by Nauman Sadiq

As we know that France under Nicolas Sarkozy had played a lead role in fomenting the insurgency against the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011 and after him Francois Hollande too had been on the forefront of supporting the Sunni militants in Syria against the Alawite-Shi’a Assad regime. That arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a-Iranian axis had worked well up to August 2014, when Obama Administration made an about-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and started conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni jihadists battling against the “hostile” Assad regime, i.e. the Islamic State, after the latter transgressed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq and threatened the capital of another steadfast American ally: Masoud Barzani’s Erbil in the oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.

After that reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Shi’a regime, the momentum of Sunni jihadists’ expansion in Syria has stalled and they now feel that their Western allies have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause; that’s why, they feel bitter and they are once again up in arms to seek revenge for this betrayal. If we look at the chain of events, the timing of Paris and Brussels attacks is critical: Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, Obama Administration started bombing Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014 and after a long time first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and then the November 2015 Paris attacks and now the March 2016 Brussels bombings.

Moreover, the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency’s report [1] of 2012 that presaged the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in north-eastern Syria was not overlooked it was deliberately suppressed, not just the report but that view in general that a civil war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamists, was forcefully stifled in the Western policy making circles under pressure from the Zionist lobbies. The Western powers were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria but they kept pursuing the policy of financing, training, arming and internationally legitimizing the so-called “Syrian opposition” to weaken the Syrian regime and to neutralize the threat that its Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, had posed to Israel’s regional security; a fact which the Israeli defense community realized for the first time during the 2006 Lebanon war in the course of which Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel. Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for the Israeli military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel? The Western interest in the Syrian civil war is primarily about ensuring Israel’s regional security.

Turkish dilemma and the Western intervention:

The dilemma that Turkey is facing in Syria is quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Gaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and the then Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the former Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention Obama’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In the Syrian case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing British troops and Air Force to Syria; taking cue from the British parliament the US’ Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention; and since both those administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore, Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in favor of intervention; at this point, however, the seasoned Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime is willing to ship its chemical weapons’ stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved. Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states – the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity for dealing a fatal blow to the Shi’a alliance comprising Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni jihadist outfits fighting in Syria, trespassed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014 and threatened the capital of America’s most steadfast ally in the oil-rich region – Masoud Barzani’s Erbil. The US had no choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show to the world that it is still sincere in pursuing its schizophrenic and hypocritical “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a symbolic war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate Syrian militants” will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring a war against Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too – in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, Obama Administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama Administration availed itself of the “war on terror” provisions in the US’ laws and thus circumvented the US’ Congress.

But then Russia threw a spanner in the wicked schemes of NATO and its Gulf Arab allies in September 2015 by its surreptitious military buildup in Latakia that was executed with an element of surprise unheard of since Rommel, the Desert Fox. And now Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states and their Sunni jihadist proxies in Syria find themselves at the receiving end in the Syrian civil war. The shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey in November last year, which is also a member of NATO, seemed like a desperate attempt by Turkey to provoke Russia into a military encounter and thus invoke NATO’s treaty obligation of “collective defense” in the face of “aggression” against any of NATO’s member states.

Composition and organizational structure of Islamic State:

The only difference between the Afghan Jihad back in the ‘80s, that spawned Islamic jihadists like the Taliban and al Qaeda for the first time in history, and the Libyan and Syrian Jihads 2011-onward, is that the Afghan Jihad was an overt Jihad – back then the Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, used to openly brag that CIA provides all those AK-47s, RPGs and stingers to the Pakistani ISI which then forwards such weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen (freedom fighters) to combat the erstwhile Soviet Union. After the 9/11 tragedy, however, the Western political establishments and corporate media have become a lot more circumspect, therefore, this time around they have waged covert jihads against the hostile Gaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria, in which the Islamic jihadists (aka terrorists) have been sold as “moderate rebels” with secular and nationalist ambitions to the Western audience.

Since the regime change objective in those hapless countries went against the established mainstream narrative of “the war on terror,” therefore, the Western political establishments and the mainstream media are now trying to muddle the reality by offering color-coded schemes to identify myriads of militant and terrorist outfits that are operating in those countries – like the red militants of Islamic State which the Western powers want to eliminate; the yellow militants of Jaysh al-Fateh (the Army of Conquest,) that includes al-Qaeda allied al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, with whom NATO can collaborate under desperate circumstances; and the green militants of Free Syria Army (FSA) and a few other inconsequential outfits which together comprise the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition.”

It’s an incontrovertible fact that more than 90% of militants that are operating in Syria are either the Islamic jihadists or the armed tribesmen, and less than 10% are those who have defected from the Syrian army or otherwise have secular and nationalist goals. As far as the infinitesimally small secular and liberal elite of the developing countries is concerned, such privileged classes can’t even cook breakfasts for themselves if their servants are on a holiday and the corporate media had us believing that the majority of the Syrian militants are “moderate rebels” who constitute the vanguard of the Syrian opposition against the Syrian regime in a brutal civil war and who believe in the principles of democracy, rule of law and liberal values as their cherished goals?

Notwithstanding, it is a fact that morale and ideology plays an important role in the battle; moreover, we also know that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has been directly inspired by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is never sufficient to succeed in the battle. Looking at the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in Syria and Iraq in the last couple of years, one wonders that where does its recruits get all the training and sophisticated weapons that are imperative not only for the hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding vast swathes of territory? Even the Afghan National Army, that has been trained and armed by NATO’s military instructors, is finding itself in trouble these days to hold territory in Afghanistan in the face of the unrelenting Taliban insurgency.

Apart from the training and arms that are provided to the Islamic jihadists in the training camps located on the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with the Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, another factor that has contributed to the spectacular success of Islamic State is that its top cadres are comprised of the former Baathist military and intelligence officers of the Saddam regime. According to a highly informative August 2015 Associated Press report by Dawn [2], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top-tier command structure of Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Moreover, the US’ State department appears to be quite “worried” these days that where does Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy, white Toyota pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as “The Technicals” among the jihadists? I think that I have found the answer to this riddle in an unprecedented December 2013 report: “Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman,” [3] from a website affiliated with the UAE government which is highly biased in favor of the Syrian opposition: it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, RPGs and other military gear the Saudi government also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training either in the border regions of Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Once those jihadists cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in Syria from the Jordan-Syria border then those Toyota pick-up trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqaa and Deir ez-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

While we are on the subject of Islamic State’s weaponry, it is generally claimed in the mainstream media that Islamic State came into possession of those sophisticated weapons when it overran Mosul in June 2014 and seized huge caches of weapons that were provided to the Iraqi armed forces by the Americans during the occupation years. On empirical grounds, however, is it not a bit paradoxical that Islamic State conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq before it overran Mosul, when supposedly it did not had those sophisticated weapons, and after allegedly coming into possession of those weapons it is continuously losing ground? Only conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that Islamic State had those cutting-edge weapons, or equally lethal weapons, before it overran Mosul and that those weapons were provided to all the Sunni jihadist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, by the intelligence agencies of the Western powers, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.

Maintaining credibility through charades:

In order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policy-makers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on the present and the future, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside. In the case of the formation of Islamic State, for instance, the US’ policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated the sectarian divisions and gave birth to a Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government; similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept that the Cold War era policy of nurturing the al Qaeda, Taliban and myriads of other Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The corporate media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the formation of Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the previous Bush Administration as it has to do with the present policy of Obama Administration in Syria of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni militants against the Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region, in fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of Islamic State, al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and numerous other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

If the Obama Administration decides today to stop providing money, arms and training to the so-called “moderate rebels” and declares them terrorists (Islamic jihadists,) the insurgency in Syria will fizzle out within months, at least, in the densely-populated urban Syria from Damascus and Homs to Hamah, Idlib and Aleppo and the coastal Latakia. The northern Syria under the control of Kurds and the central and eastern Syria from Raqqa to Deir ez-Zor which is dominated by the Islamic State, however, is a whole different ball game now and it will take years to subdue the insurgency in those rural-tribal areas of Syria, if at all.

Leaving the funding, training and arming aspects of the insurgencies aside, but especially pertaining to conferring international legitimacy to an armed insurgency, like the Afghan so-called “freedom struggle” of the Cold War, or the supposedly “moderate and democratic” Libyan and Syrian insurgencies of today, it is simply beyond the power of minor regional players and their nascent media, that has a geographically and linguistically limited audience, to cast such heavily armed and brutal insurrections in a positive light in order to internationally legitimize them; only the Western mainstream media, that has a global audience and which serves as the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has perfected this game of legitimizing the absurd and selling the satans as saviors.

Sources and links:

[1] The declassified US’ Defense intelligence agency’s report of 2012:

http://levantreport.com/2015/05/19/2012-defense-intelligence-agency-document-west-will-facilitate-rise-of-islamic-state-in-order-to-isolate-the-syrian-regime/

[2] Islamic State’s top command dominated by ex-officers in Saddam’s army:

http://www.dawn.com/news/1199401/is-top-command-dominated-by-ex-officers-in-saddams-army

[3] Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman:

http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/syrian-rebels-get-arms-and-advice-through-secret-command-centre-in-amman

About the author:

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitics’ analyst who has a particular interest in the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neo-colonialism and petro-imperialism.

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world