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The Islamic State and Chaos in the Greater Middle East
07.05.15 14:21 Middle East

In Russian :

by K. S. Strigunov

The Islamic State leaders strive to use the allied terrorist organizations to distract their enemies from their parent organization in Syria and Iraq.

The situation in the Greater Middle East calls for more attention to the events in the region. While attention of the whole world was drawn to Yemen where Houthi (Zaydi Shi’a) rebels, probably supported by Iran, managed to unseat President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the situation in this vast region should be considered in terms of the influence of the Islamic State (IS) on the processes taking place.

First, it should be noted that as soon as the IS forces in Iraq started their notorious offensive in June, this quasi-governmental terrorist organization started to gain numerous supporters among other terrorist groups. For example, such organizations as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan (some of the warlords), Jundallah (a group active in Sistan and Baluchistan – Iranian provinces bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), some of the Islamists in Libya and Egypt (such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group active in the north of the Sinai Peninsula) pledged allegiance. The list is far from being comprehensive, however it gives an idea of the size of the area where activities of the groups listed are observed – in fact, in covers the region from Nigeria to Pakistan.

However, it is not the size of the area covered by terrorist activities of the organizations that swore allegiance to the IS leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that matters. Localization of the activities of the various groups is far more interesting. In particular, looking at the map, one can see that the groups allied to the IS wreak havoc in or near the countries that more or less oppose expansion of the IS. Thus, Jundallah (translated “Soldiers of Allah”) act against the Iranian authorities with the official aim of protecting the interests of the Sunni Baluchi in Iran populated mostly by Shi’ah. The methods used by this group are as usual: terrorism, drug traffic, smuggling, and instigating religious tensions. Therefore, Jundallah’s alliance with the IS can be used by the latter to intensify subversive activities against Iran, the country that shows the most fierce opposition to al-Baghdadi’s militants, save for Syria and Iraq where the IS already controls some territories. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and special operation units (Quds under command of Brig Gen Quasem Soleimani) have a long history of fighting the IS in Syria and Iraq assisting their governments in the war against the international terrorist forces. Therefore, the Shura (the military council) of the IS will find it extremely convenient to distract attention and forces of the Iranian government from the ongoing war and, thus, the Islamists’ bid on using Jundallah to stir unrest in the eastern part of this theocratic state would seem quite logical. The situation looks similar in other regions. For example, chaos in Libya where militants loyal to al-Baghdadi are present in numbers can be used to put pressure on Egypt conducting air strikes against the IS troops in Libya. Therefore, intensified attacks against security forces and civilian targets in Libya and creation of an instability zone in its territory, as well as on the Sinai Peninsula, already causes much trouble for the Egyptian government.

In addition to the above, another country compelling global attention should be mentioned - Yemen. The clash of interests between the two influential Mid-Eastern powers – Saudi Arabia and Iran – can be viewed in terms of opportunities opening for the IS to achieve the goals of their own. AQAO terrorist organization regularly attacks the rebellious Houthis, and responsibility for the recent terrorist attack against Al-Hashoosh mosque in Sanaa, the capital city of Yemen, was claimed directly by the IS. In fact, at the moment the IS and AQAP are acting in the interests of Saudi Arabia, since their objectives in Yemen partially agree with the objectives of Saudis. Obviously, this does not mean an alliance of any sort between Saudi Arabia and the IS, for which the largest state in the Arabian Peninsula still remains an enemy as the Islamists vowed to destroy the relics in Mecca. To confirm this intention, one of the IS members, Abu Turab Al-Mugaddasi, can be quoted: “Allah willing, under the leadership of our Sheik al-Baghdadi we will destroy Kaaba and kill those who worship stones in Mecca. People go to Mecca to touch the stones, not for Allah.” However, the war of terror waged by the IS and AQAP against the Houthis actually helps the Saudis by weakening the influence of Iran – Riyadh’s main geopolitical rival. Meanwhile, there is nothing to prevent the Shura of the the IS to use this occasion for their own benefit since weakening of the rebellion will not be taken lightly by Tehran, and it is very probable that Iran will have to redouble support to the Houthis. This situation brings about a considerable risk of political escalation in the region by pitting two of the Islamic State’s enemies – Saudi Arabia and Iran – against each other. Then both the states will have to spend considerable resources to achieve their goals, which may be what the Shura actually wants. None of the parties can allow their rival to win. If the rebellion is crushed, Iran’s positions in the Arabian Peninsula will be undermined, to say nothing of the reputational losses. If the rebellion grows, it will wreck the Saudis’ interests in Yemen and expand into their territory, especially in the areas inhabited predominantly by the Shi’ah raising the threat of eventual disintegration of the country. Having the understanding of the situation, the leadership of the IS are fully aware of the fact that the standoff in Yemen is for a good long while, and escalation of military tensions, terror, and violence in general is actually inevitable. In this case al-Baghdadi and the Shura only have to induce escalation and prevent stabilization – the principle of “the worse, the better” can be fairly used as an unofficial motto for such organizations, since recruiting new followers is the easiest in a region out of balance reigned by poverty, chaos, and war.

The examples above show that the IS actually uses the controlled chaos methods brought to the Greater Middle East by the US strategists. Now the Islamists under the military leadership of the ex-Ba’ath members of the Iraqi army under Saddam turn these methods against those who created them. Due to a large number of groups joining the IS across a large area, its leadership has a unique opportunity to create areas of instability near the countries either directly involved with the Coalition (like Saudi Arabia) or acting independently (like Iran and Egypt). The spreading chaos will force the countries to squander their resources in a fight against a very diverse enemy against which the conventional military approach (especially air strikes) shows little effect. The strategic target is obvious: to take the heat off the parent organization of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or to impair the military activities of the enemies of the newly founded Caliphate. Creating unbearable conditions in Maghreb may also seem promising to the Islamic State since it provides an opportunity not only to generate problems for Egypt and Libya, but also to cause vast flow of refugees from Africa to Europe where many countries take part (though mostly formally) in the coalition against the IS. The problems that came up for the EU when refugees from Libya fleeing the “humanitarian” air strikes to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi flowed onto the island of Lampedusa are well known. Aggravation of ethnical and religious tensions in the countries participating in the anti-Islamist coalition may cause some of the governments to withdraw their support to the war against the IS under the public pressure. This indirect response may turn out to be quite efficient and will enable the IS to expand it influence and to recruit more militants to their cause.

Naturally, every coin has two sides, and in this case the Shura of the IS should beware “Al-Qaedization”, i.e. turning into a likeness of Al-Qaeda living under a principle similar to “movement is everything, the final goal is nothing.” Such transformation would primarily benefit the US who could use this transformed Islamic State for their own good. On the other hand, the part of the Shura struggling for establishing a national Sunni state within specific borders and not burdened with the absurd and unachievable ideas of building a global Caliphate has no intention to become an instrument for the Americans. Therefore, it should scrutinize the newly allied groups to uncover any traces of cooperation with the enemy secret services. The same Jundallah group, according to various sources, is infested with CIA agents and, according to Israeli paper Haaretz [1], Mossad attempted to recruit members of the group acting under the false flag (disguised as CIA agents). Thus, it would be logical to suppose that two opposing processes exist. The first one is infiltration by the Western secret services using members of the terrorist groups joining the IS and the second is the Islamic State’s use of such groups to cause as much trouble to their enemies as possible and to distract their resources from the core of the Islamist quasi-state in the territory of Syria and Iraq.

By the way, last November The Washington Post [2] announced future radical changes in the structure of CIA conceived by its current Director John Brennan. It involves breaking up the existing directorates, including Operations (now National Clandestine Service controlling the agent network and foreign operations) and Intelligence, and creating new hybrid units focused on individual regions. The objective of such reconfiguration is to improve cooperation between operatives, analysts and logistics staff through integration. The publication mentioned “the rising number and complexity security issues” associated with “Al-Qaeda”, the war in Syria and the Ukrainian events. It is quite possible that, in the light of the rapidly changing situation in the Middle East, the White House and the CIA feel the need for a more efficient tool to model and, accordingly, predict the processes going on there that were to a considerable extent instigated by Washington itself. So far, it is not clear whether the reform of CIA would help to bring the unleashed forces under control, but it is beyond doubt that the bosses at Langley will try to improve control of the Middle East, including infiltrating the IS leadership through their agents.

In general, we can see that the process of chaotization is gaining momentum as more and more players are drawn into the giant zone of instability where everyone tries to use the disastrous situation to their own benefit. The Islamic State is no exception here.





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