Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Desk
16 August, 2014
• Islamic State Is US Covert Intelligence Operation, Says American Law Professor
By Lyudmila Chernova
• Could Islamic Militants In Iraq Bring Their Fight To America?
By Anna Mulrine
• How Haider Al-Abadi Became Iraq's Next Prime Minister
By Ali Hashem
• Abadi Must Build Bridges over Iraq’s Troubles Waters
By Raed Omari
• Did Ankara Miss Its Chance To Head Off The Islamic State?
By Tulin Daloglu
• How Islamists Forced Obama's Hand in Iraq
By Michael Knigge
• Iraq Is Caught Between Glory and Despair
By Rami G. Khouri
• Has Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Possibly Peaked Too Soon?
By David Ignatius
• UN Resolution Tightens 'IS' Noose
By Gero Schliess
• Watch For the Economic Fallout As ISIS Extends Its Power
By Mohsin Khan
Islamic State Is US Covert Intelligence Operation, Says American Law Professor
By Lyudmila Chernova
The Islamic State (IS) is a covert intelligence operation by the United States which aims at setting a predicate for further escalation in Iraq, Francis Boyle, a constitutional scholar and law professor at University of Illinois, told RIA Novosti.
"All the implications so far in the public record are that ISIS [IS] is a covert US intelligence operation," Boyle told RIA Novosti Tuesday. "Head of ISIS Abu Bakr Baghdadi spent five years in an American detention facility, and also three of the four military commanders were also in detention by the US forces. So, my guess is that ISIS is indeed a covert US military intervention to set precedent for US escalation in Iraq."
Last Thursday, US President Barack Obama authorized American airstrikes against the positions of IS militants. He has also approved humanitarian aid to the Yezidis. Several airstrikes have been carried out over the past several days.
It is very clear that the IS had advanced sophisticated military training that was provided by Pentagon and the CIA, the professor stated.
"The main goal of the operation is to destroy Iraq as a state so that it could no longer stand in the way of the imperial designs of the US and Israel in the region. Second, to control the oil in the region," Boyle asserted.
Although it was announced earlier by the administration that the US was not going to put ground troops in Iraq, Boyle did not believe it was true and predicted further escalation of the conflict.
"President Barack Obama already sent some 800 special forces over there on the ground that is directing these airstrikes," he emphasized.
After Professor Boyle gave this interview, the Obama administration announced another round of escalation of US military forces into Iraq, exactly as Boyle had predicted. A senior Defense Department official announced Tuesday that the military has sent 130 advisers to northern Iraq to plan for the evacuation of refugees under siege by IS militants.
Boyle stressed that there was no authorization from the Congress to go to war against Iraq.
"The argument by the Obama Administration was that they had the consent of the Iraqi government. However, that's not an excuse as he doesn't have the consent of the US Congress that represents the American people, and second, there is no government in Iraq," he said, noting that the US government installed Nouri Malaki as its puppet and now replaced him with a new one.
"Obama has clearly violated the War Powers Clause in the Constitution as well as the War Powers Resolution, and these are both impeachable offenses," the professor concluded.
Could Islamic Militants In Iraq Bring Their Fight To America?
By Anna Mulrine
August 12, 2014
As the Islamic State gains ground and enlarges its pool of foreign fighter recruits, it is increasingly likely to attack on American soil as well.
That has been the warning coming from some lawmakers and defence analysts this week, who argue that the United States has de facto declared war on the Islamic State by launching air strikes against IS positions, and now it must steel itself for foreign militants to bring the fight to the US.
“Mr. President, be honest with the threat we face,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina warned on Fox News. “They are coming.”
Senator Graham’s warning followed what seemed to be an Islamic State fighter threatening to “raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”
A widely-circulated photo on the web showed an IS supporter taking a photo with an IS flag in the foreground, and the White House in the background, the implication presumably being that the IS was at the gates of the White House. The tagline on the much-discussed but unverified photo read, ‘We r here,” with a smiley-face emoticon.
There is, however, a big difference between aspirations of attacking America on its own soil and having the means to carry it out. Do IS fighters have skills or means that surpass, for example, Al Qaeda, who has been threatening for more than a decade after 9/11 to carry out another significant attack on US soil, but never managed to do it?
“These [IS] guys are battle-hardened, and they have had a significant amount of training in Syria and Iraq on all kinds of tactics and techniques, like bomb-making,” says Samuel Brannen, senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“They have blood on their hands – not just read about it on the Internet,” he adds. “That is something they have now done – fired a gun at a human. It’s not about bringing new skills, but practiced skills.”
What’s more, increasing numbers of IS fighters are Westerners, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others have warned. “They are not applying for visas,” Mr. Brannen says. “They are showing passports.”
This will likely mean higher bars at US borders and stepped-up intelligence sharing with Turkey and other NATO nations. That said, Brannen adds, “It could be really tough.”
