Islamic Fundamentalism & Road Map to Defeat Daesh (ISIS)

Brussels - May 2016
Table of Contents:

Executive Summary
Introduction
Impact of EU Policies in Syria

Ideology of Daesh
Origins of Daesh

Daesh - Assad ‘Symbiotic’ relations
Role of Iran
A Two-Year Assessment
Available Options
Misleading Arguments
Recommendations

Executive Summary

A crucial challenge for Europe is the formulation and adoption of a proper policy in Syria and Iraq to fight the terrorist group Daesh (ISIS) as well as understanding the ideological and theoretical foundations of Islamic Fundamentalism, which feeds these entities. A right policy is urgently needed as the Syrian crisis and the rise of Daesh have undermined our security in Europe.
An unjust and misleading campaign against the Muslim communities in Europe has taken shape along with the rise of the ultra-right that seeks to take advantage of this situation to further their own interests. This is exactly playing into the hands of Daesh as the anti-Islam sentiments will create the ripe atmosphere for Daesh to get fresh recruits and dispatch more Muslim youths from Europe to Syria.

Countries in the Middle East are markedly affected by the war in Syria and are understandably concerned that the continued crisis in Syria could spill over to their side, causing further turmoil and insecurity. In addition to the threat of terrorism, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are under mounting pressure as millions of people have sought refuge in their countries. Some 40 per cent of the refugees who crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year are of Syrian origin. Instability in these countries has disrupted their normal relations with Europe, damaging bilateral economic ties.

Syria and Iraq are currently the main sources for the refugee flow. Of the 22 million Syrians, 8 million became displaced inside their country while another 4 million are living in dire conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The Russian and Iranian military interventions in Syria have helped Assad while disappointing Syrian refugees on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border who have been awaiting the end of war in order to return home. The refugee camps have been brutally attacked by these two countries and the Syrian army is dropping barrel bombs, forcing the Syrian migrants to seek permanent residence in European countries that accept refugees.

The pressing question for the European Union now is what should be Europe’s policy to ensure the security of its people as the number one priority. This policy undoubtedly is in line with restoring peace and democracy in Syria and the Middle East.

We need to have a better understanding of the ideology of Daesh and Islamic extremism in general. The great majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunnis; 10-15 per cent are Shiites. Up until the 1970s, there was no codified thinking in the world of Islam that condoned the committing of genocide and mass murder of moderate Muslims and Christians under the name of God and Islam, or the denial of national borders and establishment of a totalitarian government branded as an Islamic Caliphate.

In 1979, after establishing an Islamic fundamentalist state in Iran following the anti-monarchical revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini provided an inspiring model for extremist groups everywhere to seek state power. He also crafted and promoted a new and dangerous ideology: extremism under the name of Islam.

This extremist ideology embraces both the Shiite and Sunni variants. In other words, despite their differences and occasional hostilities, both Shiite and Sunni extremists adhere to the same underlying ideology in the most basic elements of their beliefs and behaviour. The main pillars of this ideology are: violent implementation of Sharia laws, establishing a dreadful tyranny under the name of the government of God, espousing a universal Islamic Caliphate, repression of women, violation of basic human rights, suppression of opponents of Sharia laws etc.

The inception of Daesh in Iraq and Syria would have been impossible if the grounds had not been prepared by the US invasion of Iraq, which destroyed the country’s existing infrastructures. It was also aided by the full support for Nouri Al-Maliki’s sectarian government in Iraq provided by both the U.S. and Iran, and bowing to Bashar Assad who savagely slaughters his own people.

Daesh was indeed an extremist, criminal and vengeful reaction to the invasion. Daesh skilfully took advantage of the Sunnis’ legitimate fury and frustration with the sectarian policies of the previous Iraqi Government and was able to expand in Iraq. It is not without reason that Daesh’s main leaders are from Iraq. By pursuing a sectarian policy, Nouri al-Maliki practically drove Iraq’s Sunnis towards Daesh as the only alternative against extremist Shiite militias. The bloody crackdown on the Sunnis in Syria by Bashar Assad also contributed for its part to the development of this trend.

Assad deliberately allowed Daesh to get settled in Syria’s oil-rich regions. He even released some prisoners to join Daesh and reinforce it. Assad concentrated his aerial bombardments on the moderate opposition Free Syrian Army, thus helping boost the strength and expanding the power of Daesh to use them against his moderate opponents. Daesh thus grew by leaps and bounds under the auspices of the Assad regime.

In Iraq, despite Iran’s efforts to portray itself as an ally of the West in the fight against Daesh, the two sides are practically tolerating each other. The pro-Iran Shiite militias meanwhile have been busy cleansing the Sunnis and destroying the moderate and national forces of Iraq.
Western governments have avoided adopting a decisive policy against Bashar Assad and have effectively left the moderate opponents alone in the face of simultaneous attacks by Daesh, Assad and the Russians.

How to confront Daesh and eliminate the epicentre of terrorist attacks against Europe?

Option 1 – Conceding to the status-quo: to adopt extensive security measures in Europe, step up air strikes against Daesh and tolerate Assad. Given the many European born Jihadists, covert cells across Europe and numerous terrorist plots that have been neutralized recently are among the elements that have exposed Europe to attacks that will not be stopped by adopting more strict domestic security measures alone.
In addition, there is a limit to escalation of security controls and checks in Europe and going above that threshold would violate European democratic standards. Based on the experience of the past 2 years, continued air strikes will not be able to bring about any significant change in the military balance without ground troops.
Even if sufficient external forces are deployed in Syria and Iraq to successfully defeat Daesh in the region, the threat will not go away in Europe as Assad’s presence would give them the dynamism and inspiration to carry out more terrorist acts in different parts of the world. However the US and its European allies are not willing to send their ground troops to Syria and Iraq.


Option 2 – Elimination of Daesh with help from Assad and Iran, which is the Iranian regime’s favourite option and one that Tehran will defend without a trace of doubt. The Assad regime, however, is so weak and internally damaged that it has passed the point of no return and is not capable of being rescued. Keeping him in power would provide for continuation of the Iran’s interferences which in turn strengthens the atmosphere that is so vital for the existence of Daesh.

Option 3 - Eliminating Daesh simultaneous with efforts to remove Bashar Assad as the only real solution. This option will overhaul the political and military conditions in Syria and deprive Daesh of its breeding ground. Terminating a five-year catastrophe that has left and estimated 500,000 victims and more than 10 million homeless refugees, will undoubtedly diminish motivations for terrorism to a great extent. In the next step, it will open the way for the current Syrian Army to be joined by its opponents to confront Daesh. This will stop the flow of the refugees to Europe and could open the way for the majority of current refugees to return to Syria.
Under this option, it is necessary to aid the Syrian opposition because it can provide the troops that are needed on the ground. An essential part of any effective policy would be opening the way for the moderate Syrian opposition and the moderate Sunnis and tribes in Iraq, while giving them military and political assistance or at least protecting them against genocide and the barbarism of the Assad regime, Daesh and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Ultimately it will be the people of these countries who will uproot terrorism and restore peace and security in their homelands.

The declaration of a no-fly zone is essential for efficiently aiding the Syrian opposition. Creation of this zone would provide a safe place behind the lines for the moderate opponents, as well as a refuge for displaced people, and finally a launching pad for the overthrow of the Assad regime. This solution will be complemented by a cultural battle against extremism; a solution which will present a tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam against fundamentalism. Our understanding is that although it is true that Daesh is the enemy presently confronting Europe and the international community, it is impossible to eradicate Daesh without ousting Bashar Assad which has had a role in the formation of Daesh and who has also financed it by buying oil from it.

Without the suppression of Sunnis in Syria and in Iraq - both carried out by Iranian-backed governments - it would have been impossible for Daesh to emerge as a serious threat. Therefore, those who call for cooperation with Assad or the mullahs in Iran are actually asking the metaphorical arsonist to help extinguish the fire.

Recommendations

In conjunction with firm security measures in Europe and airstrikes against Daesh:
1)Ouster of Bashar Assad should be set as the prime target of EU’s strategy in Syria while encouraging the US to adopt the same direction;
2)The moderate opposition, especially the Free Army of Syria, should be supported militarily and specifically with air-defence batteries;
3)Removal of foreign military forces from Syria, especially Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah and their affiliated militias, should be a fixture of the EU’s position during the peace talks;
4)The formation of a no-fly zone with help from the US and Turkey;
5)Supporting democratic Muslims who advocate a tolerant Islam in Europe and on the international arena as the strategic antithesis to extremism under the banner of Islam.

A woman writes a message as she leaves flowers as tribute to victims of attacks in Paris, outside the French Embassy in London.
Credit: Suzanne Plunkett / REUTERS

Introduction

 

The terrorist attacks in Brussels by Daesh (ISIS) on 22 March 2016, and the 13 November 2015 massacre in Paris exposed a crucial reality that the front line of the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq has been extended to the streets of Brussels and Paris.

These two European capitals were violently attacked by a terrorist network, leaving behind more than 160 dead and hundreds wounded.

In the 22 March attack, the Brussels airport and then the Maelbeek metro station at the heart of the European Union headquarters were targeted. Maelbeek is one stop before the Schumann metro station where the European Commission and European Council buildings are situated. Thousands of employees of the EU institutions use this route to get to work every day.

What is rather troubling is that the attackers were suicide bombers who were mostly European-born. It meant that the attackers were quite aware of people’s every day activities and were very familiar with the locations. Furthermore, the rather small number of terrorists involved in the operations signifies two major actualities:
First: there is an evil but determined will that is set to strike and take massive toll on the people.

Second: despite the efforts and readiness of security and police apparatus, Europe is vulnerable.

According to some of the latest security assessments, in addition to European “returnees”, Daesh had sent at least 400 fighters to Europe to operate as independent cells.

It is clear that different and conflicting strategic interests clash in the Syrian crisis where the faltering regime of Bashar Assad, Iran, Daesh, and Russia come face to face with various branches of Syrian opposition, Syria's neighbouring countries, US, Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Among the Western countries involved, France and Belgium have been most directly affected by the consequences of this conflict. Regardless of development in the region it is very clear that resolution of this crisis will have many negative and positive impacts on Russia as well on USA and other western countries.

Syria and Lebanon, closely affected by developments in Syria, nearly cover all Eastern Mediterranean coast and are practically neighbours of European countries in the Northern Mediterranean coasts such as Greece, Italy, France, Spain,…Thus the political and security situation in Syria would has direct impacts on all these countries and the rest of Europe such as the refugee crisis.

It also plays a drastic role in all security aspects of Europe (particularly France and Belgium) due to their political and social structures, and the presence of a significant number of jihadists on their soil.

The events that unfolded in France and Belgium are rather independent of Europe’s current intervention or lack thereof in Syria and Iraq. In other words, even if France had pursued a non-interventionist policy in the region, it would still have been vulnerable to Jihadist attacks as all it would take is some Sharia fatwas issued by a religious leader.

Nearly six hundred thousand Muslims live in Belgium now and since the beginning of the Syrian conflict some 120 Belgians have returned to Belgium from Syria. Of those 85 live in Molenbeek, which is located only few metro stops from the city center. Many of the terrorists were from this town or had some links with it.
The perpetrators of the failed attack on the Amsterdam-Paris high-speed train and of the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels were also raised in Belgium. The Belgian nuclear power plants were also marked as potential terrorist targets.

France, a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, is also very vulnerable. Obviously a crucial challenge for Europe is the formulation and adoption of a proper policy in Syria and Iraq to fight the terrorist group Daesh. This policy formulation is extremely delicate and challenging and the severity of the task at hand resembles that of defusing a ticking bomb as even the smallest mistake could have devastating impact on Europe’s economic, political and security well-beings.

Therefore, one may argue that the challenge of formulating a comprehensive and effective policy has a much broader implications than that of just addressing the security. Europe is in a historical moment now and like any other decisive moments in the history, decisions must be made with courage, strength and deep sense of responsibility.

Let us not forget that on 2 December 2015, fourteen innocent people were killed in another terrorist attack in the U.S. The evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that these terrorists were also influenced by the same ideology as the terrorists that were involved in the attacks across Europe.

A few days after the massacre in California, another knife wielding terrorist attacked innocent people in a metro station in London while shouting "This is for Syria".


