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ISIS is right on this one: give the Sunnis a state
Resist the blackmail
How to discredit a revolution
Articles on Iraq before 2013

  • (december 2014) ISIS is right on this one: give the Sunnis a state. There can be no discussion on ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) unless we first recognize that ISIS was welcomed by the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq. The Sunnis of Syria (the majority of the population) were oppressed for decades by Assad (an Alawite) and, before him, by his father, and nobody ever came to their aid. When the revolution started against Assad, Russia and Iran supported Assad and only Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported the Sunni militias: too little to succeed. ISIS, instead, managed to organize a serious military resistance to Assad's well-armed government. Meanwhile, in Iraq the Maliki government had created not only discontent but even terror in the Sunni regions of Iraq. The Sunnis ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein but they were a minority, and after Saddam's overthrow the democratic elections have consistently elected Shiite politicians, peaking with Maliki, who increasingly alienated the Sunni minority. Nobody came to the rescue of the Sunnis in Iraq (that had fought alongside the USA against the local branch of Al Qaeda). When ISIS, having succeeded in Syria, crossed the border into Iraq, it was welcomed by the Sunni population that saw its fighters as the liberators. Incidentally, massacres committed by Shiite militias in Sunni towns have always been under-reported by the Western media: while not as brutal as the ones committed later by ISIS, memories of the Shiite-perpetrated massacres are very fresh in the minds of Iraq's Sunnis. For that reason ISIS was initially viewed by the Sunnis of Iraq as a lesser evil than what had been going on since Maliki's election.
    Hence ISIS exists and, for a while, succeeded because there were legitimate grievances in the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq that nobody else was willing to address and redress. Now it is likely that many of those Sunnis regret choosing ISIS, given ISIS' brutal medieval-style rule. On the other hand, these Sunnis probably feel a little desperate: ISIS is a blood-thirsty fanatical group, but, if ISIS loses, the Sunnis will again fall under the rule of the old persecutors (the Alawite government of Syria and the Shiite government of Iraq). The motivation by the Sunni population to rise up against ISIS is virtually zero, no matter how much they may dislike ISIS.
    The only people who have been seriously opposing ISIS' march are the Kurds, both in Iraq and in Syria. The Kurds are increasingly a strange case. They are scattered among four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria). Nobody wants to grant them a homeland (unlike, say, the Palestinians, to whom everybody wants to grant a homeland), and they only had some degree of autonomy in Iraq. They also happen to be the strongest allies of the USA in the region after Israel.
    What is likely to happen now is that the USA and its allies will weaken ISIS from the air and then the USA will ask Iraqis and Syrians on the ground to finish ISIS. The question is who will be motivated to accept that demand. Certainly not the Sunnis who were abandoned by the USA under Maliki's rule and who were massacred by Assad without any help from the USA. The Iraqi army is unlikely to be welcomed as a liberator by the Sunnis if it attacks ISIS on the ground, and ditto for the Syria army. Turkey has clearly showed that it has no intention of fighting ISIS for fear that ISIS' defeat will empower the Kurds (see ISIS thanks Turkey and Israel). Therefore, as things stand, there is nobody with the motivation to engage in a real war against ISIS.
    The way to end this war and to remove the support that ISIS receives from the local Sunni populations is simple: empower the Sunnis. Many of the problems of the last few decades are due to artificial borders created by European powers ignoring the ethnic groups that those borders were separating or uniting. Decades later those borders are coming back to haunt everybody. It would obviously make a lot of sense to unite all the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq into a common state spanning parts of both countries. It would make a lot of sense to grant the Kurds a state spanning parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It would also make a lot of sense to guarantee the Alawites that they will not end up being persecuted in a post-Assad Syria the way that the Sunnis have been in post-Saddam Iraq. Last but not least, it would make sense for the West to fight only one war (right now it is fighting Assad as well as Assad's main enemy ISIS).
    Give the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria an independent state and they will be motivated to get the best government that they can, i.e. to get rid of ISIS as soon as possible. Give the Kurds an independent state and they will be motivated to push ISIS out of their territory. Give the Alawites a state in Syria and they will be motivated to let Assad go and to create a shared government with Christians and other minorities.
    In a sense, ISIS got it right: the Sunnis of Syria cannot prosper under the rule of the Alawites, and the Sunnis of Iraq cannot prosper under the rule of the Shiites, and it makes sense to unite the two Sunni groups in one state. The West should have recognized it earlier, and ISIS would have never found the momentum to grow as it did.
    The mess in Syria and Iraq is not a first. There was a lengthy and bloody Lebanese civil war (that ended with no winner) between Muslims and Christians. Whenever the old European powers created artificial borders that don't reflect the ethnic reality, thousands of people have lost their lives in ethnic conflicts. It is time to undo the decisions made by the colonial powers, decisions that were meant to help the governments of Europe, not the people of Syria and Iraq.

    (See also World War IV).

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (september 2014) Resist the blackmail. As i wrote in How to discredit a revolution, i feel that ISIS is a direct product of the West's obsession with maintaining the existing borders at all costs: ISIS exploited Sunni resentment against the Alawites (who rule Syria) and the Shiites (who rule Iraq). Initially, ISIS enjoyed strong support from the Sunni minorities in those countries (actually, they are a majority in Syria).