At the doomsday end of the spectrum, some analysts argue that the combination of Western-born fighters and IS ambition could create “an existential threat” to the United States.
“This could happen in the broadest sense of the term,” says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, former executive officer to retired Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded US forces in Iraq.
“It would initially take the form of terrorists coming back to the United States from Iraq and Syria using their Western passports and conducting horrific terrorist acts on the homeland,” adds Dr. Mansoor, now an associate professor of military history at Ohio State University.
“In the longer term, if [IS] would be able to get control of the kinds of lands that they seek – the Islamic world as it was in the 11th century, which includes Spain, Pakistan, and Iran – they would also seek to gain control of nuclear weapons,” he adds. “I have no doubt that if this group gained control of a nuclear weapon that they would use it, and they would become an existential threat to the entire Western world.”
How Haider Al-Abadi Became Iraq's Next Prime Minister
By Ali Hashem
August 14, 2014
The 48 hours preceding the Aug. 11 appointment of Haider al-Abadi as Iraq’s prime minister-designate were decisive. Efforts to convince a defiant Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resign were at their peak, even if they passed in vain.
Maliki wasn’t ready to accept any compromise or other points of view. He was aware a substitute had been chosen, yet he wanted to fight until the last possible moment. He believed that each vote he had gained in the election deserved its own battle. Maliki was desperate to keep his reign alive, while his friends and foes struggled to make him quit.
An Iraqi source close to Ayatollah Ali Sistani told Al-Monitor: “Around 10 days before the designation, an envoy representing the Iranian leadership visited Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf. The envoy heard a clear stance from Sistani: Nouri al-Maliki shouldn’t continue as a prime minister. …? Sistani won’t say this in public, but he had to tell it to the Iranians, because he thought the crisis in the country needed a solution and that the deadlock would complicate efforts to reach an agreement.”
According to Al-Monitor’s sources in Tehran and Baghdad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after learning of Sistani’s position, asked his aides to facilitate the change, calling on them to play a role in convincing Maliki to withdraw. “There were several alternatives for Maliki; one was him being appointed vice president. He refused. He was obstinate on the prime minister position and gave all those who tried [to talk] with him reasons for him not to accept. His main challenge was that he’s the leader of the bloc that won the election, and the constitution gives him the right to form the new government.”
As the negotiations continued, one of the historical leaders of the Dawa Party traveled to Tehran, possessing what he believed was a solution for the dilemma. The leader carried the name Haider al-Abadi with him, along with a brief on the man and his stances. Until that moment, Abadi was an outsider in a race that included several tough names, such as Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Ahmad Chalabi, Qusay al-Suhail and Tarek Najem.
Abadi, an ex-Londoner, was known to the Iranians, though he was never seen as a prime minister candidate. “Iranian officials told the Dawa representative that they would support a name that wouldn't intimidate the Sunnis and the Kurds,” said the source in Baghdad. “They believe that the priority today is to open closed channels with other parties. Moreover, they are quite sure the main problem is the lack of trust between the sects and ethnicities present in Iraq.”
Many described the change in Iraq as an in-house coup. The defection of almost half of Maliki's bloc was a blow to the incumbent prime minister, who didn't expect the change to happen in this manner. He always thought his enemies would be the ones targeting him, and even if his allies did the targeting, they would go about it in another way. Maliki reacted in accordance — maybe overreacted — but in the end, he had to abide by the rules, even though at the time of this writing his case was still at Baghdad's high court.
Iran’s main figures and entities stayed silent the first day of the change. This raised questions among allies and enemies, as the silence continued into the second day, Aug. 12.
It’s not only Maliki who paid the price of the failure in Iraq. Many others paid the price, including some well-known figures and others who remain invisible due to security measures.
During the weeks of talks, Iran’s secretary of national security, Adm. Ali Shamkhani, led the Iranian efforts on the ground. He visited Iraq on July 18 and met main leaders in Baghdad, Najaf and Erbil. Shamkhani was given a green light from Khamenei to try to end the crisis at any price. He was aware that the situation isn’t the same as before: Iran is no longer defending its regional security borders, but rather its direct borders; the Islamic State (IS) is now in Diyala, which borders Iran; and the last city that fell under IS control is Jalawla, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Iranian border.
In Tehran, the murmurs that Shamkhani will oversee the Iraq file have gotten louder. This is an indication that Iran is about to adopt a new policy, given Shamkhani’s historic relations with the Gulf countries and Iraq, his wide experience in dealing politically with regional conflicts and his closeness to Khamenei, all without ignoring the fact that he’s an Iranian of Arab origins.
Abadi Must Build Bridges over Iraq’s Troubles Waters
By Raed Omari
15 August 2014
The nomination of Iraq’s Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi spelled out an end to eight years of sectarian rule exercised by his outgoing predecessor Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki was seen by many as a nightmare for Iraq, with the oil-rich Arab state being poor and seen as working in the service of Iran during the premier’s eight-year tenure. A third-term in office for Maliki could have meant more suffering for the Iraqi people. Iraq was on verge of an extended civil war and division even until Maliki decided to step down.
