Devastation of the Ibrahim al-Khalil mosque in Tareeq al Bab after Assad’s barrel bombs, Aleppo, April 2015 (source)
The main intention of Russia’s intervention in Syria is to prop up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and to do that Russia is seeking to ensure that the Islamic State (I.S.) is the only alternative to Assad’s regime. If the conflict becomes binary—Assad or I.S.—nobody can support I.S., and by default it will be accepted that Assad has to stay; even if international help is not given to put down the insurgency at that point, tacit support and political legitimacy will be extended to Russia’s effort to keep its client regime alive. In service of this mission, Moscow has consistently targeted the moderate rebels and even some non-moderate rebels, while avoiding I.S., in the conscious hope that the rebel positions it destroys will be replaced by I.S. fighters. In northern Syria in the last few days, Russia got its wish in a major way. Continue reading →
In the last few days I’ve written about Russia’s initial military action in Syria, which is intended to prop up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, and explained (with my friend James Snell) how U.S. policy has enabled this, both by effectively outsourcing Middle East policy to Vladimir Putin over the chemical weapons “red line” debacle, and by the pro-Iran tilt that is implicit in President Obama’s nuclear deal-facilitated move toward détente with the Islamic Republic: Obama is effectively supporting Iran’s assets in Syria, and Putin is now using those same pieces to prosecute his own war in the Levant. With this in the background, this post will focus on what Putin wants in Syria.
Putin’s aims in Syria can be boiled down to two: (1) Ensure the Assad tyranny survives, which includes the building of a permanent military-colonial outpost on the Mediterranean coast and destroying all the moderate rebels so that Syria can be presented as a choice of Assad or the Islamic State (I.S.), legitimizing Russia’s support for Assad; and (2) humiliating the West on the way to constructing an alternate world order to American hegemony. Continue reading →
Left to Right: (1) Fadel al-Hiyali (Haji Mutazz or Abu Muslim al-Turkmani); (2) Adnan Ismail Najem al-Bilawi (Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi); (3) Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr)
Nearly a year ago I wrote that in crude terms the Islamic State’s (ISIS’s) “military strength comes from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military-intelligence apparatus and the Caucasus’ Salafi-jihadists.” Since then I have dug up some answers for why this is so that did not seem to be widely shared. This might be about to change.
Having presented the evidence that Saddam Hussein Islamized his foreign policy and then Islamized his regime, above all with the Islamic Faith Campaign, beginning in June 1993 that tried to fuse Ba’athism with Salafism, encouraging (and keeping under surveillance) a religious revival in Iraq that redounded to the benefit of the regime’s legitimacy and support, I wanted to look at what this history means for Iraq and the wider region now.
I pointed out in October that the “military strength” of the Islamic State (ISIS) “comes from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military-intelligence apparatus and the Caucasus’ Salafi-jihadists.” Continue reading →
Since President Obama’s 2009 announcement of a ‘surge’ in Afghanistan that simultaneously announced the date of withdrawal, the western focus in Afghanistan has shifted to the exits.
The steady drizzle of bad news since then has reinforced this sense that it’s over, we’ve had enough and we’re leaving.
American and British troops quit Helmand in late October, basically ceding it to Taliban control. On Tuesday John Sopko, the head of the American auditor mechanism (SIGAR) said that efforts to promote economic growth in Afghanistan have ‘accomplished nothing.’ Continue reading →