By Yaşar Yakiş
July 16, 2014
(All the Three parts of the Article given below)
The proclamation of the Islamic State (IS) has the potential to cause fundamental changes in the Middle East, because the attempt to resuscitate the caliphate is so appealing to many fundamentalist Muslims that it may shake the foundations of stability in the region no matter how limited its success may be at present. This step has several aspects worth being examined very closely.
Three of these aspects are as follows:
The agenda of the IS may occasionally overlap with that of other rebel groups operating in Iraq and Syria, but its main target is to establish a society governed by Islamic rules. Ousting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria or forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq to quit does not seem to be among its priorities.
It enjoys sizeable grassroots support in Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. There are scores of adherents to its ranks from Western countries as well. This support is most probably the main reason for its astonishing achievements, beginning with the seizure of Mosul.
Strategic Meaning of the Territories Seized
First, the territories seized by the IS are mainly inhabited by Sunni populations. Therefore, the Shia sect of Islam, which is mostly dominant in Iran, is likely to become as hostile to the IS as the remainder of the international community, if not more.
Second, the present international borders are being overlooked as they are considered unjust boundaries drawn by outside powers. This is an additional confirmation that the IS's basic criterion is not political borders but religious identity and that it covets territories beyond Syria and Iraq.
Third, valleys surrounding the major rivers are among the important targets as water is one of the scarcest resources in the Middle East. The rivers are also important because of hydro-electric power stations.
Fourth, it attacks border crossing points with neighbouring countries because of customs duties that could be levied and the inflow of new adherents to the movement.
Fifth, in Rojava (the Syrian Kurdish region), the IS attacked the Kurdish canton of Kobani because, by controlling the area, it will be able to cut off the link between two other Kurdish cantons in northern Syria and extend its border with Turkey by an additional several hundred kilometers.
Sixth, the seizure of oil wells, refineries, dams and power stations constitutes the most important priority for the IS.
The foregoing strategic targets go beyond the capacity of an ordinary terrorist organization.
Organizing the ‘State'
Information provided by an eyewitness to a correspondent with the Lebanese al-Akhbar weekly on July 3 gives an idea on how the IS organizes itself as a full-fledged state: “A young man speaking Arabic with a Saudi Arabian accent politely welcomed passengers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Raqqa, and warned the women to wear Niqab [a cloth that covers the face]. The IS has established courts to resolve disputes between civilians; ‘social committees' actively serve Muslims in certain provinces; those who [threaten to] destabilize the Islamic State are punished ruthlessly. … The IS has removed the flags of ‘infidels' in various places of the city and replaced them with its own banners. There is no news of thefts or [other] violations because of the harshness of their punishments. Market day has been moved to Thursday so that everyone can attend Friday prayers. A poster has been put on the wall of every shop that reads, ‘Sisters, please do not remove your niqab inside the shop' and ‘Work stops 10 minutes before prayer [times].' Emergency services are functioning efficiently in health, electricity and other areas. [An institution called] ‘Islamic Services Authority' supervises the state's institutions; [another called] ‘Accounts Bureau' monitors the markets and sales operations, enforces Shariah [Islamic law] and holds people who break the rules accountable.”
The foregoing information indicates that the IS is following a path that it believes to be the right one in light of its interpretation of Islam. It is not enough to claim that this is not the right interpretation of Islam. Therefore, the international community has to decide what to do with this serious threat. The more the IS is implanted in the region, the more difficult it will be to uproot it.
The Islamic State (2)
By Yaşar Yakiş
August 06, 2014
The "Islamic State" (IS) is still at the top of the agenda of international relations, despite the Gaza crisis on the one hand and the efforts of Western countries to isolate President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the other.
Since Sunday, Aug. 3, the IS has been attacking an oil field, three more Iraqi towns and the biggest dam in Iraq, the Mosul Dam. The armed Kurdish fighters (Peshmerga) did not resist as much as they were expected to do. President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq issued a strongly worded statement that he had instructed the Peshmerga to change their defensive position against the IS and attack them. While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Barzani remain at odds on several domestic issues, they seem compelled to cooperate in their fight against the steady expansion of the IS.
The IS fighters have blown up many Sunni mosques, claiming that they were named after Muslim dignitaries or individual donors rather than being devoted to God. They have also destroyed several Shiite mosques in the areas under their control.
The patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, has contributed to the promotion of the visibility of the IS by “suggesting dialogue with the Islamic State.” The patriarch may have felt that the IS is moving steadily to threaten the security of the Christian community in Lebanon, or even its existence, as we are witnessing in Mosul, Iraq. Christians will be invited “to embrace Islam” or leave the territories where they have lived since before the arrival of Islam, or else their fate will remain unknown.
The international community could not come up with a concrete position against the expansion of the IS except a timid joint statement from the UN Security Council (UNSC), which provides that “buying oil from groups such as the IS and Jabhat al-Nusra could lead to sanctions.” The recent history of the Middle East is full of examples of Western countries' military intervention when the lives of individuals were exposed to much lesser threats and hardships. There must be a reason, which we do not understand, why they prefer to simply watch the “achievements” of the IS unfold.
