Saturday, 9 August 2014

Can we live with ISIS?

Can the West live with ‘brutal’ al Qaeda offshoot ISIS?By Fahad Nazer, Special for CNNAugust 6, 2014 — Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)Iraqi Shiite volunteers who have joined government forces to fight the militant group ISIS take part in a training session near Basra, Iraq, on Thursday, August 7. ISIS — known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions, crucifixions and other acts — has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic state that stretches from Syria into Iraq.
Thousands of Yazidi and Christian people flee Mosul, Iraq, on Wednesday, August 6, after the latest wave of ISIS advances.Kurdish Peshmerga forces and members of the Syrian People’s Protection Units engage ISIS members in the Mahmudiye village of Mosul on Tuesday, August 5.Yazidi women who fled violence in Sinjar, Iraq, take shelter at a school in Dohuk, Iraq, on August 5.People in Mosul walk on the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Yunus, which is Arabic for Jonah, on Thursday, July 24.An Iraqi child walks through a displacement camp Saturday, June 28, in Khazair, Iraq.An Iraqi woman walks with her child outside of a displacement camp June 28 in Khazair.Peshmerga fighters check cars at the entrance of a temporary displacement camp in Khazair on Thursday, June 26. A group of women wait outside the temporary displacement camp in Khazair on June 26.Smoke rises in the Karakus district of Mosul as clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants take place on June 26.Food is handed out at the displacement camp in Khazair.A child walks over discarded water bottles and trash at a registration area in the displacement camp in Khazair on June 26.Kurdish Peshmerga take their positions behind a wall on the front line of the conflict with ISIS militants in Tuz Khormato, Iraq, on Wednesday, June 25.Peshmerga fighters clean their weapons at a base in Tuz Khormato on June 25.Female Peshmerga between 18 and 45 years old form a special unit that is called to serve in any conditions. A soldier is pictured here on June 25.A woman gathers bread in a temporary displacement camp for Iraqis on Tuesday, June 24. An ISIS fighter takes control of a traffic intersection in Mosul on Sunday, June 22. An ISIS member distributes a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, to a driver in Mosul on June 22. Members of ISIS patrol in Falluja, Iraq, on Saturday, June 21. “Peace Brigade” volunteers raise their weapons and chant slogans during a parade in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City on Saturday, June 21, in Baghdad. The armed group was formed to protect Shiite holy shrines against possible attacks by Sunni militants.Iraqi men register to fight alongside security forces Friday, June 20, at a recruitment center in Baghdad.New army recruits gather in Najaf, Iraq, on Wednesday, June 18, following a call for Iraqis to take up arms against Islamic militant fighters. Soldiers with an Iraqi anti-terrorism unit are on guard June 18 in Baghdad.A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter injured in clashes with ISIS lies in a hospital in Irbil, Iraq, on June 18.An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter lands on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, June 17. The carrier moved into the region to give President Barack Obama “additional flexibility,” the Pentagon said.Newly recruited Iraqi volunteer fighters take part in a training session in Karbala, Iraq, on June 17.Iraqi tribesmen gather in Baghdad on Monday, June 16, to show their readiness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Islamic militants.Iraqi Christian children gather inside the Church of the Virgin Mary for prayers in Bartala, Iraq, a town near Mosul, on Sunday, June 15.Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against ISIS in Basra, Iraq, on June 15. Members of ISIS prepare to execute some soldiers from Iraq’s security forces in this image, one of many reportedly posted by the militant group online. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the images.A woman cradles her baby Thursday, June 12, at a temporary camp set up in Aski Kalak, Iraq, to shelter those fleeing the violence in northern Nineveh province.A girl fleeing from Mosul arrives at a Kurdish checkpoint on June 12.Iraqi men chant slogans outside of an army recruiting center to volunteer for military service June 12 in Baghdad.Kurdish Peshmerga forces, along with Iraqi special forces, deploy their troops and armored vehicles outside of Kirkuk, Iraq, on June 12.Children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants in Mosul on Tuesday, June 10.Civilians from Mosul escape to a refugee camp near Irbil on June 10. Iraqis fleeing the violence wait in their vehicles at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski Kalak on June 10.HIDE CAPTION
  • The West may decide on a “wait and see” approach regarding ISIS, writes Fahad Nazer
  • Nazer: Unlike other al Qaeda branches, ISIS doesn’t seem eager to attack the West
  • Its focus appears to be consolidating and expanding areas under its control, he says
  • The declaration of a caliphate last month by ISIS leader signaled a major shift, he writes
Editor’s note:Fahad Nazer is a terrorism analyst with JTG Inc, an analysis and intelligence company in Vienna, Virginia, that has government and private clients — including defense companies in the U.S. and abroad. Nazer is a former political analyst at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, CNN, Foreign Policy, Yale Global Online and Al Monitor. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
(CNN) — As the international community contemplates what should be done about the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — the brutal al Qaeda offshoot that now controls a wide swath of territory spread across the Iraqi-Syrian border — the West, with the United States at its helm, may decide that while ISIS constitutes an imminent threat to the security of the countries in whose midst it has risen, a “wait-and-see” approach, remains a viable option for a simple reason: Unlike other al Qaeda branches, ISIS doesn’t seem eager to attack the West. It has too much to lose.
Its nascent, quasi “state” could be destroyed if it sponsors a terrorist attack in the West and it knows it. Its focus instead appears to be consolidating — and expanding — the areas that have already come under its control in Iraq and Syria. Its clarion call to Muslims is not so much to attack the West but to “migrate” East, where it claims “Caliphate” has been restored.
Fahad Nazer
The declaration of a caliphate last month by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, signaled a major shift. The former al Qaeda affiliate has eschewed being just another branch of a secretive, loose, international network that launches small- and occasionally large-scale terrorist attacks against soft targets in the West in an effort to force it to disengage from the Muslim world, and across the Muslim world to destabilize and ultimately supplant the regimes there.
That does not mean that ISIS will abjure the barbaric violence, insidious sectarianism and abhorrent intolerance that have been the hallmarks of al Qaeda. However, there are indications that Baghdadi’s declaration may be more than mere delusions of grandeur. The Islamic State is starting to act less like a “base” from which to plan terrorist attacks and more like a very violent “state.”
The world grew accustomed to Osama bin Laden’s audio and video messages from undisclosed locations in which he railed about Western “crusaders” and their “agents” in the Arab and Muslim worlds and vowed to bring death and destruction to both. Although what appears to be Baghdadi’s first audio message after the declaration of the caliphate still hit on those themes, war against the West doesn’t seem to be his focus.
While many will unfortunately suffer from ISIS brutality, its violent ideology and brutality makes its endurance over the long-term unlikely. Fahad Nazer
His sermon in a mosque in Mosul was startling. The image of Baghdadi preaching in public — mostly about the implications of the establishment of his caliphate and his responsibility to Muslims and theirs to him — was a game changer. It was a stark contrast to bin Laden’s — and his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s — messages, which are recorded in makeshift studios with no audience and remain largely reflective of an organization engaged in a covert, asymmetrical war whose aim is to weaken its adversaries and their “patrons” before it can establish its ultimate goal. Baghdadi portrays al-Zawahiri’s dream as his current reality.
In addition to controlling more territory than any al Qaeda branch ever has, ISIS has commandeered heavy weaponry from Iraqi security forces that have failed to defend Sunni-majority areas. Its total assets in cash and weapons are estimated at about $2 billion.
Its rapid advances in Iraq also indicate that it has learned from other al Qaeda affiliates’ mistakes, as it has forged tentative alliances with some Sunni tribes and ex-Baathists. Its propaganda makes clear that the group is committed to presenting itself as an entity that can actually govern and that can provide the public goods and services — including security — that weak or oppressive states fail to provide. In short, it is adopting the Hamas and Hezbollah model.
While the West has never been comfortable with Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has largely left it up to the countries of the wider Middle East to deal with these militant, Islamist organizations. Likewise, and despite what has been described by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. as the “systematic, industrial-style slaughter and forced starvation killings” being carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the West appears unwilling to intervene militarily to stop the catastrophic war in Syria.
Christians of Iraq threatened by ISISISIS claims a dam in northern IraqMurderous march of ISIS continues
Many will argue that al Qaeda has repeatedly attacked the West in the past and has vowed to do so again. However, ISIS is unlike any al Qaeda affiliate. It has accomplished what “al Qaeda central” and other affiliates have failed to do for years. Thanks to al-Assad’s brutality, it was able to craft a jihadist narrative that made Syria the favorite destination of thousands of Islamist militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s sectarianism and his inept military that has seceded entire cities to ISIS, lent credibility to the notion that an Islamic “state” actually exists.
The West may find solace in the fact that ISIS has many enemies in the Arab and Muslim worlds. In addition to al-Assad and al-Maliki, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, see it as a terrorist organization committed to their destruction.
As it has done in Syria, and contrary to its grandiose claims of restoring the dignity of Muslims, ISIS has systematically terrorized anyone who stands in its way, including Shia, Sunnis, Sufis and even Christians. While many will unfortunately suffer from ISIS brutality, its violent ideology and brutality makes its endurance over the long-term unlikely.
As Syria has shown, the West appears resigned to leave it to Arabs and Muslims — and recently Israelis — to sort out their conflicts. Unless ISIS makes it so by planning a major terrorist attack in the West, the latter will likely adhere to its new mantra: “It’s not our war.”
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