What is the Islamic State?

by Berry Friesen (November 14, 2015)

Today I join the people of France in grief and horror over the murder of scores of their friends, neighbors and family members in the streets of Paris last evening.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. I take them at their word.

It is too soon to explain this event, but already Western leaders are describing how they intend to retaliate.  As we listen to their words, here is critical background to keep in mind.

1. A New York Times article from June, 2012 reported that CIA officers were operating in Turkey, helping to funnel arms purchased by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar across the Turkish border to Syrian opposition fighters.  Some of those arms originated in Libya from the pillaged warehouses of the Gaddafi government.

Already in the summer of 2012, Pentagon officials expected the emergence of something like the Islamic State in Syria.  A key intelligence report said “this is exactly what the supporting powers (Gulf Cooperation Council members and NATO members) want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

The actual development of the Islamic State in Syria during 2013 and early 2014 was a project of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and Saudi ambassador to the United States from  1983 – 2005.  The Prince was a close friend of both presidents Bush, so close that he acquired the nickname Bandar Bush. In June, 2014. The Atlantic reported that “ISIS achieved scale and consequence through Saudi support.”

The Saudi role in launching the Islamic State is consistent with its historic role as the funder of Sunni terrorism.  A US State Department cable from 2009 said that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

2.  The US-led empire has regarded the Islamic State to be a strategic asset in the Middle East. President Obama, who in January 2014 dismissed the Islamic State as a serious threat, has repeatedly spoken of “containing” rather than eliminating the Islamic State.

This ambiguous assessment is reflected in the comments of other key opinion leaders. Speaking on CNN in January, 2014 about Salafist fighters in Syria, US Senator John, McCain said, “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar.” Former CIA Director David Petraeus said in March 2015 that “the Islamic State isn’t our biggest problem” in the Mideast, Iran is.  At the same time, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman made the same point, asking if it wasn’t time for the US to directly arm the Islamic State in order to off-set the emerging influence of Iran.

Meanwhile Iranian news sources have repeatedly reported that NATO members are using air-drops to re-supply Islamic State fighters in Iraq and providing them with intelligence information about Iraqi military movements.

3.  In August, 2014, the US-led coalition began fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.  The attacks have been ineffective; the Islamic State continued to expand its territory in both countries despite the occasional bombing attacks by Western nations.

Russia’s attacks since September 30, 2015 have been much more vigorous and have dramatically reduced the capacity and territory of the Islamic State in Syria.  Recently, forces fighting the Syrian government under the flag of the Free Syrian Army have begun cooperating with Russia, including the provision of intelligence information about where to target bombing strikes against the Islamic State.  If current trends continue, the Islamic State will be defeated in Syria within the next 3-4 months.

The Iraqi government has noticed the effectiveness of the Russian effort, and has begun working closely with the Russians in combating the Islamic State in Iraq.

In summary, Russian success against the Islamic State has confronted the US-led empire with the prospect of losing a key strategic asset in the Middle East, an asset that enables the empire to break targeted nations into pieces, remove leaders it doesn't like, threaten Iran and prepare battle-hardened mercenaries for deployment to other places in the world.

4.  The French and other members of the US-led empire are likely to respond to the terror attacks in Paris by becoming more actively involved in the war against the Islamic State.

Given the record to date, will that involvement serve to decisively defeat the Islamic State, or will it serve to preserve the Islamic State and frustrate the efforts of Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran?