New Age Islam Edit Desk
17 July, 2014
Can ISIS Maintain Its Self-Declared Caliphate?
By Paul Crompton
The Islamic State Expands In Syria
By Hassan Hassan
Obama’s Unconvincing Aid to Syria’s Rebels
By Joyce Karam
Three Paths for the Middle East’s States
By Mohamed A. El-Erian
Iraq's Next War: Tribe Vs. Terrorist
By Aki Peritz
Can ISIS Maintain Its Self-Declared Caliphate?
By Paul Crompton
16 July 2014
As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has captured vast swathes of territory, analysts are questioning how long the militant Al-Qaeda offshoot can maintain control.
The group’s shock takeover of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul in early June gave it a firm foothold to establish its expansive Islamic state.
ISIS has so far largely deflected attacks from the beleaguered army of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Those living in the self-declared caliphate can now obtain Islamic State passports, and read the group’s print and online newspaper in different languages.
ISIS’s apparent commitment to organized governance has led it to tear down security barriers to open roads, restore electricity lines and pay municipal employees.
Under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - also known as Caliph Ibrahim - ISIS maintains a fulltime staff of around 1,000 medium to top-level field commanders.
Monthly salaries range from $300 to $2,000, a considerable amount given that Iraqi government workers last year reportedly made only $400. ISIS also pays low-level fighters.
However, keeping its towns and cities running smoothly could hinder its existence due to the vast cost of maintaining the caliphate, one expert said.
Its financial operations include selling crude from oil fields under its control, robbing banks, and taxing trucks that cross its borders.
However, ISIS is unlikely to have enough resources to continue operating at its current level, said Charles Ries, a former U.S. ambassador who serves as a vice president at the Rand Corp think tank.
“I don’t see that situation as sustainable from the economic standpoint,” Ries said, U.S. channel CNBC reported.
To help make financial ends meet, ISIS is likely to try to take over more oil fields around Iraq, said David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and a former Washington Post Middle East correspondent.
“They’re going to need a lot more money than they’ve gotten so far,” Ottaway told Al Arabiya News.
In its quest for oil, a prolonged conflict with the Kurdish-controlled north is likely, he added.
“That’s why they’re going to start going after oil fields in Iraq, which is where I expect them to come up against Kurdistan,” Ottaway said.
ISIS could also come under pressure from other Sunni groups operating within its borders.
“The Sunni - former Baathist - elements and tribal groups are going to turn on ISIS,” leading to “a civil war within a civil war,” Ottaway said.
This will have further consequences for Maliki’s primarily Shiite government.
“Even if the anti-ISIS Sunni groups did prevail, they’re going to want a new political order in Iraq and a lot more autonomy for the Sunni areas of Iraq,” Ottaway said.
Another possible decider to the future of the caliphate is the response from the international and regional community.
Countries bordering Iraq have so far adopted mainly defensive stances.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama has called for “vigilance” over the threat posed to American regional interests, he has not made any commitments to stamp out ISIS.
“What we can’t do is think that we’re just going to play whack-a-mole and send U.S. troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up,” Obama told American TV channel CBS last month.
In late June, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ordered “all necessary measures” to protect his country from the threat of terrorism.
Some 30,000 Saudi soldiers were deployed to the desert border with Iraq, Al Arabiya News Channel reported in early July.
A Jordanian government spokesman said in June that a military build-up on its Iraq border was merely “precautionary,” Agence France-Presse reported.
A potent threat to ISIS could come from Shiite-led Iran, said Ottaway.
Tehran has continually worked to militarily prop up Maliki’s regime, most recently in the form of Russian-made jets specifically intended to be used against ISIS.
The group’s staying power in Iraq and Syria could hinge on the level of acceptance in the Muslim world, said David Mack, a former U.S. ambassador and scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
Baghdadi’s decision to declare himself caliph and demand the loyalty of all Muslims “calls into question the staying power of this movement,” said Mack.
ISIS “is already earning the derision of Muslim media outlets, and pushback ranging from [Al-Qaeda] and the Muslim Brotherhood to the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Syria,” he added.
Historically, “pretenders to the caliphate” have never fared well, Mack said, citing the fall of Baghdad from the 13th century Abbasid Caliphate to Mongol invaders.
