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Isis: A Year of the Caliphate
The seven wars in Muslim countries where 'Islamic State' is powerful or growing in strength
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There are seven wars raging in Muslim countries between the borders of Pakistan in the east and Nigeria in the west. In all seven – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north-east Nigeria – local versions of Isis are either already powerful or are gaining in influence. Key to its explosive expansion in Iraq and Syria since 2011 is its capability as a fighting machine, which stems from a combination of religious fanaticism, military expertise and extreme violence. In addition, its successes have been possible because it is opposed by feeble, corrupt or non-existent governments and armies.

The reach of the “Islamic State” was hideously demonstrated last week by near simultaneous attacks in Tunisia, France, Kuwait and Kobani in Syria. The first three atrocities received blanket media coverage, but the fourth, and by far the biggest massacre, was at Kobani, where at least 220 Kurdish civilians, including women and children, were massacred last Thursday by Isis fighters.

Sadly, it was an event that has received only limited attention in the outside world, doubtless because the mass killing of civilians is seen as yet one more tragic but inevitable episode in the war in Syria and Iraq.

Such desensitivity to the ongoing slaughter in that conflict is not only morally wrong, but shows serious political blindness. What makes the killings in a suburb of Lyon, the beach at Sousse and the Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait so different from – and in some ways more menacing than – the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks is that today these crimes are promoted by a government, in the shape of the self-declared caliphate, which has a more powerful army and rules more people than most members of the UN.

The US and western European governments are eager for their people to avoid focusing on this dangerous development because they do not want to highlight their own culpability in failing to weaken or even contain Isis.

Its strengths – as well as its opponents’ weaknesses – help to explain its rapid rise and that of other al-Qaeda-type movements in the Middle East and North Africa. But there is a further toxic ingredient which propels Isis forward: this is the exacerbation and exploitation of religious differences and hatreds, most crucially those between Sunni and Shia Muslim. From the moment in the wake of the US invasion in 2003 that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi created the forerunner to al-Qaeda in Iraq and Isis, its prime target was Shia Iraqis. Suicide bombers slaughtered Shia civilians as they prayed, sought work in the market places, or waited to catch a bus.

Much the same is now happening in Muslim countries across the world, and particularly in the seven convulsed by warfare. An example of this is Yemen, where one third of the 25 million population belong to the Shia Zaydi sect and the rest are Sunni, but where there has been little sectarian strife in the past.

In April this year, Isis announced its presence in Yemen by posting a video showing four government soldiers being beheaded and another 10 executed.

Compared to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Isis is a late-comer in Yemen but both groups flourish as Sunni-Shia hostility increases so they can present themselves as the shock troops and protectors of the Sunni community. Where Shia victims are unavailable, as in Libya, then Isis groups have ritually murdered Christian migrant workers from Egypt and Ethiopia.

The killing of Shia is not just an expression of hatred, but has a less obvious, though demonic, purpose behind it. An aim is to stir up the Shia into retaliating in kind, carrying out mass murders of Sunni in Baghdad in 2006 and 2007 so they were reduced to a few enclaves mostly in the west of the city. The aim of provoking the Shia is that the Sunni are left with no alternative but to turn to Isis or al-Qaeda clones as defenders. The same calculation may now work in Yemen.

Because Isis publicises and boasts of its atrocities in order to spread fear, it masks the fact that official al-Qaeda affiliates, such as Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria or AQAP in Yemen, are just as dangerous.

Their basic agenda is very similar to that of the self-declared caliphate, with al-Nusra carrying out the enforced conversion of Druze and the massacre of those who resist. This attempted rebranding of extreme but non-Isis Sunni jihadis is opportunistic and often directed at making them more palatable as proxies for Sunni states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

There has long been disagreement about the real strength of Isis and its ability to expand. Overall, the argument that Isis is more powerful than it looks has been borne out by events such as the capture of Mosul on 10 June 2014 and of Ramadi on 17 May this year. These Isis victories caught the world by surprise and were important in enabling it to claim success as being divinely inspired.

In reality, there are two crucial components to Isis expansion, one of which is the strength of the organisation itself, but equally important is the spectacular weaknesses of its opponents.

It is this weakness which has repeatedly exceeded expectations, leading not just to the Iraqi army taking flight at Mosul and Ramadi and the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, supposedly a tougher force, disintegrating at equal speed last August. Adept though the militants may be at concealing the place and timing of its main assault, it is the feebleness of resistance that has determined the outcome.

The same pattern is repeated across the Muslim world and is presenting Isis and its al-Qaeda equivalents with many opportunities. Some countries, such as Somalia, have had no effective government since the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991; but, after a spectacularly disastrous US intervention in the 1990s, foreign powers sought to contain rather than eliminate the threat. Somalia was written off as a bolt-hole for al-Qaeda gunmen and pirates, but at least there were not many places in the world quite like it.


But “failed states” are more dangerous than they look because when central governments collapse, they create a vacuum easily filled by groups like Isis. Foreign military intervention has repeatedly been complicit in creating these conditions – in Iraq in 2003, but also in Libya in 2011 and in Yemen this year where a Saudi-led air campaign has been targeting the Yemeni army, the one institution that held the country together.

What might be called the “Somalianisation” of countries is becoming frequent and people in the rest of the world are learning that a “failed state” should be an object of fear rather than pity.

The beliefs of Isis are rightly seen as an offshoot of Saudi Wahhabism, both ideologies degrading the status of women, imposing fundamentalist Islamic norms and regarding Shia and Christians as heretics or pagans. But though they have common features, they are not identical. What Islamic state believes and enforces is a sort of neo-Wahhabism, distinct from that variant of Islam, which is prevalent in Saudi Arabia. In practice, the Saudi state does not try, as Isis does, to murder its two million-strong Shia minority, though it may discriminate against them.

A more accurate accusation against Saudi Arabia is that over the past half century it has successfully used its great wealth to bring mainstream Sunni Islam under the intolerant influence of Wahhabism, thus deepening religious antagonisms.

The violence and determination to expand its rule has brought Isis many enemies, but their disunity, rivalries and mutual suspicions are great. The US and Iran both fight the militants in Iraq and Syria, but do not want the other to emerge as the predominant foreign power.

Meanwhile, the US is hampered in fighting Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and similar groups by a determination to do so without alienating Sunni states to which it is allied, and on whose support American power in the Middle East depends.

This has been the pattern since 9/11, when Washington wanted to punish the perpetrators, but carefully avoided linking the attack to Saudi Arabia, home country of Osama bin Laden, 15 out of the 19 hijackers, and of the private donors funding the operation. Isis is under pressure, but not enough to crush it or prevent its further expansion.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Middle East, Shias and Sunnis 
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  1. This recurrent theme that the Imperial States has any actual intention of fighting ISIS is bizarre, given the blizzard of evidence – including documentary evidence that Warshington was aware that a jihadi Salafist caliphate would come into existence in Easyern Syria and Western Iraq as early as 2012 – that Amerikastan is nothing but its helper and enabler. Any article that purports to claim that the Imperialist States is actually fighting ISIS has to explain all those inconvenient facts away first if it is to have any kind of credibility at all.

  2. Seems accurate. The US won’t prioritise fighting Daesh, because Daesh has the right friends. The US at least since 9/11 has spread global chaos and disorder, destroying secular regimes and preparing the ground for Al Qaeda and now Daesh to take over. The desires of Saudi, Turkey, Israel and mad neocons have always come first.

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
  3. Sonic says:

    No not really. I think Patrick here has a very superficial understanding of what is going on. I’m not going to go in much detail, but here some points to consider so that one can understand the context of what is being written and the bias behind it…

    > ISIS is the result of America’s destruction of Iraq, and it’s bombing and sanctioning of that country for over 20 years. Anyone else in the world (from Russian Orthodox Christians to Buddhist Vietcong would be radicalized into extreme violence and brutality as a result).

    > al-Qaidah kicked ISIS out of its network and label them as Khawirijites (a sect in and of itself) since ISIS is so quick to spill blood and attack even their own ideological brothers based on mere suspicion. But this really has nothing to do with Wahhabism as Patrick contends. There is no such thing as “Wahhabism” in reality, and the example of Saudi Arabia as an American ally, the example of the actions of Shia and Kurdish militias in Iraq and their barbaric acts targeting civilians (not to mention the original cause of the current conflict which is western interference, occupation, and interventionism) – helps show that those who are labelled as “Wahhabis” are hardly the only ones guilty of massacres and atrocities. Since Patrick said that Kobaini should have gotten more attention in the media for the clear massacres that occurred, one would also ask – why did the destruction of so many mosques by the US Air Force in Fallujah back during Gulf War 2, or the dropping of barrel bombs on Sunni mosques over the last few weeks in Syria…not also get any attention?

    > al-Qaidah’s ideology is not “Wahhabi” or Salafi. They are open to Sunni Muslims of a variety of backgrounds and schools of thought. ISIS is much closer to Salafism, but even there, they don’t care too much if one is Salafi or if they follow another Madhab so long as they pledge allegiance to this make-believe state. Add to that some unique characterizes like the remnants of Iraqi Baathism and a strong sense that they are playing a role in specific end-times scenarios (which are meant to be general and not something one can know for sure when such a time is upon us)…and you get ISIS. Studying the GIA in Algeria will also help with understanding ISIS. I say make-believe with regards to this declaration of a Caliphate because the reality of the matter is that while one can control towns/villages/cities and gain control of some territory…one cannot transform that territory into a functioning state unless they can protect their airspace. ISIS cannot defend any of its airspace which is constantly violated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Global corporate media (and Patrick here as well) are inflating the reality of how much power ISIS actually has.

    > It should be noted that al-Qaidah and other groups are also growing and expanding along with ISIS. This is due primarily to the Arab Spring and its consequences, and yes, the weakness of the governments of these failed nation states (as Patrick correctly stated). But this isn’t any sort of major revelation…it is common sense, particularly after decades and centuries of humiliation, corruption, imperialism, invasion, and tyranny. ISIS is but one in a long chain of actors that will continue to emerge as long as the above conditions remain. Minorities may be oppressed (they are oppressed everywhere and always have been)…but the issue here is the oppression of the majority (which is Sunni and not Shia) that leads to greater violence, stronger resistance, and the possibility of revolution.

    > There should not be one set of standards for the crimes of ISIS, and another set of standards for the rest. Expulsion of non-Arabs from Kurdish territories by YPG/PKK, the Shia death squads that existed under the protection of the US occupation a decade or so ago, Abu Ghraib, the UN sanctions of the 1990s, Saddam’s repressive detention and torture system, Assad’s daily barrel bombs on the civilian infrastructure of his own country, etc. – these are all reasons for the rise and extreme nature of ISIS. Unfortunately, they seem to be a lot of ex-baathists in this group who are carrying on the legacy of Saddam’s secret services, intelligence agency, and torture regime. Still, why does a video showing ISIS burning a prisoner of war warrant so much air-time in the corporate news media, yet hardly any reporting of a similar burning of a Sunni by the Shia militias groups that are advancing on ISIS in Iraq? Perhaps because the latter are at this particular moment allies of the US, while the former is not. Propaganda never changes, only the names of wars and the names of the combatants.

    > Remember, the US lead a case to connect Saddam Hussein to al-Qaidah and justified Gulf War 2 based on the lie that Saddam had WMDs and then might share them with al-Qaidah. Well, now you have ISIS which is a hybrid fusion of al-Qaidah and Saddam’s Baathist army. Is there not a Biblical verse stating that sometimes, you reap what you sow!?

    > Mentioning that ISIS degrades women is more of an attack on Islam than an attack on ISIS. Most Muslims do not support ISIS or believe that that their power-grab constitutes a legitimate Caliphate. But most Muslims do believe that the honor of woman is in her obeying God, dressing conservatively, and being the best mother and wife that she can be while giving up individualistic ambitions or gender-specific empowerment (which western culture will always consider degrading). This is the opposite of the western world which degrades women by encouraging them be as close to nude as possible, and profiting off of their bodies and beauty (at the expense of the values and well-being of society as a whole). Patrick should keep his western orientalism out of his analysis.

    > Henry Kissinger (I believe) stated that anyone who opposes the international order as it now exists will be considered a terrorist. This is the truth, and why Shia militias and Kurdish organizations that were considered terrorists before, are now all of sudden considered allies. Unlike those who aspire for a Caliphate (or those who mistakenly think that they already have one), these particular “terrorists” of yesterday do not want to change the international system or the global balance of power as was established in the aftermath of World War 2. Even Iran is coming around – which is why the current American administration is negotiating with a country that the previous administration called a state-sponsor of terrorism and a member of the axis of evil. If journalists like Patrick want to be honest, then they need to address these sorts of contradictions and double-speak (rather than sensationlizing events that anyone could have predicted). They need to reevaluate their most basic assumptions and definitions. If the foundation of something is crooked, the rest will always faulter no matter how high it is built. Even though what Patrick writes here is better than a lot of other corporate media…it still has its own inaccuracies and bias.

  4. Agent76 says:

    Here is the ‘BIG’ picture from the ‘HORSES’ mouth!

    General Wesley Clark: Wars Were Planned – Seven Countries In Five Years

    “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

    General Wesley Clark Asked About 7 Country War Plan

    5/14/2015 Former NATO Commander, Presidential Candidate Makes Millions Pushing Penny Stocks

    Plato-quoting, West Point valedictorian, Rhodes scholar, former NATO Supreme allied commander, and one-time Presidential hopeful Gen. Wesley Clark had a carefully laid, three-point plan for life after public service.

  5. Mojo says:

    In the eyes of capitalism, the far right democrats or neo fascism, Anything and everything which could stop the growth of people’s demands for functioning democracy, socialism is better than the meaning of the words. ISIS is a Stone Age regime and is not belongs to present time of mankind history, by creating it the idea in taking back the time and stop people’s social demands, although can be a short lived in mankind history but the main idea is to damage and even to destroy what have been achieved, Saudis, Erdogan Turkish, Israel, European far right political systems, the usg capitalism and the growth of neo fascism know that, which is the reason not wanting to stop ISIS growth. These regime and their last option is ISIS because they ran out of options back in 1990, since, people around the world experiencing this or that system, religious or otherwise, is their creation of what is known to be the modernized fascism or one as an Stone Age system called caliphate.

  6. @Simon in London

    The interests of the American people are twofold in this region:
    Consistent secure access to energy.
    A denial of territory to, and a suppression of, radical groups who might use “terrorist” attacks against the US.

    They are best met by having strong, stable secular governments in the middle east.

    The interests of Israel lie in having failed states with various rival militia and terrorist groups constantly at war.

    Why did the US spend trillions of dollars turning what we had into what we have?

    • Replies: @Sonic
    , @Simon in London
  7. Sonic says:
    @Bill Jones

    @Bill Jones

    What you state are not the interests of the American people but rather, the interests of the American elites (the 1%, the corporatocracy, the special interests groups, etc.).

    Point one (secure access to energy) contradicts point two (denial of territory to radical groups) because in order to implement point one, you need to establish and/or support tyrannies which result in the creation of the radical groups which then require trillions of dollars to fight against.

    Wouldn’t strong, stable secular governments (that do not oppose Zionism) not also be in the interest of Israel? Isn’t Egypt under a military dictatorship far more preferable to Israel as opposed to chaos in a failed state filled with rival militias? Now sure, if that dictatorship opposes Israel like Iraq once did and Syria used to, then it might be preferable to have a chaotic failed state…but the ideal for Israel remains the example of Egypt or Jordan or the GCC nations as opposed to random chaos.

    Your last question is already answered, but in summary, you can’t interfere in a region, support police states, and then directly or indirectly rob that region of its natural resources…without creating backlash, blowback, and resistance (and in this case, an Islamic Awakening since Islam from an ideological point of view provides an alternative and counter to western capitalism and eastern communism) that costs trillions of dollars in blood and treasure.

  8. @Bill Jones

    “They are best met by having strong, stable secular governments in the middle east.

    The interests of Israel lie in having failed states with various rival militia and terrorist groups constantly at war.”

    My own view is a William S Lind one – Israel and her US neocon & neolib supporters are mistaken; the secular regimes that threatened Israel ca 1948-78 are no longer nearly as dangerous as Islamist terrorists, and her support for the destruction of Syria is not in her own long term interests. To give Israel some credit, she does seem to have realised this pretty quickly re Egypt, but even nations like Syria nominally at war with Israel are a much better bet than a stateless zone. Assad’s Syria was never going to conquer Israel; they are a known factor. Daesh’s Caliphate is not, it and its successors may do anything.

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