Now that Maliki is to leave office, Abadi will have to work hard to repair Maliki’s wrongdoings and help Iraq sail out of troubled waters. It is time for Iraq to become a secure country for all its people with no discrimination whatsoever, be it on the basis ethnicity, religion or origin. Iraq was never as such for decades.
Here, we must list what Abadi should do. It is enough to mention Maliki’s wrongdoings so that the designate can repair or avoid any reoccurrences.
Numerous Mistakes of Maliki
Among the numerous mistakes of Maliki is his reformation of the Iraqi army on a sectarian basis. In my view, during Maliki’s premiership, the U.S.-trained Iraqi army was not really a national army but more of a private militia at the disposal of the Shiite premier’s sect and his Dawa Party. The Iraqi army, or Maliki’s militia, was like Muqtada al-Sadr‘s Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades or Badr Corps.
In his endeavour to ensure a fully obedient militia, Maliki seemed to have systematically excluded all experienced Arab Sunni officers – mostly ex-Baathists – and Kurds, consequently pushing them towards more desperate options. Those officers were Baathists because they had to be so in order to remain in the army and ensure promotion and not for any other considerations.
Abadi should keep the rebuilding of a national army as his major priority. The new army needs to inclusive, incorporating all Iraqis from various sects, ethnicities and origins. In this endeavour, the new premier-designate is indeed required to dismantle all the militias, beginning with Maliki’s band, and include them under the umbrella of the Iraqi army. There is a fear now that Maliki’s army could revolt against the replacement of their leader. For some reason, I see Maliki’s orders to the army to stay away from the political crisis and continue in their security and military duties to defend the country as being negated by the Arab saying: “a true statement disguising an evil intention.” His statement may be positive, but what are the intentions?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ought now to be the major target of the new Iraqi army Abadi is required to reform. Inasmuch as ISIS has been a source of instability and insecurity to Iraq, it can turn into a stability factor. It is the common enemy of all the Iraqi people.
So, rebuilding a national Iraqi army is Abadi’s top priority and the formation of an inclusive government is the first step towards that end.
Throughout his eight-year term, Maliki exercised sectarian-based domestic policies, with the make-up of his government being largely Shiite. The de-Baathification process and the war against terrorism seem to have been the two major tools Maliki employed to implement his sectarian agenda, meaning the marginalization of the Arab Sunnis.
Remarkably enough, Maliki’s de-Baathification was a “Dawafication,” if such a coinage can be used. Maliki has replaced all army officers, public employees and even parliamentarians, who were once members of President Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, with his Dawa party men. If in the past, Saddam’s Baath was Iraq’s woe, Maliki’s Dawa was the same.
Let’s put aside Maliki’s indulgence in conspiracy theory, it was the Anbar uprising against the totalitarian rule and the marginalization policies of Baghdad’s Shiite government that formed the major contribution to Maliki’s exclusion from Iraq’s political scene. This should be a lesson for Abadi: Iraq cannot be ruled by one sect. It is either inclusivism and pluralism or destruction and unrest.
In addition to these two major stability factors (the army and cabinet), Abadi’s government is required to give special care to the country’s wealth source - oil. Iraqi oil has been said to be stolen by Iran with reports saying that Iraq’s southern city of Basra has been a black market for Iranian merchants since 2003. Evidence of Iraq’s deteriorating oil industry and its zero contribution to its economy sum up Iraqis financial troubles. People in one of the world’s major oil producers are poor and forced to look for jobs in other countries.
For Abadi to turn the page and open up a new chapter for Iraq, the premier-designate has to be the man of the people - all the people. In brief, there should be no more marginalization.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English.
Did Ankara Miss Its Chance To Head Off The Islamic State?
By Tulin Daloglu
August 15, 2014
“Although the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — ISIS or the Islamic State (IS), as it calls itself today — is not considered in Turkey an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, they are all part of the same network and none should be identified as Sunni,” said Professor Hilmi Demir of the Hitit University Religious Studies department, in a conversation with Al-Monitor. Demir, also a scientific advisor to the 21st Century Turkey Institute, an Ankara-based think tank, said these terror groups also pose a serious threat to the Sunni population in the region, in addition to the Shiites and minorities. To him, these groups should be defined as “Salafist-jihadists” and the Sunni label was misused in this context, only to specify non-Shiite.
With that, Demir challenged Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s assertion that the IS militants and the Syrian regime have been in a partnership. Explaining that the IS was initially formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who in October 2004 swore loyalty to the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Demir suggested that either Davutoglu reached his conclusion through the converging interests that emerged momentarily between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the IS militants without analyzing their core differences, or he simply exaggerated Assad’s ability to control these groups.