    Having branded them as "terrorists" from the beginning (when they were simply militias fighting two oppressing governments, Assad's and Maliki's), now the West correctly perceives them as mortal enemies. This is certainly the case. ISIS is better armed and better trained than Al Qaeda ever was, and many of ISIS' soldiers have a Western passport. The West decided that they were enemies of Western civilization because they advocate an Islamic theocracy and reject democracy, never mind that most Arab allies of the West are equally undemocratic (kingdoms, emirates, sultanates, etc) and at least one (Saudi Arabia) is a fanatical Islamic state that bans all other religions just like ISIS wants to do (and some of its richest citizens enthusiastically sponsor ISIS and Al Qaeda, and some of its ordinary citizens constituted the bulk of the terrorists that attacked the USA in 2001).
    Whatever the moral (ir)rationale, the West has now decided that ISIS must be stopped, defeated and wiped out. The main reason, let's face it, is precisely to defend the existence of those dictatorships that would be threatened next (starting with Saudi Arabia), dictatorships that don't rank much higher in the scale of human rights.
    This is a film that we have seen before. Saddam Hussein was mainly a threat to his neighbors, but it was the USA that eventually deposed him. The other Arab states secretely rejoiced but officially protested against the infidels that were invading an Islamic land. Now that they are faced with a president of the USA chronically reluctant to bomb around, these same Arab states get hysterical... but are still unwilling to take responsibility. Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar are among the largest military spenders in the world. They would have plenty of weapons to use against ISIS if they chose so. Why should the USA do it for them?
    The West also risks falling into a subtle blackmail engineered by both Assad and Maliki. Assad wanted an end to the West's support for the Syrian rebels. Maliki wanted more powerful weapons for Iraq. Both de facto let ISIS get out of control. Assad reportedly fought the democratic rebels of Syria but let the Islamist conquer territories. His story has always been that he is fighting terrorists, and that the West, in siding against him, is fighting the wrong war. By letting ISIS get more and more powerful, he proved his point. Maliki, the leader of the main Shiite party in Iraq, spent years trying to marginalize and weaken the Sunni minority, and this is the main reason for the spiraling civil war in Iraq. Western observers kept blaming his divisive policies for the civil war, and correctly so. By letting ISIS get more and more powerful, Maliki has forced the West to come to the rescue of (Shia-ruled) Iraq. Maliki has now been forced to resign but his successor comes from the same party and has always advocated the same policies.
    Bottom line: both the regimes of Syria and Iraq are blackmailing the USA into protecting their existence in order to stem the expansion of the Islamists. At the same time the countries that would be threatened next, such as Saudi Arabia, are secretely urging the USA to act but are unwilling to act themselves (Sunnis don't kill Sunnis).
    Finally, there is Iran. Should the USA defeat ISIS, it would be the third time in less than two decades that the USA wipes out a major threat to the Iranian dictatorship: first the Taliban, then Saddam Hussein, and now ISIS. The Taliban and ISIS hate Iran because it is the only Shiite state in the world. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran and killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an attempt to expand Iraq's borders at a time when Iran was weak (just after the revolution that installed the ayatollahs). The motivations were different but these three entities constituted a much bigger threat to Iran than to the USA. Iran, officially a sworn enemy of the USA, was "saved" by the USA twice. Now it looks like it may be "saved" a third time. It didn't have to shoot one bullet the first two times, and it may get another free lunch this time around.
    We already know what will happen if the USA intervenes militarily against ISIS: millions of Europacifists protesting against US imperialism, and millions of Muslims burning US flags in the streets. The main enemy of the USA is not ISIS, nor Al Qaeda. It is the hypocrisy of the Islamic world. Not a single Muslim group anywhere in the Islamic world has organized a single demonstration against ISIS. They enthusiastically pour into the streets for the mere rumor that someone has burned a copy of the Quran, but they can't find one minute to protest against the brutality of ISIS (just like no Muslim group in the Arab world ever protested publicly against Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks). If the West attacks ISIS, it will solve a problem that "they" (the Muslims of the world, and specifically the Arabs) have. And it will probably create a problem for itself, because the Arab media will depict the war against ISIS as a Crusade against Islam (exactly what Al Jazeera did when the USA and Britain attacked Saddam Hussein).
    The USA and the West in general should resist the blackmail until a) the Arab states attack ISIS directly; and b) the Arab public opinion clearly demonstrates support for action against ISIS (See What to do in Syria: ask the Muslims of the world). So far both a) and b) have been missing. The USA should interpret them literally: the Arab countries are happy that ISIS exists and is winning, and the Arab masses don't see anything wrong with it. Suit yourself. We did not cause the decline of the great Islamic civilization, they did it to themselves.
    There is another "caliphate" being created under the nose of the West: Boko Haram keeps expading in northern Nigeria. And in that case there is no ethnic or religious excuse: Boko Haram enjoys little or not support from the local people who fall under its control. Nonetheless, nobody seems too worried about it. The West bombed Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi out of power, France bombed the Islamists in Mali, and now NATO wants to bomb ISIS, but somehow Boko Haram, responsible for countless atrocities and recently for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls (who are probably being turned into sex slaves), gets away with it. Odd to say the least.
