4 July 2014, 22:13

ISIS striving to be Qaeda's spiritual successor - expert

ISIS striving to be Qaeda's spiritual successor - expert

It is highly unlikely that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, will be able to establish a caliphate. What the brutal Jihadist group aims at is to "become the spiritual successor of al-Qaeda that was once seen by extremists all over the world as a unifying group", believes Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based political analyst and journalist. He points out that ISIS already has more gains on the ground than its notorious counterpart ever did.

Gaining control of Syria's largest oil field, al-Omar, may count among the major victories of the Islamic State. Especially considering that a rival terrorist organization, al-Nusra, that controlled the field since the end of last year withdrew from the facility without a fight.

There might be several reasons for that. One of the main ones could be self-preservation. It has been vastly underreported that "Syrian army has been very successful in their offensives all throughout the country except in the east. Once they consolidate their gains of liberated territory more than likely they are going to liberate the rest of the country." Al-Nusra will desperately need as many fighters as possible to survive. Understanding that, the rebels could be trying to preserve their ranks, Korybko states.

"Even though Saudi Arabia publicly says it is against ISIS it has the same extreme Wahhabism ideology"

An oil field is a valuable trophy and selling oil abroad provides ISIS with additional resources to continue its war in Iraq and Syria. Among the buyers are the EU countries that could import Syrian oil since April 2013 when the European Union eased its sanctions on Syria. They could only buy the commodity from areas controlled by what they called the opposition with the approval of the Syrian National Coalition. That was the EU could finance the so-called moderate rebels that have long since stopped being moderate. It appears that in fact European countries are now financing extremists.

In that respect the expert hails efforts of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who is trying to push through a draft resolution banning the purchase of any oil from Syria or Iraq that's under the control of anyone besides the national government. If passed, it will prohibit any type of non-state actors from selling oil. The problem is this resolution will likely be blocked in the United Nations Security Council due to political differences. "More than likely nothing is going to really happen unless the EU itself decides that it doesn't want to purchase the oil." Korybko adds that al-Nusra or ISIS can sell oil below the market price to make it more attractive. After all, "they stole it, they didn't invest anything in it".

Saudi Arabia, ISIS and the geopolitics of the Middle East

The fact that the Islamic state has declared caliphate "de facto pushes the Saudi border north, all the way up to Syrian and Turkish borders. Even though Saudi Arabia publicly says it is against ISIS it has the same extreme Wahhabism ideology." A lot of Saudi money, coming both from the government and private wealthy individuals, goes into financing those groups. 

Moreover, the expert warns of a possible "humanitarian intervention" by the Saudis. If Iraq continues to fracture, Saudi might use it as a pretext to come and absorb Sunni portions to allegedly protect them from Shia oppression.

"The Unites States is taking advantage of the state fragmentation in Iraq to push in more units, more advisors, armed drones over Baghdad which is a center of power for Iraq"

They have reportedly deployed 30,000 people saying they need that force there to protect the border with Iraq. It is an absurd claim, Korybko believes, because ISIS doesn't have resources to control such great areas of land or to invade the country.

Korybko notes that while US is hypocritically pressuring al-Maliki to leave or tweak the government, "Russia sees past the charade and has concluded a quick jet deal with Iraq in order to help change the balance of power". He points out that air force at the moment is the game changer and Iraq desperately needs it to weaken terrorist offensive. The US has refused to provide that. "Thankfully, Russia is stepping in to give Iraq the armaments to do so."

In reality the US is just trying to play ISIS against the Kurds and Baghdad in a three part balance of power struggle. "The Unites States is taking advantage of the state fragmentation in Iraq to push in more units, more advisors, armed drones over Baghdad which is a center of power for Iraq." The expert observes that the one who controls Baghdad can influence all three of the fractured areas.

Will ISIS take Baghdad?

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant currently controls large swathes of land in the north and west of Iraq. It is constantly recruiting foreign jihadists to join their fight against both Iraqi and Syrian government. Korybko states that ISIS may well start to encircle the capital Baghdad. However, Robert Freedman, political scientist from the Johns Hopkins University, doubts that Iraq's capital will fall.

Baghdad demography is what matters. He points to the fact that only 12 percent of the city's 7 million population is Sunni and the rest are Shia. "You don't have Sunni support for that kind of attack as you had elsewhere in Iraq". Besides, ISIS already is spread too thin. From the military point of view the Suni militants have to consolidate their gains because the Iraqi army is now trying to push back, especially in Tikrit.

Freedman believes, the biggest threat to Baghdad is the lack of unity among the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shia as they try to form the government. And the person responsible for that as well as the deadly onslaught of the ISIS militants is the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He "basically drove the Sunni into the arms of the insurgents. When you add the unhappy Sunni to what was left of Saddam Hussein's military and extremists from ISIS then you have a fairly potent grouping".

Four countries at the moment share the same interest to stand up against the radicals, the US, Iran, Russia, and China. The expert believes they have to force Maliki to "arrange a power sharing system that the Kurds and the Sunni, as well as the Shia can live with." And it has to be done before not after ISIS is dealt with in Iraq. Because prime minister's current policy of fight the war first and attend to political issues afterwards is disastrous.

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