know that politics is mostly about forming alliances, therefore the astute liberals wooed the na├»ve ethno-linguistic nationalists and struck a political alliance with them.

But this alliance is only a marriage of convenience because culturally, both these camps don’t have anything in common with each other. The Islamic nationalists and the ethno-linguistic nationalists belong to the same social stratum and they go through thick and thin together, while the comprador liberals, who are numerically insignificant but politically vocal, derive their inspiration from foreign sources.

Ostensibly, the liberal elites preach minority rights and take a less hostile approach towards the ethnic minorities’ cultures than they take towards the majority’s culture. At times, they are even generous enough to wear a Sindhi ajrak in a social gathering or listen to the folk music, but their purported “indigenousness” never goes beyond cuisines and music.

Pray tell us, which local traditions, customs and values you live by? You live in your quarantined suburbs, study in London and vacation in Hawaii, but when it comes to politics and getting the votes of the masses, you pretend that you are a native?

What do you have in common with the local cultures? You employ a Pathan chowkidar, a Punjabi cook and a Sindhi chauffeur; certainly quite a blend of local cultures you have in your household. So, spare us the lectures on minority rights and cultural diversity and preach the creed that you really believe in: that is, complete Westernization, liberal values and social Darwinism.

Fact of the matter is that liberalism in Islamic societies is only skin deep, it is restricted mostly to the privileged elites. The real flesh and bones of the Islamic societies is comprised of either the Islamic nationalists or the even more backward and traditional ethno-linguistic forces.

The latter’s Westernized leadership may sometimes employ inclusive, Gandhian rhetoric to create a political constituency for itself, but they have as much in common with the native cultures, whether Islamic or ethno-linguistic, as Nehru’s political dynasty has in common with the Indian masses.

Leadership is a two-way street: a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time he is also supposed to represent the disenfranchised masses; the detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal, sooner or later.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How Raymond Davis Helped Track Osama Bin Laden Down?

Six weeks before the killing of Osama Bin Laden, on 16 March 2011, a CIA’s private contractor Raymond Davis, who had previously worked for Erik Prince’s infamous Blackwater security firm, was released from a prison in Lahore and was secretly flown to the US.

On 27 January 2011, Raymond Davis had killed two armed men on a busy street in Lahore, who, according to the inside sources [1] of Pakistan’s intelligence, were its “assets.” Minutes after the shooting, an SUV rushing to Davis’ aid from the American consulate in Lahore had crushed another bystander to death.

Recently, Raymond Davis has published his memoirs titled: “The Contractor: How I landed in a Pakistani prison and ignited a diplomatic crisis,” in which he has narrated all the gory details of the shooting, his time in prison and the subsequent release under a settlement with victims’ families, but has painstakingly avoided any mention to his role as the CIA’s acting station chief [2] in Islamabad or to his job of tracking Osama Bin Laden’s couriers.

In his last year’s May 5 report [3], Greg Miller of the Washington Post posited that Mark Kelton, the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of Bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad, was poisoned by Pakistan’s military intelligence due to Kelton’s role in the assassination of Bin Laden.

It should be remembered here that Mark Kelton succeeded Jonathan Bank in January 2011, after the latter’s name was made public by Pakistan’s military intelligence due to Bank’s “suspicious activities,” and Raymond Davis worked as CIA’s acting station chief during the interim period.

On the fateful day of 27 January 2011, when Raymond Davis was doing his usual job of tracking Bin Laden’s whereabouts, Pakistan’s intelligence sent two hired muggers to harass him in order to make him desist from his unwanted activities; and in a fit of rage, Raymond Davis, who had been chased and harassed several times before by Pakistan’s intelligence operatives, shot both “muggers” dead.

In his April 2013 article [4] for the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti writes: “By the time Raymond Davis moved into a safe house with a handful of other C.I.A. officers and contractors in late 2010, the bulk of the agency’s officers in Lahore were focused on investigating the growth of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“To get more of its spies into Pakistan, the C.I.A. had exploited the arcane rules in place for approving visas for Americans. The State Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon all had separate channels to request visas for their personnel, and all of them led to the desk of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s pro-American ambassador in Washington.

