The West and ISIS

By Jim Wight

Far from the boasts made by the US, British, and French governments that IS would be destroyed, they have been unable to even contain the extremist jihadi group as it marches from city to city and town to town in Syria and Iraq, seemingly without constraint, sowing chaos and carnage in the process.

There are a number of reasons why the West has made a virtue of failure and disaster in the region. The first, of course, is the determination to prosecute a hegemonic strategy regardless of the consequences. We can trace the modern incarnation of this strategy to the 2003 war in Iraq, which only succeeded in destabilizing the country preparatory to it descending into the abyss of sectarian violence and schism, where it exists today, 12 years later.

The short-lived Arab Spring of 2011/12, which after decades spent living under corrupt dictatorships gave millions of people across the region reason to hope for a better future, gave way to an Arab Winter in the form of a counter-revolutionary process driven by Western intervention – first in Libya with the air war unleashed against the Gaddafi regime, and then in Syria with its support for the opposition against Assad. The resulting chaos laid the ground for the emergence of various al-Qaeda affiliated groups, followed by ISIL/ISIS, later morphing into IS (or Daesh in Arabic).

Despite carrying out airstrikes against the organization both in Syria and Iraq, it has taken Ramadi in western Iraq and the ancient city of Palmyra in the district of Homs in central Syria with alarming ease. After failing to take the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria, next to the Turkish border, and losing Tikrit to Iraq government forces earlier this year, its butchery and barbarism is once again resurgent.

The loss of Ramadi in particular, a mere 80 miles from Baghdad, is a major embarrassment for Washington, despite Obama’s incredulous statement that it merely constitutes a “setback.” The billions of dollars funnelled into Iraq by the US to finance the reconstitution of the Iraqi Army has proved akin to pouring money down a drain. The elite Golden Division, for example, stationed in Ramadi, tucked tail and fled almost on first contact with IS forces, leaving in its wake a significant amount of US-supplied hardware and equipment.

What’s clear by now is that a full-blown Sunni-Shia conflict is underway across the region, pitting Sunni-supported IS against an Iranian-supported Shia militia that has already proved its mettle with the taking back of Tikrit. The context of this struggle is the deep enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia, informing a series of proxy local conflicts in Yemen and most prominently in Iraq and Syria.

Further, when it comes to this conflict, the West is on the wrong side – friendly with those it has no business being friends with, and enemies of those it has no business being enemies with. The Saudis, Qataris, and Turkey have been guilty of fomenting the chaos and carnage with both the active or passive support for IS, without which it could not sustain its existence and enjoyed the success it has.

In particular the Saudi gang of corrupt potentates, sitting in gilded palaces in Riyadh, have long been dredging a deep well of hypocrisy as part of the US-led grand coalition against IS and its medieval barbarism. A state that beheads almost as many people in public as IS, the oil-rich kingdom’s status as a close Western ally is beyond reprehensible. Money talks, but in Riyadh it flows alongside a river of blood spilled in the name of Wahhabism, the perverse and extreme Sunni ideology that underpins the obscene luxury and ostentation of the nation’s ruling clan.

Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, supported by Russia, are currently leading the ‘real’ struggle against the savagery of IS. Yet each of them is regarded as a threat to regional stability and Western interests, and scorned as such.

The need for a major reorientation of the West’s entire Middle East policy is glaringly obvious. Instead of lurching from one disaster to another – all in the name of ‘democratism’, which is not to be confused with democracy – a coherent strategy to defeat IS and its butchery rather than make it stronger would entail the formation of a coalition of the willing, comprising Iran and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s survival as a secular state, in which the rights of minorities are upheld, is from guaranteed as the conflict that has ripped the country apart enters its fourth year. Its people have suffered immeasurable harm over the course of this brutal conflict, suffering that evinces no sign of letting up soon.

The Assad government and the Syrian army, which has bled like no other army has in recent times, have proved unbelievably resolute in resisting both Syria’s invasion by thousands of foreign jihadis, and the enormous pressure levelled against the regime by US and its allies, both within and without the region.

As for Iraq, the damage wrought by the sectarianism of the Maliki government, prior to it being ousted in August 2014, is even worse than most thought. The Iraqi Army is unfit for purpose, riven with corruption and a lack of morale. The fact that 200 IS militants were able to rout the 2000 Iraqi troops defending Ramadi tells its own story. It is also evident that IS has been able to exploit the disaffection of the Sunni population throughout Anbar Province – otherwise known as the Sunni Triangle – without whose either active or passive support they would not have been able to take first Fallujah and now Ramadi.

Iraq’s permanent schism along sectarian lines is closer now than it has ever been. This rather than a Western-style democracy is the end result of Bush and Blair’s war of 2003.

The spreading destabilization of the Middle East is a threat to stability and security everywhere. With every gain made by IS more disaffected young Muslims throughout the West are attracted to its ideology. As Malcolm X said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.”

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Copyright © CounterPunch

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

Why Islamic State Is Winning

The Saudi-Israeli alliance and U.S. neocons have pressured President Obama into continuing U.S. hostility toward the secular Syrian government despite major military gains by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, leading to an emerging catastrophe in the Mideast.

By Daniel Lazare

President Barack Obama and his foreign policy staff are not having a very merry month of May. The Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, Iraq, on May 15 was one of the greatest U.S. military embarrassments since Vietnam, but the fall of Palmyra, Syria, just five days later made it even worse. This is an administration that, until recently, claimed to have turned the corner on Islamic State.

In March, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, assured the House Armed Services Committee that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) was in a “defensive crouch” and unable to conduct major operations, while Vice President Joe Biden declared in early April that “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed.”

A couple of weeks later, the President proved equally upbeat following a meeting with Iraqi leader Haider al-Abadi: “We are making serious progress in pushing back ISIL out of Iraqi territory. About a quarter of the territory fallen under Daesh control has been recovered. Thousands of strikes have not only taken ISIL fighters off the war theater, but their infrastructure has been deteriorated and decayed. And under Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership, the Iraqi security forces have been rebuilt and are getting re-equipped, retrained, and strategically deployed across the country.”

But that was so last month. Post-Ramadi, conservatives like Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have lost no time in labeling such views out of touch and “delusional.” And, indeed, Obama sounded strangely detached on Tuesday when he told The Atlantic that ISIS’s advance was not a defeat.

“No, I don’t think we’re losing,” he said, adding: “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.” It was rather like the captain of the Titanic telling passengers that the gash below the waterline was a minor opening that would soon be repaired.

Not that the rightwing view is any less hallucinatory. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, faults Obama for not doing more to topple the Assad regime in Damascus, as if removing the one effective force against ISIS would be greeted with anything less than glee by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his hordes.

“We don’t have a strategy,” House Speaker John Boehner complained on Tuesday. “For over two years now, I’ve been calling on the President to develop an overarching strategy to deal with this growing terrorist threat. We don’t have one, and the fact is that the threat is growing than what we and our allies can do to stop it.” But when asked what a winning strategy might be, the House Speaker could only reply, “It’s the President’s responsibility.” In other words, Boehner is as clueless as anyone else.

In fact, the entire foreign-policy establishment is clueless, just as it was in 2003 when it all but unanimously backed President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Both Republicans and Democrats are caught in a disastrous feedback loop in which journalists and aides tell them what they want to hear and resolutely screen out everything to the contrary. But facts have a way of asserting themselves whether Washington wants them to or not.

The Whys of Failure (more…)

US Sending Weapons To Iraq To Use Against Weapons US Previously Sent To Iraq

It’s almost like war is a business. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the United States would be sending 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq. While the Department of Defense emphasized that the rockets were being sent to help combat suicide car bombs, there is another target anti-tank rockets might be needed for in Iraq these days – US tanks and other vehicles in the hands of ISIS.

That’s right, while ISIS is mostly made up by local reactionaries living out a fantasy from the 7th century the weapons they now have in their possession are cutting edge tech. After the Iraqi army first collapsed ISIS gained control of numerous US weapons and vehicles sent to the Iraqi army including modern US tanks. The kind you might need anti-tank rockets for.

Now with the recent fall of Ramadi to ISIS forces the militants have a new cache of US weapons:

The ISIS fleet of captured U.S. military vehicles, including M1A1 tanks, grew by more than 100 when Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled the provincial capital of Ramadi 60 miles west of Baghdad and abandoned their equipment , Pentagon officials said Tuesday.In addition, “there were some artillery pieces left behind,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, but he could not say how many.

About 100 wheeled vehicles and “in the neighborhood of dozens of tracked vehicles” were lost to ISIS when the last remaining Iraqi defenders abandoned the city of about 500,000, Warren said. The tracked vehicles were mostly armored personnel carriers but “maybe half a dozen tanks” were in the mix, Warren said. He did not say what type of tanks they were. Photos posted by ISIS on social media purported to show about 10 M1A1 Abrams tanks in their possession and large amounts of captured ammunition.

Well this is an interesting game – send weapons to Iraqi army which loses US weapons retreating from ISIS, then send more weapons to Iraqi army to fight now better-armed ISIS only to retreat again and lose more US weapons to ISIS. Rinse, repeat, and consider buying defense stocks.

But don’t worry, the US military will also be attacking some of the US military equipment – ISIS won’t get it all right away. But look on the bright side, now we have somewhere to send all those tanks that the Pentagon did not want but Congress demanded be produced.

And you thought Washington didn’t have a jobs program.

MENA Mashup: Pentagon claims Ramadi a mere setback are ‘delusional’

McClatchy published this excellent report yesterday…Experts: U.S. claims Ramadi a mere setback are ‘delusional’

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration Monday called the fall of the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province to the Islamic State a temporary setback that Iraqi forces would reverse with U.S. support. Experts dismissed that assessment as ludicrous.

“Delusional, really, is the better word,” Ali Khedery, a former U.S. official who served as an adviser to five U.S. ambassadors to Iraq and three heads of U.S. Central Command, said of the administration’s statement. “It’s unbelievable, frankly. I now know what it’s like to have lived through Vietnam, I guess.”

Experts called the loss a stunning blow to the Iraqi government and U.S. strategy.

It wasn’t clear why the administration clung to an upbeat message three days after the Islamic State overran most of Ramadi and a day after Iraq’s best special forces unit fled the city with other troops, local police and tribal fighters. The message was delivered in nearly identical verbiage by White House, State Department and Pentagon spokesmen and was reinforced by a statement from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“ISIL’s gains in Ramadi are a serious setback for its long-suffering inhabitants. It is also a setback for the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces),” said Dempsey. “Setbacks are regrettable but not uncommon in warfare. Much effort will now be required to reclaim the city. We will continue to support Iraq’s security forces with U.S. airstrikes, training and equipment.”

It wasn’t until Monday that the administration and U.S. military officials acknowledged the fall of Ramadi after several days of insisting that the situation in the city of 900,000 was fluid and contested and that the Islamic State was on the defensive in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“This is something we’ve known was possible for some time,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “Ramadi has been surrounded for probably a year now.”

Vietnam Vet and Middle East expert, Col. Pat Lang, took a very dim view on all the spin… The Borg speaks with one voice. (more…)