“The borders of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” are shrinking fast. The group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria are collapsing one by one. The U.S.-led war has reached a point where questions are being raised about what comes next.
So far, the answer seems likely to be: more war.”
This article probably oversimplifies things in the sense that it suggests that these wars are discrete events. Rather, the conflicts being played out in Syria are the product of long submerged tensions that were unleashed first by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then the Arab Spring. Once the state system began to collapse in 2010, they were bound to come to the fore. The article is effective though, in the way it identifies the various schisms and how they have been effected by recent events.
This article is interesting for two reasons. First, rather than looking at the US’ role in the Middle East policy as a discrete series of policies, it frames them together as part of a 20 year war. The second is the conclusion it reaches about how that war is going:
“…a sober assessment of the last 20 years suggests that the United States lost the broader war. The country wasn’t occupied and there was no surrender. But Americans have paid an exorbitant price for the two-decade campaign in strategic, economic, and moral terms. When terrorists strike a great power, the destructive potential lies not in the act itself but in the great power’s response to the act. In 1914, Serbian terrorists killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Austria-Hungary used the attack as a pretext for war against Serbia, triggering a cataclysmic conflict, World War I, in which four empires collapsed—the Russian, German, Ottoman, and Austria-Hungarian. Similarly, in the Twenty Years’ War, America’s response has had far greater consequences than al-Qaeda’s attacks.”
With everyone’s focus on ISIS, little attention is paid the other dimensions of Iraqi politics in the Western press. Between the struggle with ISIS, low oil prices and rampant corruption, Iraq is facing a financial crisis. Baghdad has recently signed a 15 billion, 3 year bail out package with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
“The IMF will help provide the loan to Iraq from several parties: The IMF will provide $830 million; the World Bank, about $5 billion with an interest of 1.5-3%; and the rest will come from other organizations and countries and will be guaranteed by the IMF at an interest rate of 7.5- 8%, provided that Iraq repays the loan and its interest in a very short period of seven years,” Mashhadani said.”
As usual, the deal involves structural adjustment policies (SAPs):
“Among the conditions set by the IMF is that the government decrease subsidizing fuel prices and reformulate the budget terms and fund allocations to reduce government spending, especially in the operating budget.”
Not surprisingly, there is push-back in parliament. Iraq signed a similar deal in 2004 and could not live up to its commitments. The nature of post-Saddam Iraqi politics also makes the deal problematic. There are questions about how the money will be distributed. For instance, will it be split up on a regional basis with the Kurds getting an independent share or will it all go to Baghdad? There are also concerns that the money could simply disappear into a black-hole of corruption. The deal is also being signed at a point where intra-Shi’a politics are breaking down. Shi’a protests against corruption have been organized by Muqtadā al-Ṣadr. While the complaints are legitimate, al-Sadr has been opportunistic in his exploitation of the situation. No doubt, the deal with give him more ammunition to work with.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/iraq-imf-loan-conditions-lift-subsidies.html#ixzz49uIkEMvS
With another bombing in Europe, two questions come to mind. First, is this there a direct connection between the attack and the way the war in Syria is unfolding? Second, how much longer is this going to last?
The answer to the first question is: maybe. Attacks of the type we saw in Brussels and Paris earlier are consistent with a “globalist approach” being advocated by one faction within ISIS to compensate for losses in Syria and Iraq.
The main fissure is between those advocating spreading the struggle globally to overcome the pressures IS is under in Iraq and Syria, and those preferring a localist approach of standing firm in Syria and Iraq. This fissure is bound to widen as IS comes under heavier pressure in Iraq and Syria. The IS attack Jan. 12 against German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet and the March 19 suicide attack against Israeli tourists at Istanbul’s Taksim could well be interpreted as a move toward the globalist approach, to spill the clashes over to Turkey. By telling Turkey, “If you get tough against us, you will pay the price,” IS is also trying to divert attention from Iraq and Syria.
The answer to the second question is complicated. On one hand, ISIS is losing ground in Syria:
In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year,
However, the article argues we should not overemphasize the importance of territorial losses at this point:
The approach to IS should be a population-centric strategy that aims to slowly erode its popular support, which may take years. The endgame of this struggle should be reintegration of Sunni bodies to political processes in Iraq and Syria, first at local and then at national levels. This is what the current situation in the field, Iraq’s experience of the past 10 years and Syria’s crisis of the past five years tell us.
Not long ago, the future looked bright for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Long an oasis of peace in an otherwise unstable region, by 2013 the three Kurdish provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, and Dohuk had become the most prosperous part of the country. Not only were they developing their own oil and gas resources but they were also diversifying into non-oil sectors such as cement, tourism, and real estate. In the major cities consumers were flush with cash—business was booming at shopping malls, car dealerships, gold shops, hotels, and restaurants. Iraq’s tallest apartment and office buildings were under construction. The region’s dream of becoming the “next Dubai” seemed to be fast becoming a reality.
Today the KRI’s multi-year economic boom has turned to bust. Last year’s 50% drop in oil prices, the occupation of neighboring provinces by Islamic State (IS) militants, and the suspension of fiscal transfers from Baghdad to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have resulted in a government-budget crisis of epic proportions. State-sector salaries have gone unpaid for months at a time, KRG-controlled banks have no cash to fund depositors’ withdrawals, arrears to construction contractors are piling up, and billions of dollars in payments due to foreign oil companies have not been made.
The impact on the private sector has been little short of catastrophic. Consumer spending has collapsed, property prices have crashed, occupancy rates at four and five star hotels have plummeted, and work on many projects has come to a virtual standstill. Capacity utilization at cement plants is falling, car dealerships are struggling, income at banks and insurance companies is down sharply, and sales of big-ticket electronics items are slumping. Businesses that only two years ago were making record profits are now fighting for survival.
Outside of Iraq, Kurdistan’s great recession has attracted surprisingly little attention. While the war against the Islamic State continues to monopolize the headlines, the KRI economy is seldom in the news. This one-sided emphasis on the security situation is unfortunate because it obscures some of the most serious problems the region is facing. The outsider might well be left with the impression that everything in Kurdistan will be fine once enough precision guided munitions have found their targets in the IS-controlled areas south and west of the border. In this report, our objective is to fill in some of the gaps in previous coverage of the KRI by providing a comprehensive account of the region’s current economic downturn. We believe that our findings will be useful not only to those following the KRI economy for practical reasons but also to researchers interested in the business cycle dynamics of commodity exporting countries.
At the risk of overkill, I am posting these articles from the Financial Times because they provide a bit more detail about the functioning of ISIS than we usually see and because they address some most common questions I am asked about the organization, such as how are they funded, where do they get their weapons, and what is their relationship to Al Qaeda?
“The best sources of ammunition are Isis’s enemies. Pro-government militia in Iraq sell some supplies to black marketeers, who then sell on to Isis dealers.
Most of all, Isis fighters rely on their rivals in Syria’s three-way war between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the rebels fighting to topple both him and Isis. This is where Syrian arms dealers play a critical role.”
“Isis controls most of Syria’s oil fields and crude is the militant group’s biggest single source of revenue. Here we follow the progress of a barrel of oil from extraction to end user to see how the Isis production system works, who is making money from it, and why it is proving so challenging to disrupt.”
The third looks at the tensions between ISIS and its precursor, al Qaeda:
“Isis seems obsessed with al-Qaeda, from which it split in 2013 following disagreements over the goals of jihad in Syria. Since then Isis has distinguished itself from its parent through its savagery (there is no limit to the violence it is willing to inflict) and its move to create a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.”
It is worth noting that fighting between ISIS and al Qaeda has been on the rise in both Afghanistan and Yemen, where ISIS is looking to expand it operations. ISIS is also directly courting al Shahab, an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.
As Britain debates extending airstrikes into Syria, this article looks at some of the questions about the moderate Syrian opposition. Of those who are ideologically palatable to the UK, and the West in general, they are relatively weak and divided:
“But while it may be possible to identify 65,000-75,000 personnel in brigades that fight both Assad and IS, the problem is that these groups of fighters, particularly in the north of the country, are not powerful enough to take on al-Qaeda or IS by themselves, or in many cases break their current alliances/ceasefires with them.
For example, Jaysh al-Fatah – a coalition of seven different groups operating around the northern cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama – is comprised of Salafist jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and the equally unpalatable Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa.”
In his influential 2004 book, “Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah,” the French political scientist Olivier Roy pointed out that what he termed Islamic “neofundamentalism,” despite its frequent references to the past and to the Koran, represents a very modern, even a postmodern, phenomenon. Emphasizing the role of the Internet in recruiting and sustaining jihadis, Roy said that this apocalyptic new ideology “valorizes the uprootedness of uprooted people” and provides them with a sense of belonging and meaning. The true believer, wherever he is, “remains in touch with the virtual community by sharing the same portable kit of norms, adaptable to any social context,” Roy wrote, adding that the Internet was “a perfect paradigm and tool of this virtual community.”
“Relative to other causes of premature death, terrorism is still a minor phenomenon. For every person killed in a terrorist attack, roughly forty people die in traffic accidents and roughly eighty die of alcoholism. Still, violent attacks on civilians have great salience, psychologically, and, according to the I.E.P. report, they are getting more common, especially in non-Western parts of the world. In 2014, five countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria—accounted for almost eighty per cent of the deaths caused by terrorists. Twelve years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq remains at the top of list, with close to ten thousand lives lost. Nigeria was the second most affected country, with more than seven thousand five hundred deaths.”
“Ultimately, terrorism is a consequence of failed or fragile states. More than nine in 10 of all deadly terrorist attacks over the last 25 years have occurred in nations where state-sponsored political violence was widespread. The Global Terrorism Index is in fact correlated with the Fragile States Index I wrote about recently (with a correlation of .42). These fragile and dysfunctional states are among the least educated, least affluent, least tolerant, and least urbanized in the world, with cities badly broken by ongoing military conflict.”
“An internal Pentagon document obtained by CBC’s the fifth estate raises questions about the quality of the investigation conducted by coalition forces into an allegation that as many as 27 civilians were killed in Iraq by a Canadian airstrike.”
The Canadian military does not believe the allegations are valid: “The [Canadian Air Force] review identified that there were no substantive grounds to believe that civilians had been killed,” Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs Officer Capt. Kirk Sullivan told the fifth estate in an email.”
However, the source was a member of the Kurdish Peshmerga, giving the allegation some credibility: “It wasn’t a question of some civilian or some individual off the street, for lack of a better description, saying, ‘I heard this,'” says Stuart Hendin, a Canadian lawyer who teaches international military law to governments and armed forces around the world. “When one of your allies is saying we have a report of this, it’s something that ought to be taken with much more than a grain of salt. It has to be taken a little bit seriously.”
Disturbingly, “internal Pentagon documents also reveal the Canadian military’s legal assessment about Canada’s duty to investigate the incident.
The U.S. authors of the document note “[Canadian Joint Operations Command Legal Advisor] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), there are no obligations for the [Canadian Air Force] to conduct an investigation.”
The CBC report provides a pdf of the Pentagon report on the strike. It also makes reference to a web site, The Airwars Project, that monitors coalition bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. here is the link to that site: http://airwars.org/index.html
A political crisis threatens to derail the dream of self-determination in South Kurdistan. As if a war with Islamic State jihadis, a refugee burden beyond comprehension and a budget freeze from Baghdad were not bad enough, political infighting and public protests are now added to the toxic mix. Although the leading Kurdish political parties are hardly responsible for the Islamic State’s war, the refugee crisis or even Baghdad’s peculiar understanding of the Iraqi Constitution, they are responsible for other problems. The political infighting and economic woes in the region both seem like the result of poor decisions and bad policies.