“Haqqani had orders from Islamabad to be lenient in approving the visas, because many of the Americans coming to Pakistan were — at least officially — going to be administering millions of dollars in foreign-aid money. By the time of the Lahore killings, in early 2011, so many Americans were operating inside Pakistan under both legitimate and false identities that even the U.S. Embassy didn’t have accurate records of their identities and whereabouts.”

Although Mark Mazzetti has scrupulously avoided mentioning the role played by Raymond Davis and his team in locating the couriers of Bin Laden in his article and he has even tried to distract attention to Lashkar-e-Taiba, but the timing of the surge of CIA operatives in Pakistan, “late 2010 and early 2011,” is telling here, because those were exactly the months when the CIA was tracking Bin Laden’s whereabouts.

More to the point, in his March 10 article [5] for the Washington Post, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of Osama Bin Laden’s execution in May 2011, has confessed to the role played by the Zardari Administration in facilitating the killing of Bin Laden.

Husain Haqqani identified then-president Asif Ali Zardari as his “civilian leader” and revealed in the article: “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army, even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

This confessional statement by Ambassador Haqqani lends further credence to Seymour Hersh’s account of the execution of Bin Laden in his book and article titled: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden [6], which was published in the London Review of Books in May 2015.

According to Hersh, the initial tentative plan of the Obama Administration regarding the disclosure of the execution of Bin Laden to the press was that he had been killed in a drone strike in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Afghan side of the border. But the operation didn’t go as planned because a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and the whole town now knew that an operation is underway and several social media users based in Abbottabad live-tweeted the whole incident on Twitter.

Therefore, the initial plan was abandoned and the Obama Administration had to go public within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story. This fact explains so many contradictions and discrepancies in the official account of the story, the biggest being that the United States Navy Seals conducted a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town without the permission of Pakistani authorities.

Moreover, according to a May 2015 AFP report [7], Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which, Pakistan’s intelligence disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown.

Seymour Hersh has posited in his investigative report on the Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad that the Saudi royal family had asked Pakistan as a favor to keep Bin Laden under protective custody, because he was a scion of a powerful Saudi-Yemeni Bin Laden Group and it was simply inconceivable for the Saudis to hand him over to the US.

But once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al-Qaeda leader had been hiding in a safe house in Abbottabad under the protective custody of Pakistan’s military intelligence, and after that, when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

In his book, Seymour Hersh has already postulated various theories that why it was not possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to simply hand Bin Laden over to the US, one being that the Americans wanted to catch Bin Laden themselves in order to gain maximum political mileage for Obama’s presidential campaign slated for next year.

Here, let me only add that in May 2011, Pakistan had a US-friendly Zardari Administration in power. And as Ambassador Haqqani pointed out in his Washington Post article that then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the former head of military intelligence, Shuja Pasha, had been complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals conducting a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town.

But Pakistan’s civilian administration under then-president Asif Ali Zardari had persuaded the military authorities to order the Pakistan Air Force and air defense systems to stand down during the operation. Ambassador Haqqani’s role in this saga ruffled the feathers of Pakistan’s military’s top brass to an extent that Husain Haqqani was later implicated in a criminal case regarding his memo to Admiral Mike Mullen and eventually Ambassador Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Finally, although Seymour Hersh claimed in his account of the story that Pakistan’s military authorities were also on-board months before the operation, let me clarify, however, that according to the inside sources of Pakistan’s military, only Pakistan’s civilian administration under the pro-American Zardari Administration was on-board, and military authorities, who were instrumental in harboring Bin Laden and his family for five years, were intimated only at the eleventh hour in order to preempt the likelihood of Bin Laden’s escape from the custody of his facilitators in Pakistan’s military intelligence.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What are Washington’s stakes in the Syrian conflict?

Washington’s interest in the Syrian civil war is partly about ensuring Israel’s regional security and partly it is about doing the bidding of America’s regional Sunni allies: Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab States.

Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of the Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against the Iranian influence in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by the Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

More to the point, the United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s declassified report [1] of 2012 clearly spelled out the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria in the event of an outbreak of a civil war in Syria. Under pressure from the Zionist lobby in Washington, however, the Obama Administration deliberately suppressed the report and also overlooked the view in general that a proxy war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamic jihadists.

