Liberating Iraq and Syria: Germany and the rise of ISIS

german-foreign-policy.com, BERLIN/BAGHDAD – Western aggressions in the Middle East and support from the West’s important regional allies have facilitated the rise of the terrorist organization, the “Islamic State” (IS), as observers point out. According to an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the IS predecessor, “Al-Qaida in Iraq,” was able to develop into a “powerful organization” only after the US led aggression against Iraq (“liberation from Saddam”). Not until the chaos provoked by the war in Syria, which Germany also helped fuel (“liberation from Assad”) was the IS predecessor the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) in a position to conquer and control whole regions and set up a power base for its further expansion. IS could not have reached its current strength without the financial and logistical support furnished by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two close allies of the West. The SWP reports that there are even “indications” that “the cross-border traffic between the IS-controlled territory in Syria and Turkey” is still “considerable” – thus also, presumably, the transport of supplies. Meanwhile Western governments are preparing a “long military operation” against IS.

The Destruction of Iraq

The blood-soaked conquest by the “Islamic State” (IS) terrorist organization is the culmination of a development, which is intimately linked to western interventions in the Middle East, beginning on March 20, 2003 with the US-led aggression against and the ensuing destruction of Iraq. The number of casualties is still being disputed. Already in 2006, a study by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet estimated the number at 655,000. Critical observers assume that, in the meantime, the number of casualties has reached a million.[1] The breakdown of social structures has provoked the rise of violence in the country, with no end in sight. In 2003, Germany had publicly opposed the aggression against Iraq. In the meantime, it has been made known that Berlin was actually assisting the US led war coalition in various ways. The German intelligence agency BND, for example, had furnished its US counterparts an alleged witness of the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (“Curveball”), whose bogus testimony served to legitimize going to war against Iraq.[2] During the war, the BND was present in Baghdad, providing important intelligence to the western alliance.[3] US troops were using bases in Germany for their war, as German soldiers mounted the guard at US barracks relieving US combat units. Therefore, Germany has its share of responsibility for Iraq’s destruction.

The Destruction of Syria

As in Iraq, the Syrian society has also suffered an extreme devastation through the war, which began in 2011 and has already caused 170,000 deaths and up to ten million refugees. Berlin has been supporting this war with extensive political, intelligence and humanitarian assistance for the insurgents ((german-foreign-policy.com reported [4]). This assistance was provided, even though critics had warned, from the outset, that it could be a contribution toward that country’s destruction, the strengthening of Salafist militias, and even possibly terrorists. Already in early February 2012, the Greek-Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo warned that many “extremists” were among the numerous mercenaries, “from Turkey, Iraq, Libya or Pakistan infiltrating to Syria,” and sowing “death and horror.”[5] This has not been preventing the West, including Germany, from fuelling the war with their support of the insurgents.

Reinforced in the Iraq War

The “Islamic State” (IS) owes its origins to its murderous successes made first during the destruction of Syria and of Iraq. It developed from the network, created by Abu Musab al Zarqawi after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq, and named “Al Qaida in Iraq.” War, occupation and resistance created the breeding grounds for the militant Salafist alliance to flourish. “In its battle against American troops, Al Qaida in Iraq” was able to develop into a “powerful organization,” explained Guido Steinberg, a Middle East expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a few years ago. Therefore “as far as the war on terror is concerned,” the war on Iraq was a “serious setback.”[6] In October 2006, “Al Qaida in Iraq” changed its name to the “Islamic State in Iraq” (ISI); in May 2010 Abu Bakr al Baghdadi took over the leadership of the organization, who, today presides as the “Caliph” of IS. The ISI could become stabilized in Iraq; however, it lacked the potential for taking control of entire regions.

Consolidated in the Syrian War

The IS was given the opportunity to develop this potential in late 2011, when Syria began to disintegrate, under the blows dealt by western-backed insurgents. At the end of 2011, ISI leader, Al Baghdadi, decided to send some of his organization’s combatants to Syria to use the vacuum that had developed for the expansion of his terrorist network. Already on January 6, 2012, a suicide bombing was carried out in Damascus, with a death toll of at least 26. Other attacks followed. The terrorist organization’s development made progress in many regions, where state control had been overthrown. Initially present in Syria in the form of the “Al Nusra Front,” the ISI, because of internal disputes with the latter, expanded to create the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), in April 2013, which had rapid success in taking control of entire regions in northeastern Syria. Their control over those large areas, laid the foundations for ISIL to conquer Iraqi territory at the beginning of 2014 – in the region of Fallujah. In June 2014, an onslaught was launched against northern Iraq. It renamed itself IS and proclaimed a “Khalifah” – accompanied by abominable massacres.

