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We Can Finish ISIS - But Only if the West Winds Down Its Proxy Wars
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Western governments have been swift to pledge action to strike at Isis, as it becomes clear that the organisation was behind the suicide bombings that killed 253 people in Sri Lanka.

A video released by Isis after the attacks shows Zahran Hashim, an Islamic preacher and alleged leader of the bombers, pledging allegiance together with six other men – also thought to be bombers – to the self-declared caliph and leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Western leaders, as is usual, are proposing easy or unattainable action that will do little to damage Isis capabilities – such as trying to limit its access to social media – while steering clear of potentially more effective but difficult to implement policies to eradicate Isis that might be contrary to their national interests.

The best way to weaken Isis to the point where it can no longer orchestrate or carry out mass slaughter, like that in Sri Lanka last Sunday, is to bring an end to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa which over the last forty years have produced al-Qaeda and its clones, of which Isis is the most famous and most dangerous.

Governments deny that they are in any way responsible for Isis staying in business and point to the western-backed offensives against it which led to the last piece of the Islamic State being over-run on 23 March.

As a territorial entity Isis has been eliminated, but that does not mean that it cannot carry out guerrilla and terrorist attacks, as has happened in the last few months in Iraq and Syria. These are little reported because they take place in the vast deserts on the Iraq-Syrian border or they target regimes we do not like, such as the Syrian government in Damascus.

Isis was born out of war. In 2001, at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda – out of which Isis was to emerge – consisted of a network of fanatics and a few hundred fighters in camps in Afghanistan. They were so few that they had to hire local Afghan tribesmen to fill out their numbers in propaganda videos.

It was the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 that turned the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into a powerful military movement. When forced out of its strongholds by a reinforced US presence and weakened by opposition from within the Sunni Arab community in 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq retreated to its hideouts, waiting for better times.

These were not long in coming with the advent of the Syrian civil war in 2011 which the movement had the resources in men and weapons, to turn to their advantage. I remember Iraqi leaders in Baghdad telling me in 2012/13 that unless the war in Syria was quickly brought to an end, it would reignite the insurgency in Iraq.

They were soon proved right. Isis, as it was now called, astonished the world by emerging from its fastnesses to capture Mosul in 2014 and sweep through western Iraq and eastern Syria.

Western powers certainly wanted to defeat Isis but also did not want to do anything that would enable rivals and opponents – Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad – to win a clear victory in the Syrian war. They demanded that Assad go long after it was obvious that he was going to win after receiving Russian military support in 2015.

Stirring the pot in Syria in order to thwart Russia, Iran and Assad was much in the interests of Isis which could exploit the fact that opposition to it was fragmented.

Opportunities exist for Isis wherever government authority is weak or non-existent and it can put down roots. When defeat looms in eastern Syria this year, Isis moved thousands of surviving fighters next door into western Iraq. In Mosul and Raqqa, once the de facto Isis capitals in Iraq and Syria, assassinations and suicide bombings have started again. Kurdish-led forces are regularly ambushed. In Syrian government held territory near Palmyra, a series of Isis attacks in April killed 36 and captured ten pro-Assad soldiers.

In Iraq, Isis cells are reactivating in Sunni areas that surround Baghdad which, in the not-so-distant past, were the staging posts for the prolonged and devastating suicide bombing campaign that killed thousands.

It is probably only a matter of time until Isis succeeds in staging a Sri Lanka type multiple bombing once again in the Iraqi capital. The last big bomb in Baghdad was on 3 July 2016, when a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up killing 340 civilians and injuring hundreds more. This should be a moment when the US could do all it can to resist the coming onslaught. Instead Washington is giving priority to pressuring the Iraqi government to impose US sanctions on Iran – something that is bound to divide Iraqis and aid Isis.

There is a similar pattern across the wider Middle East and North Africa where no less than seven wars, large and small, are being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north east Nigeria. These flare up or die down on occasion but they never come to an end.

The reason for these wars – the true breeding ground for Isis and its kin – is that foreign powers have plugged into local civil wars and want to see their proxy either to come out on top or, at worst, avoid defeat. Libya is a good example of this: would be leader of Libya General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, France and Russia are fighting a government in Tripoli supported by Qatar, Turkey, Italy, Tunisia and Algeria.

Such divisions and rivalries are repeated in conflict after conflict and mean that Isis will always be able to lodge itself somewhere in the chaos.


At the same time, one needs to keep a sense of proportion about Isis’s capabilities: the atrocities it carries out in Colombo, Baghdad, Paris, Manchester, Westminster and elsewhere are geared to dominate the news agenda, provoke fear and project strength. But none of these things win wars and the defeat of the caliphate earlier this year was real and irreversible.

This does not mean that Isis will not try to resurrect itself as a guerrilla movement relying heavily on terrorist attacks on soft targets. It is, at bottom, a military machine led by experienced military men who adapt their strategy and tactics according to circumstances. Talk in the west about cutting Isis off from the social media as if that would be a mortal blow misses the point.

Social media may be a powerful tool for Isis but it would survive without it. Savage cult-like movements similar to Isis such as the Nazis in Germany and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia existed long before the internet and were able to spread their toxic message without use of it..

The only effective way to bring an end to Isis is to end the wars that produced it. A large part of the Middle East and North Africa have become a zone of conflict where international and regional rivalries are fought out through local proxies. So long as that goes on Isis will continue to exist.

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  1. We Can Finish ISIS … or we can stop funding them and fly them back home. From my blog:

    Apr 24, 2019 – CIA Jihadists

    This blog has repeatedly highlighted lies about Syria. There was never a “civil war”, the USA-Saudi-Israeli axis of evil sent thousands of radical Jihadist to Syria and provided them with arms to overthrow the Syrian government. These invaders were defeated and are quietly returning home. This fact remains suppressed in the USA, so I was surprised to read this recent story in Reuters that openly admits US government involvement in helping ISIS terrorists:

    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria on Saturday including jihadists who had gone to fight in the country’s civil war and 74 children, the government said.

    After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return.

    The population of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.

    More than 300 Kosovo citizens have traveled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

    “Today in the early hours of the morning an important and sensitive operation was organized in which the government of Kosovo with the help of the United States of America has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria,” Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri said at a press conference.

    Tahiri did not specify what role the United States had played but a plane with a U.S. flag on its tail was seen in the cargo area of Pristina airport as the operation was ongoing.

    When asked about the return of fighters to Kosovo and the separate return of a fighter to Bosnia, U.S. military spokesman Sean Robertson said, “U.S. assets were used in support of this repatriation operation.”

    • Replies: @anon
  2. MEexpert says:

    The author seems quite ill informed. Al-Qaeda was a CIA creation in 1980s. To keep the chaos going in Iraq Al-Qaeda in Iraq was created with CIA stooge Musab Al-Zarqawi as the head. After he served his purpose, Musab was killed. Then the ISIS was created, trained in Jordan for the ultimate attack on Iraq. They just didn’t dig up those white Toyotas and Humvees out of the desert. The CIA trained mercenaries were sent to cause chaos in Syria. All those alphabet moderate terrorists were CIA paid employees. And the story goes on.

    So let us stop the nonsense about these terrorists. They are all CIA trained and prepared to cause mayhem in the world to keep it unsettled so that Uncle Sam, the evil empire, can take over the countries where they feel the need.

    Bring American forces home, stop paying these jehadists, make Israel and Saudi Arabia behave. The problem solved.

  3. TG says:

    Missing the point, I think.

    ISIS and things like ISIS do not exist because the West is intervening. ISIS and things like ISIS exist because Malthus was right, and when people try to have many times more children than they can reasonably support the result is most definitely NOT ‘a bigger pie for all.’ Unless there is an open frontier, the result is always brutal crushing misery – and this typically results in instability and chaos and lot of unhappy young men with too much time on their hands.

    Places like Syria etc. are not unstable because the West is intervening. The West is intervening – stupidly – because places like Syria are unstable. Places like Syria are unstable because – the vast majority of the time – there is too rapid population growth. (OK, Libya appears to be an exception – that really is on the West).

    So in Syria, a small country with very limited water supplies, the government banned contraceptives and propagandized that it was every woman’s patriotic duty to have seven kids. The population doubled, then doubled again, then… oopsie! The water ran out and things went downhill. Groups like ISIS etc. would never have gotten a foothold if the average Syrian was mostly getting along OK.

    There is nothing we can do to end the chaos in this part of the world, except speak truth about its real cause. Even if the western powers saw reason and stopped mucking about in places where they have no business, widespread hopeless poverty will create radicalism and chaos. End of story.

    • Disagree: Biff
    • Replies: @buzzwar
  4. Christo says:

    Finish ISIS? ISIS is just another contemporary geographic area grouping of Wahhabist Arab useful idiots/proxies of Israel and the Zero-G.

    About the only question this article brings to mind, Is Patrick Colburn spouting all this Neocon garbage , from ignorance or intention?

  5. Sean says:

    I agree with much of what TG said in 3. Before foreign intervention to bring the Rwanda genocide to a halt it was famous for its population density. Gunnar Heinsohn made the point that a Palestinian level birthrate since WW2 would have resulted in German politics of a very different kind to what we see today.

    “Wrist Icicle, Ride Dick Bicycle/ Come True Yo, Get You This Type Of Blow, If You Wanna Menage I Got A Tricycle”

    Regarding the Manchester bombing the most frightening thing is that a 15 year old from Ireland, 14 year old from the Outer Hebrides and an 8 year old died there. That’s what little girls aspire to and their parents don’t disapprove of approve of them listening to. The West must demographically retreat in the face of the arrogant strength of those they supposedly dominate. The Third World is paying a superficial price for being technologically backward, but the West is paying the ultimate price for being culturally sophisticated. And whether we invade their countries and fight proxy wars or stop, the replacement will continue apace. Look at Ireland, it has not engaged in military adventures, yet it seems to have middle Easterners and Africans a plenty. One could argue about the timeframe but it is pretty clear where it is heading. Ah, but that is of little interest to a famous globetrotting Irishman like Cockburn.

    Here is another one Peter Sutherland. He got started defending Irish Army Intelligence officer James Kelly, in the famous trial in which the soon to be Irish prime minister Charles Haughey was a co defendant. (This arming of the Provisional IRA by elements of the Republic’s establishment was truly the origin of the Troubles, a proxy war by Eire in which they refused to arrest gunmen safe in the South who were systematically killing Protestant farmers along the Border ).

    He became Irish attorney-general and Ireland’s commissioner in Brussels, then head of the World Trade Organization, the successor to Gatt; chairman of BP, chief of Goldman Sachs International. Sutherland was in late Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddafi’s tent ats Tony Blair signed BP’s deal in 2007. The London School of Economics, chairman Sutherland, had money from Gaddafi’s son.
    Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural. He also suggested the UK government’s immigration policy had no basis in international law. He was being quizzed by the Lords EU home affairs sub-committee which is investigating global migration. Mr Sutherland, who is non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former chairman of oil giant BP, heads the Global Forum on Migration and Development , which brings together representatives of 160 nations to share policy ideas. He told the House of Lords committee migration was a “crucial dynamic for economic growth” in some EU nations “however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens of those states”.

    According to Leo Varadkar (an alarming portent in himself) Sutherland was “a statesman in every sense of the word; an Irishman, a committed European and a proud internationalist …Throughout his life, he was a champion for individual and economic freedoms”.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  6. buzzwar says:

    Your “analysis” is one of a simple-minded person. It goes against the facts: it is a fact that ISIS is mainly composed of foreign fighters. some 30000 foreign fighters from 85 countries, including many from western countries. It is a fact that ISIS fighters have been trained, armed and assisted by western intelligence agencies (CIA, MI5, Mossad,etc..) in their fight against Syria. It is a fact that the Syrian people is overwhelmingly pro-government.
    In 2010, before the war started, Syria had a better GDP than the neighboring country Jordan. 4058 US\$ versus 3679 US\$. If the Syrian war had anything to do with Malthusianism, why then Jordan had not faced the same fate as Syria?

    • Replies: @anon
    , @Sean
  7. anon[356] • Disclaimer says:

    don’t waste time on him . Please don’t .

  8. “The best way to weaken Isis to the point where it can no longer orchestrate or carry out mass slaughter, like that in Sri Lanka last Sunday, is to bring an end to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa which over the last forty years have produced al-Qaeda and its clones, of which Isis is the most famous and most dangerous.”

    I can think of a better way to “weaken ISIS”. Stop paying for their weaponry, transpo, and food. Without US money, funneled to ISIS by Mossad and the CIA, ISIS would consist of a few dozen 65 IQ Kosovars milling around in their local mosques.

  9. anon[284] • Disclaimer says:

    ISIS works for US. US uses overtly Saudi Arabia Jordan UAE and covertly uses Israel to nurture support and increase the memberships and the strengths of ISIS. Israel is also on the managing board for brand decisions regarding countries to be hit and the method to be used. It is known .

    Gladio B is this called. Original Gladio was in Europe from 1945 to 1980 . That operation used Nazi and nationalists to attack Labor movement and Socialist government of Europe.

    In India , Myanmar, Sri Lnaka, the methods are different. Diaspora Indians and RSS-BJP work with US military -corporate-Jewish lobbies and further the corporate interest of Indian riches who siphon the money to US ,allow foreign moneies , contribute unparalleled donations to parties ,and open the local market to predatory foreign corporates .

    Here the street fighters and destabilizers are not ISIS but the votaries and worshippers of RSS-BJP who come from poor communities with visceral hatred and pent up anger . They have missed the bus , but in most cases the bus never showed up in their neighborhood. Anti -muslim ,anti -Christian anti-non-Hindu sentiments drawn from the dog training annual of BJP-RSS provide them with solace,meaning and some hopes. But the result is same .

  10. KA says:

    Western governments have been swift to pledge action to strike at Isis, as it becomes clear that the organisation was behind the suicide bombings that killed 253 people in Sri Lanka.”

    Sri Lnaka will be foolish to allow US/NATO bomb its territory . Bangladesh (BD) did not after the cafe bombing by simply disagreeing that the attack in the cafe was by ISIS. BD knew that once US entered the fight, there would be no peace and development. It will become another Afghanistan .

  11. Sean says:

    Syria had a better GDP than the neighboring country Jordan

    Yes, but economic strength was achieved at the cost of weakening the country because Assad the idiot put up the price of basic necessities for ordinary Syrians shortly before the unrest.

    It is important to note that
    economic grievances, including popular resentment at market-oriented reforms, played a part in
    the 2011 uprising against the regime in Damascus. Although they were not a determining factor,
    increased poverty and inequality alongside the rise of a new wealthy business elite made for a combustible mix.

    The US spent a billion on a wall to keep ISIS out of Jordan, the Hashemite family dictatorship is terrified of ISIS, and not making the same mistake as the Assad family dictatorship. Assad thought he could rule without reference to the people’s will. He knows better now. The US or Israel could have overthrown Assad with a flick of their eyebrow. An Israeli build up on the Golan would have diverted most of the Syrian army, but the Israelis didn’t do it because they don’t care to overthrow Assad. One big USAF strike could have finished Assad, the Russians only came in after America decided against it. Newsflash:

    Yes Virginia, there is war without the CIA. And as is made clear in the talk above,the way to make sure there is no war is to ensure satisfactory material conditions and equality in the distribution of resources.

    • Replies: @anon
  12. anon[359] • Disclaimer says:
    @Carlton Meyer

    We Can Finish ISIS … or we can stop funding them and fly them back home

    yes, defunding them seems like the best strategy

    strange that it never occured to the author of this piece

  13. The West could drop everything it does in the Mideast tomorrow but ISIS and other Muslim jihadist groups will continue to exist, and continue to try and expand their power. At the root of all this is the Islamic dictate to conquer the world and extinguish all other ideologies.

    Centuries before the West was even a global power, Islamic armies were conquering their way through much of the known world. Blaming groups like ISIS entirely on the West requires one to totally ignore the history of Islam and its spread.

    • Replies: @anon
  14. anon[579] • Disclaimer says:

    Just the way Pope did, post Constantine Rome did, just the way Portuguese Spanish English did and Ivan the terrible and the rest did . Its the way the US now does with 800 bases . Sometimes the thugs with Bible succeed as in S Korea Sometimes the thugs don’t succeed as they did not in Iraq.

    • Replies: @anon
  15. Wake up and smell the coffee! ISIS IS a creation of the US, UK, KSA, and Israel. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are their main proxies to subvert nations and committing criminal acts in the ME/NA

  16. I always read Patrick Cockburn’s articles, hold him in high esteem, but in this case he’s off the mark. The title itself points to the problem. You’re never going to end what you call Isis in the middle Euphrates Valley cross-border area of Syria and Iraq.

    The upper Euphrates Valley is the Sunni Muslims heartland of both Syria and Iraq: 70% of Syrians are Sunni, as are 20% of Iraqis. They were sufficiently disenfranchised in Syria to form the basis of the proxy war of the last 7 years, and in Iraq, the Sunnis were the dominant political force under Saddam until Bush and Cheney, in their strategic brilliance, decided to turn Iraq over to the Iraqi Shia and their confessional kin in neighboring Iran.

    With the Sunnis now comprehensively disenfranchised, the Sunni revolt — currently branded as Isis — will continue until the Sunnis force a political settlement that gives them some kind of representation. You can terminate — so to speak — Isis, but not the Sunni insurgency, which will continue under another name … or no name at all.

  17. anon[579] • Disclaimer says:

    he US or Israel could have overthrown Assad with a flick of their eyebrow. An Israeli build up on the Golan would have diverted most of the Syrian army”

    Your argument is like those offered by devout evangelical They think God has chosen Trump – an abomination of humanity and Christianity as vehicle to further God’s interest in ME. God sometimes chooses stupid and uncouth to do his wonderful work and let Evangelical stupids know it.

    Israel visited 90 time Russia ,killed 19 Russian or more , hid behind civilian planes, forced Trump to retract and redo same that he did not want to do , and kept on egging US to sabotage Syrua-Russia until Iran is halted and asked US to put more sanction on Russia for activities in Syria . Israel did all these just for nothing . Israel possibly has not forgot yet 2006 war . May be it should engage in same .

    Israel sometimes chooses to employ all the skill it has to get a big Duh !! knowingly .

    America wanted to kick the Vietnam syndrome once for all in 1991 It roaring back with a vengeance as 2021 ushers in 18 months or so.

  18. Disingenuous title, that’s for sure.

  19. Blake says:

    And who are arming them with israeli and western weapons? It is a western imperialist proxy force

  20. anonymous[247] • Disclaimer says:

    but the West is paying the ultimate price for being culturally sophisticated.

    Culturally sophisticated… *spit*

    What the West really is… Pagan Polytheist Mangods-Worshipping Spiritual Savages. Think about it, you godless savages genuflect before men/women-like beings, not God, the Almighty One.

    You spiritual savages are simply like the Hindoos with a whole lot of cultural make-up. If that is sophisticated, then… Lol!

  21. anon[411] • Disclaimer says:

    lol, ask the South Koreans who the thugs were

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