The hawks in Washington were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria, but they kept pursuing the ill-fated policy of nurturing militants in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to weaken the Baathist regime in Syria.

The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security was posed by the Shi’a resistance axis, which is comprised of Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah. During the course of 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel; and Israel’s defense community realized for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, posed to Israel’s regional security.

Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for Israel’s military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel?

Regarding the Western interest in collaborating with the Gulf Arab States against their regional rivals, bear in mind that in April last year, the Saudi foreign minister threatened [2] that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets if Congress passed a bill that would allow Americans to sue the Saudi government in the United States courts for its role in the September 11, 2001 terror attack.

Moreover, $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the United States, if we add its investment in the Western Europe and the investments of UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investments in North America and Western Europe.

Furthermore, in order to bring home the significance of Persian Gulf’s oil in the energy-starved industrialized world, here are a few rough stats from the OPEC data: Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves of 265 billion barrels and its daily oil production exceeds 10 million barrels; Iran and Iraq, each, has 150 billion barrels reserves and has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day, each; while UAE and Kuwait, each, has 100 billion barrels reserves and produces 3 million barrels per day, each; thus, all the littoral states of the Persian Gulf, together, hold more than half of world’s 1500 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves.

Additionally, regarding the Western defense production industry’s sales of arms to the Gulf Arab States, a report [3] authored by William Hartung of the US-based Center for International Policy found that the Obama Administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons, military equipment and training during its eight years tenure.

Similarly, the top items in Trump’s agenda for his maiden visit to Saudi Arabia in May were: first, he threw his weight behind the idea of Saudi-led “Arab NATO” to counter Iran’s influence in the region; and second, he announced an unprecedented arms package for Saudi Arabia. The package included between $98 billion and $128 billion in arms sales, and over a period of 10 years, total sales could reach $350 billion.

Thus, keeping the economic dependence of the Western countries on the Gulf Arab States in mind during the times of global recession when most of manufacturing has been outsourced to China, it is unsurprising that when the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decided to provide training and arms to Sunni Arab jihadists in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan against the Shi’a-dominated regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Obama Administration was left with no other choice but to toe the destructive policy of its regional Middle Eastern allies, despite the sectarian nature of the proxy war and its attendant consequences of breeding a new generation of Islamic jihadists who would become a long-term security risk not only to the Middle East but to the Western countries, as well.

Similarly, when King Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, decided to invade Yemen in March 2015, once again, the Obama Administration had to yield to the dictates of Saudi Arabia and UAE by fully coordinating the Gulf-led military campaign in Yemen not only by providing intelligence, planning and logistical support but also by selling billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Gulf Arab States during the conflict.

Regarding the Pax Americana which is the reality of the contemporary global political and economic order, according to a recent infographic [4] by the New York Times, 210,000 US military personnel are currently stationed all over the world; including 79,000 in Europe, 45,000 in Japan, 28,500 in South Korea and 36,000 in the Middle East (of which, 28,000 have been deployed in the Persian Gulf alone, including 11,000 in the sprawling Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar).

By comparison, the number of US troops in Afghanistan is only 8,500 which is regarded as an occupied country. Thus, the Gulf Arab principalities are not sovereign states, as such, but the virtual protectorates of the corporate America.

In this reciprocal relationship, the US provides security to the ruling families of the Gulf Arab states by providing weapons and troops; and in return, the Gulf’s petro-sheikhs contribute substantial investments to the tune of trillions of dollars in the Western economies.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ideological Foundations and Organizational Structure of Islamic State

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Although the current al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani but he was appointed [1] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012.

Thus, al-Julani’s Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations.

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra.

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.

Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Julani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until April 2013, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Julani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria.

Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since August 2011 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2013, after which it overran Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor in the summer of 2013. And in January 2014, it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in June 2014.

The Baathist Command Structure:

Excluding al-Baghdadi and a handful of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. According to an informative Associated Press report [2], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obaidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria.

Therefore, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obaidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obaidi is known to be the de facto deputy of al-Baghdadi.

More to the point, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq in 2013-14, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also appeared quite “worried” when the Islamic State overran Mosul that where did the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “the Technicals” amongst the jihadists?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located at the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqqa and Deir al-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Notwithstanding, in order to simplify the Syrian theater of proxy wars, it can be divided into three separate and distinct zones: that are, the Syrian government-controlled areas, the regions administered by the Syrian Kurds and the areas that have been occupied by the Syrian opposition.

Excluding Idlib Governorate which has been occupied by the Syrian opposition, all the major population centers along the western Mediterranean coast are controlled by the Syrian government: that include, Damascus, Homs, Hamah, Latakia and Aleppo, while the oil-rich Deir al-Zor has been contested between the regime and the Islamic State.

The regions that are administered by the Syrian Kurds include Qamishli and al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria, Kobani along the Turkish border and a canton in northwestern Syria, Afrin.

Excluding the western Mediterranean coast and the adjoining major urban centers controlled by the Syrian government and the Kurdish-controlled areas in the north of Syria along the borders with Iraq and Turkey, the Syrian opposition-controlled areas can be further subdivided into three separate zones of influence:

Firstly, the northern and northwestern zone along the Syria-Turkey border, in and around Aleppo and Idlib, which is under the influence of Turkey and Qatar. Both these countries share the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood and provide money, training and arms to Sunni Arab militant organizations, such as al-Tawhid Brigade, Zenki Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey in collaboration with CIA’s MOM (a Turkish acronym for military operations center).

Secondly, the southern zone of influence along the Syria-Jordan border, in Daraa and Quneitra and as far away as Homs and Damascus. It is controlled by the Salafist Saudi-Jordanian camp and they provide money, weapons and training to the Salafi-Wahhabi militant groups, such as al-Nusra Front and the Southern Front of the so-called “moderate” Free Syria Army (FSA) in Daraa and Quneitra, and Jaysh al-Islam in the suburbs of Damascus. Their military strategy is directed by a Military Operations Center (MOC) and training camps located in the border regions of Jordan, as I have already described.

Here, let me clarify that this distinction is overlapping and heuristic, at best, because al-Nusra’s jihadists have taken part in battles as far away as Idlib and Aleppo, and pockets of opposition-held areas can be found even in the regime-controlled cities, including in the capital, Damascus.

And thirdly, the eastern zone of influence along the Syria-Iraq border, in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, which has been controlled by a relatively maverick Iraq-based jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, though it had received funding and weapons from Turkey and the Gulf Arab States before it turned rogue and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014.

Thus, leaving the Mediterranean coast and Syria’s border with Lebanon, the Baathist and Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime has been surrounded from all three sides by hostile Sunni forces: Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood in the north, Jordan and the Salafists of the Gulf Arab States in the south and the Sunni Arab-majority regions of Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in the east.

The Sectarian, anti-Shi’a Ideology:

According to reports, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last seven years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic World where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

Moreover, unlike al Qaeda which is a terrorist organization that generally employs anticolonial and anti-Zionist rhetoric to draw funds and followers, the Islamic State and the majority of Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria are basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. By the designation “terrorism,” it is generally implied and understood that an organization which has the intentions and capability of carrying out acts of terrorism on the Western soil.

Although the Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, but if we look at the pattern of its subversive activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets the Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq. A few acts of terrorism that it has carried out in the Gulf Arab states were also directed against the Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it has been comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by their regional and international patrons.

The Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who have become a national security risk to the Western countries.

More to the point, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and the Sunni militants of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah. In accordance with the pact, Sunni militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-dominated Syrian government.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014 when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, from where, the US troops had withdrawn only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni militants’ expansion in Syria and Iraq has stalled, and they now feel that their Western patrons have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they are infuriated and once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the recent spate of terror attacks against the European targets has been critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels bombings, and this year, three horrific terror attacks have taken place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months.

Conclusion:

A number of Islamic State affiliates have recently sprung up all over the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions that have no organizational and operational association, whatsoever, with the Islamic State proper in Syria and Iraq, such as the Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and even Boko Haram in Nigeria now falls under the rubric of the Islamic State.

It is understandable for laymen to conflate such local militant outfits for the Islamic State proper, but how come the policy analysts of think tanks and the corporate media’s terrorism experts, who are fully aware of this not-so-subtle distinction, have fallen for such a ruse?

Can we classify any ragtag militant outfit as the Islamic State merely on the basis of ideological affinity and “a letter of accreditation” from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi without the Islamic State’s Baathist command structure and superior weaponry that has been bankrolled by the Gulf’s petro-dollars?

The Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, deliberately and knowingly fall for such stratagems because it serves the scaremongering agenda of vested interests. Before acknowledging the Islamic State’s affiliates in the region, the Western mainstream media also similarly and “naively” acknowledged al Qaeda’s affiliates in the region, too, merely on the basis of ideological affinity without any organizational and operational association with al Qaeda Central, such as al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.

Recently, the Islamic State’s purported “terror franchises” in Afghanistan and Pakistan have claimed several terror attacks against the Shi’a and Barelvi Muslims who are regarded as heretics by Takfiris. But to contend that the Islamic State is responsible for suicide blasts in Pakistan and Afghanistan is to declare that the Taliban are responsible for anarchy and militancy in Syria and Iraq.

Both are localized militant outfits and any purported affiliate of the Islamic State without its Baathist command structure and superior weaponry would be just another ragtag, local militant outfit. The distinction between the Taliban and the Islamic State lies in the fact that the Taliban follow Deobandi sect of Sunni Islam which is native to South Asia and the jihadists of the Islamic State mostly belong to the Wahhabi denomination.

Secondly, and more importantly, the insurgency in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is a Pashtun uprising which is an ethnic group native to Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, while the bulk of the Islamic State’s jihadists is comprised of Arab militants of Syria and Iraq. Conflating the Islamic State either with al-Qaeda or with a breakaway faction of the Taliban is a deliberate deception intended to mislead public opinion in order to exaggerate the security threat posed by the Islamic State.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The US has taken Al-Nusra Front off Terror Watch-lists after Rebranding

According to a recent report [1] by CBC Canada, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front and then Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) since July 2016, has been removed from the terror watch-lists of the US and Canada after it merged with fighters from Zenki Brigade and hardline jihadists from Ahrar al-Sham and rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in January this year.

The US State Department is hesitant to label Tahrir al-Sham a terror group, despite the group’s link to al-Qaeda, as the US government has directly funded and armed the Zenki Brigade, one of the constituents of Tahrir al-Sham, with sophisticated weaponry including the US-made antitank TOW missiles.

The overall military commander of Tahrir al-Sham continues to be Abu Mohammad al-Julani, whom the US has branded a Specially Designated Global Terrorist with a $10 million bounty. But for the US to designate Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organization now would mean acknowledging that it supplied sophisticated weapons to terrorists, and draw attention to the fact that the US continues to arm Islamic jihadists in Syria.

In order to understand the bloody history of al-Nusra Front during the Syrian civil war, bear in mind that since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Although al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani but he was appointed [2] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012.

Thus, al-Julani’s al-Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations.

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra.

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.

Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Julani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until April 2013, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Julani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria.

Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since August 2011 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2013, after which, it overran Raqqa in the summer of 2013, then it seized parts of Deir al-Zor and fought battles against the alliance of Kurds and the Syrian regime in al-Hasakah. And in January 2014 it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in June 2014.

Regarding the rebranding of al-Julani’s Nusra Front to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” in July 2016 and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central, it was only a nominal difference because al-Nusra Front never had any organizational and operational ties with al-Qaeda Central and even their ideologies are poles apart.

Al-Qaeda Central is basically a transnational terrorist organization, while al-Nusra Front mainly has regional ambitions that are limited only to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and its ideology is anti-Shi’a and sectarian. In fact, al-Nusra Front has not only received medical aid and material support from Israel, but some of its operations against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in southern Syria were fully coordinated with Israel’s air force.

The purpose behind the rebranding of al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central was to legitimize itself and to make it easier for its patrons to send money and arms. The US blacklisted al-Nusra Front in December 2012 and pressurized Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ban it too. Although al-Nusra Front’s name has been in the list of proscribed organizations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 2014, but it has kept receiving money and arms from the Gulf Arab States.