“The US forces killed the group’s first leader, Zarqawi, in June 2006. He was replaced by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who was also killed by US forces in April 2010. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then became the new leader. Born in 1971 in Samarra, Baghdadi is an academic with a doctorate degree,” said Demir. “Unlike the al-Qaeda terror, the IS militants fighting in Syria did not aim to to take on Assad’s forces, but to capture swaths of land and dominate it, because they want to establish the Islamic State.” He added, “Some misinterpreted their tactics and claimed they refrained from fighting against the Assad forces. Their tactics were, however, clear. They did not prioritize toppling the Assad regime, but chose to capture territory and consolidate their control there. Therefore, they first selected places where there was no to little Assad presence. Saudi Arabia and Qatar mainly preferred this, as [the militants] would create a buffer zone between Syria and Iran while forcing Assad to a low profile. There is no other way to explain the numerous Free Syrian Army members joining the IS ranks.”
Demir recalled that what was then ISIS broke away from any sort of allegiance with al-Qaeda in February 2014 — the time frame when Davutoglu said, “This crime structure called ISIS is an entity directly working with the [Assad] regime.” As ISIS became more independent, Demir stressed, all signs pointed to this group being here to stay for the long term. He also argued that Turkey’s approach in considering ISIS distinct from al-Qaeda also helped it to establish a presence in the region for the long term. “With that, Turkey also opened the door to negotiations with this group, as [Ankara] did not consider it directly linked to al-Qaeda.” Demir emphasized that the IS group's goal was evident with the name it picked for itself. “They were more focused on how to be part of the new balance structure after the fragmentation of Iraq and Syria than the Syrian civil war on its own. After all, Shiites had a more advantageous position after the intervention there in Iraq, and Assad’s unprecedented strength staying in power turned the dynamics of the balance of power in the region to the disadvantage of Salafist Rab countries.”
Turks only woke up to this brutal threat on June 11, 2014, when IS militants took hostage 49 Turkish consular staff, including the consul general, in Mosul. In response to the opposition’s mounting criticism that the government failed to evacuate the consulate and acknowledge this threat in advance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said then he would not be provoked into saying anything negative about IS. But IS is now recognized as a challenge to the region’s already complicated stability and security dynamics, and Turkey is considered a contributor to its making.
“Yusaf, the Islamic State commander who traveled to Reyhanli from Syria for an interview … suggested that the group had the Turks to thank in part for its current success,” The Washington Post reported Aug. 12. “We used to have some fighters — even high-level members of the Islamic State — getting treated in Turkish hospitals. … Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies.”
In sum, Davutoglu’s failure to understand these radical groups put Turkey’s national security at risk.
“Turkey sided with the Salafist movements in this era,” Demir said. “What needed to be done, however, was to clamp down on this adversarial relationship between the Salafist movements and the Shiites.” He added, “Those with this [Salafist] mentality do not initially target the secularists, as presumed, but those generations who graduated from the religious vocational high schools or the higher institutes of religious studies. The rise of the Salafist movement, coupled with Arab racism in the Middle East, in fact attempts to circle Turkey, to weaken it. The Turkish government has been collaborator in this.”
How Islamists Forced Obama's Hand in Iraq
By Michael Knigge
After years of trying to extricate the US from direct military engagement in the region, the carnage wreaked by IS fighters has propelled Obama to use force in Iraq. But why Iraq and not Syria, the group's stronghold?
From the very beginning, the centre piece of President Barack Obama's foreign policy agenda was winding down the wars waged by his predecessor in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had promised as much to the American people during his campaign and with the last US troops scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, he will have fulfilled his pledge by the time he leaves office.
But beyond ending Bush's wars, Obama has generally shown and articulated a deep scepticism about the use of US military power in global conflicts in his more than five years in office. His caution - critics call it reluctance - is summed up best in the motto that has rightly or wrongly been ascribed to his foreign policy, particularly his opposition to what he considers hasty US military endeavours: "Don't do stupid stuff."
So why did Obama choose to act in Iraq after all and not in Syria, where the conflict between the opposition and President Bashar al-Assad has raged on far longer, claimed far more lives and in which the "Islamic State" has acted just as brutally and also has established a stronghold in the north of the country?
One reason is of course that it's not in the US interest to strengthen the hostile Assad regime by taking on IS, which fights against the Syrian government. But that still does not suffice to explain Obama's decision to intervene now in Iraq.
An important legal precondition for US military action, especially for the Obama administration and its more multilateralist stance, is that Washington has been officially asked by the Iraqi government to militarily intervene in Iraq.
"So there is no problem with abuse of sovereignty," Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Qatar branch of the British think thank RUSI, told DW. "That makes that problem particularly easier." Without an Iraqi invitation, Washington would have needed a UN resolution to not flout international law.
As for the political reasons for the US intervention, James Jeffrey, former US ambassador in Iraq until 2012 and deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush points to President Obama's Iraq speech in June where he outlined his three-pronged policy: counterterrorism and protection of Americans, providing emergency assistance and counterinsurgency support.