The Islamic State Expands In Syria
By Hassan Hassan
Jul. 17, 2014
The Islamic State’s stunning advances in Syria over the past month defy basic military instincts. Consider, for example, the group’s remarkable turn of fortunes in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor in recent months, where ISIS – as the group was formerly known – all but vanished in February after local rebels joined forces to batter the remaining ISIS strongholds in the province. Rebel groups elsewhere had likewise planned in May to push against the last ISIS fortress in Raqqa, another eastern province, so as to drive the group out of the country entirely. Yet ISIS, or the Islamic State, is now back with a vengeance.
The Islamic State is now on the offensive in much of Syria, especially in the east and north. If the group manages to retake the ground it had lost after most of the rebel groups declared war against it in January and February, this is likely to reinforce its staying power in Syria. And there are signs that the group might eventually consolidate its presence in the east and make inroads into the north, especially as it seems to be following new strategies during its latest push.
The group has been focusing on negotiations, rather than only brute force, which in large part explains its striking successes of late. Although the Islamic State has attacked a few cities and towns in Deir al-Zor and forcefully displaced its residents, it tends to do so only with towns that had bled it before, such as Khasham and Shheil (the latter was long perceived as a stronghold of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front). In other villages and towns, the Islamic State has sent envoys to negotiate a deal in which local fighters surrender, pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and implement Shariah, and in exchange the Islamic State spares residents from any harm. The terms of these deals vary from one area to another.
But, more importantly, the Islamic State now has the tendency to allow such towns greater autonomy in terms of running their own state of affairs. There is a similar trend in Iraq, where the group generally appears to hold overarching military and political command over areas under its control while leaving local communities to run day-to-day affairs.
Buttressing its bargaining position in these towns is the fact that its opponents have been already drained, financially and in terms of morale, especially after the group’s gains in Iraq. It has also benefited from the disunity and lack of coordination among rebel groups in eastern Syria and elsewhere, allowing it to regain ground, town by town and group by group. Local negotiated settlements will help the group consolidate its presence by ensuring that no coordinated revolt occurs from within the province. This can be attained if the group does not overplay its hand.
In its latest push, the Islamic State also seems to be providing services more consistently. The group has controlled Omar oil field and Conoco gas plant, the sites of much infighting among rebels in Deir al-Zor. These sites see lucrative returns and are strategically important because they provide electricity and basic goods such as cooking gas and fuel. The Islamic State has reportedly reduced the price of gas from 200 Syrian pounds per liter to 45 and forced bakeries, supplied with flour, to operate and distribute zakat, or alms, to needy families.
At the same time, it is also going after warlords who had made fortunes from oil fields and other lucrative resources in the province. By doing so, the group wants to set itself apart from the Nusra Front, which had tolerated some local warlords in a bid to form alliances with local communities. But warlords have alienated many people and groups, due to their monopoly of resources and refusal to allocate some of the profits to funding fighting groups. The Islamic State’s crackdown on such figures would win it credit among the population.
These gains solidify the status of the Islamic State within the Syrian rebel landscape. The group’s rise and fall and rise since last summer had a flaking effect on the large rebel coalitions; many of the groups once expected to be an endurable part of the new reality in Syria have either vanished or significantly weakened because they fought against ISIS. These groups include the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade, which ISIS fought in Raqqa; the Islamic Front, once the most powerful rebel coalition, which has been reduced to a mere brand similar to the Free Syrian Army; and the Nusra Front, which is also suffering an existential challenge, especially in eastern Syria, despite its perceived resilience and sophistication in dealing with the local population.
Fighting against the Islamic State has exhausted these groups, and many of them seem to have run their course. The planned announcement by Nusra of Islamic emirates in Syria does not include an emirate in Deir al-Zor. In addition, Islamists and jihadists who had fought the Islamic State before did so under the slogan of “ifsad al-jihad al-shami,” or “because the group risked ruining jihad in Syria through its brutality.” This means the announcement of the caliphate and the worsening image of Nusra, especially in the country’s eastern and southern parts, have made the Islamic State more appealing to many jihadist-minded fighters. If these fighters do not join the Islamic State, they would likely be neutralized.