A memorial around the Maelbeek station pays tribute to those who died in the attacks. Credit: Belot Aurore/ABACA/PA Images


A week before the Brussels attacks, Mohamed Belkaïd, a known terrorist, was left dead and four policemen were wounded in a shootout with the Belgium police in Brussels Forest neighbourhood. Needless to say that the Brussels attack was planned by the same Jihadi network that carried out the Nov 13th attacks in Paris.

In examining these incidents carefully, two very significant contributing factors can be determined. The first factor is the political situation in the region and particularly the crisis in Syria which overshadows everything. The second factor is an understanding of the ideological and theoretical foundations of the phenomenon known today as the Islamic extremism or the Islamic fundamentalism that feeds these people.

A Few Points and Questions to Consider

After significant territories in Iraq fell to Daesh, the European Governments expanded their activities in the region with a special sense of concern. France, Belgium, Germany, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark and Poland joined the international coalition fighting Daesh. France decided to participate in the September 2014 aerial campaign in Iraq, becoming one of the first allies to join the US in attacks against Daesh.
Although France had taken part only in a few of the operations by the anti-ISIS Coalition, its collaboration was measured to be of high political importance.Maintaining its independence in her actions in the region, France had also formulated a policy of "No to Assad, No to Daesh".
French diplomacy refused to give priority to one over the other, as they believed that Daesh and Assad fostered each other and instead France lent its support to the moderate armed Syrian opposition which was fighting in both fronts against Assad and Daesh as well. Notably the France’s uncompromising policy towards Assad's dictatorship sharply contrasted with the consolatory policy of the US towards Assad regime and this granted France a credible stance in international circles.

After a year it had become clear that the Coalition efforts in curtailing Daesh progress had failed, or at least it had been hampered. In the meantime, two new elements of crucial significance, the influx of refugees to Europe and direct involvement of Russia in support of Assad and Iran, had emerged and as such France made changes in its policy in the region.

On the first week of September 2015, President Francois Hollande declared that from then on French jets would carry operation in Syrian airspace. Until then, French operations against Daesh were only limited to Iraqi territory. Some interpreted this as "a major diplomatic turnabout" where a longer-term approach would replace the main motto of toppling Bashar Assad.

It is evident that terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels had a clear objective of causing the highest number of casualties and inflicting the most damage. These attacks caused a significant rise in the security awareness in the countries and created much intense discussions in the formulation of proper policy with respect to these attacks.

While holding the reins of the crumbling Government in Damascus, Iran does not doubt for a moment that it must persist on keeping Assad in power. In contrast, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and most Arab countries insist on the overthrow of Assad. In the meantime, Russia rushed to aid Iran in saving Assad's rule or at least be considered as a major force in any development in Syria. Also the US no longer consider Bashar Assad's ouster as a pre-requisite for negotiations.

The pressing question for the European Union now is what should be Europe’s policy to ensure the security of its people as the number one priority. This policy undoubtedly is in line with restoring peace and democracy in Syria and the Middle East. Formulating an effective policy however requires that we answer the following few fundamental questions.

•What is the impact of EU’s policies in Syria?
•What are the ideology and its historical background that thrive Daesh?
•What are the fundamental elements contributing to the Daesh crisis and how are these elements linked?
•What is our assessment of the fight against Daesh since June 2014?
•What should be our realistic and sound proposals moving on?


Impact of EU Policies in Syria

The November and March attacks in Paris and Brussels had serious consequences in European domestic and foreign policy. It involves very wide-ranging issues such as the security of the Mediterranean Sea, status and interests of regional allies, the refugee crisis as well as Russian aggressions. In other words, the policy adopted by European Union on this matter will greatly impact our fundamental interests.

Home Security

The Syrian crisis and the rise of Daesh have undermined our security in Europe. An unjust and misleading campaign against the Muslim communities in Europe has taken shape along with the rise of the ultra-right that seeks to take advantage of this situation to further their own interests. This is exactly playing into the hands of Daesh as the anti-Islam sentiments could create the ripe atmosphere for Daesh to get fresh recruits and dispatch more Muslim youths from Europe to Syria.

Mediterranean Security Crisis

Prolonged insecurity along the water borders of Lebanon and Syria, create special circumstances in east of the Mediterranean which could have devastating effects Europe. This will be more dangerous when we add the insecurity of the 2000 Kilometres Libyan borders in the South of the Mediterranean.

Regional Actors

Given their geographical proximity and their deep cultural and historical bonds, the countries in the Middle East are noticeably affected by the war in Syria and its consequences as well as the role of Iran in this matter.

Syria’s neighbouring governments are understandably concerned that the continued crisis in Syria could spill over to their side, causing further turmoil and insecurity. The upward curve of terrorism that has been perpetuating from Syria over the past five years is also threatening the Saudi borders today. In addition to the threat of terrorism, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are under mounting pressure as millions of people have sought refuge in their countries.

Instability in these countries has disrupted their normal relations with Europe, damaging bilateral economic ties.
One indirect example was when the Saudis postponed financing a three-billion-Euro sale of French arms to Lebanon in 2015 because of the instability in this country and the potential that terrorist groups such as the Hezbollah could have access to these arms. It is quite clear that as long as Assad remains in power, restoration of Lebanon’s status as a traditional ally of the west will not happen

Yet the other important aspect to consider is the fact that Iran has made it utterly clear, via its actions or in its public stances that it seeks to fulfil its ambitions of mastering “four Arab capitals.” Its aggressions in Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Sana’a clearly demonstrate the Iranian belligerent policy in the region. Alsayed el-Husseini, a prominent Lebanese expert and Shiite clergy, explains: “The Hezbollah of Lebanon is in charge of carrying out the Iranian project in our country… Through Hezbollah Iran seeks to turn Lebanon into its military base and take control of the coasts of the Mediterranean... In the meantime, it wants to use this coast to assist the Syrian regime and reinforce its position in regional competitions and influence in Arab countries. ”

However the killing of Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah top Military Commander in Syria on 13 May 2016, became the biggest leadership loss of this terrorist group.

As the main supporter of Bashar Assad, if Iran emerges victorious from the ongoing war in Syria, the theory of four Arab capitals will be realized and not much security would be left for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Therefore, Saudi Arabia sees Daesh and Iran as two sides of the same coin. One’s advance will bring about advance of the other. Thus the policy to deal with the Assad regime can prove to be the crossing point of Europe’s internal security, geopolitical interests, and economy.

Ukraine

In a much farther place, Ukraine can also be affected by developments in Syria. Keeping Bashar Assad in power has meant a political and diplomatic success for Putin, reinforcing Russia’s hegemonic role in the region and giving him more power to impose his will on Ukraine.

The Refugee Crisis

The refugee crises facing Europe is the worst since World War II. Although the refugees who tried to reach Western Europe in 2015 were from a variety of nations including from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and even from eastern European countries, according to the data released by the International Organization for Migration, some 40 per cent of the 473,000 refugees who crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year, were of Syrian origin.
Syria and Iraq are currently the main sources for the refugee flow. Of the 22 million Syrians, 8 million became displaced inside their country while another 4 million are living in dire conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

UN officials also report increasing flow of refugees from Iraq which is estimated to have reached 2 million so far. This millions-strong masses, who do not have any prospects for future, have begun to move to the coasts of Europe and nothing - including the Aegean Sea which swallowed numerous bodies in 2015 - has been able to prevent this human flow and the escalation of the conflict only adds to their numbers.

For example, in spring of 2015, when Daesh took over the city of Ramadi in the center of Iraq’s Anbar Province, 114,000 were added to the number of refugees from Iraq.

The Russian and Iranian military interventions in Syria have helped Assad while disappointing displaced Syrian people on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border who have been awaiting the end of war in order to return home. Particularly in the first weeks after the beginning of its operations in Syria, the Russians heavily bombed the borders and made the camps for Syrian migrants insecure. This action left no option for Syrian migrants but to renew their migration to seek permanent residence in safe European countries.

Reports from Syria explain the factors leading to the flight of refugees. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “the greater majority of the people of Syria escape from the bloody crackdown of Damascus using barrel bombs rather than from the presence of Daesh in places where they live.”

In another report, Benjamin Barthe, Le Monde correspondent in Beirut, counted the reasons for extensive immigration of the people of Syria as: “Escalation of internal conflicts, lack of prospect for breaking out of the present situation, increasing tensions in Turkey because of new confrontations between Ankara’s military forces and the PKK Kurds, stepped up campaign of Assad regime to conscript youths for mandatory military service and finally reduction in UN humanitarian aid which has aggravated living conditions in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.”

Ideology of Daesh

Islamic extremism emerged some 40 years ago as an aggressive and destabilizing force in the region with growing impact, injecting itself into geo-political equations and gradually evolving as the main threat to the international community.

In arguments over adoption of the right policy on Assad dictatorship and Daesh, references are made to the latter’s ideological beliefs, its similarities and differences with various Salafi branches, and the Shiite-Sunni differences. Therefore, it is essential to briefly review in this study, the main elements of Daesh’s ideology and convictions.

The great majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites make only 10-15 percent of the Muslims. The rift between the two branches appeared first after the demise of the Prophet Mohammad during the disputes over his succession. In later stages, further differences emerged on the issues of God’s Justice, succession of the children of, the Prophet’s son-in-law Imam Ali ‘the fourth Caliph’, and believing in the 12th absent Imam. Some differences on religious edicts were also added to the list, later on.

There was a major development in the Sunnis history in the 13th century AC, when the Salafi branch was incepted in reaction to the Mongols’ attack. They rejected innovation in Islam and called for adhering only to the instructions of the Prophet and his companions and those of his followers living in the first three centuries after the advent of Islam.

A prominent Sunni scholar who played a unique role in formulating this doctrine at the time was Ibn-Taymiyyah (1263-1328 AC) from Syria. The doctrine existed for centuries, growing slowly without causing any significant development in political or social grounds.

Over the past two to three centuries, however, people in the Middle East, North Africa and India increasingly turned to Islam and its visions against oppression and injustice in their fight against colonialist powers and in an effort to compensate for social and economic retardation in their countries. This trend led to a renascence in the Salafi thinking.

In early 19th century, in Madina, the Arabian Peninsula, three clerics who studied the thoughts of Ibn-Taymiyyah in the same class began to promulgate this doctrine based on their own exegesis varying according to the situation in their own countries, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia, Dehlawi in India and San’ani in Yemen. Also in North Africa, Rashid Reza accepted this thought and began to propagate it. Since then, almost all Sunni intellectual movements have been Salafi, including Jama’at Islami in Pakistan and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt among other orders of the thought in other countries.

A few decades earlier, the Shiite thought also underwent an enormous transformation in the 18th century, when Usulis overcame Akhbaris (intellectuals vs. traditionalists). Hamid Algar, a scholar on Islam, describes this development as a “renascence in Shiite religious thinking”.

Major developments in the 20th century such as the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration; the unresolved Israel-Palestine conflict and displacement of a large part of the Palestinian population; independence of Pakistan; US toppling of Dr. Mossadeq’s government in Iran by the CIA; failure of Arab nationalism; occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union; and collapse of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, had their great impact on providing the theoretic and material grounds for the engagement of Muslims and Islamic thoughts in politics.

Like other religions, there are various orders among Muslims. They range from modernists, who prefer Western structures of political and philosophical thoughts, to reformists, who seek to reconcile Islamic and Western thoughts, to traditionalists with fundamentalist views.

Up until the 1970s, there was there was no codified thinking in the world of Islam that condoned the committing of genocide and mass murder against moderate Muslims and Christians under the name of God and Islam, or the denial of national borders and establishment of a totalitarian government branded as an Islamic Caliphate.

Up to this point, although there were some trends of Islamic thought that theoretically called for “an Islamic government” and had even published books in this regard, the tendency to form a state was never dominant in the Sunni thought. The Sunnis generally follow the doctrine of Sunni clergy Ibn-Taymiyyah, considered today as the main authority on fundamentalist teachings. He maintained that getting along with the status quo is preferable to instability. “He warned Muslims about the difficult and painful choice they could make between accepting chaos and giving in to the injustice of despots. Thanks to him, ‘preferring the status quo’ found the sacred place of a pious practice.”

On the government level, Pakistan became independent from India as a Muslim state and called itself an “Islamic Republic.” The government of Saudi Arabia also presents itself as the custodian of Kaaba, the House of God, and has enshrined religious laws into its penal codes.

Nevertheless, none of these governments ever called for a universal kingdom of Islam. They have not sought to topple neighbouring states or other ones in the region. They never turned into a destabilizing force threatening the region and the world.

In 1979, after establishing a fundamentalist regime in Iran following the anti-monarchical revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini provided an inspiring model for extremist groups everywhere to seek state power. He also crafted and promoted a new and dangerous ideology: extremism under the name of Islam.

Without appreciating the meaning and impact of the religious rule in Iran, we would not be able to achieve an in-depth understanding of events of the past four decades in the Islamic world and will remain incapacitated in explaining its inconsistencies.

Since 1979, numerous occurrences, behaviours, activities and reactions have taken place under the banner of Islam, none of which had ever occurred in the past or if it did, it did not have the quality of being a continuous phenomenon.

The bombing of the French and US marines’ barracks in Beirut, the hostage-taking at the US Embassy in Tehran, the introduction of misogynist laws, coupled with the increasing number of outlawed territories from Somalia to Libya and then in Iraq and Syria, and the subsequent formation of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Hezbollah of Lebanon, Ansarallah in Yemen, Daesh and Boko Haram, have all been by-products or related aspects of the state power acquired by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran.

Even in the Muslim community in France there is a significant difference between the pre and post 1979 era. The first effect of the post 1979 era in France, which is called the Iranian era by Gilles Kepel, is a sudden jump in the number of religious centers, including prayer halls and mosques, all over France. The French observed these developments in awe. A table indicating the rising number of religious centers based on official statistics shows that the number of cultural establishments (prayer halls and mosques) in the years before 1965, 1975, 1980 and 1985 are respectively: 4, 68, 211, and 912.

In the same period, the number of Islamic associations were: 3, 60, 152, and 635, respectively. The Islamic Association of New Muslims with French Nationality had ten centers in 1972, but in 1985 it had jumped to 87 centers.

The main feature of this new phenomenon is an extremist ideology which up to this date could not be defined within the internal categories of Islam. Instead, it embraces both the Shiite and Sunni variants. In other words, despite their differences and verbal hostilities, both Shiite and Sunni extremists adhere to the same underlying ideology in the most basic elements of their beliefs and behaviour.

Therefore, whether it is Al-Qaeda and Daesh from the Sunni branch or the Shiite fundamentalists ruling Iran, the main pillars of their ideology are:
-Using force to impose their religion (i.e. violent implementation of Sharia laws)
-Seeking to establish a dreadful tyranny under the name of the government of God (with names ranging from ‘Velayat-e Faqih’[absolute rule of clergy], to ‘Islamic State’, ‘Caliphate’, etc.)
-Espousing the idea of founding a universal Islamic Caliphate (without any respect for international borders and advocating Jihad to take over other countries)
-Misogyny and repression of women
-Violating basic human rights to obtain the aforementioned objectives
-Suppressing opponents of Sharia laws

The last two elements give a green light to extremists to commit mass murder in total disregard of human principles and using excommunication as a tool. In his book Islamic Governance, written before seizing power, Khomeini formulated this ruthless approach as “an effort to uproot the numerous sources of corruption that are harmful to society.”

For those not familiar with the internal dynamics of societies in the Middle East and North Africa, the emergence of these groups with such ruthless thinking and behaviour may seem strangely amazing, particularly as the world is advancing on the basis of democratic values. Remarkably however, the Iranian experience has clearly shown that Islamic fundamentalism is a tool by which backward, despotic forces, counter democratic alternatives in Middle Eastern societies when they confront the desire of their people, especially the women and youths, for democratic values.

Interrelations of Elements of Crisis

The current crises in Syria and Iraq are affected by a long-term dictatorship, the historical and social conditions of development of Islamic extremism, a fundamentalist regime’s rise to power in Iran, the United States’ catastrophic mistake of invading Iraq, and more disastrously, its departure from Iraq and abandoning it to Iran; combined with Western governments’ attitude in opening the way for suppression of moderate forces and liberation movements in that region.

However, the most direct contributors to the crises -who are themselves by-products of the same historic conditions- are: the Assad dictatorship, the Iranian theocracy, the ISIS and the resultant outcome of their interrelations.

 

Origins of Daesh

The inception of Daesh in Iraq and Syria would have been impossible if the grounds had not been prepared by the US invasion of Iraq, which destroyed the country’s existing infrastructures. It was also aided by the full support for Nouri Al-Maliki’s sectarian regime in Iraq provided by both the U.S. and Iran, and bowing to Bashar Assad who savagely slaughters his own people. Daesh was indeed an extremist, criminal and vengeful reaction to the invasion.

On this ground, Daesh skilfully took advantage of the Sunnis’ legitimate fury and frustration with the sectarian policies of the previous Iraqi Government and was able to expand in Iraq.

Bruno Tertrais, Senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), a leading French think tank on international security issues, believes that “the origin of the status quo was the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies, particularly the UK. It is not without reason that Daesh’s main leaders are from Iraq.” Furthermore, “the mistakes made by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki played a crucial role in the rise of Daesh in Iraq and Syria. By pursuing a sectarian policy, Nouri al-Maliki practically drove Iraq’s Sunnis towards Daesh.
The bloody crackdown on the Sunnis in Syria by the Bashar Assad regime also contributed for its part to the development of this trend.”

The “Islamic State” initially was a “very weak” organization in Iraq, but Assad facilitated its move to Syria. He deliberately allowed them to get settled in Syria’s oil-rich regions. He also released some prisoners to join Daesh and reinforce it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry stated: “ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail and Malaki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror… as an effort to help Assad, so that he could say, ‘It’s me or the terrorists.’”

There is a lot of evidence that backs up this claim. For example, there is no sign of Daesh in the first year of uprisings against Syrian dictatorship. The largest expansion of this group took place in 2014 in Syria. Then Assad concentrated his aerial bombardments on the moderate opposition Free Syrian Army, thus helping boost the strength and expanding the power of Daesh to use them against his moderate opponents. By creating such chaos, he wanted to show that there is no other alternative to his regime.

A senior Western diplomat told the Time magazine that ISIS is seen as an asset by Assad. “They will do whatever it takes to devalue the opposition, even if it means strengthening ISIS. They know that if it comes to choosing between the black flag [of ISIS] and Damascus, the international community will choose Damascus.”

Daesh is said to have received financial assistance from some wealthy people in Sunni Arab countries. It also enjoyed access to oil sources. It therefore enjoyed enough financial resources to grow larger. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine emphasized that although some Arab intelligence services initially sought to take advantage of Daesh, they soon corrected their mistake.

It is not correct to state that the governments of Saudi Arabia or Qatar support Daesh or financially bolster it. On the contrary, these countries are presently contributing to Syrian opposition forces who are fighting against both Assad and Daesh. For them Daesh’s growth or Assad’s consolidation of power is clearly seen as an existential threat.

 

Daesh - Assad ‘symbiotic’ relations

Puppet militias are a well-known phenomenon in the Middle East. The Hezbollah of Lebanon was formed in 1982 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq and its military wing, the Badr Corps, are virtually a part of the IRGC.

But Daesh bears no similarity to any of them in this respect. While there are hints of suspicious cooperation or coordination in the formation of Daesh, it has an independent leadership and structure. However, Daesh has definitely had a symbiotic relation with the Assad regime, meaning that despite their serious differences, the two entities have vital interests in each other’s existence. Daesh thus grew by leaps and bounds under the auspices of the Assad regime.

Likewise, Assad’s regime does not have the power to impose its hegemony on Daesh, but has opened the way for it and taken advantage of the latter’s role in suppressing the regime’s moderate opponents. Meanwhile, it has created a situation where the international community is compelled to choose between Assad and Daesh.

There is much evidence that sheds light on this relation. As Le Monde reported in April 2015: “In a concealed or obvious complicity, Assad plays the card of Jihadism to serve his own objectives. We witnessed the latest case of this sinister game during the incidents in the Palestinian refugee camp in the town of Yarmuk.
The camp run by anti-government Palestinian groups has been surrounded by the Syrian Army since July 2013. In late March, hundreds of Daesh militants managed “incidentally” and “accidentally” to infiltrate Yarmuk and take over half of the camp. While the Palestinians were engaged in a fierce fight against Daesh, the (Syrian) regime’s forces kept bombing them.”

This complicity was also seen with regards to Daesh’s main source of income, oil. On June 30, 2014, the UN Security Council expressed concern over some reports indicating that the Daesh paramilitary group was selling Iraq’s oil. The next day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the media, “Daesh has sold oil from its own occupied territories to Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and there are credible documents on sale of oil by Daesh.” Subsequently, diplomats in Baghdad revealed that “Islamic State sells part of its oil products to the Syrian regime at the very good price of almost $30 a barrel.” Mr. Fabius later underlined this report: “All indications are that Daesh -controlled oil wells provide part of the oil needed by Bashar Assad.”

EU’s sanctions against individuals with ties to the Assad regime also reveal the collusion with ISIS. British foreign secretary Philip Hammond explained on the sanctions: “This listing gives yet another indication that Assad’s ‘war’ on ISIS is a sham and that he supports them financially.”

For his part, US Secretary of State John Kerry also noted Assad’s role in emergence of Daesh, including an oil contract between the two parties. “Daesh is there because Bashar al-Assad began Syria’s episode of the Arab Spring. When young people went out into the streets to demonstrate for jobs and opportunity, they were met by Assad’s thugs, who beat them up. And when their parents objected to the fact that their children had been beaten up for trying to demonstrate for jobs and opportunity, the parents went out and demonstrated and they were shot.
And that’s when the bombs began. And it has grown.” He further elaborated “But make no mistake Assad has cut his own deal with Daesh. They (ISIS) sell oil. He (Assad) buys oil. They are symbiotic, not real enemies in this. And he has not, when he had a chance over four years, mounted his attacks against Daesh. The Daesh headquarters sat in Raqqa for years. It was never bombed by his bombs. It was children and women and hospitals and schools that were bombed by his bombs.”

Eyewitness testimonies by Syrian refugees also comprise part of the documents: “Raqqa was never bombarded by Syrian airplanes for consecutive weeks. There were no attacks whatsoever in eight months while the planes dropped up to 80 barrel bombs a day on Aleppo. There is no difference between Assad’s regime and the Islamic State. They are full-fledged accomplices.”

A Syrian businessman with close ties to the government told the Time Magazine: “The regime fears the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, not ISIS. They [the FSA and Nusra] state their goal is to remove the President. But ISIS doesn’t say that. They have never directly threatened Damascus.” As the businessman notes, the strikes on ISIS targets are minimal. “If the regime were serious about getting rid of ISIS, they would have bombed Raqqa by now. Instead they bomb other cities, where the FSA is strong.”

Another aspect of such symbiotic relations are the simultaneous attacks launched by both Daesh and Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels. In the battles of the past two years, the rebels had to fight Assad’s Army, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese Hezbollah on the one hand and Daesh on the other.

A recent investigation conducted by Sky News into leaked secret ISIS file suggests that the cooperation between Assad and ISIS was far deeper and more systematic than previously estimated. Documents showed a deal between ISIS and Assad to trade oil for fertiliser and arrangements to evacuate some areas by ISIS forces before the Syrian army attacked. "Withdraw all heavy artillery and anti-aircraft machine guns from in and around Palmyra to Raqqa province," a document written shortly before the Syrian army recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in March 2016 states.

Jordanian Ad-Dustour newspaper cartoon, republished in the
New York Times on 5 May 2016

Role of Iran

Daesh - Iran relations

Beyond verbal disputes serving propaganda consumption and aside from limited local engagements between Daesh and Iranian-backed Shiite militia, observations on the ground, in Iraq and Syria, indicate that occasionally there are some kind of parallel activities between Daesh and Tehran mullahs and that both parties are nurtured by each other politically and even militarily. On 7 June, 2014, that is 60 hours before the fall of Mosul, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a speech, declaring, “The main enemy is America. Takfiri groups (Daesh and Al-Qaeda) must not distract us from the main enemy.” Daesh uses the same rationale in describing its relations with Tehran.

The Pan-Arab Daily, Ashraq-Al-Awsat recently quoted Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani, spokesman for Daesh, saying: “ISIS followed the guidance of al-Jihad sheikhs and symbols, so it did not strike the Shiites in Iran since its inception, and left Raafidis (reference to Iranian Shiites) safe in Iran. It reined back its infuriated soldiers despite their ability, at the time, to fill Iran with pools of blood. It swallowed its anger all these years bearing accusations of treachery for not targeting its worst enemies, leaving the Raafidis enjoying security pursuant to Al Qaeda’s order to maintain its interests and lines of supply in Iran.”

Both Iran and Daesh are determined to avoid any confrontation. In Iraq, despite the Iranian stage-managing and tremendous propaganda efforts to portray itself as an ally of the West in the fight against Daesh, the two sides are practically tolerating each other.

Based on information published by the Iranian opposition, IRGC Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani had emphasized while briefing Shiite militia leaders in Iraq that the American forces are the main enemy and that they should avoid any confrontations with Daesh. Public remarks by IRGC Brigadier General Ahmadreza Pourdastan, Commander of the Iranian Ground Forces, on 6 January 2015, are also illuminating in this regard: “We declared to Daesh that if they get closer than 40kms to the Iranian borders from inside Iraq and if they cross this redline, they will face decisive measures of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran… Daesh received our message and quickly moved away from the indicated zone.”

Jean-Pierre Filiu Professor of Middle East History at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs described the relation between Daesh and Iran, which is represented by the militia groups especially in Iraq, as “two sides of the same coin”. In his book The Arabs, their fate and ours, he wrote: “Daesh’s technique is to create reactions against Sunnis so that they would be taken hostage… The least one could say is that Sunnis do not readily join these organizations.
It has happened frequently that when we do not allow a Sunni alternative emerge in a region, Daesh can completely fill its place. Now, in today’s Iraq, who looks more like Daesh? The Shiite Jihadists who are organized by Iran and we do not talk very much about them. The hands of these militias are drenched in blood and they have the same outlook and the same mottos. They are the two sides of the same coin.”

Despite the stereotype perception of mutual hatred between Shiite and Sunni extremist groups, new events have shown a remarkable cooperation between the two branches when interests concur.

The recent killing of the Taliban chief by a US drone strike on the main highway leading from the Iranian border into Pakistan shines new light on the Sunni extremist group’s relationship with Tehran.

As The Guardian reported on 23 May 2016: “Although it is Pakistan that has traditionally been condemned for secretly supporting Afghan insurgents, analysts say Iran also provides weapons, cash and sanctuary to the Taliban. Despite the deep ideological antipathy between a hardline Sunni group and cleric-run Shia state the two sides have proved themselves quite willing to cooperate where necessary against mutual enemies and in the pursuit of shared interests.”


Iran - Assad relations

We do not need to search much in order to understand the great interests of Bashar Assad regime in Iran. Without Iran’s military, financial and political support, Bashar Assad would have been toppled in 2012.

The Iranian regime mobilized the Qods Force, the Hezbollah of Lebanon and also its puppet regime in Iraq with Nouri Maliki to support Assad.

In a Senate hearing on 14 January 2015, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius summarized Iran-Assad relations as the following: “Iran supplies Bashar Assad with lethal weaponry, and of course money and the manpower to massacre.”

Iran’s financing has had a vital role in the subsistence of the Syrian regime. In December 2014, citing a Syrian trade official who did not want his identity revealed, Reuters wrote that if it were not for the support Iran provided, Bashar Assad’s regime would not have survived the Arab Spring.

In April, 2015, The Christian Science Monitor reported that “Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently told a private gathering in Washington that Iran has been channelling as much as $35 billion a year into Syria.” Although de Mistura’s assistants later denied this estimate, other sources also confirm exorbitant expenditures by Iran to support Assad.

In a meeting at the French Senate on 5 May 2015, Nadhir Hakim, Secretary of the Syrian National Coalition’s political board, stressed that Iran had paid $87 billion to the Assad regime in three years.

On the other hand Iran’s rulers say, “Syria’s security is our security.” In a meeting with his Foreign Minister and ambassadors on 1 November, 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei defended his Syria policy and said, “If we had not done what we did, God knows what awesome blows we would have received within our own frontiers.”

Therefore, it is necessary to examine the power structure in Iran and how it uses the regime’s prominence in Syria and Iraq as a tool to maintain its own fragile balance inside the country.

 

A Two-Year Assessment

In June 2014, when Daesh occupied three provinces in Iraq at a stunning speed, everyone soon found out that the Genie who had come out of the bottle would pose an immediate danger to the whole world.

At least in theory, Western Governments concurred on the need to counter Daesh. A few weeks later, a US-led international coalition was formed with a few members of the European Union also participating. The first US bomber attacks on the positions of Daesh took place on 8 August 2014. What have been the fighting policies since then? How have they changed? What has been the outcome of military activities?

To distinguish right from wrong in the strategy to conquer Daesh and to have a clear understanding about which ideas are illusive and deterring and which ones are effective, the best test case is the experience of the past 23 months from the lightning emergence of Daesh in Mosul until now:

The Coalition against Daesh: With the declared and undeclared help and cooperation of several forces in the region, the coalition has slowly managed to have major victories against Daesh. The forces which have officially been cooperating with the coalition are the Iraqi army, some sections of Iraqi Sunni tribes, the Peshmerga of the Iraqi Kurdish government, the YPG Kurds and Kurdish People’s Protection Units affiliated to PKK in Syria.
The forces which have sometimes unofficially cooperated with the coalition are Hashd al-Shaabi (People’s Mobilization) and Iraq Shiite militias under the total control of Iran. Contrary to the Peshmerga of the Iraqi Kurdish authority and its President Masoud Barzani, the Syrian Kurds which the US have had an active cooperation with are quite close to Bashar Assad and Iran and have been fighting the Syrian moderate opposition and enjoy excellent relations with Russia.

The air attacks by the US, together with the help of the abovementioned forces, have pushed Daesh to retreat and lose big territories. Several big cities such as Ramadi, Tikrit, Sinjar… in Iraq big territories in Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Homs… in Syria have been taken out of the hands of Daesh and some of its leaders have been killed.

