Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The ISIS threat

Now in control of a quarter of Syria and a third of Iraq, ISIS has raised the stakes in the regional game, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have accumulated land and wealth, but many in Syria see it as simply a pawn in a bigger game, a ploy that sectarian regimes are using to stay relevant and in power.

So strong has ISIS become that the hardline Al-Qaeda splinter group now sees itself as a state or even an empire in the making. Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has called himself caliph Ibrahim, literally the successor of the Prophet Mohamed, and therefore presumably deserving of the allegiance of all Muslims, a claim that his group has boldly made.

But the hardline group, known for its excessive violence featuring beheading and mutilations, has yet to be taken seriously in Syria, a country that it has helped to devastate over the past two years.

The official line in Damascus and the one propagated by the media of the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is that the success of the group is all the fault of its opponents.

By challenging the authority of Al-Assad, the opposition is guilty either of terrorism or of association with terrorists, the regime says. ISIS, in its view, is the fault of the opposition to the regime.

The opposition sees matters the other way round, arguing that it is the regime that brought ISIS into being in order to stay in power. When the country is divided along sectarian lines, it is the Alawite regime, a branch of Shia Islam, and its friends in Iraq and Tehran that stands to win, opposition members argue.

Abdallah Al-Bashir, a staff commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), offered another variation on this opinion. The rise of ISIS, he said, was a direct result of the hesitancy of the West to offer help to the country’s armed resistance.

His view was shared by Jamal Maaruf, commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, who argued that if money and arms had been given to the opposition, coupled with a no-fly zone, the Damascus regime would have fallen and the rise of ISIS could have been nipped in the bud.

“The world powers helped Al-Assad by allowing their own extremists to come to Syria,” Maaruf remarked.

However, analysts argue that the self-declared Islamic state that Al-Baghdadi’s group has declared recently in Iraq and parts of Syria has little chance of survival. Many agree that despite ISIS’s newly acquired wealth, half a billion dollars or so in cash as well as potential income from oil, its methods and goals will be hard to maintain.

Such warnings have not stopped some armed groups in northeast Syria from swearing allegiance to ISIS, possibly out of fear or with financial gains in mind. Today, some say, ISIS is in control of an area five times the size of Lebanon in Syria alone.

Opponents of the Syrian regime insist that the regime itself helped create ISIS. They point out that although the regime has pounded opposition areas with ferocity, it hasn’t once bombarded an ISIS-held position.

ISIS has returned the favour as over recent years its fighters have killed more opposition members than the regime.

Ghassan Al-Muflih, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, believes that ISIS was created by Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran with a view to redrawing the regional map.

“The very existence of ISIS depends on the existence of the regimes in Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad. The threat ISIS’s Islamic state represents to this region is nothing compared with the threat of these three regimes,” he said.

Syrian opposition member Fawwaz Tallo sees ISIS as the fault of the Americans. “The Americans diminished the Syrian and Iraqi revolutions, thus allowing ISIS to emerge. They did so in order to justify the agreement they wish to make with the Iranian regime, one that will ensure the survival of the Alawite regime in Syria and the sectarian regime in Baghdad,” he stated.

Tallo called on the international community and Arab countries to stop listening to the Americans and offer their support to the Syrian and Iraqi revolutionaries in order to “bring down the ISIS state and the puppet regimes in Baghdad and Damascus”.

Unless this is done, the current situation will cause havoc in neighbouring countries, he said. “I expect current events in Syria and Iraq to lead to a battle in Lebanon,” Tallo announced.

Syrian opposition members who do not believe in military solutions stressed the need for a UN-sponsored negotiated settlement. They urged the UN Security Council to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and to restart negotiations based on the final statement of the first Geneva Peace Conference, known as Geneva I.

Syrian opposition member Salah Badreddin said that the rise of ISIS has been orchestrated by the Iranians and their allies in Damascus and Baghdad.

“We should recall that Iran sent hundreds of Al-Qaeda members into Syria. Then the Syrian regime released thousands of detainees from this same group from prison. The Iraqi regime followed suit,” he said.

Unless the international community intervenes, the Iranian scheme will wreak havoc on the region and on the world beyond, Badreddin said.

“It is clear that the strategy of the Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian axis is all about fomenting religious and sectarian conflict in the region... This same axis is trying to depict the crisis of the region as one caused by ISIS, not by the despotism of the regimes in Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad,” he concluded.


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