The Islamic State has emerged out of all this as a winner, and it seems it has just started. If the group regains ground in the north, that will be the single most important achievement of the group inside Syria in months, something that might make it even more resilient. The Islamic State is still struggling between two strategies – the old strategy, imported from its experience in Iraq, of showing zero tolerance to not only rivals but potential rivals, and a new strategy of trying to win over people rather than using just force, a strategy that the group has seemingly picked up from Nusra.
The Islamic State’s ability to shield itself from a popular uprising will depend on which strategy will prevail.
Hassan Hassan is a research associate with the Delma Institute, a research center in Abu Dhabi.
Obama’s Unconvincing Aid To Syria’s Rebels
By Joyce Karam
17 July 2014
In what has become a quintessential behaviour of the Obama administration towards Syria, the White House is hoping that Congress will approve the $500 million “train and equip” package for the opposition but is neither doing the necessary legwork to achieve this nor is it confident of the outcome of such an effort.
The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee took an important step this week, marking up the FY 2015 Defense Appropriations Act. It includes an authorization for the Defense Department to lead a “program to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian opposition,” something that the administration has not done in the last three years as it stuck to non-lethal aid, unsupervised by the Pentagon.
Congressional and Regional Hurdles
While the effort is a significant policy shift for the administration, it is not being accompanied with an “aggressive push” to guarantee it passes in the House and Senate, and that it does not get dropped or amended by lawmakers in both parties who have doubts about the effort.
Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, the government relations director at the Syrian American Council, a large opposition group of Syrian-Americans, told Al Arabiya News that the Obama administration has not been providing members of Congress with enough details on the program and is not “lobbying aggressively” to secure its passage. Many questions on the aid have been left unanswered and its fate floats in limbo.
In essence, Ghanem said the administration is “almost setting itself up for failure” by not whole-heartedly pushing for the effort or providing enough specifics and administration officials to lobby for it on Capitol Hill. This sentiment has been echoed by lawmakers on the Hill. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Adam Smith, the committee’s senior Democrat, criticized a panel of Pentagon officials who refused to discuss the specifics of the aid package in the open session. “You have to push the policy,” said Smith, noting that such a request is “a big damn deal.” He warned that if the administration couldn’t sell the program, the Congress will not authorize it.
The administration found itself in a similar position last September, after U.S. President Barack Obama kicked the ball to Congress on striking the Assad regime, but was not able to secure the votes.
The $500 million in aid is not as controversial as the threat of airstrikes, but many lawmakers are asking defence officials to identify the groups which will receive the aid, and the risks that accompany such a mission. “We in the Syrian opposition are faced with questions that only the administration can answer” says Ghanem, warning that the White House is “setting itself up for failure by being extremely half-hearted in their pitch for Congressional support.”
Another setback for the administration in its Syria deliberations with Congress is the reluctance of Jordan to host the training program for the rebels. Reuters, quoting U.S. officials this week and following King Abdullah II visit to Washington, said Amman “is reluctant to host an expanded rebel instruction program” and had told U.S. officials there should be “no boots on the ground.” This will leave Washington looking towards other countries, perhaps with less proximity to the Syrian borders, in order to host the program.
Even in the best case scenario for the Obama administration and the Syrian opposition, if Congress passes the spending bill with the aid request, the package in its current form would be too little too late to change the balance on the ground inside Syria. The moderate opposition is under assault by both the Assad regime and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following the regime’s gains in Homs and ISIS declaring a “Caliphate.”
“Aleppo could fall under complete encirclement any day now “says Ghanem, and what has been reported by the Wall Street Journal as a U.S. plan to train and equip 2,300 rebel fighters is “not going to be a game changer.” The aid, if approved, might not go into effect until next year, and U.S. officials don’t expect serious impact until at least 18 months.
Lisa Monaco, assistant to President Obama on Homeland Security, is setting high goals for the aid by projecting that the “train and equip mission could help us to better protect Syrian civilians, pressure the regime, and counter terrorist threats emanating from the country’s contested and ungoverned areas — including from the Islamic State of Iraq and [Syria].” But Ghanem estimates that between Iraq and Syria, ISIS commands over 20,000 fighters and receives funds and revenues in the millions of dollars from territory under its control and outside funding. The latest reports from Iraq estimated that ISIS is making $1 million a day in oil revenues.
