Tag Archives: Daesh

The Collapse of the Caliphate

Iraqi security forces sit in a military vehicle near Falluja, Iraq, May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi security forces sit in a military vehicle near Falluja, Iraq, May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

April, 2016

A long time ago, I was involved in a number of studies about declining communities in eastern Canada, a topic that is ‘coming round again’. One of the observations I took away from this experience was that communities, like people, do not normally die by inches. It cannot be represented as a straight-line decline, angling down to zero but instead is a gradually-sloping line until some inflection point is reached, followed by a precipitous crash. My feeling as a distant observer of events, is that this inflection point has been passed in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate. I want to distinguish between the ideology of ISIS and its territory; it is the latter we are talking about here.

Once the airstrikes against the Caliphate began, it was only a matter of time until we would reach this moment. The question I often put to people who were concerned about the power of this organization was to tell me how many planes had the Caliphate shot down. Clearly, if there were wreckage, it would have been publicized. The answer, so far, is ‘none’. This is a testament to their mismatch of ambitions and capabilities.

Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite fighters sit in military vehicles near Falluja, Iraq, May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite fighters sit in military vehicles near Falluja, Iraq, May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Further, and unlike the Vietnam War, the territory controlled by the Caliphate at its zenith was all in dry to desert lands, offering no cover to movements. Transportation was degraded, supplies and facilities destroyed and the leadership group disrupted by assassination. This last is important, as the British discovered in the Irish Nationalist campaign of the late 1900s; the second rank of leaders often proved less politically adept and more brutal, thus alienating local supporters.

Today, the Caliphate has been reduced to three major urban areas, Raqqa, Mosul and Falluja. None of them have dependable resupply routes for either military goods or civilian needs. Short of their opponents falling into disarray and not pressing on, an unlikely hope this close to the end, things for ISIS can unravel simply by waiting. Sieges are a question of will on both sides and it appears from reports that ISIS is beginning to have to use its famously brutal methods on its own subjects to keep them in line. Further, the Mesopotamian summer has already begun, so even the elements are arraigned badly for ISIS.

So, what comes after the Caliphate? It is clear that the poisonous Wahhabi doctrine that underlies the Saudi state has produced something in Al Qaeda and ISIS that has awakened both the ‘West’ and the farther, more moderate reaches of the world of Islam. The reaction over the next few years will likely go beyond just preventing Saudi subsidization of mosques around the world, but will lead to more pressure on them to back away from the religious-political deal reached a century ago.

The Jihadist ideology does not present an existential threat to anyone outside of those areas distant from urban civilization, such as the Sahara and the northwest Indian Ocean. The Paris, Brussels and California incidents caused intense political reactions, but no country is going to collapse from such isolated tragedies. In America, the San Bernardino shootings in one way were the 350-somethingth mass murder incident in that country in the year 2015. It had the added ingredient of ISIS, but the victims were no more or less dead than in all the rest of the incidents perpetrated by over-angry, mentally disturbed or isolated people and the like.

The Arab East is wracked with virulently conflicting factions of nations, ethnicity and Islamic sectarianism. Neighbors such as Iran, Turkey and Israel all have different interests in the Arab heartland. Easy oil revenues add a layer of corruption to this stew. Then add in the outside players in Europe and North America and it is clear that the mess will not be going away soon, but will take on some different characteristic.

Perhaps the greatest problem arising out of the Caliphate has to be that which came out of a similar mess in the Balkans in the early 1900s, when one country, Austria-Hungary, decided it was futile to deal with that region in concert with the other major powers. Their unilateral decision to ‘solve’ the Serbian problem led to World War I, whose aftermath led to more war and destruction all over the world. It is to the credit of the outside protagonists in the Syrian civil war and the war on the Caliphate that they have not become so involved and stiff-necked as to bring this mess into big power relationships so far.

This whole mess is therefore not over. The proponents of Jihad have tried four tactics so far, with some initial success, but ultimate failure. These have been covert international operations, such as 9/11, tribal uprisings, such as the Taliban, armed assaults against weak states, as in Africa on the desert fringes, and the Caliphate, a proto-state based on a medieval model coupled with 21st Century technology. We do not know what is next; all we know is that there will be a ‘next’. America may be tired of this 20-year arm-wrestling with the Jihadists, but it went through the 45-year Cold War and came out the stronger for it. I expect this one will last as long and will end satisfactorily as well.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.






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The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh

January, 2015  

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.

At the centre of things, the Syrian conflict has deepened – and while the brutality of Islamic State (IS) has been responsible for much of the recent chaos and tragedy across Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for seven times as many Syrian deaths as IS. Assad’s position was strengthened by continued support from Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, antagonising powerful states in the West and the Gulf – particularly Saudi Arabia. The Gulf states also faced domestic threats from IS, with the group carrying out a number of attacks on Shia sites and communities across the region.

The Syrian conflict became ever more internationalised in 2015. The number of foreign fighters on the ground – on all sides – continued to grow, while on the diplomatic level, the Vienna talks tried to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict – though they have yet to yield any decisive action.

The task of dealing with IS was further complicated by a batch of new wilayats, groups who declared allegiance to IS. Wilayat Sinai in particular was purportedly responsible for a range of acts, allegedly including a massive bomb attack in Cairo and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

All the while, Syria’s refugee emergency has now escalated to a point that United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, referred to it as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. It has now killed more than 200,000 people, displacing 7m within the country and driving more than 4m to flee abroad.

In neighbouring Lebanon, the state struggled to provide safe haven for the millions of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, a problem exacerbated by the Lebanese government’s long-term refusal to ratify the 1951 Refugees Convention. Government paralysis brought rubbish collection services in Beirut to a spectacular standstill over the summer, giving birth to the #YouStink movement – which left Lebanese politicians in little doubt as to what their people think of them.

Other neighbouring states also absorbed large numbers – Turkey took in more than 2m and Jordan a further 1.4m. Almost 250,000 refugees fled Syria and crossed the border into Iraq, where they face a precarious future.

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi, a year into his prime ministership, faced a welter of serious challenges which were all exacerbated by the fight against IS. While his government has tried to dilute the sectarian differences that so badly dogged Iraqi society under Nouri al-Maliki, the country is still facing the same deep-seated grievances that created the conditions for militant groups to spring up in the first place.

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Elsewhere, Benjamin Netanyahu won yet another term as prime minister of Israel, drawing support from an increasingly right-leaning electorate that was seduced by Netanyahu’s hawkish politics. Coupled with this victory was an increase in settlement building across Palestinian territories and, unsurprisingly, the freezing of the peace-process – leading to talk of a third intifada over the summer. While these pessimistic predictions have so far not come true, the intense frustration at the current situation is palpable.

Across the border, the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, increasingly concerned with security across the state, continued the counter-revolution and finally all but extinguished the hopes that lit up Tahrir Square in early 2011. Key Muslim Brotherhood figures, among them the country’s deposed president, Mohammad Morsi, and the group’s leading cleric, Mohammad Badie, were sentenced to death, leading to widespread condemnation and protests.

Almost in the background but no less seriously, the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran rumbled on, complicating events in Syria and Iraq and throwing up new crises of its own. In March, these tensions erupted into a full-blown proxy conflict in Yemen fought by a Saudi-led coalition of states against a coup mounted by Houthi separatists backed by Iran.

This made Yemen’s already tragic situation even worse, as socio-economic conditions rapidly deteriorated and the casualties rose beyond 40,000 in total – albeit to remarkably little international outcry. In recent days, the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels have called a ceasefire and have agreed to participate in talks in Switzerland. In an effort to create a coordinated counter-terrorism strategy across the region, Saudi Arabia established a coalition of 34 countries, most of them Muslim states. While the intent should be commended, Iran was not a part of the coalition and some members were surprised to be included, having not formally agreed to join, raising questions about the credibility of the coalition.

There was one rather remarkable ray of hope: the nuclear deal reached between the P5+1 powers and Iran. Probably the single biggest diplomatic success of the year, it was greeted with much chagrin by regimes in Israel and across the Gulf. The deal will lift economic sanctions on Iran, providing much needed injections of capital into the Iranian economy. The prospect of an increasingly influential Iran, galvanised by a growing economy, is a cause for concern for many in the Gulf – and there are fears that this could also strengthen the position of Iran’s allies, notably, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad.

But ultimately, the Middle East will remember 2015 above all for the continued brutality of IS and the fraught, messy efforts to contain it, all at a tragic human cost. Entering 2016, people across the region still face an array of existential threats.

The imperative to ensure that basic human needs are met is paramount: many people are struggling to access food, shelter and security, while millions of refugees and displaced people desperately need access to health care (both physical and mental) as well as education and employment.

And even in some of the Middle East’s more stable countries, the political and human cost of providing support to refugee populations that number in the millions is becoming a terrible strain – turning the screws on societies already pushed almost to the point of collapse.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Simon Mabon is a Lecturer in International Relations at Lancaster University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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ISIS destruction of ancient artefacts a message of intent

By Peter Edwell
March, 2015

Distressing scenes of the destruction of ancient artefacts by ISIS in the Archaeological Museum in Mosul in northern Iraq have been widely reported in recent days.

Nimrud Lamassu's at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Nimrud Lamassu’s at the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal, Iraq. Photo: UNESCO

Video footage (see below) showed individuals wielding sledgehammers at ancient statues which the perpetrators claimed were images of gods. The exact identification of the destroyed artefacts is speculative, but most of the destruction appears to have been wrought on statuary of the Assyrian period (1365 BCE–609 BCE) and from the ancient trading principality of Hatra.

These items would be too difficult to smuggle out to the international black market for antiquities, a practice which ISIS appears to have been employing for smaller looted items from museums and archaeological sites across Iraq and Syria.

A number of rich archaeological sites lie in the immediate vicinity of Mosul and some of these rank among the most significant yet discovered in the Middle East.

Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) and Niniveh were successive capitals of the neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BCE-609 BCE) the latter thought to have been the largest city in the world in the seventh century BCE.

The remains of Nimrud lie approximately 30km to the south-east of Mosul while those of Niniveh are located on east bank of the Tigris in the immediate vicinity of the city. Foreign excavations of both sites began in the 1840s and many impressive items of statuary, architecture and other sculptures were transported to museums including the British Museum and the Louvre.

Some of this material stayed in Iraq where it is still held at museums in Baghdad and Mosul.

Mosul’s occupation of a strategic crossing point of the Tigris River for many centuries means that the city has a rich history, reflected in the museum’s holdings and the, until recently, diverse population of the city.

Mosul was a key crossing point for invading Parthian, Persian and Roman armies from the first century BCE to the seventh century CE and it formed an important trade connection between northern Mesopotamia and Syria, especially with the wealthy trading principality of Hatra (first century BCE – third century CE), some 90km south-west of Mosul, and the more distant trading emporium of Palmyra in central Syria.

Mosul was also an important trading centre during various Islamic Caliphates and in the Ottoman period. Today it is the second largest city in Iraq and its bridge across the Tigris is an important part of connecting the whole region of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which ISIS controls.

While the destruction of ancient artefacts in Mosul is without question cultural vandalism at its worst, ancient cultures in Iraq and elsewhere were equally capable of cultural vandalism, often on grand scales.

When the Assyrian empire disintegrated towards the end of the seventh century BCE, Nimrud was sacked and levelled by an alliance of enemies including Babylonians and Persians. In 330 BCE Alexander the Great looted the ancient city of Persepolis in Iran and burnt its palace to the ground in a drunken rampage.

Roman Emperors and Persian Kings besieged Hatra on five occasions in the second and third centuries before it was finally captured and mostly destroyed while the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE resonates to this day.

There is a clear distinction, however, between the devastation of priceless cultural items by ancient powers and the targeted destructive activities of ISIS.

The vandalism perpetrated in the Mosul Museum is part of a targeted program of desecration and devastation undertaken in Mosul by ISIS since it overran the city in June 2014. Reports of the demolition of six Shi’ite mosques and four shrines to Sunni and Sufi figures emerged in early July last year and later that month the 14th-century Prophet Younis (Jonah) shrine and associated mosque were blown up.

The obliteration of other Islamic monuments and places of worship has continued while the Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox Cathedrals were occupied after the vast proportion of Christian residents fled the city. Reports emerged in late February that the Mosul Public Library had been ransacked with approximately 100,000 books and manuscripts burned.

These actions are directly linked with the adherence by ISIS members to the Salafi movement, an extreme branch of Islam which views the centuries of development in Islamic theology and thinking after Mohammed as accretions which have polluted the faith.

The veneration of saints’ tombs and images is a particular problem for Salafists, which explains the destruction wrought on Islamic monuments in Mosul. It mirrors the destruction of saints’ tombs in Mecca and Medina in the early 1800s when Salafists captured the holy cities in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The destruction of artefacts depicting what are claimed to be gods in the Mosul Museum is part of making a broader statement to the Islamic world while enforcing an extreme doctrinal position in the city. It is also part of a message aimed more broadly at Iraq and the West.

On the same day that the video was released, the National Museum in Baghdad reopened after 12 years of painstaking effort to rebuild it following the looting which took place during the US-led invasion in 2003. The reopening of the museum is a moment of national pride for a country whose very existence is under threat.

The destruction of artefacts in Mosul sends a clear message, reflective of the intent of ISIS, which is to destroy whatever stands in the way of its ideology. The release of video footage of this vandalism has other purposes as well, especially with regard to the West, where museums and the precious artefacts they hold are treasured and sacred.

The infinitely more gruesome video footage of defenceless hostages being murdered has a similar purpose, partly to terrorise all who see it but also to entice the West back into a high-stakes war which will be difficult to prosecute and far more difficult to win. ​

Creative Commons

Peter Edwell is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Macquarie University,  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading and viewing:

UNESCO chief condemns destruction of Nimrud heritage site in northern Iraq, UN press release

6 March 2015 – The United Nations agency mandated with protecting cultural heritage around the world today strongly condemned the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud in Iraq, deploring such “criminal chaos” as yet another attack against the Iraqi people.

 “Nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” Irina Bokova, Director-General at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a statement.


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