Is The Islamic State Consolidating?
It has been more than an year since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria struck in these two countries. We have already examined how this extremist and brutal group was born in earlier papers. They began their capture of territories by brutally executing Shias in what was clear genocide. They also executed some Western aid workers who were not in any way opposing the ISIS. They established a ritual of executing such innocent prisoners by dressing them in orange suits and dressing the designated executioners in black and then ritually beheading the victims. Firstly these poor victims were in no way opposing the ISIS, nor had they any capacity to influence or oppose the ISIS. This kind of ritual and public executions of innocent people was obviously done by the ISIS to terrify the western world.
The western countries, the United States and Great Britain reacted by condemning the ISIS and then started strafing and bombing ISIS columns or fighters. The United States began to train their personnel to train the loyal troops of Iraq to fight the ISIS. Extensive strafing and bombing runs were carried out by the United States and their allied countries like the United Arab Republic on the ISIS fighters as well as on oil refineries that were under ISIS control. Neither the United States nor any western country has sent their ground troops to fight the ISIS. In Iraq their forces trained and motivated by the United States Army contingents sent there, were able to push back the ISIS forces to some extent. In all this fighting it was the Kurd Peshmerga that carried out the major fight against the ISIS. A small town, Kobane situated just across the border from Turkey in Syria was attacked by the Kurdish Peshmerga who after some close combat fighting ousted the ISIS fighters from Kobane. They could however succeed only when the Kurd soldiers fighting on the ground in Kobane were able to send exact positions of ISIS combat positions and the United State fighter planes could fire rockets at the positions of the ISIS troops forcing the survivors to retreat.
A full year has gone by and there are indications that the ISIS are now better organised and are now fighting back. There was a serious attempt to take back Kobane and fighting is still going on for possession of each square foot of the ground there. An year after the ISIS first came on the scene and after hundreds of air attacks on the ISIS troop positions and oil refineries under their control, it appears that the ISIS are not only holding on to the territories under their control, but seem to have established a measure of fairly good administration in their area of control.
In northern Syria, the ISIS have fixed power lines, dug sewage systems and painted sidewalks. In Raqqa, they search markets and slaughter houses for expired food and sick animals. Further south on Dier-al Zour, they have imposed taxes on farmers and shopkeepers and fined men for keeping short beards. The group runs regular buses across the border with Iraq to Mosul, where it publicly kills captives and trains children for guerilla warfare. Last month it opened a luxury hotel in the city. A year after the ISIS seized Mosul and ten months after the United States and its allies launched air strikes against it the jihadists of the ISIS continue to dig in, stitching itself deeper into the fabric of the communities it is now controlling. In vast swathes of Syria and Iraq, with shattered ties to national governments, the jihadists have worked to fill the void. The group is offering reliable if harsh security, providing jobs in decimated economies and projecting a rare sense of order in a region overwhelmed by conflict.
With no political solutions in sight for the wars that has allowed the terrorist group to thrive, little has prevented the jihadists from deepening their roots in ways that will make them even harder to dislodge. As a way of life people have got used to them. If you followed their rules, the ISIS left you alone, though life was not peaceful. They have however got rid of the tyrannical rule of the Arabs. In the process, the ISIS administration has ballooned. The group has banned dynamite fishing, pressed teachers to work in their schools, offering rewards, for the killing of Jordanian fighter pilots.
The Islamic States’ territory now stretches across hundreds of miles from the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria into central Europe, where it shares a volatile border with the Turks in the north and Baghdad in the south. Much of this area is sparsely populated desert but the group has millions of people under its charge. The ISIS differs from groups like Al Qaeda in the way it pursues its drive to establish a Sunni Muslim State governed by an extreme version of Islam. It is prompting a geographic cleansing. Those who do not fit in the police, government, and army are made to flee or are killed. What remains are mostly Sunni Arabs. People may not be with the ISIS’s ideology, but the group has been able to give some stability, punishing thieves and putting in place a legal system. Many people have become dependent on the ISIS’s services.
The end effect is that the ISIS has entrenched itself. To enhance their staying power, the ISIS has focused itself on children, revamping curriculums and indoctrinating teachers. Some adults said that living under the ISIS had changed their views. They were considering whether to join the group. However bad blood from the fighting persists and ISIS fighters are still ambushed regularly. The ISIS has responded with public executions and heavy taxes on harvests, phone lines, water and electricity. Their policy is to make people hungry, while they pay their fighters, so that becoming one of them is the only way to live. In an audio message released last month, the leader of the ISIS, Abu Baker al Baghdadi renewed his call for Muslims to join his group. Residents of ISIS controlled areas did not describe their lives as easy but some wanted the jihadists to stay, in the background of the deep political failures in their country.
Many, now living in Syria under the ISIS suffered under both Assad and the rebels, who finally chased out Assad’s forces leaving them no alternative but to choose the ISIS. Many Sunnis in Iraq, now trust the ISIS more than the Shiite led government and the militias it has used to fight the ISIS. Now there is more security and freedom, no arrests, no harassment, no concrete barriers, and no checkpoints.
There appears to be an attempt by the United States to strengthen its operations in Iraq to counter the ISIS settling itself. The United States is considering establishing additional military bases in Iraq to combat the ISIS, a top United States General said recently, a move that would require a few hundred US military advisors to help Iraqi forces retake cities it lost to this Sunni extremist group. President Obama’s decision recently to send an additional 450 trainers to establish a new military base to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province could lead to similar efforts in other parts of the country. This was reported by Gen. Martin E Dempsey, the Chairman Joint Chief’s of Staff. Gen. Dempsey described possible future campaigns that entailed the establishment of what he called Lilly pads-US Army bases around Iraq from which trainers would work with Iraqi forces and local tribesmen in the fight against the ISIS.
You could see one in the corridor from Baghdad to Mosul-Gen Dempsey said. Such sites he said could require troops in addition to the 3500 the President has authorised so far. Increasing the number of troops in Iraq, would be a risk for both the White House and the Pentagon. For the President, whose campaign for the Presidency was predicated on opposition to the war in Iraq, any expansion, even a limited one represents a set back. From the start of the US military campaign against the ISIS, the US President has resisted from committing a large number of US troops, much less reinstituting perpetually US staffed bases in the Iraqi countryside. In fact the US still does not call the more than 3000 troops sent to Iraq so far-“combat forces”-they are “trainers and advisors”. For the Pentagon, establishing additional bases carries its own risks as well, not least because it gives the ISIS another target to aim for. US army officials acknowledge that the more US troops on the ground in Iraq, the greater the incentive for the ISIS to attack them.
There is already a precedent. In February eight suicide bombers, who defence department officials said were with the ISIS managed to enter an air base west of Baghdad, when hundreds of US Marines were training their Iraqi counterparts. The bombers were killed almost immediately, but the assault was a reminder that even circumscribed training missions create a risk for US casualties. A model for a potential new US base network in Iraq is already being built at Al Taqqadum an Iraqi base near Habbaniya town in eastern Anbar. The US troops being sent are to set up the hub primarily to advise and assist Iraqi forces and to engage and reach out to Sunni tribes in Anbar. One focus for the US will be to try to accelerate the integration of Sunni fighters into the Iraqi army which is dominated by Shiites. While retaking the city of Ramadi, which fell to the ISIS last month, is the goal of the training hub at Al Taqqadum, Gen. Dempsey indicated that the effort may be months away. While declining to put a time table on when the battle to retake Ramadi would begin, he said that it would take several weeks for the initial command and control centre at Al Taqqadum to be set up. The US President has been loath to commit ground troops in Iraq. The US was still hoping that the Iraqi government would find a way to deploy Sunni soldiers to beat back the ISIS.
The recent developments are that terrorists have attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait on 25th June 2015 leaving a bloody trail in three continents. In France an attacker stormed an United States owned industrial plant near Lyon, but could not blow up the factory. In Tunisia, gunmen opened fire at a beach resort, killing 27 people. The IS carried out a suicide bombing in a large Shiite mosque in Kuwait leaving 24 killed. The last was the first operation by the ISIS in a gulf state. The assault in Kuwait is particularly worrisome. A tiny wealthy oil exporter, Kuwait has been largely excluded from such terrorist attacks.
The IS’s reclusive leader has empowered his inner circle of deputies as well as regional commanders in Syria and Iraq with wide ranging authority, a plan to ensure that if he or other top leaders are killed , the organisation will quickly adapt and continue fighting. This is the view of United States and Iraqi Intelligence officials. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the IS leader has delegated authority to his Shura Council-Ministers of war, Finance and Religious Affairs accordingly.
The IS leadership was drawn from two main pools-veterans of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who survived the insurgency against the United States and former Baathist officers under Saddam Hussain. It is the merger of these two groups that has made the IS such a potent force. Equally important is the flexibility given to its force commanders to have the autonomy to run their operations in Iraq or Syria. Fighters have limited information about the inner working of the IS. Iraqis still hold the top positions. Much of the new thinking about the leadership of the IS comes from information about the groups financial operations, recruiting methods and security measures, from materials seized during a United States commando raid in May in eastern Syria. IS is reported to have learned from drone strikes and formed a structure that can survive the losses of leaders by giving mid level leaders a degree of autonomy. The groups top leaders now use couriers or encrypted channels that western analysts cannot crack. The two top leaders after Mr. Baghdadi appear to be Abu Alaa al Afri, a former deputy to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former militant leader in Iraq and Fadal al Hayali@ Abu Muslim al Turkmani, a former Iraqi Special Forces officer. There are also unconfirmed reports that both have been killed in air strikes recently. It is unclear , who would replace Al Baghdadi if he died. The Caliph has to be an Arab from the Qurrayesh tribe. The United States is actively hunting al Baghdadi.
The sadism of the IS cannot be explained by politics alone. It comes from something deeper and darker. In France, in Tunisia, in Kuwait,, horror upon horror happened in a single day. It played out like some kind of gruesome auction, each atrocity bidding against the others for our appalled attention. The opening offer came near Lyon, where a factory was attacked and more shocking, a severed head was found on top of a gate and a decapitated body nearby. From the Tunisian resort of Sousse, terrified holiday makers barricaded themselves in hotel rooms and showed shots from their cell phones of gunshots leading to a massacre on the beach. In Kuwait, a suicide bomber walked into a mosque, packed with two thousand people and blew himself up, killing scores. The previous Tuesday, an IS video showed five Muslim men, each wearing a red jump suit, packed into a cage and lowered into a swimming pool. Underwater cameras recorded the men’s dying minutes, the thrashing and flailing as they drowned.
What are we to make of these events? What are we to do with what we have witnessed? What we have seen last week confirms that the problem of evil is a problem not of history, but of now. How is such horror possible? What can explain the sheer sadism on show, the ability of one human being to inflict, not just death, but such a painful humiliating death on another?
A simple explanation is that, the butchers of IS are following an age old military tactic, one that would have been recognized by Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun; terrify the enemy. IS drowned those men to make us tremble. It works too. While these crimes sow fear, they also prompt revulsion, and that revulsion is shared. We must never be afraid to name evil for what it is. We have seen in this paper how the ISIS first showcased their executions of innocent foreigners who were all unarmed and were working to improve the standard of living of the poorer sections of the people in Iraq. The innocent victims were made to wear orange jumpsuits and the executioners black overalls with masks to hide their identity. Then the innocent victims were decapitated with one stroke! Can we forget the horror of watching the young Jordanian pilot who was shot down and parachuted to the ground only to be captured by the IS and put in a cage and burnt alive as a punishment.
The leaders of the IS are sadists and deserve the most heinous punishment for their dastardly acts. They are not soldiers, fighting a war for a cause. We must not be carried away by their acts of governance in the areas that they have conquered and reportedly governing with a degree of fairness . They are not a group of honourable fighting soldiers. They are a cruel bunch of perverted sadists who deserve no quarter but should be defeated in battle and criminally tried for their sadistic crimes. The world should be rid of such perverted sadists as quickly as possible.
By EN Rammohan
(The writer is former Director General, BSF)