Who Created the Islamic State?
The main supporters of ISIS aren’t likely to be punished
The Islamic State is dead, whatever semblance of power and relevance it once had has been lost to the book of history, yet the devastation brought by their reign of terror still remains, with countless civilians massacred, entire ethnic groups ravaged, and large cities completely devastated by war.
And yet it’s easy to miss the fact that main victims of the Islamic State were Muslims. For all the suffering they have caused all over the world, their main victims were Muslims in the Middle East who refused to follow their poisonous ideology. This is the reason why so many refuse to call them “Islamic State” and instead refer to this group as “Daesh” since this term sounds derogatory in Arabic.
However I don’t want to minimize the damage that ISIS has done to minorities in Iraq and Syria, especially because there is one particular minority group that suffered horrendously under the Islamic State, but I will elaborate on that later.
Regardless, I think it’s important to remember that those who defeated ISIS were primarily Muslims. The most notable army fighting them are the Syrian Democratic Forces in Northern Syria as they defeated Daesh in many important battles across Kobani, Manbij and Raqqa. While the Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga and the Popular Mobilization Forces were the ones to defeat them in Iraq. And despite absurd claims to the contrary, the Syrian Arab Army has also taken huge amounts of territory from Daesh in Syria.
And the harsh reality is that Daesh was nothing but a strategic weapon, a lance used to strike the heart of the Middle East with the main purpose of furthering the aims of those who wielded it. It was a powerful weapon whose central ideology preaches hatred and promotes self-destructive behavior, and becomes particularly devastating when used by external actors.
The Power of Nightmares
One of the things that becomes evident in the documentary The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis is that Islamic extremists have an extreme hatred towards other Muslims, especially those who refuse to follow their hate-filled ideology. I am not interested in arguing whether Daesh followers are real or fake Muslims, because those kind of definitions are ultimately irrelevant. What’s important is that the ideology of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh is directly rooted in Wahhabism, a sect of Islam that has its origins in Saudi Arabia.
Even more relevant is that these extremists groups were used by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the CIA to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 80s. Back then they were known as the Mujahideen, and the most famous among them was Osama Bin Laden. But when the Soviets were gone the Islamists immediately turned inwards, imposing a barbaric regime in Afghanistan, mostly modeled on Saudi Arabia. The Taliban regime was known for using brutal violence against civilians, inhumane oppression of women, sex slavery, destruction of non-Islamic monuments and total political and social repression. This is what became of Afghanistan after the Soviet Union was defeated.
The spectre of Wahhabism spread outward. Even though they achieved success in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden and his followers soon found themselves isolated from the rest of the Muslim world, and so in a desperate bid for relevance they planned an attack against the United States itself, possibly with the help of several princes from Saudi Arabia.
The September 11 attacks were certainly monstrous. Thousands of innocent people were massacred in one of the most shocking terrorists attacks in recent memory. And George W. Bush’s government used this monstrosity to invade as many countries in the Middle East as possible, and these invasions had unforeseen consequences.
The Curse of Saddam
The invasion of Iraq opened the floodgates for the arrival of Islamic extremists to the region. Saddam Hussein’s secular regime was a brutal dictatorship that committed all sorts of human rights atrocities, but when it was gone it left a massive power vacuum that the Americans replaced with nothing. To make matters worse, Paul Bremer’s administration of Iraq implemented vicious Neoliberal policies: He privatized state institutions, banned thousands of public servants from working for the government, and in a spectacularly dumb move he disbanded the Iraqi military.
Regime change in Iraq also led to the rise of the two groups that were previously oppressed by Saddam Hussein: The Kurds in the North and the Shia in the South, and since the Shia were the majority of the population they soon took control over the central government in Baghdad. And so the Sunni, who ruled Iraq during the reign of Saddam, now found themselves defeated and humiliated, both by the US invasion and by the new Shia establishment.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq was founded in 2004 and soon managed to grow in power thanks to an enraged Sunni population. Demoralized, humiliated and jobless, many men would soon join the ranks of Wahhabi terrorist groups in Iraq. Amid the chaos the only thing that remained stable was the constant supply of money and support coming from Gulf countries, particularly from Saudi Arabia. All this money and support helped the Wahhabists carry out brutal revenge against the Shia population of Iraq, which in the minds of their patrons would somehow help decrease Iranian influence in this newly created Iraqi state.
The Syrian Winter
History would repeat itself one more time in the Syrian Civil War that started in 2011, which significantly weakened the Syrian state and allowed several new parties to take over large parts of Syrian territory, particularly in rural areas. One of those parties was Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which took advantage of the unrest to expand into Syria and rebrand itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And unlike Iraq, the Sunni population of Syria was much larger than all the other ethnic groups combined. So a genocide of the Alawite, Christian, Druze and Kurdish populations of Syria was a very real possibility if Daesh conquered all of Syria.
This apparently wasn’t a concern for outside parties that had no qualms about supporting Islamist extremists in Syria, and there is not one person or country to blame, there are several.
The most important supporters of Daesh are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, these countries are also known for funding the vast majority of Sunni terrorist groups across the world. According to Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails the Western intelligence establishment knows that both the Saudis and the Qataris support Daesh. These two Islamic states were willing to use Daesh as a weapon to attack other Muslims.
Next in line is Turkey, which not only purchased oil from Daesh, but also helped deliver weapons and recruits through its borders. According to Seymour M. Hersh the Turkish government was arming all sorts of Islamist rebels groups in Syria, including Daesh and Al-Qaeda. The Turkish government probably saw these terrorists as a useful weapon against the Kurds in Syria, which at first joined the Syrian revolution, but soon found themselves fighting against the very same Wahhabi extremists that the Syrian government was fighting against.
Let’s not forget that Israel provided help to Islamists militias in their own border with Syria, providing them food, fuel, cash and medical services in order to allow them to resume fighting. Worse still, Israeli think-tanks argued that Daesh could be used as useful tool against enemies, and there is also evidence that Israel was the main purchaser of ISIS oil.
The United States of America isn’t blameless either, and it’s not just that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel are all allies of the US. The reality is much worse than that: former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted in a leaked audio that the US government hoped to use Daesh as leverage against the Syrian regime. So it’s clear that the White House wanted to use Daesh as a tool to push their own agenda, even as Daesh was committing all sorts of human rights atrocities in Syria and Iraq.
The Peacock Angel
But then Daesh attacked Sinjar.
Before Sinjar the USA did basically nothing to stop the advance of Islamic State, even after they conquered Mosul, a city of 2 million people that soon found themselves ruled by a tyrannical Wahhabi state. But Sinjar was different, this was an Iraqi city mostly inhabited by Yazidis, a minority group that follows an unique monotheistic religion that worships angels, particularly Melek Taus. However in the minds of Daesh extremists the Yazidi religion was a form of Satanic worship, so they decided that genocide was permissible.
Many remember what happened then, the Yazidi genocide was one of the worst atrocities in modern history: Thousands of men and women were massacred, thousands of girls were turned into sex slaves, and thousands boys were adopted into Daesh families and indoctrinated into their cancerous ideology. Thankfully tens of thousands of Yazidis managed to escape thanks to the quick intervention of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
This was the turning point for the United States, because Obama’s real red line was genocide. The Yazidi Genocide changed everything, and it exposed Wahhabism as a truly monstrous ideology. The Sinjar Massacre forced the United States to start fighting against the Islamic State in a decisive manner: Arming the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, re-establishing support for the Iraqi government, and briefly abandoning the policy of regime change in Syria in order to defeat the Islamic State once and for all.
And even though the Western world made some policy changes that enabled the defeat of Daesh, most of the actors who directly supported these religious extremists have gone unpunished. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and Turkey reduced their support towards Wahhabi extremists in the Middle East, but their policies remain mostly unchanged. The so-called Islamic State might have been defeated, but the states that supported them are still in place, and their ideology still survives.