Saturday, June 11, 2016

Syrian Civil War and the Making of Islamic State

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to April 2013, Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al Nusra.” Although, the current Al-Nusra Front is led by Abu Mohammad al Julani but he was appointed as the Emir of Al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012. The current Al-Nusra Front is only a splinter group of Islamic State which split away from its parent organization in April 2013 over a dispute between the leaders of two organizations. Al Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between Baghdadi and 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 in Iraq and Syria. I have discussed this topic in detail in one of my write-ups for Asia Times: “How Syrian Jihad spawned Islamic State?” [1]

Moreover, unlike al Qaeda, which is a terrorist organization that generally employs anticolonial and anti-West rhetoric to draw funds and followers, Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, both, 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. Though, Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, such as the high profile November 2015 Paris attacks, but if we look at the pattern of its sabotage 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. Moreover, al Qaeda Central is only a small band of Arab individuals whose strength is numbered in a few hundreds, while Islamic State is a mass insurgency whose strength is numbered in tens of thousands, especially in Syria and Iraq.

Furthermore, for the sake of argument, let me concede that it is a plausible fact that the US does not directly supports the Syrian militants, it only sets the broad policy framework and lets its client states in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, do the actual financing, training and arming of the Syrian militants. For instance, although the US openly provides the American-made antitank (TOW) weapons to the Syrian rebels but it had strictly forbidden the aforementioned clients from providing anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) to the militants, because Israel frequently flies surveillance aircrafts and drones and occasionally carries out airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon and had such weapons fallen into the wrong hands, it could have become a long term threat to the Israeli Air Force. Lately, some anti-aircraft weapons from Gaddafi’s looted arsenal in Libya have made their way into the hands of the Syrian militants but for the initial years of the civil war there was an absolute prohibition on providing such weapons to the insurgents.

More to the point, the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency’s report [2] of 2012 that presaged the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in north-eastern Syria was not overlooked it was deliberately suppressed, not just the report but that view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to the radical Islamists, was forcefully stifled in the Western policy making circles under pressure from the Zionist lobbies. The Western powers were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria but they kept pursuing the policy of financing, training, arming and internationally legitimizing the so-called “Syrian opposition” to weaken the Syrian regime and to neutralize the threat that its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, had posed to Israel’s regional security; a fact which the Israeli defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war during the course of which Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for the Israeli 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? The Western interest in the Syrian civil war is primarily about ensuring Israel’s regional security.

Sectarianism and the rise of Islamic State:

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 Afghanistan. And Sunni Jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield of jihad for the past five 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 Middle East region where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted peacefully for centuries. But the neocolonial powers will conveniently deny all responsibility by simply asserting that: “It isn’t our fault, the Muslims are killing each other,” an absurd claim made by the Bush Administration during the occupation years in Iraq. However, had the US not invaded Iraq in 2003 for its 140 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, would things have reached such a point of crisis? And the victim-blaming neoliberals will point fingers at Islam as a religion and some of its decontextualized Jihadist verses for all the violence and bloodshed without understanding anything about the underlying politics behind the Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region.

Notwithstanding, after the Russian involvement in Syria, when Russia claims that it will fight the Islamic State, the assertion at least makes sense. But how can US claim to fight a force that was an obvious by-product of its own policy in the region in the first place? Let’s settle on one issue first: there were two parties to the Syrian civil war initially, the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition; which party did the US support since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011 to June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul in Iraq? Obviously, the US supported the Syrian opposition, and what was the composition of that so-called “Syrian opposition?” A small fraction of it was comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority had been comprised of Islamic jihadists who were generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by the NATO-GCC alliance.

Islamic State is nothing more than one of the numerous Syrian jihadist outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. The reason why the US has turned against Islamic State is that all other jihadist outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, even al Nusra’s Emir, Abu Mohammad al Julani, has taken a public pledge [3] on al Jazeera on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization does not intends to strike targets in the Western countries, after which the Western mainstream media has become cozy to it and included al Qaeda Central’s official franchise in Syria in its list of militant groups with whom the Western powers can do business as a Hobson’s choice.