To put it into perspective, the $500 million in proposed U.S. aid would be almost what ISIS ran off with in its Mosul bank heist last month ($429 million), and the 2,300 trained FSA force would be less than half the number of fighters that Hezbollah has dispatched to Syria.
While U.S. officials remain convinced that Assad cannot retain full control over Syria and that the extremist threat can be contained, half-hearted measures such as the one proposed to Congress promises a continuation of the Syrian war and a slightly adjusted reality to what Washington perceives as a “war of attrition.”
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Three Paths for the Middle East’s States
By Mohamed A. El-Erian
Jul. 18, 2014
During a recent trip to the Middle East, I was struck by the growing gap between countries – so much so that, more than ever, I came away convinced that it makes no sense today to talk of the region as a coherent whole. Rather than pursuing internal convergence, this important part of the world is now following at least three paths, characterized by large divergences that will persist – and likely grow – for years to come. On one path are countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria, which are struggling to avoid the awful trap of becoming failed states. All of them share the unfortunate likelihood that their situation will become worse before it improves.
This group of countries is being dragged down further every day by a terrible combination of violence, political fragmentation, social disintegration, and economic implosion. Their ability to sort themselves out is weak and, in some cases, almost non-existent. Tragically, tremendous human suffering will likely persist, and the waves of human migration that this induces will place significant pressure on adjacent countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon.
At the opposite extreme are countries that are going from strength to strength. Helped by higher oil revenues, countries such as the United Arab Emirates are forging ahead with multi-faceted programs to diversify their growth engines, further strengthen their human and physical capital, and set aside even more substantial financial resources for future generations.
This group of countries is recording one achievement after another, most of which outside observers would have deemed elusive, if not unrealistic, only a short time ago. In the process, they are building even greater developmental momentum, which makes the next set of accomplishments both likelier and even more significant.
The benefits of these countries’ progress extend well beyond their borders. As major importers of regional labour, their success results in higher remittances to non-oil economies; and, as major regional investors, their achievements are fueling larger capital flows, as well as substantial bilateral aid.
The course set by these two sets of countries is well established and is unlikely to change much in the near term. As such, the already-wide gap between them will continue to grow.
More uncertain is what will happen to those Middle Eastern countries that lie between these two extremes. In seeking to realize their untapped potential, countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, must overcome many challenges, most of them long-standing and some new.
Perhaps no example illustrates these challenges as well as Egypt, a country whose experience highlights what is at stake for the region. Egypt is currently weighed down by an unfavorable combination of slow economic growth, high unemployment, fiscal imbalances, institutional weaknesses, and poor social services – problems that are compounded by rapid population growth and poverty.
Moreover, Egypt’s external environment is less than accommodating, and the country has been on a very bumpy political journey since the popular uprising in 2011 overthrew President Hosni Mubarak’s government, which had ruled with an iron fist for three decades. Not surprisingly, the economy is operating well below its potential. Tourism has suffered dramatically, with hotels experiencing high vacancy rates and the country’s famous historical sights standing half empty. In agriculture and industry, bureaucracy and corruption have stifled Egypt’s comparative advantages, compounded by disruptions in energy supplies.
Meanwhile, millions of Egypt’s citizens have operated in a system that, for decades, has been better at hindering than facilitating productive endeavours. That system has also failed to meet the population’s legitimate demands for justice, democracy, human rights, and social services, particularly when it comes to education and health care.
And yet, after so many years of frustrating under-performance, there is recognition in Cairo of what is needed to turn things around – namely a combination of vision, leadership, commitment, and a more conducive environment.
Notwithstanding political disagreements, progress is being made in designing a program of economic reform that can unleash the country’s tremendous capabilities. Steps are being taken to revamp a costly and inefficient subsidy system, improve infrastructure, and deal with Egypt’s energy-supply problems. Implementation is being aided by the substantial support that the country receives from other countries – particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE – as well as the re-engagement, albeit still tentative, of domestic and foreign private capital.
A lot is riding on whether countries such as Egypt embrace durable economic, financial, institutional, political, and social reforms – and whether they do so in the context of progress toward greater democratization, social justice, and respect for human rights. Their populations are among the largest in the region. They can play an important role in anchoring regional stability. And they are gateways to Europe, Africa, and Asia. The path that this group of countries ultimately takes will influence prospects for the region as a whole.