Financed by Saudi Arabia

Whereas, Western aggression against Iraq and the Western instigation fueling the Syrian war have initially paved the way for the IS, it was however, the West’s close allies, which provided the material prerequisites for stabilizing its rule. This pertains, for example, to Saudi Arabia. Experts have often pointed to the fact that – like the Riyadh government – sectors of the Saudi establishment are supporting, or have at least been supporting, Salafist militias, in general, but also special Salafist terrorist groups, such as the Al Nusra Front and the ISIL. Their objective is to eliminate the Shiite forces in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. This is, in fact, aimed at current or potential partners cooperating with Iran, to facilitate establishing Saudi hegemony over the Middle East. “While the fighters” of ISIS or IS “come from many Arab and European countries, a majority of the financial aid, religious guidance, and training come from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” reported Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in February 2014. Riyadh’s ruling clan is turning a blind eye “to reap the short term gain in the war against the Shiite axis.”[7]

Support from Turkey

Turkey has also provided important assistance to the ISIL. Since early 2012, the country has become “a principal channel for the flow of people, arms, and logistical assistance” initially to the Al Nusra Front, as the prestigious US magazine Foreign Affairs confirmed in June 2014.[8] According to SWP-expert Guido Steinberg, the Turkish government “gratefully received foreign combatants” to “weaken the Assad regime and the local PKK offshoot in Syria” – Kurdish units, currently engaged in heavy combat with the IS. Turkey was “actually cooperating with the Islamist Nusra Front until early 2013,” and there are even “indications” that “the cross-border traffic between IS-controlled territory in Syria and Turkey” is still “considerable.”[9] It has been reported that the IS has trucked Syrian oil to sell it in Turkey. The Turkish intelligence service is said to even deliver arms to IS.[10]

Continue the Work

A well-known Middle East expert recently called, in reference to the Saudi-Turkish assistance to the IS, for “holding those states accountable, which had been the early godfathers of the ‘Islamic State’ with the intention of overthrowing the Syrian regime.”[11] This will not happen as long as these countries support western policy towards the Middle East. Anyway, Western powers, which in 2003 and 2011 had initiated and promoted the destruction of two key nations in that region, creating, thereby, the preconditions for the rise of IS, will not be held accountable. They continue their work in the Middle East: US President Obama has predicted a “long military operation” against IS. The form German participation will take, is still in discussion.[12]

More information can be found here: Marching Toward Baghdad and The Public’s Keen Sensitivity.

[1]            Joachim Guilliard: Vernichtende Bilanz. http://www.jungewelt.de 05.07.2014.

[2]            Bob Drogin: Curveball. Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War. New York 2007. S. dazu Bloßgestellt.

[3]            See Erpressbar and Gardist.

[4]            See Syriens westliche Freunde and Das Wirken der Geostrategen.

[5]            http://www.oecumene.radiovaticana.org 05.02.2012. See Marching Toward Baghdad.

[6]            Guido Steinberg: Der nahe und der ferne Feind. Die Netzwerke des islamistischen Terrorismus. München 2005.

[7]            Udi Dekel, Orit Perlov: The Saudi Arabia and Kuwait “Outposts Project”: Al-Qaeda and Its Affiliates. The Institute for National Security Studies, INSS Insight No. 517, 16.02.2014.

[8]            Karen Leigh: Turkey’s Bleeding Border. Why Ankara Is Recalibrating Its Syria Policy. http://www.foreignaffairs.com 24.06.2014.

[9]            Interview: “Europa sollte USA bei Luftangriffen gegen IS und Aufrüstung der Kurden helfen”. http://www.swp-berlin.org 12.08.2014.

[10]            Jan van Aken: Deutsche Irakpolitik braucht eine Kehrtwende. linksfraktion.de 17.06.2014.

[11]            Rainer Hermann: Herford und Karakosch. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.08.2014.

[12]            Obama rechnet mit langem Einsatz im Irak. http://www.faz.net 18.08.2014. See The Public’s Keen Sensitivity.

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