Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Spread of ISIS and the Possibility of Regional Sectarian War in the Middle East.

'The solution to the threat confronting Iraq is not the intervention of the Assad regime. In fact, it’s the Assad regime and the terrible violence they perpetrated against their own people that allowed (Isis) to thrive in the first place'.
President Obama's spokesman, Joshua Earnest's statement that the administration has “no reason to dispute” the reports of Syrian airstrikes in Iraq is one designed to provide a pretext for air strikes against Assad should Washington become concerned that Iranian influence is growing.

One other reason is that Washington needs to deflect the blame for what has happened in Iraq away from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and place it wholly on to Assad and his Shi'ite allies now that Tehran has taken more of a belligerant stance in wanting to shore up Maliki with military assistance and drones.
The growth and spread of ISIS has less to do with Assad than with the bulk of the past funding for Sunni jihadist groups being provided from private donors in Gulf states allied with the US and Britain such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with those states tacit backing.

The reason for that is that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were vying throughout 2013 to back the most effective jihadist factions fighting with the Free Syria Army against Assad and in competition with each other. ISIS was aligned to the FSA in 2013 in their fight against Kurdish separatists.

From a tactical perspective, this backing of Sunni jihadists has backfired because ISIS turned against the FSA and, in effect, enabled Assad to roll back the FSA in and around Damascus much to the annoyance of the 'Friends of Syria Group which met in London in May 2014.

In his speech John Kerry stated 'Assad may think that today he is doing better and this process is somehow going to come to a close with him sitting pretty – but we are not going away". After all, Assad had not agreed to a political settlement in which his own arrest and trial would be a precondition.

The stakes in this geopolitical game are regional influence and energy interests. Britain and France even more than the US have been at the forefront of the demand that Assad must go because their ally Qatar announced plans in 2009 to build a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would provide gas to the EU.

This pipeline has become all the more important with the danger posed by the expansion of Russia's influence both over the Black Sea region after the annexation of Crimea and in Syria and the Levant where it signed a lucrative deals with its client Assad to exploit gas reserves off the Syrian coast in December 2013

Hence the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline has been set back by Assad remaining in power and announcing in 2011 it would not be built and agreeing to alternative plans for a 'Shi'ite pipeline' from the South Pars gasfield Iran shares with rival Qatar via Iraq and Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Both Britain and France were itching for the US to launch airstrikes against Assad in the summer of 2013 to assist the Sunni insurgents in overthrowing him and, therefore, to check both Iran, whose participation in the Geneva Conference has been rejected because Qatar and Saudi Arabia were against it.

ISIS represents a form of 'blowback' from the strategy of using Sunni jihadist fanatics to get rid of Assad. In surging towards Baghdad it posed both a threat but also an opportunity for Britain and the US to make support and assistance to President Maliki conditional on moving away from Tehran.

The Syrian opposition is keen to play on what are reported to be Assad's airstrikes against ISIS across the border in Iraq because they support their Gulf allies foreign policy and would like to see Shi'ite influence in Iraq reduced. Months before in January 2014 they had accused Assad of backing ISIS.

The reason for that was ISIS had tied up the FSA in northern Syria. Now that ISIS is 'objectively' posing a threat to Shi'ite axis, Al Qaida affiliated groups in Syria such as Al Nusra, that were bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have decided that ISIS is not so extreme after all and pledged allegiance.

Part of the decision is, of course, ideological as Al Qaida is wanting a showdown with the Shi'ites and Iran is a colossal sectarian war. But over the long term this clash is a deadly consequence of the Gulf powers foreign policy, one aided and abetted by the US and Britain.

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