    It would make more sense to bomb the countries that founded and funded this strand of intolerant Islam, starting with Saudi Arabia. If there is one symbol of the brutality of ISIS and Al Qaeda, it is Saudi Arabia, a country where only one religion is legal and where two cities, Mecca and Medina, can only be visited by Muslims. When a country promotes that intolerant ideology and gains trillions of dollars from its oil reserves, it does become a threat to human civilization. Al Qaeda and ISIS are simply manifestations of that threat.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (june 2014) How to discredit a revolution. Iraq has certainly fallen into a new stage of the civil war that erupted in 2003 when the USA invaded it and opened a pandora box of ethnic and religious tensions. An armed group called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria), led by former Al Qaeda member Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is now posing a serious threat to the democratically elected regime, a threat eerily reminiscent of the one that materialized in Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban conquered one town after the other and eventually marched into Kabul.
    Pretty much all the current powers of the world (the USA, the European Union, Russia and China) are united in depicting the violence in Iraq as the work of a terrorist group called ISIS, reportedly intent on massacring innocent unarmed civilians and on installing an Islamic theocracy on powerless subjects who don't want it. This is such an unlikely narrative that the only mystery about it is how millions of intelligent news readers can believe it. The Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq has been going on since before Saddam Hussein, the Sunni dictator, was deposed. Shiite (and Kurds) rose up against Saddam's Sunni regime whenever they had a chance. Obviously, his brutal repression (and the scarce news of it percolating to the outside world) made those cases rare and ineffective. The USA did a great favor to the Shiite majority when it took out Saddam Hussein. For the first time since Britain invented the state of Iraq (out of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire) the Shiite majority was allowed to rule its own country. Unfortunately, this also meant that the Sunni minority, that had ruled Iraq since its founding, was rapidly marginalized. The occupying forces of the USA and Britain insisted in keeping Iraq unified, despite the fact that the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis had no desire to live under the same roof. They never accepted it. During and after the US occupation, the Kurds carved out their own autonomous region (which is largely peaceful and prosperous) and the Sunnis staged rebellions in city after city. Far from being simply victims of psychotic terrorists, many Sunnis rallied around Al Qaeda first and now ISIS because those were the only armed forces to fight in their name. ISIS would not have been able to capture entire metropolitan areas like Mosul's without the tacit and sometimes explicit consensus of the population. The population might not be eager for an Islamic theocracy, but many of those Sunni civilians are eager to get rid of what they see as a Shiite occupation of their Sunni lands.
    So much so that Sunni television stations and Sunni newspapers in Iraq are de facto hailing the Sunni uprising (and they certainly don't call it "terrorist") as a historical moment. Fuad al-Haj in the daily al-Muharrir blames the USA for inventing the myth of the terrorists and refers to the uprising as "the revolution of the free people of Iraq". Similar attitudes can be found throughout the Sunni-controlled media. ISIS are terrorists for those who want to keep Iran united and controlled by the Shiite majority. ISIS are patriots for the Sunnis who don't want that. The Kurds themselves have refused to join the fight to free Mosul. Sunni public opinion has long maintained that Iraq's Shiite regime is a puppet of Iran. While there is no doubt that Iran has helped this regime in many ways, the USA has always been ambivalent about it. As much as the West does not like Iran, neither the USA nor the Europeans have ever objected to the Iran-friendly policies of Iraq's president Maliki, who is, after all, armed by the USA and the Europeans. The USA has de facto joined Iran in propping up Maliki's regime militarily, and over the last few days both Iran and the USA have made similar statements in support of Maliki. Odd bedfellows indeed. Needless to say, the Sunni press sees a USA-Iranian conspiracy where the USA sees a bunch of crazy terrorists. The rest of the Sunni world, especially the one that neighbors this region (Saudi Arabia and the emirates) views this conflict as another example of the USA's incompetent and blind foreign policy, that does not appreciate what is really happening on the ground and what the ordinary person wants (obviously the minorities of Iraq do NOT want democratic elections that consistently deliver semi-totalitarian power to the Shiites).
    ISIS and their tribal allies certainly constitute a threat to the West: should they seize power, they would not be kind to those who branded them as terrorists. The West would then have to do what it did to Hamas in the Gaza strip: an organization that has the support of the vast majority of its subjects was branded as a terrorist group by the West and is still (ten years after winning a democratic election) punished with economic sanctions that mostly hurt the people who voted for it, which of course only generates more resentment against the West.
    Just like in Bosnia in the 1990s (when the West forced three ethnic groups to live "in peace" under the same roof despite the fact that they didn't want to), and just like in Ukraine today (where the West wants two ethnic groups to live in the same nation regardless of how they feel about it), the West is obsessed with the existing borders, no matter what. The logical solution would be to partition Iraq in three countries: a Kurdish north, a Sunni west and a Shiite nation bordering Iran. Let us see how many thousands of people have to die this time in the name of the Western obsession with the old imperial borders.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on Iraq before 2014

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.