The atrocious methods used by the IS fighters have an important role in propagating terror and making people frightened of opposing them, but another factor is Maliki's sectarian policy that has antagonized the Sunnis in Iraq.
We are not sure that all is going well within the IS. An IS deserter, Sheikh Maher Abu Ubeida, made meaningful statements to the Lebanese daily As-Safir on July 31. He was the “Wali” (governor) of the desert province of the IS. He has now declared himself the caliph of all Muslims in Syria and invited them to pledge allegiance to him. This statement is a new definition of caliphate, implying that individual countries can have their own caliph, instead of one caliph for the entire Islamic Ummah.
The desert region that was under Ubeida's governance stretches, according to IS claims, from al-Anbar in Iraq to the Palmyra oasis and the countryside of Hama in Syria and covers around 30 villages. Therefore, no matter how ambitious it may look, by breaking away from the IS, Ubeida will be relieved of the domination of the IS on the one hand and will become the caliph of all Muslims in Syria on the other. It looks like a king without a country, but it must be megalomania that he may have gained after he joined the IS.
This is the first important desertion from the ranks. The desertion may be due to his appointment to a post of lesser importance than what he had in mind, but what is more important is the details he gave on the internal affairs of the IS. He was tasked to defend this huge territory with 70 fighters. The Syrian army must be pleased to learn this detail.
Furthermore, we learn from Ubeida that, despite the unchallenged leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph of the IS, the man who is in command of the military operations is a Saudi citizen by the name of Shaker Wahip, and he has already started to set up cells in the Saudi provinces of Qasim, Khamis Musheyt, Dammam and Hufuf, trying to infiltrate into Riyadh. If true, this must be a nightmare for the Saudis.
If the IS remains unchecked, its territory may of course extend all the way to Saudi Arabia one day, but the international community has to do more to bring an end to this expansion. Otherwise we may regret having waited too long to move.
The Islamic State (3)
By Yaşar Yakiş
August 27, 2014
Pressure is mounting on Turkey because of the latest developments regarding the Islamic State (IS).
The IS has now turned its attention towards strategic targets in Syria. One of these targets is the Syrian border region with Turkey. This will increase the security risk on the Turkish side of the border with Syria.
This coincides with heavy criticism directed by the American and British press at Turkey's way of handling the IS issue. It started with an interview published in The Washington Post and reprinted in the Turkish press on Aug. 14, claiming that a high commander in the IS army by the name of Abou Youssaf had said that some wounded fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and the IS had been treated in Turkish hospitals, adding that many foreign fighters had joined them via Turkish territory and that their ammunition and food supplies reached them through Turkey. He also pointed out that part of the success they have achieved is thanks to Turkey. He mentioned that entering Turkey has now become more difficult and that he came to the Turkish border city of Reyhanlı for the interview with the help of people smugglers, implying that they used to be able to cross the Turkish-Syrian border more easily in the past. Whichever way you look at this interview, it damages Turkey's image.
The Turkish authorities strongly deny that they have assisted any terrorist organization and insist that Turkey supports only the moderate opposition in Syria, while they cannot distinguish those fighters who cross the border to join the IS from those who join the moderate opposition.
Another article published on Aug. 24 in British weekly The Observer claims that Turkey had been warned by the US and many European countries for the last 18 months about the approaching IS threat. The Observer further claims that, although the IS is no longer welcome in Turkey, the Turkish authorities did not send additional troops to the Syrian border to minimize the illegal movement back and forth across the Syrian border.
Senior UK politicians have also called for greater pressure on Turkey through the European Union and NATO. Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell suggests that a full-scale diplomatic initiative should be launched to bring Turkey closer to the EU and that a method should be devised to accelerate Turkey's accession process to the EU in return for its full cooperation in the fight against the IS. This proposal constitutes a fundamental change in the criteria governing Turkey's accession to the EU.
Germany has agreed with the central authorities of Iraq to send weapons and ammunition to the Peshmerga, armed Kurdish fighters, to fight the increasing IS threat. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out emphatically that they will not deliver weapons to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) of Turkey, as it is on the German list of terrorist organizations. She admitted, however, that once the weapons are delivered to the Peshmerga, one cannot easily trace whose hands they will end up in.
Turkey has other reasons to worry: The international community is doing its best to arm the Peshmerga to help it fight the IS, because the Peshmerga will be defending their own territory. But the Kurds will not miss this opportunity to promote their age-old ideal of reinforcing their autonomy or proclaiming their independence from Iraq. It is not known how this will affect Turkey's “democratization project,” which aims basically at meeting the aspirations of the Kurdish-speaking community of Turkey. The increasing visibility of the Kurdish cause on the international scene might push Turkish Kurds to increase their stake, making it more difficult for the government to meet all their demands.
Another fact that limits Turkey's freedom of action in its attitude towards the IS is the 49 staff members of the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul who are still being kept as hostages by the IS. Turkey cannot take any action that might make the IS angry, especially after James Foley's unfortunate fate. Turkey will therefore be squeezed between mounting pressure from its Western allies and the bitter reality of the IS in this run-up to the 2015 elections.