Mohamed A. El-Erian is chief economic adviser at Allianz and a member of its International Executive Committee. He is chairman of President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council and the author, most recently, of “When Markets Collide.” THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org).
Iraq's Next War: Tribe vs. Terrorist
By Aki Peritz
16 Jul, 2014
Policymakers across the globe – from Washington to Tehran to Riyadh – continue to fumble around trying to figure out how to defuse the current crisis consuming Iraq. America especially has no real articulated strategy on how to handle this foreign policy challenge.
For President Barack Obama, dealing with the latest crisis must be a bitter pill indeed. As a presidential candidate, he promised to finally extricate America from Iraq, and he did so to great acclaim. This latest crisis is now forcing him to send American military personnel back to Baghdad. Last month, the US sent500 troops back to Baghdad to establish joint intelligence centers and bolster Embassy security. There are now armed and unarmed drones over Iraqi skies – although they have yet to strike any targets. The US Navy has also positioned the amphibious transport ship USS Mesa Verde and the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the area just in case the US has to evacuate its citizens from the country.
But these are tactical moves seemingly unmoored from a larger strategy. So it’s probably not ready for the conflict’s next, brutal chapter – because the rapprochement between the Sunni tribes, insurgent groups, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, recently renamed “The Islamic State”) is beginning to quickly crumble.
Grand coalitions of convenience – in this case, ISIS, some Sunni tribes, and miscellaneous insurgent groups battling Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated government – quickly fall apart. Politicians the world over should instinctively realize this because almost every single one of them had to run for office, and know that during the campaign they had to assiduously court all sorts of local officials and personalities.
When politicians become makers of foreign policy, however, they seem to forget the shop-worn adage that all politics is local; it’s simply easier to deal with heads of state rather than the provincials. But power and legitimacy does not always rest in capital cities wielded by middle-aged men in grey suits; real power is oftentimes wielded by individuals in local communities – men and women who control people, votes, money, and weapons.
It remains unclear whether other nations would be willing to cut a real deal with the Sunni power brokers of Iraq – the tribal leaders. This would be a departure from most government-to-government statecraft, where foreign ministries and heads of state interact with each other at the appropriate diplomatic level. But unless foreign countries (and of course the Iraqi government) is willing to acknowledge political reality and take concrete steps to satisfy these sub-state actors, this conflict will grind on and continue to empower the most dangerous elements of this new civil war.
* * *
Iraq’s Sunni tribes are certainly riding the tiger. Some are loosely aligned with ISIS because the terror group serves as shock troops to expel the Iraqi army from its turf. As Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, the head of the largest tribe in Iraq, said following the Iraqi Army’s capitulation to ISIS, “It is the tribal rebels who are in control of the situation in Mosul. It is not reasonable to say that a group like ISIS, which has a small number of men and vehicles, could be in control of a large city like Mosul.”
This intra-Sunni confrontation is inevitable – and we’ve seen it before. Following the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the US upended the Iraqi economy through the ill-considered “de-Baathification” efforts and dissolution of the Army. With the stroke of a pen, millions of people lost their livelihoods, pensions, and economic future. With this destruction, Sunnis turned to the one stabilizing force in their lives: the tribe.
Sunni tribes generated much of their income by skimming off the top of the lucrative Iraqi oil trade, but ISIS’ predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), eventually imperiled that revenue stream by trying to grab too much of the profits. This was big money: for example, the oil refinery in Sunni-dominated Baiji – the scene of great fighting between Iraqi government forces and ISIS in recent weeks –generates some $10 million a day. However, the Pentagon in 2007 estimated up to 70 percent of Baiji’s production vanished into the black market. Of course, the tribes took a sizeable cut – some say as much as 20 percent – as did the insurgent groups.
When the US took control of that oil refinery in 2007, insurgents hit it until Maliki promised the local tribes a percentage of the proceeds in exchange for protection. That arrangement more or less lasted until Maliki unwisely turned his guns on Sunni protestors in late 2012, setting in motion the current crisis we have today.
