Several months ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate, and on this occasion once again changed its name to the Islamic State. Compared to other Middle Eastern terrorist groups, the Islamic State group is extremely unusual.
It is precisely this unusualness that at the moment allows it to achieve such impressive results.
At first, the Islamic State group began as an ordinary and hardly remarkable branch of al-Qaida in Iraqi territory that at the time called themselves Jama'at al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad (Group of Monotheism and Jihad). They waged a classic terrorist war, carrying out large-scale attacks against Iraq’s Shiite population and against government forces and facilities.
Their tactics had no concrete goals; they bet not on the results but on the process.
In fact, the United States achieved precisely this result by creating a terrorist international in the Middle East. For the United States it is important that there exists an environment of total violence that makes it impossible to create a strong government capable of defending its own interests.
In this context, betting on Nouri al-Maliki was more than justified. The prime minister’s radical views, his uncompromising battle against Iraq’s Sunni minority, and an extremely simple-minded policy of faith-based and ethnic segregation objectively aimed at reducing the rights of the Kurds and Sunnis of Iraq created the perfect conditions to maintain perpetual chaos and violence in Iraq.
In this context, Maliki’s friendly relations with Iran were in the hands of the United States, which was interested in entangling Iran in a number of conflicts in the region, thereby weakening it and compelling it to waste precious resources on eliminating constantly emerging threats in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen rather than domestic development. The Islamic State group became an important element of a system that maintained chaos in the region.
However, everything changed in 2010, when Iraq’s formerly middle-ranking commanders of Saddam Hussein’s army, let out of American prison, found themselves in the Islamic State group. Whether or not the Americans predicted this is already unimportant.
It is important that the former military very quickly took control of the group. The war in Syria allowed them to assign the Islamic State group new goals and objectives and to reshape its structures.
At that time, all of the Islamic State group’s former top leadership had been killed. Only eight of the approximately 40 leaders, financers, high-ranking contacts and moderators with Iraq’s terror networks survived. Two key leaders had been killed: Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyb al-Masri.
Saddam’s military appeared just in time, and was able to occupy spots in the middle and high (territorial) hierarchy of the organization. Haji Bakr, the leader of the military specialists, quickly and very harshly rearranged the disparate groups operating on Sunni territories, thereby creating an umbrella organization with a single command structure maintained by the Shura commanders.
Most of the Shura are ex-military, and Haji Bakr was able to force the election of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who at the time was one of the regional leaders of the group.
The absolutely pragmatic and completely ruthless military, without being Islamist, quite rationally exploited this religious element as ideological cover for the main goal of establishing a purely ethnic and faith-based government on the territory of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. For the first time the group had a clearly stated purpose — a non-abstract worldwide caliphate — that would allow them to wage war for the sake of war.
The precision, clarity and decisive actions of the new leadership immediately brought results. The Islamic State group waged its war in Syria more to build its government than to oppose Assad.
Bodies of territorial administration immediately arose in the occupied territories that introduced a single standard of behavior, ruthlessly exterminated disloyal populations, and either destroyed or forced disparate bands of rival groups into submission. The economy of the occupied territories began to operate within the new governmental structure.
The policies of the Islamic State group’s new leadership were bound to disturb the United States. Instead of a meaningless total war of all against all, the fight began to acquire a more managed quality. The increasing independence of the group from foreign financing and the transition to self-sufficiency made the group uncontrollable from the outside.
The year 2014 became the final turning point. The capture of Mosul and eight Iraqi provinces allowed the Islamic State group to become the richest terrorist organization in the world. According to experts at the Rand Corporation, only 5 percent of its budget comes from foreign donations; the rest comes from the managing of territories, collecting taxes, and selling of gas and illegal trafficking.
Even the extermination of the “superfluous” population has become a source of revenue for the Islamic State group; these groups were sold into slavery at developing slave markets.
The United States was clearly not on board with this Islamic State group. The U.S. did not order everything so as to allow the development of orderly conditions in such an important region.
Besides this, current American relations with Saudi Arabia have sharply cooled. The U.S. has gained an enemy among a very large and influential portion of the Saudi Arabian dynasty that instead welcomes the establishment of radical state education in its borders, counting on these as a factor militating against Saudi Arabia’s regional enemy — Iran.
The fact is that the ideological wing of [Saudi Arabia’s] Shura Council is eager to restore order in Saudi Arabia and to destroy shrines in Mecca and Medina under the guise of combating “tomb idolatry,” and this hardly worries the Saudis. The Saudis are quite capable of repelling any serious offensive.
The United States’ fight with a discontented wing of the Saudi dynasty created a gap that was perfectly exploited by the cynical and pragmatic Islamic State group military. Playing off these contradictions, they created their own living space by selling military capabilities to whoever was willing to pay for them. Not only has money been provided as assistance to the Islamic State group, but tacit support as well.
The United States’ goals in the battle with the Islamic State group have become practically impossible. It can only achieve a military defeat with full-scale boots on the ground operations.
Pinpoint airstrikes cannot destroy the Islamic State group’s lack of infrastructure, military organization and governmental structures. The death of the Islamic State group’s military leader, Haji Bakr, in January of this year in Aleppo did not disrupt the group’s activities. Given this result, the Islamic State group has already moved to a new level and become practically invulnerable to methods of fighting terrorists.
It is impossible to destroy the Islamic State group structurally without an all-out “legitimate” war, the kind which the United States is not prepared for.
It is likely that understanding the hole into which the United States had fallen in the region has forced it to hastily break every imaginable international law and norm to cobble together a coalition against the Islamic State group.
Moreover, the U.S. has even tried to share its defeat with its rivals by plunging them into war with the Islamic State group. Its proposal for Iran and Russia to join this collation has been very uncharacteristic of American diplomacy, which is more accustomed to threats than requests.
However, the situation for America is so bad that it has been forced to lose face and go into hysterics.
Russia’s task in the current situation appears quite difficult, but at the same time it is completely understandable. Under no circumstances will Russia enter into any kind of coalition, continue to support and ally with Syria, Iran and Iraq, and continue to oppose the Islamic State group with indirect methods that support Damascus and Baghdad in their fight.
Even if the Islamic State group cannot be destroyed, the creation of a new governmental structure on the territory of Syria and Iraq must be embraced as an alternative to chaos. In the future, Syria and Iraq may be able to negotiate with the Islamic State group’s leadership if they are not able to defeat them.
The United States’ goals are diametrically opposed — on the one hand, the U.S. seeks to fragment the Middle East until it is ungovernable, and on the other hand, to play on contractions so as impose upon the region an endless war that pits all against all.
The United States has made dialogue between Sunni and Shiite communities in Iraq impossible. A unified Iraq seems unattainable. Sooner or later, Iraq will collapse. The question is whether this collapse will be buried under the control of Baghdad or Damascus.
It is in Russia’s interest to maintain this. It is easy to acknowledge a scenario where Russia may be forced to tolerate the creation of a Sunni state, but still help Baghdad and Damascus to eliminate its aggressive nature by destroying the tools of aggression — the military wing of the Islamic State group and its ideological cover in the form of a radical Islamic Idea.
If we manage to do this the problem may be solved through negotiations, the results of which are impossible to predict now: Will the government’s borders return to prewar levels, or will new ones be agreed upon? This is a challenge for the nationalities living in the situation that exists at that moment. It is important that the region stops being an area for endless war and is returned at last to a peaceful existence.
This is why the United States bombs, and bombs, and bombs, and bombs again; it’s a path to nowhere. It’s a path that leads only to a permanent disaster.