Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Putin to the rescue

Putin will prevail where Obama failed to fight the Islamic State in the Middle East, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

US President Barack Obama is presented as the very embodiment of easy appeal: spontaneous, seductive, articulate and charismatic. The image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as depicted in the international media, goes in precisely the opposite direction.

He is portrayed as roguish, mischievous and devilish, albeit adroit as a double-crosser. Jesus versus Judas, if you will. Yet Putin has painstakingly cultivated the image of the saviour in the Middle East and North Africa.

There is something static, even stilted in the image projected of Obama. Lieutenant General Andrey Kartapolov, head of the Main Operation Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, recently said that within three days Russian aerial bombardment had crippled the terrorists’ combat capabilities.

The Russian air force bombed Raqqa, the headquarters of the so-called Islamic State (IS), and destroyed 20 tanks near Palmyra, Syria. Russia’s Sukhoi warplanes flew 15 sorties on Monday alone and hundreds of Islamist terrorists are fleeing Raqqa, Palmyra and other IS strongholds. Russia’s military intervention was a counterpoint to the utter incompetence of the US.

Washington was wrong-footed. The US-led coalition could not vanquish the terrorists. Indeed, IS thrived even as US drones bombarded targets in Syria and Iraq. All of these bombings were documented and yielded no concrete results. On the contrary, US-trained Free Syrian Army forces defected to IS with their weapons.

Russia argues that there is no real Syrian military opposition to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, with the notable exception of IS and Al-Nusra Front. The Russians have searched in vain for the Free Syrian Army.

While the United States was supposedly bombing IS, the Russian air base at Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, was bombing the perpetual pool of crackpot mercenaries joining IS from countries as far afield as North America and Europe, as well as from North Africa and the Middle East.

Obama described Russian military intervention in Syria as an “enormous mistake.” Arming and training terrorists as Washington does, against the will of a sovereign nation, is a violation of international law and the UN Charter.

“We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face,” retorted Putin.

It is crucial to note here that IS was not actually an organisation for the first year of its “existence”. It was a mirage, a charade. It existed only on the Internet. Then it started to recruit and there was no serious attempt by Washington or its allies to find out who funded and trained them.

Russia and increasingly vociferous voices in the Middle East and North Africa understand why. The culprits are either Washington or its cohorts Turkey and Qatar, with their own hidden agendas.

The rippling waves of discontent and sectarian strife in the Middle East were fabricated by Washington to cause confusion. IS was the creation of the US, an increasing number of observers believe. The group was designed to crush any unity between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East. There was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq until the US invasion of Iraq.

Just as the US invaded and occupied Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to create a pretext for war against Iraq, so the Syrian chemical weapons are now used as an excuse to topple the Syrian regime. “Rather than bringing about reforms, aggressive foreign interference has resulted in brazen destruction,” Putin stated bluntly.

“Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have ⎯and should have ⎯done more to fill a vacuum left behind,” Obama conceded. “Realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader.”

And this is a pivotal point. The entire fracas in Libya and the current chaos in the North African nation are precisely because the US-led coalition that overthrew the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi failed to find a leader to replace him.

There is no power vacuum in Syria. The state and its institutions were destroyed, but nothing replaced the state and mayhem and wanton destruction ruined the country. Does the West want to repeat the same mistake in Syria as it made in Libya and Iraq?

What is at stake is the survival of whatever is left of state institutions in Syria, and until the West can find a replacement for Al-Assad then the Russians are right to defend the status quo.

Why did IS emerge as the most powerful of the militia groups? State backers are behind IS. The West knows exactly who these forces are. IS does not operate in a vacuum. Someone must be backing them. The introduction and propping up of the Al-Maliki government in Iraq was by no means sheer coincidence.

Beneficiaries of the mayhem and chaos in Syria and Iraq are Qatar, Turkey, the US and Israel. The US is purposely pitting Sunni Muslim against Shia Muslims.

The Russian air force, with precision-guided munitions, has cornered the terrorists in a matter of a week and scores are crossing the border into Turkey and heading for Europe.

Nouri Al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister from 2006 to 2014, rose in the ranks from Shia dissident against the regime of Saddam Hussein to secretary general of the Shia Islamic Al-Dawa Party and vice president of Iraq from 2014-2015.

He cemented relationships and forged friendships with Iranian and Syrian officials whose help he sought in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Al-Maliki also collaborated closely with the United States and the US-led coalition forces in Iraq following their partial departure from Iraq at the end of 2011.

On 16 July 1979, Al-Maliki fled Iraq and, after a short sojourn in Syria, settled in Iran. Now, the point is that Washington knew exactly the precise relationship between Al-Maliki, Syria and Iran and yet they championed his cause. How does one interpret such a position? What is Washington’s agenda?

The rapprochement between Washington and Tehran preceded the recent Iranian nuclear deal. In effect, Washington handed Iraq over to Iran on a silver platter. Simultaneously, Washington pretended to champion the Sunni Muslim cause because of its close relationship with the oil-rich monarchies of the Arabian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular.

During his first term, Al-Maliki vowed to crack down on Sunni Muslim insurgents who he called “organised armed groups who are acting outside the state and outside the law” that is, the Shia authorities of Iraq. He did much, with the connivance of Washington, to widen the Sunni-Shia split in Iraq.

But then the secret Washington-Tehran marriage of convenience, to which much of Washington’s intervention in Iraq is surprisingly devoted, carries with it a heavy pack of partnerships, mostly dubious in nature.

Islamic State is not as powerful as the international media makes it out to be. There is a wider agenda. A public relations and propaganda campaign to bolster IS is aimed at spreading fear and terror in the region.

IS appears to humiliate US foreign policy and military might in Iraq and Syria, but that is a facade. In reality, this was all by deliberate design.

IS is not invincible. That again is a charade a big lie. The US had no intention of building a viable state in Iraq. And it has no intention of salvaging whatever remains of the Syrian state in a post-Al-Assad Syria. There is a consistent pattern to the failure of US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the IS leader who loves to sport fancy, flashy Rolex watches, was released from an Iraqi jail in 2009. British Special Forces troops trained the Iraqi sectarian groups in torture. And yet British Prime Minister David Cameron has the nerve to castigate Russia for “backing the butcher Assad.”

There is no middle ground. The Balkanisation of Iraq and Syria into Sunni and Shia or Alawite or Kurdish cantonments is not acceptable to the vast majority of the masses in the Middle East.

The IS crisis is presented as a pretext for an attack on Syria. During the US occupation of Iraq, the Sunni beheading of Shia and Shia retaliation by slaughtering Sunnis began. Mosques became legitimate targets of terror.

Washington has adopted the old British colonial policy of divide and rule. Chemical weapons were used to dispatch drones to Syria to bomb IS positions, except that very few IS positions were actually destroyed in the one year when the US-led coalition forces were supposedly at war. The sad truth is that IS expanded the territory it held and the terrorists were marauding areas that they previously did not control.

Balkanising Iraq and Syria is a precursor for war. And the impact of the triumphant Russian air strikes in Syria is evident. “Whatever effect Russia’s air strikes are having on the ground in Syria, their impact at home is clear: They prove to Russians that their country is showing up the United States and reclaiming its rightful place as a global power,” noted a recent CBS report.

Regional developments, too, are in Russia’s favour. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi welcomed Russian military intervention in Syria. Al-Abadi is willing to have Russian military intervention in Iraq.

The intelligence pact between Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria is telling. Why should Iraq as a sovereign nation ask permission to make a deal with Russia? The new intelligence pact will be based in Baghdad, much to Washington’s consternation.

The entire gruesome mess in the Middle East is reminiscent of the death squads of El Salvador, and the 1988 Iran-Contra debacle. Except that in the contemporary Middle East, Russia has come to the rescue.


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