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From ISIS to IS (Da'esh)

02 December, 2014

By Asif Haroon Raja


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(Presentation given by Brig retired Asif Haroon Raja at Thinkers Forum Pakistan on November 29, 2014, chaired by Air Chief Marshal retired Kaleem Sadat, Gen retired Mirza Aslam Beg as chief guest and Lt Gen Abu Saeeduz Zafar in attendance). 

I shall be dwelling upon the newly emerged threat of Da’esh, which is also known as Islamic State of Iraq & Sham (ISIS), which later morphed into Islamic State (IS), also called Da'esh. Its emergence has further disturbed the security situation of Middle East. It has created a stir and fears are expressed all over the world. Claims of the US and its strategic partners to degrade and destroy the ISIS are dubbed by many as a cover up to achieve their hidden objectives in Middle East.

Motives of US in Iraq

The prime motivation to annex Iraq in 2003 was oil, but the other compelling reason was Israeli security concern. Tel Aviv viewed Baathist Iraqi armed forces under Saddam Hussain as the biggest strategic challenge to its security and a bottleneck in the path of it ambition to establish ‘Greater Israel’. Division of Iraq into three States was Israeli ambition and not that of USA.

Saddam kept Iraq United. Notwithstanding the fact that Saddam Hussain was a ruthless dictator, none can deny that he had kept ethnically diverse Iraq united and economically and militarily strong. Today Iraq is rived in sectarian/ethnic war and is at the verge of splitting into three States of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias. Iraq urgently needs another Saddam type leader to re-unite the country.

Baathist Army Disbanded. Sunni heavy well trained/equipped Baathist Army was disbanded in 2003 and in its place Iraqi National Army was raised essentially for counter terrorism purposes. $ 20 billion was spent to train/equip 800,000 strong Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi Sunnis Marginalized. War in Iraq was primarily against Iraqi Sunnis since Iraqi Shias in the south and Kurds in the north had been befriended. While the Shias and Kurds were empowered, 5-6 million Sunnis who had ruled Iraq for centuries were sidelined and persecuted by Nuri-al-Maliki’s Shia heavy regime

Installed by the US in 2006

Reaction of Iraqi Sunnis/Al-Qaeda

Deprived of power and subjected to gruesome repression, several militant Sunni groups sprouted in Iraq to wage a guerrilla war against the occupation

Forces and the US installed regime.

Al-Qaeda joined the fray and soon became the leading resistance group. Jihadist Salafism found fertile ground among the Sunnis of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Zarqawi –Al-Qaeda Connectivity

Iraqi Sunni groups Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Islamic Army fought the occupation forces from August 2003 onwards. Jamaat al Tawhid wa al-Jihad under Abu Masab al Zarqawi swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2004 and became an affiliate of al-Qaeda. In January 2006, al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with several groups under Mujahideen Shura Council.

Sectarian war in Iraq

Zarqawi, who was Abu Bakar Baghdadi’s guru, was the most ruthless leader. He organized bombing of both Sunni and Shiite mosques/Imabargahs under guidance of CIA. Bombing of one of the holiest Shia shrine al-Askari in Samarra in February 2006 triggered sectarian war. Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, but CIA and Mossad kept pouring oil on sectarian conflict.

In response, Moqtada al-Sadr established Iraqi Shias Army of 50,000 fighters. Inflammation of sectarian conflict between two sects which peaked in 2006-07, became the root cause of birth of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

Sufferings of Iraqis in War. War in Iraq followed by sectarian war in Iraq caused over one million deaths, displaced two millions outside Iraq and 2.7 million inside Iraq and made 870,000 children orphans.  

Formation of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Zarqawi’s group formed into ISI on October 13, 2006 under Abu Abdullah al-Rashid Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri. It claimed authority over Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salahuddin, Ninawa and parts of Babel. After Rashid Baghdadi and Masri were killed in an operation in early 2010, ISI was taken over by 43 years Abu Bakar Baghdadi in April 2010.