All the Sunni jihadist groups that are operating in Syria are just as brutal as Islamic State, only thing that differentiates Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded, and it also includes hundreds of Western citizens in its ranks who can later become a national security risk to the Western countries, this fact explains the ambivalent policy of the US towards a monster that it had nurtured in Syria from August 2011 to June 2014 until it threatened the US’ strategic interests in the oil-rich, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controlled Northern Iraq. Thus the US-led “war against Islamic State” since August 2014 has less to do with finding an expeditious solution to the Syrian crisis or the threat that Islamic State poses to Iraq and Syria and it is more about the threat that Islamic State poses to the Western countries in the long run, a fact that has now become obvious after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

According to this NY Times report [4], there are more than 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria from over 100 countries that are fighting alongside the Sunni jihadist groups to topple the Syrian regime; 4500 of those foreign jihadists are from the Western countries and France is the single largest European contributor of foreign jihadists with 1800 fighters, Britain is a distant second with 750, and the number of American jihadists fighting in Syria is relatively small, approximately 250. Although the report claims that most foreign jihadists fight for the Islamic State but corporate media, being a mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has a vested interest in selectively singling out the Islamic State and giving a carte blanche to all the other Sunni jihadist groups, in line with the stated Western policy and objective of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.

The reason why Syria and Iran have been more willing to form an alliance with Russia against the Sunni jihadists is that the US-led “war against Islamic State” is limited only to Islamic State while all other Sunni jihadist groups are enjoying complete impunity, and the coalition against Islamic State also includes the main patrons of Sunni jihadists like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan. But the Russian-led offensive in coalition with the aforementioned Shi’a regimes has been more comprehensive against all the Sunni jihadist outfits which are just as much of a threat to the Shi’a regimes as Islamic State.

Moreover, the Western corporate media is trumpeting these days that the Syrian regime has been unwilling to fight Islamic State. I don’t know what kind of spin-doctors come up with preposterous and counterfactual stories such as these, but it’s a fact that the military resources of the Syrian regime were stretched thin before the Russian intervention, therefore, its first priority had been to defend itself around the densely-populated urban areas from Damascus and Homs to Hamah, Idlib and Aleppo and around the coastal Latakia. However, does anyone remembers the Hasakah Offensive of August 2015 in which the Syrian military successfully defended Hasakah and then routed Islamic State in alliance with the Syrian Kurds? The corporate media will never tell you about the previous alliance that existed between the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists.

Kurdish factor in the Syrian civil war:

Masoud Barzani.
In order to understand the Kurdish factor in the Syria-Iraq equation, we should bear in mind that there are four distinct types of Kurds: 1) the KDP Kurds of Iraq that are led by Masoud Barzani; 2) the PUK Kurds of Iraq led by Jalal Talabani; 3) the PKK Kurds of Turkey; and 4) the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria. The first of these, i.e. the Barzani-led KDP Kurds of Iraq have traditionally been imperialist collaborators who have formed a strategic alliance with the US and Israel since the ‘90s, i.e. the First Gulf war. All other Kurds, however, have traditionally been in the anticolonial socialist camp and that’s the reason why PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by NATO because Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO and the separatist PKK Kurds are the traditional foes of the Turkish establishment.

Unlike the Barzani-led Kurds of Iraq, however, the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria, who are ideologically akin to the socialist PKK Kurds of Turkey, had initially formed an alliance with the pro-Russia Assad regime against the Sunni jihadists in return for limited autonomy – the aforementioned alliance, however, was not just against the Islamic State but against all the Sunni Arab jihadist groups that are operating in Syria, some of which have been supported by NATO and Gulf Arab countries. It was only in August 2014, after the US' declaration of war against Islamic State, that the Syrian Kurds switched sides and now they are the centerpiece of the US policy for defeating Islamic State in the region.

One can’t really blame the Kurds for this perfidy because they are fighting for their right of self-determination, but once again the Western powers have executed their tried-and-tested, divide-and-rule policy to perfection in Syria and Iraq to gain leverage and to turn the tide despite the dismal failure of their undisguised regime-change policy for the initial three years of the Syrian civil war, i.e. from August 2011 to August 2014.

Until August 2014 the evident US policy in Syria was regime change and the Syrian Kurds had formed a defensive alliance with the Syrian regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists in order to defend the semi-autonomous Kurdish majority areas in the Syrian Rojava, that equation changed, however, when Islamic State captured Mosul in June 2014 and also threatened the US’ most steadfast ally in the region – Masoud Barzani and his capital Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, which is also the hub of Big Oil’s Northern Iraq operations.

After that development, the US made a volte-face on its regime-change policy in Syria and now the declared objective became “the war against Islamic State.” That policy change in turn led to a reconfiguration of alliances among the regional actors and the Syrian Kurds broke off their previous arrangement with Assad regime and formed a new alliance with NATO against the Islamic State. Unlike their previous defensive alliance with the Syrian regime, however, whose objective was to protect and defend the Kurdish majority areas in Syria from the onslaught of the Sunni Arab jihadists, this new Kurdish alliance with NATO is more aggressive and expansionist, and its outcome is obvious from this Amnesty International report [5] on the forced displacement of Arabs and demographic change by the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds.

