The growing threat of ISIS in the Middle East and around the world through its “virtual inspiration” strategy of using homegrown terrorists to launch attacks is worrisome. The group is also using social media to recruit and put out its messages.
Thursday May 14, 2015 the BBC carried a report about a purported radio broadcast by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling on Muslims everywhere to fight.
“Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No-one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels.” He says.
The urgency to eliminate this group’s military and operational capabilities cannot be overemphasized. However, considering how this group was birthed and its transformation into what it is today, does not support the theory of “moderate rebels” in any of the conflicts that have engulfed the Middle East.
The recent pledge by the US government to supply weapons and provide training at a cost of $500 million to what it calls moderate Syrian rebels, is a strategy that will not yield the needed results of uprooting ISIS out of Syria.
The war in Syria which provided an opportune space for ISIS is fundamentally a religious war with a short term political goal intended to serve as a means of solidifying a particular Islamist ideology known as Wahhabism, which is a puritanical form of Islam with its roots in Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni ruled Gulf States.
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite, which is an offshoot of Shiitsm, together with several other Syrian minorities including the Christian political class in Damascus have been ruling over a country with a Sunni majority. For anyone to think that ISIS, a completely Sunni aligned group does not draw sympathy from the bulk of the Syrian rebels who are also Sunni, amounts to an unpreparedness to face the reality on the ground.
The intelligence available so far on the rebels is way too little and inadequate. The meetings with supposed commanders under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the comfort of plush hotels in Europe, reveals or says nothing about the motivation and core affiliations of the fighters on the ground. A case in point could be the capturing of US journalist Steven Sotloff whose execution by ISIS was horribly displayed online and is believed to have been possible because he was sold to ISIS by some of these so called “moderate” rebels. How then is it possible to trust such people with sophisticated weapons and training?
Primarily, these rebels set forth to depose Bashar al-Assad and it will be illogical for one to believe they would suddenly shift their attention from achieving that goal immediately. It is more likely that the acquired training and weapons would be used for infighting for dominance within the pockets of rebel groups and against Bashar al-Assad while ISIS is left unattended to.
Furthermore, ISIS is a battle hardened group that has eventually mastered its operations. It also has a war command structure that will overwhelm rebel groups trained just in a few months even if they were ready to put up a fight. It will be another episode of an “army” well-equipped with weapons and training, but abandons depots of weapons when ISIS launches an offensive.
The news Friday afternoon May 15, 2015 that ISIS had overrun and taken over the local government headquarters of Ramadi in Iraq is instructive.
Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar which are part of the countries where rebels will be trained have ironically been the main recruiting bases for the Islamic State. The training and provision of weapons by the US to these rebels, in countries that have continuously supported groups that would not tolerate Shiites and other minorities but consider them as infidels will exacerbate sectarianism in Syria and fuel what could become a complete reflection of Iraq, leaving ISIS to operate freely like Al-Qaeda is doing in Iraq and Yemen.
Should the rebels defeat ISIS, which of course would be wishful thinking, what would become of these rebels and their weapons afterwards? There is likely to be a full-blown sectarian bloodbath, which would rob Syria of the climate that could ever give political negotiations and settlement a chance.
ISIS cannot be eliminated by arming pockets of rebels, in some foreign countries with a few months training. There are still more viable options to consider in dealing with ISIS. The US has to be firmer in dealing with the group’s sources of financing from the Gulf and have these channels completely cut off so it is unable to sustain its operations. Also Turkey which is actually one of the proposed countries for rebel training, has done very little to nothing in securing its borders to prevent foreign fighters, new recruits, medicines, supplies and loots from reaching ISIS.
The need to attack the message ISIS is riding on is as important as engaging it militarily. As pointed out earlier, ISIS now represents or provides a platform for several young men seeking to fight for the soul and sole preservation of their interpretation of the Islamic faith. The US would have to exert pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia in leading a campaign to disabuse this corrupt interpretation of Islam if it really would want the world to believe that it is not a sponsor of this puritanical form of the religion in the region, Africa and Asia through its financing of various madrassas.
Finally, Iran’s military has shown how much it can do to subdue ISIS in Iraq when it partnered with the US.
The resilience of the Pershmega forces of the Kurdistan Movement in fighting and driving ISIS out of Kobane is also an extraordinary example, and makes the Movement a fitting candidate for any alliance in the fight to destroy ISIS, but of course, Turkey wouldn’t want to see the Kurds armed.
The US’s refusal to consider cooperation with the government of Syria in fighting ISIS, would be an opportunity lost.
As long as the rebels and the government are still at war, it the Assad government would continue to strike back hard at any rebels attack and that in itself has the potential to inevitably shift the entire efforts of the rebels away from ISIS to pursue their primary goal of fighting Assad, once more proving that the arming and training of the Syrian rebels is impractical and an option that will not yield positive results.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi & Anthony Duke