Arab Spring. By that time Arab Spring was fomented in Middle East in 2011 to weaken the militaries of powerful Arab and North African States as well as to affect regime changes wherever required. Tunisia, followed by Egypt became the immediate victims. Qaddafi was murdered and a regime change took place in Libya, while Syria got engulfed in sectarian war in 2011. Sudan was bisected, while regime change took place in Yemen in 2012. From that time onwards, the Middle East continued to descend further into the abyss of war, ravaged by a terror seemingly animated by blood and violence.   

Training of FSA Rebels in Jordon. Reportedly the ISI fighters in Iraq proceeded to Syria via Jordon in 2011 and joined the civil war. Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels led by Salim Idris were trained by Jordanian and Israeli commandos along Jordan-Syrian border. British Special Forces, MI-6 and French were also involved in imparting training and in use of chemical weapons.

Support to Rebels in Syria. FSA and Al-Nusra Front – an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, were fully supported by USA, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and UAE to bring down Bashar al-Assad regime. Turkish Army trained, equipped and sent across the anti-Assad rebels.

ISI to ISIS

By early 2013, ISI established itself as a strong force in Syria. On April 9, 2013, ISI’s name was changed to ISIS. Sham envisages territories of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Clash between Jihadi Groups

In April 2013, Al-Nusra Front leader Jawlani didn’t agree to Baghdadi’s proposal of merging his group into ISIS. Zawahiri who wanted Baghdadi to accept Jawlani as Emir in Syria also opposed the merger and in October he ordered disbanding ISIS and put Al-Nusra in-charge of Jihad in Syria. When Baghdadi paid no heed, in February 2014 al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.

Objectives of Jihadi Groups. Whereas FSA and al-Nusra Front want overthrow of Asad regime and establish new Sunni Emirate in Syria, ISIS want to establish its own Caliphate on conquered territory. Al-Qaeda aspires to change the US run international order to Islamic system.
Offensive in Syria. Once ISIS captured series of towns including Raqqa in Syria, many fighters from FSA and Nusra started joining it.

Offensive in Iraq

ISIS then crossed into Iraq in December 2013 and captured Fallujah in Anbar province next month. All efforts by INA to retake Fallujah failed. The Da’esh Jihadists then launched a major offensive on June 9, 2014 and within days captured five provinces in northwestern and central Iraq that are Sunni inhabited. Mosul, second largest city with a population of two million people and defended by 30,000 troops was also captured.

The entire defensive structure built by Maliki regime to save Sunni dominated regions from the onslaught of Sunni militants crumbled. Large amount of armaments, helicopters, planes, vehicles and cash was also seized by the militants.

Cash Held. Before Mosul, Da’esh total cash and assets were $875 million. Cash was obtained through sale of oil from oilfields in eastern Syria in late 2012. Today Da’esh claims to be in possession of over $2 billion. 3/4th of the cash was seized from Mosul.

Oil Sale. Da’esh has control over most of oil and gas fields in eastern and northern Syria.  Till recent, it was in control of biggest oil refinery Baiga near Baghdad which has been retaken by Iraqi forces backed by air. Da’esh is selling bulk of oil from Syria and Mosul through Turkey. Oil from northern Iraq is being shipped to Texas Gulf of Mexico.   

ISIS to Islamic State (IS). On June 29, the first of Ramadhan, the ISIS was named Islamic State and its chief Baghdadi was declared Caliph and leader of Muslims everywhere. They asked the Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to their chief. Hailing from Quraish decent, devout, sane and physically whole, he qualifies to be a Caliph. Osama bin Laden didn’t meet the pre-requisites and so is the case with Mullah Omar. The Caliphate map encompasses Syria,
Iraq, Jordon, Israel, Palestine, parts of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Cyprus and southern Turkey. 

Urge for Caliphate

After the demise of Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, it was revived by the Taliban by declaring Mullah Omar as Emir and Afghanistan as Islamic Caliphate. TTP too has been toying with the idea of Caliphate and so is Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Nusra in Syria, Al-Shabab in Somalia, Abu Sayyaf in Philippines, IMU in Uzbekistan, Uyghur in Sinkiang and al-Qaeda.

Islamic Caliphate/Daulat-e-Islamyia

The current span of Islamic Caliphate called Daulat-e-Islamyia extends from Aleppo in northern Syria to Diyala in Iraq and its capital is Raqqa. This stretch of territory is under complete control of Da’esh.

Da’esh – Strongest Jihadist Group

Today, Da’esh has become the strongest Jihadist group, both militarily and financially the world over. It has inflicted successive defeats to Iraqi Army, Syrian Army, Al-Nusra, FSA and Peshmergas and is a force to reckon with. Reportedly, it has 31,500 fighters but some put the figures to 200,000. 16000 are from foreign countries. Besides Sunni rebel groups in Syria, Boko Haram and Abu Sayyaf group have declared support to IS.  Jihadis from Algeria, Morocco and

Yemen also want to join Da’esh.

Enforcement of Shariah laws in captured cities by Da’esh has dropped crime rates. Public restaurants providing free food have been opened in Raqqa and residents are given free fuel. $400 monthly salary is paid to each member. Unlike al-Qaeda, it has a sound organizational structure. Baghdadi has three deputies and 12 governors thereby establishing proper chain of command. Most of the appointment holders are ex Iraqi Baathist Army and ex Syrian Army officers and are well trained.

Da’esh Product of Bucca Camp

Majority of IS leading leaders were the products of CIA run Bucca camp in Baghdad from 2003 until 2009. Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, who earned a doctorate in Islamic law in Baghdad, also remained imprisoned in Bucca Camp from 2006 to 2009. His original name is Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarri. Some say Bucca Camp was a terrorist academy than a prison.  At that time the Iraqi Sunnis were trained and brainwashed to fight al-Qaeda. Reportedly, large numbers of IS mercenaries are convicted criminals, with many on death row, released from Saudi prisons on condition they will join IS.  

Quick in Uptake. Da’esh fighters are motivated and they fight until death.  They are proficient in using modern techniques of warfare and psy warfare and are best snipers. They learned the use of captured American tanks, artillery, helicopters and other heavy equipment in Mosul with amazing speed and put them to quick use. Same thing happened in Syria where they captured Russian origin arms. 

Use of Social Media

Da’esh is also employing the weapon of social media very effectively to reach out to the Muslim youth. It is using 12000 Twitter accounts called ‘Twitter Bombs’. Da’esh has appealed to the senses of educated Muslim youth in Muslim world and in the west, who are well cognizant of ills of capitalist system and US-western-Israeli dangerous designs against Muslim world.

The educated youth is aware of their intrigues aimed at weakening Muslim Ummah by creating misgivings and inflaming sectarian war to divide the targeted Muslim countries into smaller States. They feel that Muslim rulers are primarily responsible for executing the agenda of the west and hence must be removed and replaced by God fearing Muslim leaders and imposing Islamic system of governance.

Because of IS’s rapid gains and Baghdadi’s charisma, a continuous stream of Jihadists both men and young girls from Europe, USA and Asia are joining Da’esh in Syria and in Iraq. British girls are marrying Da’esh fighters.  

Extremist Ideology

Battle of Siffin fought at Raqqa along the banks of Euphrates in 657 AD between the forces of Caliph Hazrat Ali and Emir Muawia, known as ‘First Fitna’, split Islam into two factions and fuelled sectarian violence across the ages. Kharijis who believed that any Muslim committing a sin became a non-Muslim and was unpardonable, continued to trouble both the Ummayyads and Abbasids and it took the two dynasties 300 years to put down Kharijites.

Today, we are witnessing the unraveling of centuries of bad blood and religious distortion. Da’esh is known for its harsh interpretation of Islam and violence and follows al-Qaeda ideology, which emerged from Kharijis and Tafkiri ideology. Anti-Da’esh lobbies say Da’esh draws inspiration from Kharijis and Emir

Muawia and is dubbed as the ‘Second Fitna’.

