The Ashes of the Anti-Islamic State
ISIS has been defeated, but those who created this weapon of terror still remain unpunished
The Islamic State is dead, whatever semblance of power and relevance it once had is little more a phantom. Yet the devastation wrought by their reign of terror still remains. We have seen entire ethnic groups massacred and enslaved. We have seen whole cities consumed by war. We have seen countless of innocents murdered in horrendous attacks. Horrifying as this events might have been, this was the inevitable consequence of the foreign policy of the Western world.
For those of us living outside of the Middle East it might be easy to miss a simple fact: The main victims of the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, were Muslims. For all the suffering they have caused all over the world, Daesh main victims were those Muslims who refused to follow their poisonous ideology. Although there is one particular exception, a peculiar group that suffered way more than any other under their reign, but I will elaborate on that later.
For now it’s important to remember that those who defeated this evil were Muslims for the most part. The most notable army fighting them are the Syrian Democratic Forces in Northern Syria, they defeated Daesh in many important battles across Kobani, Manbij and Raqqa. While the Peshmerga, the Iraqi Army 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.
The 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 Muslims, especially those who refuse to follow their hate-filled ideology. However 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 depraved 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 also 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
In 2003, after the United States invaded Iraq to depose the secular regime of the Ba’ath party, they opened the floodgates for the arrival of Islamic extremists in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s 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. And Paul Bremer’s administration of Iraq implemented the most vicious Neoliberal policies imaginable: He privatized multiple 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. And 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.
And yet this apparently wasn’t a concern for outside parties that had no qualms about supporting Islamist extremists in Syria. And here 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 known for funding the vast majority of Sunni terrorist groups across the world. And 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-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria). 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 fighters in their own border with Syria, providing them with food, fuel, cash and medical services in order to allow them to resume fighting. The IDF had direct contact with Islamist groups, including Al-Nusra. And several Israeli think-tanks claim that Daesh was a useful tool that could be used against their enemies.
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 Barack Obama’s administration 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
Everything changed when 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 these religious fanatics decided that genocide was permissible.
Many remember what happened then, the Yazidi genocide was one of the worst atrocities in modern history. Although tens of thousands Yazidis managed to escape thanks to the quick intervention of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, 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.
This was the turning point for the United States, because Obama’s actual red line was genocide. And so the Yazidi Genocide changed everything, as it proved to the world that Wahhabism is a completely monstrous ideology that needs be defeated at all costs in order to prevent further atrocities. 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 Daesh 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. And even though Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and Turkey reduced their support towards Wahhabi extremists in the Middle East, 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.