All of those points, however, were conditional upon a new inclusive Iraqi government that the country's battered military would even consider worth fighting for, according to Jeffrey.
After Obama announced his policy, everything seemed to calm down and come to a standstill for a while. On the military front, IS advances appeared to lose steam. And on the political front, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not want to heed Obama's message to step down and decided instead to dig in.
"But then suddenly the trigger happened and to everybody's surprise, it was against the Kurds," Jeffrey told DW.
With IS fighters practically overrunning the comparatively well-trained Kurdish Peshmerga defences and threatening Iraqi Kurdistan's regional capital Irbil, direct US interests were at stake.
"There are US personal living in Iraq and many American civilians working in Irbil in the oil industry and other areas," said Stephens, who has travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan eight times this year.
There is also a large expat population generally in Irbil and IS was basically threatening that population, Stephens added. "You did not really have that dynamic in Syria. So I think there is a qualitative difference there."
The oil industry itself in Iraq's Kurdish region, however, does not feature as a motivation for US action. "Oil is a template that is often used to explain events in the Middle East, but it doesn't work here," Stephens said. Kurdish oil output, he noted, is negligible compared to that in the Basra region, and Washington's interests are anyway of a much more geostrategic nature than oil.
Protection of Yazidis
When the Kurdish front cracked surprisingly quickly, everything suddenly came together for the US. Not only were American interests and lives at risk, but with the Kurdish regional government, Washington had a partner it could work with against IS.
Then in a move that fully turned the tide toward US intervention, IS attacked the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq. Washington warned of genocide and deployed first humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis followed by an air campaign against IS.
"It's always a question how one defines genocide," said Jeffrey. "But a large percentage of the world's remaining Yazidis were rounded up and sent off to the mountains to die. While it's not a big group, it's more genocidal then most things that are called genocide."
"If the Americans hadn't intervened, I think what you would have been seeing would have been almost the destruction of a religious minority, and it's complete removal from the Middle East," Stephens said.
Obama's 'German Approach'
Jeffrey and Stephens generally support Obama's Iraq policy, but both have serious questions about how it will play out. Due to the Iraqi army's weakness, Stephens worries not only about potential mission creep that could lead to a much broader US military campaign, which particularly Britain and France are lobbying for, but also that deeper engagement could set a new precedent for similar interventions on humanitarian grounds elsewhere.
Jeffrey, however, is more concerned about whether Obama even now possesses the political will to use sufficient air power to cripple IS. Pointing to the president's scepticism to use military force and his multi-literalist leanings, he quipped: "It's almost the German government position. That's the problem with it. We are not the German government. We are the one that the German government and everybody else turns to lead."
Iraq Is Caught Between Glory and Despair
By Rami G. Khouri
Aug. 13, 2014
Rarely in world history do we have a case like the state of Iraq today. The country now captures all the worst aspects of indigenous, regional and global political failures, but in history it embodied the pinnacle of human achievements in art, culture, poetry, learning, architecture, industry, irrigation, religion, governance and other domains. Iraq is everything we could be, and everything we fear to become, rolled into one land. Historians and contemporary ideologues will long debate who is primarily to blame for Iraq’s slide into its current fractured statehood, political immobility, widespread corruption and inefficiency, massive security lapses and the new threat of the spread of the poisonous ideology of the “Islamic State” – a phenomenon that has as much to do with prevailing global Islamic norms as I have to do with the man on the moon.
For now we should first grasp the various elements that paved the route to Iraq’s current misfortunes, so that we do not repeat them again across the region. Iraq’s condition is not unique; the factors that shaped it operate in many countries around the Middle East. These include foreign interests that created the country in the first place, decades of a megalomaniacal security-state rule that led to corruption and mediocrity in state institutions, structural meddling in Iraq’s affairs by strong regional powers, repeated foreign military interventions, socioeconomic mismanagement and incompetence in governance, the fracturing of the central state in favour of decentralized sectarian identities and interests, reassertion of sect-centered single strongman rule, and, most recently, the rise of militant movements using religion for mobilizing and legitimizing purposes.
Most of these elements exist in many other Arab states that face similar vulnerabilities, such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and, in a more limited way, Lebanon, Algeria and even wondrous Egypt. While it is easy to list the elements that have brought Iraq to this dangerous point, it is much more difficult to identify the route for it to emerge from the crisis and embark on a path to recovery and normal development.
Where to begin? Electing or choosing a new president, prime minister and speaker of parliament, as Iraqis have just done? Asking for foreign military intervention to stem the expansion of the Islamic State, as is now happening with U.S. airstrikes and other foreign powers’ arming of Kurdish forces? Mustering indigenous Iraqi military capabilities to push back and eventually liquidate the Islamic State threat? For Iraqis themselves to re-establish credible national institutions serving all, such as the armed forces, education, health and the oil industry? Promoting inclusive governance and other state systems that are not based on sectarian identities? Fighting corruption?
All of these things need to be done simultaneously, and to a large extent many honorable Iraqis are trying heroically to do just this. Checking and then reversing the expansion of the area ruled by the Islamic State is clearly the top priority right now, because the Islamic State’s ability to consolidate and extend its rule is a direct consequence of the inefficiency and collapse of Iraqi state authority. In fact the incentive to fight back and destroy the Islamic State should be the most important impetus for Iraqis to work together more effectively to rebuild their state institutions and reinvigorate a new sense of citizenship that is meaningful to all because it serves all citizens equitably.
Foreign military assistance is clearly required in the short run to give Iraqis the breathing space to regroup and repel the Islamic State phenomenon. It is remarkable to date that we have not witnessed a serious, coordinated move by Iraqis, Iranians, Saudis, Turks, Jordanians, and Americans and interested others to pool their resources and crush the Islamic State. All these countries are threatened by the expansion of the Islamic State and similar movements, and they have more than enough resources to shatter the group, which remains a parasitic, opportunistic, gang- and cult-like movement that can only flourish in areas of chaos and lack of state authority, by imposing its rule. The more time the Islamic State is given to consolidate its rule and evolve in a manner that generates more genuine local support and legitimacy – which it has largely lacked, the more difficult it will be to eliminate it some months down the road.
Islamic State-type rule has no more chance of giving Arabs a decent life than did the centralized police state or the corrupt sectarian state that Arabs have endured for decades. Iraq is the place now where this issue will be put to the test.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.
Has Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Possibly Peaked Too Soon?
By David Ignatius
Aug. 14, 2014
When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his terrorist Islamic State, he ignored a warning from Osama bin Laden that jihadists should be cautious about establishing a caliphate too quickly.
In torching a firestorm in Iraq and Syria, Baghdadi has united his enemies and given them a target to attack, just as bin Laden predicted.
Baghdadi’s bloodbath has achieved the impossible: He has provided a common adversary for Saudis and Iranians, Turks and Kurds. He has united many of Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians behind an inclusive new government. He has forced a reluctant President Barack Obama to come halfway off the bench in authorizing airstrikes for “limited military objectives” in Iraq.
The counterattack against the Islamic State could last “months if not years,” in the vague phrase used by U.S. and Iraqi officials. American power will be essential in this rollback, but Obama was right to warn Monday, “There is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”
“This is the last chance for Iraq,” Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said Monday in a video interview with the Aspen Strategy Group, at a foreign-policy gathering I attended. “While we need your military support,” Barzani said, referring to the airstrikes and advisers Obama has authorized, “we will never ask you to put boots on the ground to fight for us.”
As Obama must understand, America has returned to the slipperiest slope on earth. He may seek a limited military involvement, but Baghdadi’s Islamic State gets a vote. It will use suicide bombers against American targets anywhere it can find them. With its allies, it will try to attack the U.S. homeland. What began last weekend as an attempt to rescue Iraqi refugees on a mountaintop will likely have to expand.
Obama stepped gingerly into this fight, dropping humanitarian supplies, then bombing Islamic State mortar positions and hitting convoys. In an interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times, he urged for Iraq the spirit of “no victor, no vanquished.” That’s a sensible call to compromise, but it was somewhat discordant alongside the president’s explanation that he had used American power in Iraq in a situation “in which genocide is threatened.”
Obama’s strategy may be to deter the Islamic State from attacking the West, by focusing on the defence of U.S. personnel and rescue of Iraqis – and threatening massive drone attacks and targeted killings if they cross his line. But deterring terrorists is a risky course, because it counts on their rationality.
If Obama wants to send a signal that he’s serious about helping a new Iraqi government, he should consider sending retired Gen. David Petraeus and former Ambassador Ryan Crocker – the two Americans who probably know Iraq best – to Baghdad as his special envoys.
Obama has gotten the broad outline of America’s re-entry into Iraq right, by insisting that America will use its power in support of an inclusive Iraqi government that unites to battle the Islamic State. In practice, that will mean arming militia groups that fight under an Iraqi banner, including the Peshmerga and a new Sunni “national guard,” which two senior Iraqi Sunni leaders recommended in a separate video interview Sunday night with the Aspen Strategy Group.
“In the beginning, [Sunni] people were very sympathetic to the Islamic State as defenders of the Sunnis,” explained one of the Iraqi leaders. “Now they see that they are Al-Qaeda, exploding mosques and killing people.” A second Sunni official said: “They are the enemy of all.”
This turn away from the Islamic State is just what bin Laden warned might happen if his followers were seen to be killing fellow Muslims in their grab for power. In a document found in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after he was killed in 2011, bin Laden cautioned that such red-hot tactics “would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war at the end.”
Bin Laden thought Yemen was the most likely place where his supporters might declare a caliphate, but he worried they would do it too soon. An undated letter, perhaps written by bin Laden, cautioned: “We want ... to establish an Islamic State, but first we want to make sure we have the capability to gain control of it. Even though we were able to militarily and economically exhaust and weaken our greatest enemy before and after [Sept. 11, 2001] the enemy continues to possess the ability to topple any state we establish.”