Financial considerations aside, many Iraqi Sunnis remain hostile to ISIS’ overall aims. In another interview, Sheik al-Suleiman mentioned, “We don’t think we can work with ISIS and be allies. Culturally, we are totally different from them…We are postponing our fight with ISIS until later. Now is not the time to fight ISIS, it’s the time to fight Maliki.” It’s odd to hear a major figure state that his group is “culturally…totally different” from their supposed allies.
Many of these Sunni groups also have scores to settle. ISIS’ penchant for brutality and terror is widely known, as just about every Iraqi has been deeply affected by the group’s terrifying behavior. Every Iraqi Sunni has some story about ISIS’s extreme brutality and predilection for baroque punishments.
These lethal splits are already occurring. In June, tribal forces killed over a dozen ISIS operatives north of Ramadi. ISIS blew up the nephew of the current (and exiled) head of the Sunni tribal Anbar Awakening Councils earlier this year. A battle in late June between ISIS and the hardline Sufi/Baathist group Naqshbandiyah (JRTN) left some 17 people dead. ISIS executed 13 Sunni imams in Mosul after taking the city. There are other blood feuds large and small occurring every day below the media radar, and those that stretch back through the occupation years. Given the complex nature of Iraqi tribal politics and customs that ISIS’ cadre of foreign fighters just don’t understand, these brawls will only continue into the weeks ahead.
ISIS’ recent declaration it has re-established the long-dormant Caliphate also means the group expects the Sunnis of Iraq will bend their collective knees to its rule. We’ve seen this movie before too: ISIS’ chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s main predecessor, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, tried to similarly unite the Sunni insurgency under his own banner. His heavy-handed efforts severely irritated the other insurgents and jihadist groups, so much that another al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Sunnah, refused to join him despite having similar goals.
Sunnis don’t seem to want to break up Iraq, but their vision for the country remains hazy, conflicted, and riven by internal squabbles. Some, like former Iraqi vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (currently in exile in Turkey after being accused of terrorism) call for a federal-style government that devolves power to the provinces, while others wish to establish a Sunni region with its own government and independent military force. Still others want to invade Baghdad proper and bring Sunnis back into power, like during Saddam Hussein’s time.
One thing is clear however: they’re not going to take up arms en masse against ISIS until Maliki steps down. Since the tribes have an overwhelming population advantage against ISIS (millions vs. perhaps 6,000) the tribes think they can continue to walk on the knife’s edge. Their overall strategy may be to take a “crowbar” to Maliki by exploiting ISIS, as one former CIA officer put it, and then destroy the terrorist group.
Yet ISIS is a fearsome, well-equipped, well-heeled group with thousands of veteran fighters. It has a network of suicide bombers and isn’t afraid to use it against its own allies.
The terrorist group knows their tribal allies will turn on them once Maliki goes and there is some sort of political understanding with Baghdad. They have experience dealing with Sunni betrayal before, as the tribes and other insurgent groups, with significant American assistance, turned on AQI back in 2007-2008 and targeted them almost to the point of extinction.
But AQI and its murderous ideology were not irrevocably purged from the Iraqi landscape, and its surviving members in ISIS have presumably learned from its mistakes. With its cadre of foreign fighters – much more fanatical than their Iraqi colleagues – they might be spoiling for a fight with any and all comers. ISIS will not go quietly into that good night.
Hence, the US should be putting aside its reluctance to talk with “sub-state actors” and hopefully be reaching out to whichever tribes are still willing to talk to an American government official. Surely America’s and tribal leaders’ values are aligned, as both want to cut a deal to crush this terrorist group sooner rather than later.
The long-term prospects for peace in the country are bleak. The Iraqi military is a hopeless shell of a fighting force and cannot re-conquer the country. The Iraqi parliament remains rudderless and leaderless. Even mighty, meddlesome Shiite Iran’s offer to help Iraq with “everything” will not decisively tip the balance of power, crush the Sunni insurgency, and keep Maliki permanently in power.
If the Iraq of today falls to pieces, the US should have allies – Sunni allies, that is – that would be willing to talk with tomorrow. As one sheikh from the Albu Rahman tribe recently said, “There is no way back.”
The brutal intra-Sunni civil war is rapidly approaching. We should get ready for the next bloodstained chapter of Iraqi history.
Aki Peritz is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and coauthor of Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda.