The real deal with the IS con­flict

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - ERIC S. MARGOLIS

A Sa for­mer soldier and war cor­re­spon­dent who has cov­ered 14 con­flicts, I look at all the me­dia hoopla over the tight­en­ing siege of Mo­sul, Iraq and shake my head. This west­er­nor­gan­ised “lib­er­a­tion” of Mo­sul is one of the big­ger pieces of po­lit­i­calmil­i­tary theatre that I’ve seen.

Is­lamic State (IS), the de­fender of Mo­sul, is a paper tiger, blown out of all pro­por­tion by west­ern me­dia. IS is, as this writer has been say­ing for years, an armed mob made up of 20some­thing mal­con­tents, re­li­gious fa­nat­ics, and mod­ern-day an­ar­chists. At its top is a cadre of for­mer Iraqi army of­fi­cers with mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence.

These for­mer of­fi­cers of Sad­dam Hus­sain are bent on re­venge for the US de­struc­tion of their na­tion and the lynch­ing of its late leader. But IS rank and file have no mil­i­tary train­ing, lit­tle dis­ci­pline, de­graded com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and ragged lo­gis­tics.

In fact, to­day’s IS is what the Ot­toman Em­pire used to term, “bashi-bazouks”, a col­lec­tion of ir­reg­u­lar cut-throats and scum of the gut­ter sent to pun­ish and ter­rorise en­e­mies by means of tor­ture, rap­ine, loot­ing and ar­son.

What has amazed me about the faux west­ern war against IS is its leisurely na­ture, lack of élan, and hes­i­tancy. In my view, IS was mostly cre­ated by the US and its al­lies as a weapon to be used against Syria’s gov­ern­ment – just as the Afghan Mu­jahideen were used by the US and the Saudis to over­throw the Sovi­et­backed Afghan gov­ern­ment. Is­rael tried the same tac­tics by help­ing cre­ate Ha­mas in Pales­tine and Hezbol­lah in Lebanon. Both were cul­ti­vated to split the PLO.

IS is an ad hoc move­ment that wants to pun­ish the West and the Saudis for the gross car­nage they have in­flicted on the Arab world.

West­ern and Kud­ish aux­il­iary forces have been sit­ting a 1 -hours drive from Mo­sul and the IS town of Raqqa for over a year. In­stead, west­ern – mainly US – war­planes have been gin­gerly bomb­ing around these tar­gets in what may be an ef­fort to con­vince break­away IS to re­join US-led forces in fight­ing the Da­m­as­cus regime.

Note that IS does not ap­pear to have ever at­tacked Is­rael though it is play­ing an im­por­tant role in the de­struc­tion of Syria. Some re­ports say Is­rael is pro­vid­ing lo­gis­tic and med­i­cal sup­port for IS.

The siege of Mo­sul is be­ing played up by west­ern me­dia as a heroic sec­ond Stal­in­grad. Don’t be fooled. IS has only 3,000-5,000 lightly armed fight­ers in Mo­sul and Raqqa, maybe even fewer. The lead­ers of IS are likely long gone. IS has few heavy weapons, no air cover at all, and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Its rag-tag fight­ers will run out of am­mu­ni­tions and ex­plo­sives very quickly.

En­cir­cling Mo­sul are at least 50,000 west­ern-led sol­diers, backed by heavy ar­tillery, rocket bat­ter­ies, tanks, ar­moured ve­hi­cles and awe­some air power.

The west­ern im­pe­rial forces com­prise tough Kur­dish pasha merga fight­ers, Iraqi army and spe­cial forces, some Syr­ian Kurds, Ira­nian “vol­un­teers” ir­reg­u­lar forces and at least 5,000 US com­bat troops called “ad­vis­ers”, plus small num­bers of French, Cana­dian and Bri­tish spe­cial forces. Hov­er­ing in the back­ground are some thou­sands of Turk­ish troops, sup­ported by ar­mour and ar­tillery ready to “lib­er­ate” Iraq, which was once part of the Ot­toman Em­pire.

For the US, cur­rent mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Syria and Iraq are the re­al­i­sa­tion of an im­pe­ri­al­ist’s fond­est dream: na­tive troops led by white of­fi­cers, the model of the old Bri­tish In­dian Raj. Wash­ing­ton arms, trained, equips and fi­nanced all its na­tive aux­il­iaries.

The IS is caught in a dan­ger­ous dilemma. To be a po­lit­i­cal move­ment, it was de­lighted to con­trol Iraq’s sec­ond largest city. But as a guerilla force, it should not have holed up in an ur­ban area where it was highly vul­ner­a­ble to con­cen­trated air at­tack and be­ing sur­rounded. This is what’s hap­pen­ing right now.

In the mostly flat Fer­tile Cres­cent with too few trees, ground forces are to­tally vul­ner­a­ble to air power, as the re­cent 1967, 1973 Is­rael-Arab wars and 2003 Iraq wars have shown. Dis­per­sion and guerilla tac­tics are the only hope for those that lack air cover.

IS forces would best ad­vised to dis­perse across the re­gion and con­tinue their hit-and-run at­tacks. Oth­er­wise, they risk be­ing de­stroyed. But be­ing mostly bloody-minded young fa­nat­ics, IS may not heed mil­i­tary logic and prece­dent in favour of mak­ing a last stand in the ru­ins of Mo­sul and Raqqa.

When this hap­pens, west­ern lead­ers will com­pete to claim au­thor­ship of the faux cru­sade against the paper tiger of IS.

Eric S. Margolis is an award­win­ning, in­ter­na­tion­ally syn­di­cated columnist, writ­ing mainly about the Mid­dle East and South Asia. Com­ments: let­ters@the­sundaily.com

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