Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
In Syria, the US allied Kurds took Raqqa after large-scale bombings of the city by the American aviation. Before this in Iraq the pro-American coalition captured Mosul. How did the fall of these cities affect the position of the Islamic State (banned in Russia)? What is happening in the Iraqi Kurdistan and Kirkuk after the referendum on autonomy? What strategy are the Americans trying to implement in the region?
The following article touching on these questions is written with material from the expert of the Middle East Institute Y. Schelgovin.
Riyadh Will Help
Raqqa was liberated from IS on October 19. On that day on its ruins negotiations were held on the recovery of the city. The special representative of the President of the USA of the international coalition in the fight against IS Brett McGurk and the Minister from Saudi Arabia on affairs of the Persian Gulf Tamer al-Sabhan were present.
Experts are of the opinion that the future of the Caliphate vacillates between Africa (Sudan, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Somalia) and South-East Asia (Myanmar, Philippines).
The BBC’s report confirms the use of IS militants by the United States by the negotiations carried out by General D. Clay on the evacuation on the remaining jihadists from Raqqa. According to the agreement reached on October 12 with the Kurdish coalition, close to a thousand Islamists were evacuated from Raqqa. On October 17 buses transferred them to the Syrian-Iraqi border zone, where Assad’s army fights the Califatists. Foreign militants were also evacuated, mainly from the CIS countries, who previously refused to leave the city.
In this respect Donald Trump can say he fulfilled a campaign promise of the defeat of ISIS. The White House had promised to carry out the capture of Mosul and Raqqa in the first one hundred days of the presidency but it failed to do so in the specified period. The offensive by the Syrian government troops in the Euphrates eastern foothold and in Deir ez-Zor has forced the US to accelerate the capture of Raqqa, disregarding the consequences: the city was destroyed by carpet bombings, as the Americans and their allies were not able to negotiate with local Sunni elites for the surrender and withdrawal of the insurgents thus this issue was not decided.
A number of jihadists were transferred to Deir ez-Zor, but a garrison was left in Raqqa, to whom the SDS refused to surrender the city. The local tribes are not satisfied with the transition of the Sunni cities and oil fields under Kurdish control of the SDS. The establishment of Kurdish control over the Al-Omar deposits is fraught with conflict in the short term. This situation is different from that of the capture of Mosul or Tikrit. There the Sunnis in the Iraqi army agreed to the terms of surrender and determined the limits of further coexistence with local co-religionists.
The United States understand the situation. Hence the US’s attempts to mitigate its humanitarian intervention at the expense of Saudi Arabia. The Americans are not going to invest in the restoration of Raqqa. Basically their allies pay for their policies for the organisation of such operations. In Afghanistan they try to do this on India’s tab, in Syria on Saudi’s tab. The problem with the Raqqa part of the programme is buying the loyalty of the tribes in the territory east of the Euphrates. The USA in this case suggest to Riyadh to establish contacts with local Sunnis for their money.
The destruction of Raqqa proves that the USA is preparing to establish an acceptable regime for them in the Northern areas of Syria. To achieve this, they intend to conclude a compromise with local tribes and the opposition of local Sunnis through attempts of dialogue with Damascus or the offensive of government forces on the Iraqi border. Hence the attempts to bring in the KSA to bribe the tribal leadership and as an alternative to the Iraqi Sunnis as the centre of influence, coupled with the release from prison of locals. But the Kurds spoil everything. The Sunnis do not accept them of their territories. Riyadh can give money but not its military force. Troops under the control of Saudi Arabia in Idlib are not able to implement the expansion into Deir ez-Zor; they lost many soldiers, and in front is the fight with pro-Turkish groups and the Turkish army.
To talk about the mass introduction of supporters of the banned in Russia Jabat al-Nusra (now Tahrir al Sham) is not necessary, although the landing forces for the imposition in Deir ez-Zor of models of Jabat al-Nusra is real. The Americans need to withdraw the Kurds to places of permanent deployment. The alternative is the local Sunnis under Jabat al-Nusra flags, fighting for Saudi Arabian money. This is the American plan for the de-escalation of the conflict in Syria with the attempt of “Afghanization” of the Islamist factor. Turkey and Qatar do not like this. Squads of ISIS from Raqqa, who retreated to Deir ez-Zor or to zones controlled by the Turks between the Afrin and Jarabulus still hurt the KSA and the USA. However Riyadh is ready to establish a presence in Deir ez-Zor, pulling Turkish forces from Idlib.
Wilayat, Wilayat …
The capture of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor is the end of the Sunni armed resistance in Syria in the ISIS format, although it does not mean that it stops there. The Caliphate is viable only in the presence of a number of factors. The main one is control of territory, on which this organisation can form governing bodies, create a tax system and power apparatus as a guarantee for security for the local Sunnis. The essence of this is providing them with the optimal model of socio-economic autonomy, the creation of a state based on Sharia law in its original form as opposed to the existing semi-secular monarchies and pseudo-republics in the Arab world, regimes, which are corrupt and unable to provide their youths with a working system of social mobility.
The main difference between ISIS and al-Qaida is that ISIS from the very beginning sought a self-sufficient system of financing thanks to the formation of a quasi-state with control over the main sources of income: oil and water resources, irrigation, land and river routes. al-Qaida always lived on the dole of financial tranches from countries of the Arab peninsula, more precisely, from the KSA. When the transfers had dried up due to Riyadh’s loss of interests to a particular point, the influence of the group evaporated.
If the Sunni resistance will be driven underground, it will be called differently and based on different principles, but it will not disappear until they create a new model for the integration of Sunnis in government and the economic management of Iraq and Syria. On this basis (and the sponsors) ISIS is different from al-Qaida. Its supporters never sought to establish a government and control over the vast territory in a stable regime with a taxation system and control. Al-Qaida is a jihadist supranational formation, which was used to strengthen Saudi influence in the Muslim world. ISIS is purely nationalistic formation that use, but not practice the ideology of building a global Caliphate for recruitment of foreign manpower, without which it may not exist in large areas. Sixty to 70 percent of ISIS and Jabat al-Nusra consist of “foreign troops”. All vilayets in other territories and other countries, be it Nigeria or the Philippines, are mere attempts by Sunni and ethnic elites of other countries to copy and use this experience in their nationalistic goals. For Filipinos the Iraqi leaders of ISIS refused the right to be called the vilayet due to their small size, however they continue to use the name.
The same is true in their relations with the vilayets in Nigeria and Somalia. The projects of Islamic State stand out in Afghanistan and the Sinai. They were created and financed by Qatar for the destabilisation of the situation in these countries. In Egypt Qatar’s goal was rocking the military regime, the Muslim Brotherhood removed from power, which Doha consider as a universal instrument to spread Qatari influence in the Muslim world. The destabilisation of the Sinai is important for the Egypt-UAE confrontation linked with the competition Qatar-Turkey in Libya, Africa in whole and the Middle East. In Afghanistan through supporters of ISIS, Doha proves that attempts by Washington, Islamabad and Kabul to keep it away from Afghan settlements are incorrect. After the fiasco of the experiment with the formation of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the idea will die out, which we will see after the renaming and split of ISIS vilayets.
The government of Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) is ready to freeze the results of the independence referendum and begin a dialogue with Baghdad. The TV channel Rudaw transmited a statement from the government of IK. The day before the Catalan Parliament voted for the postponement of legislative elections for eight months. Previously, to extend the mandate of the incumbent Parliament, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Islamic Union of Kurdistan spoke out. The Higher Independent Electoral Commission on Autonomy declared the postponement of the vote due to the lack of candidates. The Kurds met terms of the deal between Erbil and Baghdad.
In this case, it is essential to speak not about the “betrayal” of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but the deal between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on the handing over of Kirkuk to Baghdad’s control. The Peshmerga troops gave up their positions to the Iraqi armed forces and departed from the province. The fact that Iran decided on October 25 to open a checkpoint on the border with IK indicates that the incident has been resolved, although cleaning up the Kirkuk province by units of Shi’ite militia and Iraqi Special Forces continue. They established control over the oil fields of Shuwan, Taq-Taq and arrived at the southern bank of the river Little Zab.
The Iraqi troops are moving towards the border between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk in the vicinity of Chamchamal. In Ninawa Shi’ite troops are moving to the Shangal mountain range, which is further south of the border triangle between Syria, Iraq and Turkey. In this case, the movement of troops to Iraq is the preparation for the final sweep of the supporters of ISIS, the opening of the checkpoint on the border of Syria and Iraq. Most likely it will go in sync in Syrian and Iraqi areas by the Syrian army and the Shi’ite militias, whose growing role is a concern for the United States. Attempts to influence Iraq for this reason by Secretary of State R. Tillerson have annoyed Baghdad.
The Prime Minister of Iraq Haider Al-Abadi paid a visit to the KSA, Jordan and Egypt, and held talks in Ankara with President of Turkey R.T. Erdogan. Experts attribute the tour not only with explaining the situation during the clean up of Kirkuk, but also in an attempt to enlist the support of the leading Sunni states in anticipation of the beginning of the parliamentary campaign which will end with the May 2018 elections. The visit of Sunni countries should play a calming role in connection with increasing influence in Iraq of Tehran and its importance in the conclusion of a secret deal between Erbil and Baghdad on the issue of cleaning up Kirkuk and establishing relations between them not only in the export of Kurdish oil through the National Oil Company (NOC) of Iraq in exchange for financial tranches from Baghdad, but also in the denial of the autonomy of new attempts to play the state separation card. Iran assured the absence of negative consequences, including from the units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is important for Ankara. According to agreements, troops of the PKK are to relocate to the Sinjar mountainous areas of the IK. They were replaced by the Yazedi Kurds, officially included in the Hezb al-Shaabi groups, who are acceptable for Tehran. In the episode with the “independence of Iraqi Kurdistan”, the biggest winners were 1) Barzani who retained the post of President of the Kurdish autonomy, 2) Tehran, by strengthening its influence in Iraq, including in the activation-controlled Shi’ite militias in Kirkuk and the Iraqi-Syrian border, 3) Prime Minister al-Abadi, who after taking control of Kirkuk and strengthening working relations with Iran will secure a victory in parliamentary elections in 2018.
People from Doha
The Egyptian police, after receiving information about the hideout of militants near the Cairo-El-Wahat El-Bahariya road (Giza province, about 150 kilometres southwest of Cairo), who were planning a terrorist attack, went to arrest them but were ambushed. One of the main organisers, according to the MSM, was H. Ashamawi (Abu Omar al-Muhajir). He served in the Special Forces of the Egyptian army Al-Shaik (“Lightning”), but was fired in 2009 for radical views. He was engaged in business, came under the influence of takfirists and formed in Cairo an ISIS cell, “Ansar Beit al-Muqqadas”, which is also the Vilayet of Sinai. He then hid in the heart of the Libyan city Darnah, where he organised the ISIS training camp; later he left it and supposedly founded the Libyan wing of the al-Murabitun organisation.
The Egyptian media claim that Ashmawi was involved in the failed assassination attempt of the former head of the Ministry of the Interior M. Ibrahim and the murder of the Egyptian Attorney General Hisham Barakat, and was sentenced to death in Egypt. In fact, these attacks were carried out my professional killers, many who had a run in al-Gamaa al-Islam. Now they only work on demand. In this regard, we note that Ansar Beit al-Muqqadas only operates in the Sinai Peninsula, but in the cities there are other groups. They coordinate with each other, but the name Vilayet of Sinai is only used in relation to the Sinai.
In reality, al-Murabitun was created by the Algerian terrorist M. Belmukhtar, who was killed two years ago in Darnah during the conflict with the Libyan Islamists over the division of profits for the contracted terrorist attacks and kidnapping of hostages. The organisation is linked with al-Qaida. At the base of these terror attacks (in Amiens, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire) lies disputes of “economic entities”, ethnic contradictions and the struggle of local elites.
Among the current news from the Libyan-Egyptian border, the Egyptian Air Force has struck attempts to bring in eight trucks of weapons. All this combined is a well-prepared attack on the convoy of Special Forces and the transfer of weapons from Libya to the Egyptian border areas show that the Qatari (it is them and not al-Qaida, whose position in Libya is very weak, who sponsor Asmawi) took a course to open a second front against the Egyptian security forces. The springboard for this is Darnah, which is a traditional Islamist enclave in Libya. It is precisely from this city that the main contingent of Libyans came from that fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the time of Gaddafi.
The Sinai has seen a change in connection with the agreements reached in Cairo on cooperation with Hamas, which has long supported the Ansar Beit al-Muqqadas. This undermines the fighting capacity of the Islamists and required urgent action not only through the classic tactical ISIS pattern to inflict a distracting blow, but in order to slow down the advances of Field Marshal H. Haftar’s forces to Tripoli. After the capture of crucial for the organisation of smuggling and illegal migration streams of Africans to Europe by his groups in the city of Sabratha in Libya this option has become real, especially give the fact that Haftar, obviously on the instructions of his sponsors (Cairo and Abu Dhabi), turned the stakes in the negotiations under the auspices of the UN out of an internal crisis.
If taken into consideration the urgent re-equipment of H. Haftar’s units with the help of the UAE and Egypt, including the transfer to Libya of civilian aircraft, converted for combat missions for the founder of the firm Blackwater, Erik Prince in Bulgaria, this possibility is most obvious. All shows that the plans of these countries are the power expansion of zones of influence in Libya. To prevent this, or to distract Haftar’s main forces from the internal Libyan direction to sweep Darnah is the main goal of Doha’s manoeuvres, acting through controlled militants near the border with Egypt.
Note that the activation of Qatar in the region demanded significant financial investments. The Islamists of Darnah currently work solely for money. This is true for all other areas of terrorist activity groups supported by Qatar, whether in North Africa or Afghanistan (from ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Doha distanced itself because of the apparent exhaustion of the project after the latest strategic defeats). However, funding and control over logistical routes are the basis of any military-terrorist activity, including pro-Turkish or pro-Saudi groups and factions, the pro-Iranian militias and movements or structures supported against India in Kashmir and Afghanistan by Pakistan.
As for Russia, given the situation in Syria, relations with Egypt, the presence of Russian sappers in Libya in the area controlled by Haftar, as well as the importance for the stability of post-Soviet Central Asian republics to maintain control of the situation in Afghanistan by tracking the activities of Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East is no less important than activities of the US and its NATO allies…
Evgeny Satanovsky, President of the Middle East Institute