ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is today considered the world’s worst terrorist group, and probably rightly so, but some journalists believe that Western countries deserve much of the blame for ISIS’ meteoric rise in Syria, and consequently, for its absolutely inhumane acts of terrorism.
In light of the ghastly Paris attacks that shook the world on November 13, the significance that ISIS has assumed in the last few years was once again brought into sharp focus, with journalists and social media commentators breaching the subject with differing standpoints. This article attempts to bring some of those viewpoints together.
ISIS, which is generally referred to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh, in the Middle East, and even among some European political circles, was a fringe rebel group in Iraq in 2006, trying to gain a foothold in a country which was left in a huge power vacuum following America’s capture, and consequent execution, of its former ally, Saddam Hussein.
But with almost no money or weapons at its disposal, and having virtually no means to recruit, ISIS was not able to create any inroads, except for creating a few “limited” problems for American military and its soldiers stationed in Iraq. After three years of lowly insurgent pursuits in the country, ISIS decided to shift its focus to Syria in 2009, which was grappling with its own rebel groups trying to oust the incumbent Syrian president Bashar al-Assad at the time, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Nusra Front, or al-Qaeda’s Syrian front.
As reports suggest, while FSA and al-Nusra were responsible for fueling a feeling of anger towards Bashar-al-Assad’s government and were gaining strong support, ISIS was still a relatively fringe group, unable to gain a foothold in Syria, either.
In 2011, unrest began in the troubled country within the context of Arab Spring protests across the Middle East, with people taking to the streets to protest against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. In response, FSA and al-Nusra upped their military actions, finally leading to a fully-fledged civil war — which is still ongoing — in Syria.
Then, in 2013, something happened which gave ISIS a major shot in the arm in its attempts to create what it would call an “Islamic State” with its own doctrines, religious principles, and social structures.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, a northern general of Free Syrian Army made an impassioned appeal to the Western world to provide it with ammunition and military infrastructure if they expected the rebels to make breakthroughs against Bashar al-Assad, or, the general warned, the rebels will lose their strongholds within a month.
That was the ultimatum, American journalist Ben Swann argues, that would change the fate, and the future, of the ISIS.
In an interview that Swann conducted with President Barack Obama at the time, it was claimed that Syrian rebels were being provided with “non-lethal” assistance in their bid to bring about a “political” transition in Syria. However, several politicians, including Senator John McCain, called for America to help and “train” Syrian rebel forces.
Within weeks of the FSA general making his plea, America and its allies in the Middle East began providing weapons, training, and money to the soldiers of Free Syrian Army.
By September, 2013, CNN and the Washington Post published reports about CIA funding and providing artillery to Syrian rebels. Journalist Angela Keaton, who is a well-known face in the world of investigative journalism, argues that this was the decision that America could not reverse.
It was also the time when Free Syrian Army began to blur with ISIS. According to reports, at the end of 2013, U.S.-backed “moderate” FSA had started to disintegrate and instead began pledging their allegiance to the now fear-inducing ISIS, or Islamic State.
In the months to follow, FSA fighters joined ISIS, and by June, 2014, after being almost a non-entity in Syria for over five years, ISIS came out uncompromising in their ideology, and terror-inducing in their methods of execution. Crossing the border, ISIS began their dominance in Iraq by capturing the northern city of Mosul first, and had pretty much the entire north of Iraq under its control by the end of the month. The country which had given ISIS no support in the beginning, had now become its stronghold.
What was worse, Swann contends, was the fact that ISIS was able to seize the military equipment left over by American soldiers in the country after the Iraq War. Tanks, humvees, trucks, and heavy-artillery was seized by ISIS, who had previously claimed to be rebels fighting for freedom. They posted pictures all over social media and made videos of their soldiers driving American military equipment that was left behind. Within a matter of months, ISIS had gone on from a fringe rebel group to one of the most powerful terrorist organizations in the world.
As of March, 2015, ISIS claimed to have control over territory populated by ten million people in Iraq and Syria, and boasts of having nominal to some control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.
Not only has ISIS shown its efficiency and ruthlessness since winning over major parts of Iraq and now Syria, they have taken to regularly beheading hostages and often attack en masse, obliterating villages and communities in the wake of its offensives, so much so that even the terrorist group, al-Qaeda, cut all ties with ISIS on February 3, 2014, citing its failure to consult and its “notorious intransigence.” ISIS has since been on its own, but deadly powerful.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, world leaders called for a strong offensive against ISIS, with President Obama calling the attacks as an assault on the “civilized world,” while France president François Hollande called it an “act of war” committed by ISIS. And it might well be that, but it might also point to America’s confused foreign policies when it comes to dealing with international militancy. May be it is time the nation took stock of its own interests in the area.
Today, ISIS is the best-funded terrorist organization in the world, making an estimated $2 million everyday selling oil to neighboring countries, especially Turkey. There are no inroads which suggest that ISIS is going to disintegrate as soon as it came up. On the contrary, Paris attacks are a testimony to the group’s growing power in Europe. No wonder the higher echelons of Western decision-making bureaucracy take each of its threats seriously.
So, the question is not how the western countries are going to deal with the threat of ISIS in the coming days, the question is, will an all-offensive short-term strategy be counterproductive to the Western nations’ own interests? Perhaps.
What do you think? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.
[Photo by Vice News / YouTube Screengrab]