Baghdadi couldn’t wait. His fighters ruthlessly seized the Sunni heartland of Iraq. Now we’ll see if bin Laden’s estimation of American power remains correct.
UN Resolution Tightens 'IS' Noose
By Gero Schliess
The UN Security Council has unanimously approved sanctions against the so-called "Islamic State," designed to cut off its financial and military supplies. DW's Gero Schliess writes that this sends a strong message.
Who would have thought it? The United Nations Security Council is capable of action, after all. Having so painfully failed thus far on the brutal Syrian civil war and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the UN's most powerful body has delivered in the case of Iraq. This resolution, approved by all 15 member states, means business.
By capping their sources of income, Resolution 2161 aims to rip out the financial foundations underpinning the advance of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) terror group, and also the Al-Nusra Front that is active in Syria. Earnings from militant-held oil facilities in Syria, and now northern Iraq, should be covered by the measure. This means that, effective immediately, doing business with "IS" or Al-Nusra is forbidden. The Security Council has also specifically targeted six key financiers of IS, who face travel bans and assets freezes.
What's more, the world powers have agreed, with uncharacteristic unanimity, to use one of the strongest sanctioning weapons in their arsenal. The resolution is under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, making it legally binding for member states, with the threat of economic or even military measures against countries ignoring the trade restrictions. Above all, this is a nod to other countries not yet identified publicly. The measure will be noted with particular interest in wealthy Arab Gulf states, which have heavily supported the IS advance in past months. It's this strong international warning that lends the resolution particular weight.
Its second part is aimed above all at the European countries, Germany included, from which IS has successfully recruited hundreds of fighters. The text urges countries to take national measures "to suppress the flow of foreign terrorist fighters" into Iraq. Even though this part of the resolution is non-binding in its formulation, Europeans would be acting in self-interest by trying to bolt the doors to conflict zones for so-called "terror tourists." At the end of the day, no European country wants to be confronted by radicalized returnees on their own doorstep.
The Security Council's ability to act so strongly was tied to Russia's voting position. While President Vladimir Putin continues to cripple the UN body by blocking proposals for Syria or Ukraine, he's backing the IS sanctions. He's acting in self-interest too: Rather like Western countries, Putin is alarmed at the rapid growth of a terror movement that lays no stock in borders or governments, which honours an interpretation of the Koran and not the world order that has existed in the Middle East since the Second World War. What happens if this spark rekindles the flames among the Muslim populations in the south of the Russian Federation?
More Pragmatic than Principled
As sobering as this might be, it was ultimately pure Realpolitik - not the humanitarian plight of Yazidi, Christians and other religious minorities - that led to a unanimous vote.
For the United States and the European Union, this sanction-laden UN resolution marks the start of a more long-term strategy for combating IS. The emergency humanitarian aid deliveries and airstrikes were urgent measures born out of immediate necessity. Delivering weapons to the Kurdish fighters, a measure now involving European countries as well, was already a longer-term step. Friday's UN resolution should pull the IS noose even tighter, stopping their monetary and military supplies. Whether it delivers on its promises will also depend on the political will of the countries which just offered their unanimous support.
Watch For the Economic Fallout As ISIS Extends Its Power
By Mohsin Khan
Aug. 15, 2014
As the jihadists of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), capture more and more territory in Iraq, the question on the minds of observers is what will become of the Iraqi state?
The countries in the region and the broader international community have been focusing on the dangers the Islamic State advances pose for security and for political and geopolitical stability. But there will be economic fallout as well. If the Iraqi economy were to deteriorate significantly, this would add to political instability and greater insecurity in Iraq and its neighbours. To determine the potential impact of the Islamic State gains and the continuing fighting, one has to understand the basic structure of Iraq’s economy, characterized by two main features:
First, oil is the mainstay of the economy. Iraq’s oil reserves are estimated to be 143 billion barrels, the fifth largest in the world and the highest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and Iran. The current rate of oil production is over 3 million barrels a day (mbd), the second highest in the Middle East below only Saudi Arabia. Oil accounts for 54 percent of the country’s GDP of some $230 billion, 99 percent of exports, and 93 percent of government fiscal revenues.
Despite the fact that the oil industry accounts for more than half of the total economy, the sector is highly capital-intensive and employs only about 1 percent of the Iraqi labor force of over 8 million. Because of this high degree of oil dependency, production and world market prices essentially drive the Iraqi economy. When oil production started to increase rapidly in 2011-2012, and growth shot up above 10 percent. At the same time, growth is also sensitive to the security situation, as was seen in 2006 and then in 2013.
Second, Iraq has a state-dominated economy. The oil sector is an enclave and almost all oil revenues from foreign and domestic sales of oil accrue to the government. The non-oil economy is only affected when the government spends these revenues. Therefore, through its control over the oil sector, the government influences virtually all economic activity in the country. The private sector plays a secondary and minor role.