Da’esh believes its Army is fulfilling an Islamic prophecy and is waiting for arrival of Imam Mahdi. It wants revival of golden period of Islam under Prophet Muhammad and four Caliphs of Islam who ruled from 632 to 661. But it has adopted practices of Kharijis and Salafis and aim at establishing Salafist model

Islamic State initially in Iraq and Syria and later expanding it.

While captured Shias are being killed, Christians and Yazidis are given the choice to either convert to Islam, or pay Jiziyah, or exit or die. Even 20 Sunni Ulema disagreeing with the ideology of Da’esh, or refusing to pledge allegiance to the Caliph were murdered. In Samarra, 1000 Sunnis were killed. It resorts to

Khariji style throat slitting or stoning of sinners.

Destruction of Holy Places. After destroying the holy shrine of Prophet Yunus (AS) on July 24, the Nabi Shiyt shrine in Mosul was also dynamited on July 26th. The Da’esh leadership has vowed to head for Najaf and Karbala and destroy sacred shrines. Da’esh has also threatened to capture Mecca and Madina since it is against House of Saud.

Halaku Strategy in Play. Da’esh is operating on the pattern of Halaku Khan to strike terror into the hearts of the people and make them flee. When Mongols had sacked Baghdad in 1258, Halaku’s men slaughtered about a million Muslims in a week. Da’esh believes in spreading Islam by the strength of sword and is mapping its campaign based upon Emir Muawia’s campaigns.           

Response of Kurds. As you know, Kurdistan was divided in 1916. The Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq, aspiring to establish independent Kurdistan took control of oil producing Kirkuk and vowed to fight the IS fighters. Likewise Syrian Kurds and Turkish Kurds have resisted fall of Kobane in Syria. Efforts of Kurds received a shot in the arm as result of NATO air intervention. But for air support, Kurdish capital Arbil was almost lost to IS. Likewise, Kobane would have fallen by now.
Response of Iraqi Shias. Shia militias in Iraq at the call of Moqtada al-Sadr have united to fight the IS. They are also killing captured Sunni militants. They are not so much concerned about the preservation of united Iraq but are more anxious to protect Baghdad, holy shrines of Shias and southern Iraq.

Da’esh viewed as Biggest Threat

Till its emergence, Israel was viewed as the foremost threat to the Arab States. The security spectrum has now changed. As long as Da’esh was fighting the security forces in Syria, Israel was quite content since the iron was cutting the iron.

Now that Da’esh has grown into a big monster and has published a map of its future caliphate which includes Israel as well, Tel Aviv changed course and expressed its willingness to jointly fight the common enemy. Taking advantage of fears of Arab rulers, Netanyahu suggested an impractical idea of establishing a joint HQ to confront the challenge.

Guns of Da’esh Silent against US/Israel

Intriguingly, neither any militant group operating in Middle East is poised against Israel or its western backers, nor any Arab country funding dozens of groups to fight Shiasm/terrorism diverted any group to come to the rescue of people of Gaza when they were being mercilessly slaughtered in July this year. None of the known Jihadist groups has fired a single bullet against US military or Israeli forces.

US 3rd Intervention in Middle East

After creating the desired turmoil, the US and its western allies have once again jumped into the oil-rich Middle East under the pretext of fighting the biggest threat to the world peace posed by IS. This time, western powers have decided not to send ground troops but only airpower, technical and intelligence support and to muster ground forces from the affected Arab countries. Several Arab countries, Turkey, Iran and Albania have joined the coalition and China is also being convinced to fight the menace.

Belated US Response. Quite surprisingly, the US didn’t show much anxiety when the Da’esh was moving ahead like a hurricane, capturing vast territories and slaughtering people from mid 2013 onwards in Syria. It remained engrossed in destabilization of Assad regime and in Ukraine crisis. It was only after the Da’esh fighters killed Christians and Yazidis in Sinjar and beheaded two US journalists and two British aid workers, and there was uproar in the western world that Obama woke up and decided to hit the IS. Another worry was western Jihadis return to their respective countries.

Air action in Iraq. To start with airstrikes in August were aimed at preventing fall of oil-rich Kirkuk and Arbil, capital of Kurdish region which houses US Consulate and also to help the marooned Yazidis. Dilemma on Syrian Front for USA

Syria has become a transit ground for jihadists from all over the globe. They are pouring in with bulk coming from Europe to fight Asad forces. The US wanting to strike Da’esh in Syria, remained indecisive whether Da’esh or Assad regime was a bigger threat.

From June to August, Syrian regime was viewed as a lesser evil by the US and Arab States. It was contemplated to assist Syrian Army to fight IS. But this view changed in September and now it is again treating Assad regime as a foe.

Egypt’s lack of Response. Egypt is being pressed to spare troops to fight the IS but Egyptian Army is busy fighting the supporters of Morsi in northern Sinai and as such is no position to get entangled elsewhere.

Iranian Support. The US remained in two minds whether to ask Iran to combat IS threat in Iraq or not since it could further enhance its influence in Iraq and also strengthen Hezbollah-Syria-Iraq-Iran nexus. Ultimately Iran was given a green signal and it supplied some Army units, military equipment and artillery to support three main Iraqi Shia militias.

Catch-22 Situation for Turkey. Notwithstanding Turkey’s ire against Asad regime in Syria, the IS has posed a bigger threat to its security because of the involvement of Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey in the fight against the IS, and the IS busy recruiting militants from Turkey. The catch-22 situation for Erdogon is whether to aid FSA to bring down Asad regime or to fight the IS in Syria. Both options are counterproductive and so is the option of acting neutral.

Da’esh Linkages in Pakistan

Tehrik-e-Khilafat, part of TTP was the first group in South Asia to declare allegiance to Da’esh on July 12, 2014. Jamaatul Ahrar, splinter group of TTP, led by Omar Khalid Khurasani was the second group to declare support to Da’esh on 4 September. On 8 October, six key commanders of TTP belonging to different tribal agencies pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. They all had sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar as their Ameerul Momineen in 2008.  

Posters, pamphlets and wall chalking and book titled ‘Fatah’ in Pashtu/Darri languages concerning IS have been found in different cities. Suicide attack on Wagah on 2 November was claimed by IS linked Ahrar.

Reportedly, Baghdadi intends extending boundaries of his Caliphate to Khurasan, which in its prime time included northeastern Iran, parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has triggered an urge among militant leaders in Pakistan to add Khurasani to their names. Fazlullah is one example.
Raison d’être. Reason is that as per Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad, armies of Islam carrying black flags would march to the Arab heartland for a final showdown and victory against Jews and their allies in end times. Jihadis believe that Great War is an inevitable occurrence and thus draw inspiration from Khurasan.

Largest Reservoir. Largest reservoirs of well-trained and motivated Jihadists are found in Afghanistan, Central Asia, Chechnya, Caucasia and Pakistan.
Competing Interests

Al-Qaeda, which has indicated its intention to open its offices in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and Da’esh are competing for winning the support of Pakistani Jihadis which in their view will tilt the balance in their favor. Da’esh has overshadowed Al-Qaeda.
The IS has created a ten-member ‘Strategic Planning Wing’ with a master plan how to wage war against Pakistan military. It claims to have recruited 10-12000 recruits in FATA and Hangu district. However, Operation Zarb-e-Azb has upset their plans and pushed their timeframe.    

Skepticism Expressed

Many western analysts led by Michel Chossudovsky, Noam Chomsky and Fuller are selling the idea that Da’esh is CIA creation supported by MI-6, Mossad and Saudi Intelligence and is funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to break up the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah alliance and bring down Assad regime in Syria. Baghdadi is dubbed as US agent trained in Tel Aviv. They draw strength from the fact that wounded soldiers of IS are treated in Israeli hospitals. They say that the Muslims are being conned by a sophisticated scheme drawn up by Zionists to fragment Middle East and pave the way for establishment of ‘Greater Israel’.

Questions Asked

There may be some truth in what is being said since the US has been supporting Islamic terror network since Reagan administration. Why did McCain meet the rebels in Syria and why are they called moderates? If the US wanted to eliminate Da’esh, why didn’t it carpet bomb their convoys of Toyota pickups when they crossed from Syrian Desert into Iraq in June 2014. When Americans could bomb, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, why couldn’t they do so against Da’esh in open Syro-Arabian desert with latest state-of-art jets? A stitch in time would have saved nine. How can Da’seh ship oil from Syrian and Iraqi oilfields through Turkey and how come oilfields have remained safe? Why can’t their websites be blocked?

Where Lays the Problem?

The problem is, what face the advanced world led by USA has to lecture and show mirror to the IS and demonize their acts when the champions of human rights and democracy are the biggest violators of their own laws. To avenge the deaths of about 3000 Americans, they have killed over two million Muslims who had no connection with 9/11. In fact, 9/11 was instrumental in formulation of GWOT. 

The imperialist powers go to any lengths for the realization of their geo-strategic and geo-economic interests. Muslim world has been turned into a killing field and life of a Muslim has become as cheap as a stray dog.

Willful effort has been made to demonise Islam and to put all the ills of the world in the basket of Muslims. Religious extremism in the Christian, Jewish and Hindu worlds has been ignored. Existing ethnic and sectarian tensions and religious divides among Muslims have been cleverly intensified to make Muslims fight among each other, keep the Muslim countries weak, dependent and subservient and thus facilitate their grand objective of neo-colonizing the Muslim world and harnessing their resources. The US creates a monster for achievement of its short-term objectives and then tries to kill it when it starts defying the master. 

None can deny that Da’esh cannot operate and achieve spectacular successes at its own. Whoever is behind Da’esh, one thing is clear. Muslims are bleeding each other and it suits the imperialist powers.

How can we overlook Adid Yinon and neo-cons plans to divide and rule Middle East, Col Ralph Peter’s map and Pentagon’s Memo listing 7 Muslim countries as targets?  Ongoing chaos is in line with those insidious plans. Rather than failing the plans, we are helping them to succeed. 

Everyone is suggesting application of force to crush the new threat not realizing that 13 years of war on terror has failed to control terrorism. Rather, it has spread out like wild fire. Today it is Da’esh; tomorrow some other outfit will emerge. Khurasan group in Syria is one example which has been described more dangerous than Da’esh. Even Haqqani Network and Lashkar Tayyaba are portrayed as monsters. 

Root Causes

No one is interested in analyzing the root causes of mounting hatred of the deprived class against the privileged which has led to growth of intolerance, religious extremism and terrorism, what to talk of taking remedial measures. Militants are the product of lower classes, having no stake in the country and have nothing to lose.

Palestinian issue, Israeli belligerence, Gaza turned into open prison, desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque, double standards of the west, involvement of Iran’s increasing involvement in Arab countries, Maliki’s revengeful persecution of Sunnis, forcible change of regime in Libya, willful destabilization of Syria, when seen in context with weakened welfare system within Arab world, unemployment, misrule of Arab rulers, hatred against Hamas, their pro-western policies all put together, have bred discontentment among the Arab youth and they are fatally getting attracted towards Da’esh.

Remedy

In Pakistan, no effort has been made by our rulers to put our house in order, and to win hearts and minds of have-nots. Religious extremism and intolerance can be checkmated if the elite class changes its feudal mindset and lifestyle, gets rid of hypocrisy, revives pristine ethics and moral values, treat the poor as human beings and gain their trust by genuinely alleviating their sufferings by way of providing them basic amenities of life, equitable opportunities for education and social growth, cheap and evenhanded justice, creating in them sense of belonging and integrating the society by making Pakistan a true Islamic welfare State.

The Ulema, thinkers and media have to play a big role in lessening religious, sectarian and ethnic tensions and promoting climate of tolerance. Operation Zarb-e-Azb will prove productive only if civil administration, judiciary and media remain in step with Army.         

To conclude, I would say that unity of Muslim Ummah in these testing times is absolutely essential for survival. The age of continuous conflict is upon us; and Muslims are on the menu. The Muslim countries must reduce their excessive dependence upon the west and should hasten to get out of the destructive magic spell of the US.

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