Dangers and hidden motives in the coming war on Islamic State

John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry presided over a conference in Jeddah on Thursday aimed at garnering support from, and delegating tasks to, Middle Eastern nations recruited to the US plan to destroy Islamic State, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.

Ten Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar – as well as Turkey joined John Kerry at the meeting. Morocco was not invited, neither were Iran (due to Saudi antipathy) or Syria itself.

The US is now constructing the foundations for a regional war in the Middle East designed to remedy the fall-out from America’s disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq which includes the sectarianism currently tearing the region apart.

The war is expected to develop in three major stages:

First, the US will expand its air campaign using piloted planes as well as unmanned drones. This campaign will be over a long period – some estimate it might last up to three years.

Second, regional forces will be equipped, trained and armed by around a thousand American “military advisors.” First and foremost these will include the regular Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga. In Syria, “moderate” armed elements will receive intensive training courses in military bases in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and possibly other Gulf States.

A third campaign will see an attempt to reproduce the “Awakening” which was used to great effect in Iraq by US General David Petraeus in a bid to wipe out al-Qaeda (as we now know, however, this did not ultimately succeed).

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Gulf Cooperation Council

The GCC will be central to the plan and the leaders of its constituent countries have agreed to:

1. Bankroll the war to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars if not more.

2. Open all military airports and airspace in UAE, Qatar and Kuwait to US planes which will then target Islamic State’s headquarters and gatherings. Four American warships are already deployed in the area and yesterday saw the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush (how ironic that it is named after the man who was behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq).

It is clear that, as part of the deal, Saudi Arabia has insisted that Iran is excluded from the process as well any cooperation with the Syrian regime. It may well be that KSA sees the coming intervention as a means not only of dismantling Islamic State but deposing Assad too – although that will likely come later, once the situation on the ground has been stabilizied.

ISIS have made major advances across Syria and Iraq.
ISIS have made major advances across Syria and Iraq.

NATO member Turkey has preferred to take a back seat. This is because it fears the alliance may have undesirable repercussions for Ankara: it is not happy to see the Kurds armed and trained because its own Kurdish population may demand independence; in addition, Islamic State is holding 49 Turkish hostages taken in Mosul whose safety might be compromised. It also fears damage to its $35 billion per annum tourist industry if Islamic State begins retaliatory strikes on Turkish targets.

A Turkish spokesman said that his country will not participate in military operations against Islamic State, but might allow the Alliance to use the Incirlik Air Base in the South of the country for logistical purposes.

If the Turkish position is surprising, what is the strangest is the position of the German and British Governments who have both refused to participate in air strikes. Another strong Washington ally, France , has agreed but with the proviso ‘if necessary’. Francois Hollande is to host a coalition crisis summit on September 15th.

Why have these major allies shied away from joining the intervention? Either they reject it on principle, given past experiences in Iraq, or they do not have confidence in its chances of success. Or perhaps both.

Chances of success?

The chances of success in the eradication of Islamic State looks great on paper, but once on the ground it is certain that there will be a whole host of surprises.

It is also worth considering the position of those who have been excluded from the Alliance to combat Islamic State: Iran and Syria. They may become subversive to the US-led campaign especially if it endures over time.

Iran initially welcomed the campaign to destroy Islamic State and on the very first day sent Mr. Hussein Amir Abdul Allihyan, its Vice Foreign Minister, to Riyadh to coordinate and cooperate. He found himself ostracized. Syria’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Walid Al-Moualem, told a news conference that his government would welcome coordination with the United States or any Arab or foreign States in the war against “Islamic State”.

Syria, however, has now been moved from the box containing ‘potential allies’ in the war on terror, to that containing ‘enemies’. Assad, then, is unlikely to be consulted as British Prime Minister David Cameron made clear when he said, “Assad is part of the problem, not the solution” on 4 September.

Now Mr Ali Hayder, the Syrian national reconciliation Minister, has announced that his country will consider any military action on its territory without its consent to constitute an aggression. Russia has backed up this point of view – which might see US planes shot down over Syria with Russian made anti-aircraft missiles – and described any unilateral US strikes against Islamic State in Syria as being in flagrant violation of international law without the mandate of the United Nations (which is not, apparently, being sought).

Another American war “on behalf of” the people of the Middle East is imminent. That it is directed against Islamic State is not an adequate cover for what may well be the real goal: to consolidate American hegemony again through new military bases and full control over oil wealth.

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