By Hasan Kanbolat
September 22, 2014
And so, after 101 days of captivity, the hostages in Mosul were able to return to their homes. I want to thank everyone who worked hard on this situation. Following the release of the Mosul hostages, the cards in both Iraq and Syria look ready to be redistributed. And perhaps more pertinently, Ankara no longer holds the hostage trump card it had been pushing as a reason not to participate in the coalition of forces gathering to fight in the region.
It appears that the real goal of the coalition of countries expected to take action after Eid will be to define the economic, political and geographical limitations of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State (IS). Any attempt by the IS to spread towards Saudi Arabia past Syria and Iraq will thus be blocked. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has already clarified that both Jordan and Saudi Arabia most likely lie in the crosshairs of the IS, and that this new entity will not confine itself to just Iraq and Syria.
As it is, the IS is already talking of conquering Saudi Arabia. It has declared the Saud family itself infidels. It has already openly said that one of its goals is to “use the stones in Mecca to kill those praying there, and to destroy the Kaa’ba, which is being prayed to instead of God.” And so it is that the real target in front of the IS is not Baghdad but rather Riyadh.
The West does not wish to see the IS spread from Iraq (and Yemen) towards Saudi Arabia. Although to some countries in the region this idea is perhaps attractive. In fact, some allege that Iraq, Syria, Iran and several other Sunni countries even support the idea of the IS turning towards Riyadh.
Iraq, Syria and Iran all wish to see Saudi Arabia, which supports so many hybrid Salafi groups in the region, weakened.
In fact, they would watch with pleasure as Saudi Arabia, which has helped create so many hybrid Salafi organizations, engaged in this struggle. It is an openly known fact that Riyadh has provided political, financial and military support to Sunni Arabs in both Syria and Iraq. And so, while Saudi Arabia prepares to support a satellite state of Salafi ideology to its north, it has also begun to fear it might well be buried underneath the very structure to which it has contributed.
In the meantime, there are some Sunni countries that wish to see a message brought to Riyadh via the IS, one warning them to bring an end to their activity and influence in Egypt. In other words, “If Saudi Arabia is ruffled by the IS via Iraq and Yemen, Riyadh will stop offering Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi its unconditional support. And if the Sisi administration loses the support of Riyadh, the Muslim Brotherhood might once again rise to power in Egypt.”
I believe that both Iraq and Saudi Arabia understand this rather billiards-like scenario. While it is clear that Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran would not in fact support the return of the Muslim Brotherhood, they do wish to hurt Riyadh. In other words, we are working on the famous old principle of “my enemy's enemy is my friend.”
Some say Baghdad's reduction of its military units along the Iraqi-Saudi border has boosted the capability of the IS to move towards Saudi lands. In fact, Riyadh recently decided to move 30,000 of its soldiers towards it borders with Iraq, hoping thus to block any possible spread by the IS into Saudi Arabian lands. All of which is why King Abdullah wants to see fast action against the IS. Otherwise, he says, both Europe and the United States will be at risk. He also clearly states that Western Salafi youth will one day wish to return to their homes.
Saudi Arabian Mufti Abdul Aziz Al ash-Sheikh has already stressed that the IS is not in fact Islamic at all, rather that they are some extension of “outsiders.” This statement from Al ash-Sheikh illustrates a very significant ideological split.
While the Saudis have thus far supported the “laboratory” creation of hybrid Salafi ideology, thus pushing it out in the world, they are now trying to fend off this same ideology, keeping it at as much of a distance as possible. This whole situation may itself create a new crossroads on the ideological path of Salafism. In other words, the same hybrid Salafi organizations that kill other Muslims, which are active in Muslim countries and which do not bother the Gulf States, have begun to stray outside of their previous borders.
What we observe is that they have begun to threaten Saudi Arabia, questioning the general order of things in the process.