Is­lamic State vs the world

The lo­cus of power in the Mid­dle East is shift­ing and gov­ern­ments are do­ing what they can to pre­vent any kind of con­sol­i­da­tion, writes

CityPress - - Careers & Voices - Area of con­flict in Iraq Waller­stein is a se­nior re­search scholar at Yale Univer­sity

In the end­less geopo­lit­i­cal re­align­ments of the Mid­dle East, the caliphate of the Is­lamic State seems to have fright­ened ev­ery­one in­volved in Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics into a de facto geopo­lit­i­cal al­liance. All of a sud­den, we find Iran and the US, the Kurds (both in Syria and Iraq) and Is­rael, Tur­key and Bashar al-As­sad’s Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, western Europe and Rus­sia all pur­su­ing in dif­fer­ent ways the same ob­jec­tive: stop the Is­lamic State from ex­pand­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing it­self.

Of course, all th­ese ac­tors are pur­su­ing mid­dle-term ob­jec­tives that are quite dif­fer­ent. None­the­less, look at what has hap­pened in just the first half of this month.

Nouri al-Ma­liki has been ousted as prime min­is­ter of Iraq un­der the com­bined pres­sure of the US, Iran, Iraq’s Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani and the Kurds, pri­mar­ily be­cause he re­sisted in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role for Sun­nis in the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.

And why was that im­por­tant? Be­cause for all th­ese ac­tors, it seemed the only way to un­der­mine the Is­lamic State from within.

The US has com­mit­ted its drones and a mil­i­tary force of about 1 000 to safe­guard Yazidis and Iraqi Christians from slaugh­ter (an op­er­a­tion re­quir­ing de facto as­sis­tance from As­sad), stop­ping the ad­vance of the Is­lamic State on Er­bil – the Iraqi Kur­dish cap­i­tal – and prob­a­bly other things af­ter an on­go­ing as­sess­ment in the field.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re­fuses to in­di­cate an end date for this op­er­a­tion and there­fore al­most cer­tainly will have left un­ful­filled his prom­ise for a to­tal with­drawal from Iraq dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has closed down the open bor­der for anti-As­sad forces into Tur­key, pre­vi­ously a key el­e­ment in its Syr­ian pol­icy.

For­mer US sen­a­tor Joseph Lieber­man, an ar­dent sup­porter of Is­raeli poli­cies, has praised Obama for what he has just done, while the Ira­ni­ans have ab­stained from crit­i­cis­ing him. The Saudis, who can’t seem to de­cide on their Syr­ian strat­egy, have ap­par­ently de­cided that si­lence is the best tac­tic.

So what’s next? And who is prof­it­ing from this re­align­ment? There ap­pear to be three ob­vi­ous short-term win­ners.

The first is the Is­lamic State it­self. The re-en­try of the US into the Iraqi mil­i­tary strug­gle en­ables the Is­lamic State to por­tray it­self as the ma­jor force de­fy­ing the devil in­car­nate – the US.

It will serve to bring many ad­di­tional re­cruits, es­pe­cially from the Western world. And one can ex­pect that it will try to en­gage in hos­tile ac­tiv­i­ties in the West. Of course, this short-term ad­van­tage would col­lapse were the Is­lamic State to suf­fer se­ri­ous mil­i­tary re­verses. But it would take some time for this to oc­cur, if ever. The army of the Is­lamic State ap­pears still to be the most com­mit­ted and trained mil­i­tary force in the re­gion.

A sec­ond ma­jor win­ner is As­sad. The out­side sup­port for anti-As­sad forces has always been far less than de­ci­sive, and it is likely to dry up even fur­ther as ever more Syr­ian op­po­nents line up with the Is­lamic State.

The third ma­jor win­ner are the Kurds, who have con­sol­i­dated their po­si­tion within Iraq and im­proved their re­la­tions with the Kurds in Syria. They will now be re­ceiv­ing more arms from Western coun­tries, mak­ing their mil­i­tary an ever stronger force.

Are there clear losers? One, I sus­pect, is the US. Un­less the Is­lamic State was to crum­ble in the near future, this mil­i­tary ef­fort will soon ex­pose the lim­its of US mil­i­tary abil­i­ties as well as the in­con­sis­tency of its public po­si­tions con­cern­ing Iraq, Pales­tine and Ukraine.

There are at least three groups whose im­me­di­ate future as win­ners or losers re­mains un­clear. One is Iran. If the US and Iran are on the same side, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, can the US refuse to come to a com­pro­mise with Iran on the is­sues of nu­clear en­ergy? The Ira­nian po­si­tion in this ne­go­ti­a­tion is at least strength­ened.

A sec­ond is Ha­mas. The Is­raelis are al­ready un­der heavy in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to re­for­mu­late their po­si­tions con­cern­ing Pales­tine. Will this em­pha­sis on the dan­gers of the Is­lamic State serve as ad­di­tional pres­sure? Prob­a­bly, but the Is­raelis will stall as long as they can.

The third is Rus­sia. As I write this, the Kiev gov­ern­ment is re­sist­ing the en­try of Rus­sian trucks that the Rus­sians say is a humanitarian mis­sion to aid the trapped and suf­fer­ing in­hab­i­tants of Lu­gansk, which is sur­rounded by Ukrainian troops seek­ing to starve them into sur­ren­der. Is this truly dif­fer­ent from the ef­forts of the Is­lamic State to starve the Yazidis on their moun­tain top into sub­mis­sion? If the US and western Europe are in favour of humanitarian aid in one place, can they sus­tain the po­si­tion of be­ing against it in the other?

– Dis­trib­uted by Agence Global

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