By Verda Özer
Most of the convictions on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have proven to be false so far, which has urged the West and regional powers to revisit their strategies toward Iraq and Syria.
One of the assumptions about ISIL was that rival and hostile countries could not come together in the anti-ISIL coalition. Yet, it seems that some behind the scene cooperation has already started between the U.S. and the Bashar al-Assad regime and the same with regional powers. Baghdad and Arbil, which had been at odds for a long time, are now on the same front. Arbil has also put aside its differences with northern Syria and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and these three groups are now fighting together.
Following the cooperation between the U.S. and Iran over Iraq, Tehran is now helping northern Iraq in its struggle against ISIL. This has come as surprise to many, since Iran had been keeping its distance toward Arbil, fearing their independence bid would provoke the Kurds in Iran, too. Cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is also highly likely soon.
Another conviction has been that the U.S. would not attack ISIL in Syria. However, last week, Chairman of the Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey said ISIL could not be defeated without addressing it in Syria. Following this, the U.S. began surveillance flights over Syria.
This is mainly because Washington has come to terms with the fact that it is impossible to differentiate between Iraq and Syria anymore since the ISIL has eroded the borders. In addition, 20 percent of Iraq’s population is Sunni, whereas this number is 60 in Syria, meaning ISIL is able to attract much more supporters.
Another important factor is operational necessities. Al-Assad has almost full control of his country and its airspace. Hence, he could seriously harm U.S. aircrafts. Moreover, it has just been revealed that the U.S. forged an unsuccessful secret operation this summer to rescue American hostages being held by ISIL in Syria. This reveals the limits of its intelligence in the country and therefore its need for military support from the al-Assad regime for airstrikes.
The murder of American journalist James Foley’s by ISIL last week has also raised the demand among the American public, politicians and Europe for more active intervention. This has put the option of launching airstrikes on Syria on the table.
Another false assumption had been that the U.S. had not accepted Turkey’s offer to use the American airbase in the country. First of all, Ankara does not have such a demand since 49 Turkish citizens are still being held hostage by ISIL and the terrorist organization has recently threatened to attack Turkish territory.
Furthermore, one third of the U.S. aircraft in Iraq since Aug. 8 were launched from the Norfolk-based George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and the remainder from the airbases in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. An American military expert has answered my question, saying this is the most practical way for the ongoing airstrikes and İncirlik Airbase in Turkey could be used only in the case of longer duration airstrikes. This is also why the U.S. rejected Baghdad’s offer to use the airbases in Iraq.
Apparently many other convictions will come out and be disproved in time. The only way not to slip on this extremely slippery ground is to be ready for any scenario possible.