Moreover, after the US’ initiative of training and arming the so-called “moderate Syrian rebels” in Turkey and Jordan to battle the Islamic State fell flat on its face, it is now trying desperately to put all of its eggs in the Kurdish basket in order to resuscitate its failed Syria policy. The so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” is nothing more than the Kurdish YPG militias with a tinkering of a few hundred parochial Syrian Arab tribesmen in order to make it appear more inclusive and representative in the eyes of the international audience.

Composition of Islamic State:

The only difference between the Afghan Jihad back in the ‘80s, that spawned the Islamic jihadists like the Taliban and al Qaeda for the first time in history, and the Libyan and Syrian Jihads 2011-onward, is that the Afghan Jihad was an overt Jihad – back then the Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, used to openly brag that CIA provides all those AK-47s, RPGs and stingers to the Pakistani ISI which then forwards such weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen (freedom fighters) to combat the erstwhile Soviet Union. After the 9/11 tragedy, however, the Western political establishments and corporate media have become a lot more circumspect, therefore, this time around they have waged covert jihads against the hostile Gaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria, in which the Islamic jihadists (aka terrorists) have been sold as “moderate rebels” with secular and nationalist ambitions to the Western audience.

Since the regime change objective in those hapless countries went against the established mainstream narrative of “the war on terror,” therefore, the Western political establishments and the mainstream media are now trying to muddle the reality by offering color-coded schemes to identify myriads of militant and terrorist outfits that are operating in those countries – like the red militants of Islamic State which the Western powers want to eliminate; the yellow militants of Jaysh al-Fateh (the Army of Conquest,) that includes al-Qaeda allied al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, with whom NATO can collaborate under desperate circumstances; and the green militants of Free Syria Army (FSA) and a few other inconsequential outfits which together comprise the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition.”

It’s an incontrovertible fact that more than 90% of militants that are operating in Syria are either the Islamic jihadists or the armed tribesmen, and less than 10% are those who have defected from the Syrian army or otherwise have secular and nationalist goals. As far as the infinitesimally small secular and liberal elite of the developing countries is concerned, such privileged classes can’t even cook breakfasts for themselves if their servants are on a holiday and the corporate media had us believing that the majority of the Syrian militants are “moderate rebels” who constitute the vanguard of the Syrian opposition against the Syrian regime in a brutal civil war and who believe in the principles of democracy, rule of law and liberal values as their cherished goals?

Notwithstanding, it is a fact that morale and ideology plays an important role in the battle; moreover, we also know that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has been directly inspired by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is never sufficient to succeed in the battle. Looking at the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in Syria and Iraq in the last couple of years, one wonders that where does its recruits get all the training and sophisticated weapons that are imperative not only for the hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding vast swathes of territory? Even the Afghan National Army, that has been trained and armed by NATO’s military instructors, is finding itself in trouble these days to hold territory in Afghanistan in the face of the unrelenting Taliban insurgency.

Apart from the training and arms that are provided to the Islamic jihadists in the training camps located on the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with the Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, another factor that has contributed to the spectacular success of Islamic State is that its top cadres are comprised of the former Baathist military and intelligence officers of the Saddam regime. According to this informative Associated Press report by Dawn [6], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Moreover, the US’ State department appears to be quite “worried” these days that where does Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy, white Toyota pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “The Technicals” among the jihadists? I think that I have found the answer to this riddle in this news story [7] from a website affiliated with the UAE government which is highly biased in favor of the Syrian opposition: it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear the Saudi government also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training either in the border regions of Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Once those jihadists cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in Syria from the Jordan-Syria border then those Toyota pick-up trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqaa and Deir ez-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

The only thing that differentiates Islamic State from all other insurgent groups is its command structure that is comprised of professional ex-Baathists and its state of the art armory that has been provided to all the Sunni jihadist outfits that are fighting in Syria by the NATO-GCC alliance. However, a number of Islamic State affiliates have recently been springing up all over the Middle East and North Africa region that have no organizational and operational link, whatsoever, with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, such as, the Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Sinai, Libya and even the Boko Haram in Nigeria now falls under the umbrella of the Islamic State. It’s understandable for the laymen to mistake such ragtag militant outfits for ISIS but how come the policy analysts of the think tanks and the corporate media’s spin-doctors, who are fully in the know, have fallen for such a ruse? Can we categorize any ragtag militant outfit as 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 falls for such ruses because it serves their agenda of creating bogeymen after bogeymen to keep the enterprise of the Fear Inc. running. Before acknowledging the Islamic State’s affiliates in the region, the Western political establishments had also similarly and “naively” acknowledged the al Qaeda affiliates in the region, too, merely on the basis of ideological affinity without any organizational and operational link, such as, al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.

While we are on the subject of Islamic State’s weaponry, it is generally claimed in the mainstream media that Islamic State came in possession of those sophisticated weapons when it overran Mosul in June 2014 and seized huge caches of weapons that were provided to the Iraqi armed forces by the Americans. On empirical grounds, is it not a bit paradoxical, however, that Islamic State conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq before it overran Mosul, when it supposedly did not had those sophisticated weapons, and after allegedly coming into possession of those weapons it is continuously losing ground? The only conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that Islamic State had those weapons, or equally deadly weapons, before it overran Mosul and that those weapons were provided to all the Sunni jihadist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, by the intelligence agencies of the Western power, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.

Turkish dilemma and the Western intervention:

Ahmet Davutoglu.
The dilemma that Turkey is facing in Syria is quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Gaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and the then Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the then Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for the military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention Obama’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In the Syrian case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing British troops and Air Force to Syria; taking cue from the British parliament the US’ Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention; and since both those administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore, Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in favor of intervention; at this point, however, the seasoned Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime is willing to ship its chemical weapons’ stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved. Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states – the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity for dealing a fatal blow to the Shi’a alliance comprising Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni jihadist outfits fighting in Syria, trespassed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014 and threatened the capital of America’s most steadfast ally in the oil-rich region – Masoud Barzani’s Erbil. The US had no choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show to the world that it is still sincere in pursuing its schizophrenic and hypocritical “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a symbolic war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate Syrian militants” will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring a war against Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too – in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, Obama Administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama Administration availed itself of the “war on terror” provisions in the US’ laws and thus circumvented the US’ Congress.

But then Russia threw a spanner in the wicked schemes of NATO and its Gulf Arab allies in September 2015 by its surreptitious military buildup in Latakia that was executed with an element of surprise unheard of since Rommel, the Desert Fox. And now Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states and their Sunni jihadist proxies in Syria find themselves at the receiving end in the Syrian civil war. The shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey in November last year, which is also a member of NATO, seemed like a desperate attempt by Turkey to provoke Russia into a military encounter and thus invoke NATO’s treaty obligation of “collective defense” in the face of “aggression” against any of NATO’s member states.

Maintaining credibility through charades:

In order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policy-makers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present and the future, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside. In the case of the formation of 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 the sectarian divisions and gave birth to a 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 that the Cold War era policy of nurturing the al Qaeda, Taliban and myriads of other 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 formation of 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 previous Bush Administration as it has to do with the present policy of Obama Administration in Syria of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni militants against the 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 Islamic State, al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and numerous other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

If the Obama Administration decides today to stop providing money, arms and training to the so-called “moderate rebels” and declares them terrorists (Islamic jihadists,) the insurgency in Syria will fizzle out within months, at least, in the densely-populated urban Syria from Damascus and Homs to Hamah, Idlib and Aleppo and the coastal Latakia. The northern Syria under the control of Kurds and the central and eastern Syria from Raqqa to Deir ez-Zor which is dominated by the Islamic State, however, is a whole different ball game now and it will take years to subdue the insurgency in those rural-tribal areas of Syria, if at all.

Distinction between terrorism and insurgency:

In political science the devil always lies in the definitions of the terms that we employ. For instance: how do you define a terrorist or a militant? In order to understand this we need to identify the core of a “militant,” that what essential feature distinguishes him from the rest? A militant is basically an armed and violent individual who carries out the acts of sabotage against the state. That being understood, now we need to examine the concept of “violence.” Is it violence per se that is wrong, or does some kind of justifiable violence exists? I take the view, on empirical grounds, that all kinds of violence is essentially wrong; because the ends (goals) for which such violence is often employed are seldom right and elusive at best. Though, democracy and liberal ideals are cherished goals but such goals can only be accomplished through peaceful means; expecting from the armed and violent militants to bring about democratic reform is very naïve and preposterous.

The Western mainstream media and its credulous neoliberal constituents, however, take a different view. According to them, there are two kinds of violence: justifiable and unjustifiable. When a militant resorts to violence for the secular and nationalist goals, such as “bringing democracy” to Libya and Syria, the blindfolded neoliberals enthusiastically exhort such form of violence; however, if such militants later turn out to be Islamic jihadists, like the Misrata militia in Libya or the Islamic State, al Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham in Syria, the misinformed neoliberals, who have been duped by the corporate media’s mainstream narrative, promptly make a volte-face and label them as “terrorists.”

In order to further elaborate this distinction by way of an analogy, there is a big difference between an anarchist and a nihilist: an anarchist believes in something and wants to change the status quo in favor of that belief, while a nihilist believes is nothing and considers life to be meaningless. Similarly, there is also a very big difference between a terrorist and an insurgent: an Islamic insurgent believes in something and wants to enforce that belief in the insurgency-hit regions, while a terrorist is just a bloodthirsty lunatic who is hell-bent on causing death and destruction. The distinguishing feature between the two is that an insurgent has well defined objectives and territorial ambitions, while a terrorist is basically motivated by the spirit of revenge and the goal of causing widespread fear.

The phenomena of terrorism is that which had threatened the Western countries between 2001 to 2005 when some of the most audacious terrorist acts were carried out by al Qaeda against the Western targets like the 9/11 tragedy, the Madrid bombing in 2004 and the London bombing in 2005; or the Paris and Brussels bombings by Islamic State, those acts were primarily the result of the intelligence failure on the part of the Western intelligence agencies.

However, the phenomena that is currently threatening the Islamic countries is not terrorism, as such, but Islamic insurgencies. All the regional militant groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, and even some of the ideological affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State, like Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, Sinai and Libya which have no organizational and operational association with al Qaeda Central or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, respectively, are not terror groups, as such, but Islamic insurgents who are fighting for the goal of enforcing Shari’a in the areas under their control; like their progenitor, the Salafist State of Saudi Arabia.

United States realized this fact many years ago when its occupying military in Afghanistan changed its counter-terrorism (CT) doctrines in favor of a counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy. As a rule of thumb, if the membership of a militant group does not exceeds a few hundreds and its leadership and foot soldiers are primarily comprised of foreigners, such as the pre-dominantly Arab al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such groups can be correctly branded as terrorist outfits; however, if the membership of a militant group runs into thousands and it also has indigenous support among the population of the areas of their operations, then the correct designation for such militant outfits would be “insurgent groups,” such as, the Taliban insurgency in the Af-Pak, the Islamic State’s sectarian insurgency in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram insurgency in north-east Nigeria, al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula insurgency in Yemen and al Shabaab insurgency in Somalia.

The goals for which the Islamic insurgents have been fighting in the aforementioned regions are irrelevant for the debate at hand; it can be argued, however, that if some of the closest Western allies in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, had already enforced Shari’a as part and parcel of their conservative legal systems and when beheadings, amputations and flogging of the criminals are a routine in Saudi Arabia, then what is the basis for the US’ declaration of war against the Islamic insurgents in the Middle East who are erroneously but deliberately labeled as “terrorists” by the Western mainstream media to manufacture consent for the Western military presence and interventions in the energy-rich region under the pretext of the so-called “war on terror?” The real reason why the US has declared war on some Islamist insurgents, like the Taliban and the Islamic State, is not due to their human rights violations or the goal of enforcing Shari’a, but due to a fierce anticolonial sentiment among the membership of those insurgent outfits as opposed to the friendly and servile attitude of the Gulf Arab tyrants towards the West.

On the subject of the supposed “powerlessness” of the US in the global affairs, the Western think tanks and the corporate media’s spin-doctors generally claim that Pakistan deceived the US in Afghanistan by not “doing more” to rein in the Taliban; Turkey hoodwinked the US in Syria by using the war against Islamic State as a pretext for cracking down on Kurds; Saudi Arabia and UAE betrayed the US in Yemen by mounting airstrikes against the Houthis and Saleh’s loyalists; and once again Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt went against the “ostensible” policy of the US in Libya by carrying out airstrikes against the Tripoli-based government, even though Khalifa Haftar, the military commander of the so-called “internationally recognized” Tobruk-based government’s armed forces, lived next door to CIA’s headquarter in Langley, Virginia, for more than two decades.

If the US’ policy-makers are so naïve then how come they still control the Persian Gulf and its 800 billion barrels of proven oil reserves out of a global total of 1500 billion barrels? This perennial whining attitude of the Western corporate media, that such and such regional actors had betrayed them otherwise they were on the top of their game, is actually a clever stratagem that has been deliberately designed by the spin-doctors to cast the Western powers in a positive light and to demonize the adversaries, even if the latter are their tactical allies in some of the regional conflicts.

Fighting wars through proxies allows the international power brokers the luxury of taking the plea of “plausible deniability” in their defense and at the same time they can shift all the blame for wrongdoing on the minor regional players like the Islamic State, the Syrian regime, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia et al. The Western powers’ culpability lies in the fact that because of them we cannot build a system of international justice based on sound principles of morality, justice and fair play in which the violators can be punished for wrongdoing and the victims of injustice, tyranny and violence can be protected.

The neocolonial powers only pay a lip service to the cause of morality, justice and humanity in the international arena and their foreign policies are solely driven by the motive to protect the Western national interest without any regard for the human suffering in the remote regions of the world. Sometimes it isn’t even about protecting their “national interests,” bear in mind that the Western powers are not true democracies; they are plutocratic-oligarchies catering to the needs of their business interests that wield a disproportionate influence in the governmental decision-making and the formulation of public policy. Thus, the real core of the oft-quoted “Western national interests” is mainly comprised of the Western corporate interests.

Notwithstanding, back in the ‘80s the Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” did not spring up spontaneously out of nowhere, some powers financed, trained, armed and internationally legitimized those militants; how else could such ragtag militants have beaten back the super power of its time? Then in 2011 in the wake of the “Arab Spring” in Libya that same powers once again financed, trained, armed and internationally legitimized the Libyan militants by calling them pro-democracy, “armed” activists against the supposedly “brutal and tyrannical” anticolonial Gaddafi regime.

Similarly, in Syria those very same powers once again had the audacity to finance, train, arm and internationally legitimize the Syrian militants; how else could such peaceful and democratic protests have mutated into a full-blown armed insurrection? And even if those protests did mutate into an armed rebellion, left to their own resources the best such civilian protestors could have mustered was to get a few pistols, shotguns and rifles; where did they get all those machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks, rocket-propelled grenades and the US-made TOW antitank missiles? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a military strategist to understand a simple fact that unarmed civilian population and even the ragtag militant outfits lack the wherewithal to fight against the organized and professional armed forces of a country that are equipped with artillery, armored vehicles, battle tanks, air force and navy.

Leaving the funding, training and arming aspects of the insurgencies aside, but especially pertaining to conferring international legitimacy to an armed insurgency, like the Afghan so-called “freedom struggle” of the Cold War, or the supposedly “moderate and democratic” Libyan and Syrian insurgencies of today, it is simply beyond the power of minor regional players and their nascent media that has a geographically and linguistically limited audience to cast such heavily armed and brutal insurrections in a positive light in order to internationally legitimize them; only the Western mainstream media, that has a global audience and which serves as the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has perfected this game of legitimizing the absurd and selling the satans as saviors.

Finally, for the whole of the last five years of the Syrian proxy war the focal point of the Western policy had been that “Assad must go!” But what difference would it make to the lives of the ordinary Syrians even if the regime is replaced now when the civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced half of the population and reduced the whole country of 22 million people to rubble? I do concede that Libya and Syria were not democratic states under Gaddafi and Assad, respectively; however, both of those countries were at least functioning states.

Gaddafi was ousted from power in September 2011; four years later, Tripoli is ruled by the Misrata militia, Benghazi is under the control of Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the Zintan militia, and Sirte is under the effective suzerainty of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Libya. It will now take decades, not years, to restore even a semblance of stability in Libya and Syria; remember that the proxy war in Afghanistan was originally fought in the ‘80s and today, 35 years later, Afghanistan is still in the midst of perpetual anarchy, lawlessness and an unrelenting Taliban insurgency. It’s very unfortunate that the haughty and myopic politicians and diplomats do not learn any lessons from history, otherwise all the telltale signs are there that Syria has become the Afghanistan of the Middle East and its repercussions on the instability of the energy-rich region and the security threat that the Syrian militants pose to the world will have far reaching consequences for many decades to come.

Sources and links:

[1] How Syrian Jihad spawned the Islamic State?

[2] US’ Defense intelligence agency’s report of 2012:

[3] al-Nusra leader: Our mission is to defeat Syrian regime:

[4] Thousands enter Syria to join Islamic State despite global efforts:

[5] Syrian Kurds razing villages seized from Islamic State, Amnesty International report:

[6] Islamic State’s top command dominated by ex-officers in Saddam’s army:

[7] Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman: