Monday, February 23, 2015

New winds blowing in the Middle East in our fight against ISIS

 Middle Eastern governments needed to fight ISIS are awakening . New winds are blowing thanks to both ISIS’ miscalculations and changes in our allies’ leadership.
 US strategy is to avoid Iraq II by keeping our engagement limited to air support, the spotters, trainers, and equipment needed to help local allies on the ground engage in the actual combat role and joint air support.  It has been an uphill climb for many complicated reasons to get our allies to join us. That is changing.
The Nouri al- Maliki government in control post occupation of Iraq became a Shia despot, refusing to share power with Sunnis and Kurds and replaced the US trained military leadership with incompetent cronies.  ISIS, comprised of Sunnis and Al Qaeda in Iraq, exploited that. Only when al -Maliki stepped down in August 2014 could the US begin to get the Iraqi army up to snuff and better equip the Kurds.  
A complication is that our chief allies in the region are Sunnis as are ISIS and are also engaged in a power struggle with Shia in Iran and in Iraq.  Arab Sunni kings and emirs allied with the US had feared to jeopardize their hold on power since they had many subjects sympathetic to ISIS.
 When ISIS burned to death a Sunni Jordanian pilot, it drove Arab Sunnis leaders and their streets to turn against ISIS. It was a gross miscalculation on ISIS’ part who had hoped to scare off military participation of US’ Sunni allies.   Jordan’s chief religious leaders condemned ISIS as un-Islamic and gave the King of Jordan political and religious cover to engage wholeheartedly.   The United Arab Emirates joined with Jordan.
 Saudi Arabia had nurtured the Wahhabi-Salafist puritanical violent jihadist form of Islam that permits killing of innocents. ISIS embraced the same interpretation. Some Saudi princes were a source of funding of ISIS. An elderly king did little to curb it.  With the new King Salman, Saudi Arabian’s top Muslim cleric February 23 denounced “terrorist groups... who have opted for savage and barbaric practices”.  King Salman proclaimed “terrorism is a scourge which is the product of extremist ideology…It is a threat to our Muslim nation and to the entire world.” Their next step: translating words to action.
An Egyptian secular military dictatorship replaced the Muslim Brotherhood in a 2013 coup.   The Christian Coptic community was subjected to persecution.  ISIS affiliates, trying to position themselves as the savior of Islam against Christian crusaders, beheaded Egyptian Coptic guest workers in Libya. If they thought Egypt would not care, they miscalculated, and Egypt took to the air in revenge.
Turkey’s Sunni Islamist government asked for US military aid to take the fight to Assad in Syria.  However,  Turkey still sees ISIS as the enemy of their enemies, the Kurds and Shia,  and  allows ISIS foreign fighters transit to Syria.
Europe and Australia, after terrorist attacks in Paris, Copenhagen, and Sydney began measures such as crackdowns and passport confiscation to stop their citizens from joining ISIS. In Bosnia, 45% Muslim, moderate and secular, a Salafist cleric recruiting ISIS fighters from unemployed rural youth, was prosecuted.

A version of this appeared in the  March 13 2015.

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