Aside from oil, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) operate in the agriculture, trading, and manufacturing sectors. Since these SOEs are highly subsidized and supported by large transfers from the government, the private sector is put at a disadvantage and cannot compete and develop.
Furthermore, the government has constrained the private sector through myriad and complex regulations covering the starting and operating of businesses, as well as limiting their access to credit. The World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business Report, which ranks Iraq 151 out of 189 countries, confirms the Iraqi government’s antipathy towards the private sector.
Further evidence on the major role of the government in the economy can be found in the labour market. The public sector employs about 40 percent of the labour force, offering greater job security and more generous pay and benefits than the private sector. Since alternatives to government employment are limited, the unemployment rate hovers at around 15 percent.
There are also considerable differences in the unemployment rates across provinces. In some provinces, notably in Sunni-majority ones such as Anbar, the unemployment rate is estimated to be twice the national rate. It is clear that the government has strongly favoured its Shiite population using public-sector employment as a form of patronage. Besides political marginalization, the Sunni population has legitimate economic grievances, which the Islamic State has been able to tap into.
In sum, the structure of the Iraqi economy is largely unchanged from the end of the U.S. occupation in 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) had a grand vision of Iraq being transformed into a vibrant, diversified and modern economy led by the private sector, and outlined the economic and institutional reforms that would bring about this outcome. Iraq today still depends almost exclusively on oil and the state still dominates the economy, a picture virtually unchanged from the economy of Saddam Hussein days.
The government has not implemented any major economic reforms or developed economic institutions over the past decade to achieve what the CPA envisioned. Undoubtedly, the CPA’s policies to transform Iraq have been an abject failure. Since Iraq remains a one-product economy, fighting with the Islamic State will affect the economy through disruptions of the oil sector. Were there to be a significant drop in Iraq’s oil production, the effects on the Iraqi economy would be devastating.
One could find an analogous example in the case of Libya, where the economy went into a freefall in 2011 as the uprising to overthrow Mu’ammar Qadhafi resulted in a sharp cut in oil production. The drop in oil production from 1.6 mbd in 2010 to less than 0.5 mbd in 2011 led to overall GDP being more than halved (from $75 billion to $35 billion) – a catastrophic collapse of GDP by any standard. Over the past year, as militias fight to achieve their political aims and oil production has fallen dramatically, the Libyan economy is once again experiencing an economic meltdown.
Could the Libya scenario emerge in Iraq? As yet, the Islamic State has not taken control of any significant part of Iraq’s oil facilities. It has captured some small oil fields and Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji, which supplies most of the gasoline and diesel for the northern part of Iraq. More significantly, Kurdish forces now have complete control of the giant Kirkuk oil field. If the Kurds hold on to Kirkuk, Iraq would lose about a quarter of its oil production. In addition, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which has a capacity of 1.6 mbd, has been shut down due to frequent attacks since March this year and exports from the northern oil fields of Iraq have been sharply curtailed.
While serious, Iraq can still manage effects of this loss of oil production. Real GDP which only recently was expected to grow by 6 percent in 2014, will now likely either remain flat or fall by 2-3 percent. The reason the decline is not larger is that about three-quarters of Iraq’s oil production is in the southern part of the country where most of the Shiite population that support the government live. Foreign oil companies have played a major role in developing and rehabilitating the southern oil fields and most of Iraq’s oil flows through the oil terminals of the port city of Basra on the Gulf. In addition, the government is spending some portion of its $80 billion of international reserves to compensate for the loss of oil export revenues from the northern part of the country.
As long as the ongoing war with Islamic State does not escalate further, and the Kurds stay part of the Iraqi state, the economy will likely be able to cope. In Iraq, as among other Middle East oil producers, as goes oil so goes the economy. The government does not have to do much to keep the economy moving along at a steady, perhaps low, pace as it has a momentum of its own based on oil production and world oil prices. This is the optimistic and relatively benign scenario.
However, the potential for a more pessimistic and grim scenario cannot be excluded. The country could be divided between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, with each of these three communities controlling the areas where they maintain a majority. This splitting of the country is unlikely to happen peacefully. The Kurds could declare an independent state, leaving the Iraq government and the Islamic State to battle it out on what parts of the country each would rule over. The resulting full-blown sectarian civil war would be devastating for Iraq.
In this scenario, Iraq could wind up looking not like Libya but more like Syria, where the economic costs of civil war are nothing short of staggering.
While the odds still favour a variant of the optimistic scenario, the probability of the pessimistic scenario in some form is not so small that it can be safely ignored. The attention so far has been on security and politics. Ignoring the economics is a mistake. All three aspects have to be considered together. If the Shiite-led government in Iraq is to make peace with the Sunni population, and defeat the Islamic State, it will have to adopt both political and economic inclusiveness. For the past decade, unfortunately, it has done neither.
Mohsin Khan is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East.