It should be remembered that in a May 2015 interview [3] with al-Jazeera, Abu Mohammad al-Julani took a public pledge on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization only has local ambitions limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and that it does not intends to strike targets in the Western countries.

Thus, this rebranding exercise has been going on for quite some time. Al-Julani announced the split from al-Qaeda in a video statement last year. But the persistent efforts of al-Julani’s Gulf-based patrons have only borne fruit in January this year, when al-Nusra Front once again rebranded itself from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which also includes “moderate” jihadists from Zenki Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and several other militant groups, and thus, the US State Department has finally given a clean chit to the jihadist conglomerate that goes by the name of Tahrir al-Sham to pursue its ambitions of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.

Who will be Al-Baghdadi’s successor after his reported death?

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed [1] that according to information, which is being checked through various channels, the Islamic State’s leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi had reportedly been killed as a result of airstrikes conducted by the Russian aircrafts near Raqqa on May 28.

The strikes targeted a meeting of high-ranking Islamic State leaders where al- Baghdadi had reportedly been present. The meeting had been gathered to plan routes for the exit of militants from Raqqa through the so-called “southern corridor.”

Among 30 field commanders and up to 300 militants who were killed in the strike were Emir of Raqqa Abu al-Haji al-Masri, Emir Ibrahim al-Naef al-Hajj who controlled the district from the city of Raqqa to the settlement of es-Sohne and the Islamic State’s head of security Suleiman al-Sawah.

Although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obaidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria.

Thus, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obaidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obaidi is known to be the de facto deputy of al-Baghdadi.

It should be noted, however, that the US State Department and the Pentagon have neither confirmed the death of al-Jumaili nor al-Baghdadi. The mainstream media is bending over backwards to prove that al-Baghdadi is still alive and has been hiding in the desert between Raqqa and Mosul with only two of his bodyguards in a pickup truck.

It is not in Washington’s interests right now to confirm the deaths of the Islamic State’s top leaders even if it has received credible reports of their deaths because the US troops and the allied local militias have mounted offensives against the Islamic State’s strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa which have caused colossal loss of human lives.

Conventional munitions and white phosphorous are being used in large quantities against the residents of both cities, and public opinion is swiftly turning against the ill-conceived intervention in Iraq and the illegitimate US interference in Syria on the pretext of waging a war against terrorism.

According to the Russian and regional media, the US Air Force has been showering Raqqa with white phosphorous, and at the same time, the US has provided a safe exit to jihadists to escape through the “southern corridor” to the oil-rich governorate of Deir al-Zor which has been contested between the Syrian government troops, the Islamic State and the US-backed so-called “moderate” militants.

Thus, rather than a genuine war to eliminate terrorism, the US-led war against the Islamic State is turning out to be a scramble for territory in order to Balkanize Syria between the Kurds in the north, the Syrian government in the west and the US-backed Sunni Arab militants in the energy-rich east.

Therefore, it is not in Washington’s interests to verify the elimination of the Islamic State’s top leadership even if it has received credible reports to the effect because the bogey of al-Baghdadi must be kept alive until the US achieves its strategic objectives in Syria and Iraq.

Excluding al-Baghdadi and some of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. According to an informative Associated Press report [2], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Thus, apart from training and arms which have been provided to Sunni Arab militants in the training camps located on the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which has contributed to the stellar success of the Islamic State is that its top cadres are comprised of professional military and intelligence officers from the Saddam era.

Moreover, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology plays an important role in battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq in 2014, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also seem to be quite “worried” these days that where does the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “the Technicals” among jihadists?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located at the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqqa and Deir al-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the creation of the Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government.

Similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept the fact that the Cold War era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda and myriads of Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The corporate media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Bush Administration as it has been the doing of the Obama Administration’s policy of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

The border between Syria and Iraq is quite porous and poorly guarded. The Obama Administration’s policy of nurturing militants against the Assad regime in Syria was bound to have its blowback on Iraq, sooner or later. Therefore, as soon as the Islamic State consolidated its gains in Syria, it overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 from where, the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

And now, the wretched inhabitants of those regions are once again in the line of fire from the Islamic State’s suicide blasts and car bombings, on the one hand, and the US-backed artillery shelling, aerial bombardment and white phosphorous, on the other.