In Iraq: The autocratic and sectarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could not keep his post for the third term after the fall of Mosul despite intense efforts by Iranian rulers to reverse the results. With US support and Iran’s reluctant surrender, Haydar Al-Ebadi became Prime Minister in August 2014 and formed his cabinet after much wrangling. Since the beginning of his administration in 2014 his Government has not been able to facilitate political participation of the moderate Sunnis who had been viciously suppressed and marginalized during Maliki’s eight-year tenure.
The paramilitary groups commanded by the Iranian Qods force, to fill the vacuum left by the downfall of Maliki, maintain their control over the Ministry of Interior, security institutions and even the Iraqi armed forces. They have thus blocked Iraqi society’s capability to fight Daesh by using violence and terror against the Sunni community. This is a major failure and digression in fighting Daesh.

Peter Harling, expert on Middle East and North Africa and researcher at International Crisis Group (ICG), noted that: “Daesh’s main strategy has been formed around a number of principles: elimination of any likely rivals in the territories under its control; avoiding confrontations or escalating tensions as much as possible with strong local rivals like the Syrian regime, Shiite militias, or Kurdish factions and groups; expanding its special financial resources primarily by selling oil and becoming independent of the need to rely on foreign financing.

In addition, it benefits from its opponents’ actions that fuel the feeling of frustration and oppression within Sunni communities and circles. It is exactly for this reason that the suitable answer to the Sunnis’ radicalization is not reliance on Shiite militias or Kurdish forces or on air strikes of the West…
At issue is not the mechanism of destroying the Islamic State, but finding the alternative -which should be necessarily Sunni- to replace it. In line with this objective, one must find partners, an endeavor that requires a long-term effort to reach coherence and credibility, the elements that have been so far absent in our policies in the region. Until then, military measures could produce adverse outcome if they lead to more casualties and damages instead of offering the suitable solution.”

Uniting with Iran: In the early days after the fall of Mosul, there was a discussion going on in the press, think tanks and even government circles. In light of the absence of ground troops from US or other Western governments in the battlefield to confront Daesh, they said, it was necessary to adopt the policy of uniting with Iran and benefiting from Iran’s cooperation in fighting Daesh. Sponsors of this policy in Washington expected that by enjoying US air support, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Hashad as-Shaabi forces of Iraq, who were deeply tied to the Qods Force, would take back the cities occupied by Daesh. Yet, the outcome of this pseudo-strategy was disastrous after almost two years as follows:

-In Diyala Province bordering Iran, the Qods Force affiliated militias resorted to cleansing of Sunnis and destruction of their homes in the guise of clearing up Daesh. In any place where there was a mixed residence of Sunnis and Shiites, they forced the Sunnis to emigrate and replaced them with Shiites. These pressures led to forcible displacement and homelessness of thousands of people in Jowf as-Sakhar. In Sa’adiyah and Jalula, they set fire to 22 mosques in order to compel the Sunnis to leave.
They even ploughed the agricultural gardens in Sa’adiyah and Jalula. In Meghdadiyah, they blew up people’s residences to force them to leave. In some instances, the militia chained the corpses to vehicles and drove them around the town or hanged them from lamp posts. On 29 January 2015, paramilitary groups and militias attacked Bervaneh village in Diyala Province killing more than 70 Sunni civilians and in Shervin village they massacred 130 of the inhabitants en masse.

-In Tikrit, capital of Salahaddin Province, 30,000 people were mobilized, launching an attack on 2 March 2015. Iranian authorities formally declared that the attack was carried out under the command of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. The attack halted after ten days when it faced staunch defence by Daesh. Since then, the Qods force has been ruthlessly massacring the people living in the vicinity of Tikrit. The killing is so vast that the highest Sunni authority, the al Azhar Society, issued a statement and for the first time expressed “extraordinary concern” and condemned the massacre of “peaceful Iraqi citizens who were not affiliated to Daesh or other terrorist organizations.” Furthermore in the past year, international human rights organizations and credible newspapers published shocking reports on the genocides taking place in Iraq by Iranian-backed paramilitary forces.

As a result, the policy of partnership with Iran’s ruling clerics in combatting Daesh has been tested practically to a great extent. It has become clear that the regime took advantage of the political and military umbrella provided by the US in Iraq. More than fighting and trying to destroy Daesh, the militias were busy cleansing the Sunnis and destroying the moderate and national forces of Iraq, practically undermining the war against Daesh.

More recently, the experience of the past year like the 12 previous years has proven that engaging the mullahs in the problems of Iraq will firstly cause destruction of the power to integrate Iraq; it will facilitate the Iranian domination over Iraq and offer them the opportunity to compensate loss of their puppet government in Iraq. Also despite their claims and public propaganda, the mullahs, their Qods Force and other affiliated militia, have not had the military capability to fend off Daesh in the past one and a half years. In the meantime, they have demonstrated great determination and decisiveness in eliminating the Sunnis and moderate groups.

In confrontation with Daesh over the city of Tikrit in March 2015, Iranian led forces showed blatant inability. Because of political and economic limits, Iran is not able to allocate several thousand ground troops to the fight with Daesh. On the other hand, the military power of Qods Force and its paramilitary forces is not sufficient to overcome Daesh. They cannot compensate for this shortage of force by mobilizing the people of Iraq, either. Last March when the war was raging near Tikrit, Najeh Al-Mizan, an Iraqi Sunni leader, said: “Today, there are many Sunni leaders who have announced that they are not going to fight under the banner of Qassem Soleimani. These are calls for retreat. Today, the Arab soldiers and officers of Iraq do not want to hand over victory to Qassem Soleimani. The people of Tikrit do not have any trust in the Bassij and paramilitary forces and they cannot even think of fighting under the banner of Qassem Soleimani.”

In Syria: In the wake of unity of action among opposition forces, there have been remarkable military advances in western regions of Syria. Defense lines of the IRGC and Bashar Assad rapidly collapsed. Without doubt, the main indicator of Iran’s failure and its defeat is the death of IRGC’s chief commander in Syria, General Hossein Hamedani, and at least 30 other generals and colonels. Russia’s interference in Syria since September 30 materialized in air strikes. This was a measure to save this front from disintegration.

In mid- March 2016, Russia announced that it will take most of its military force out of Syria. The result of Russia’s six months military excursion in Syria was that it provided advancement for Bashar Assad and Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces without making a qualitative change in the military equation. It also provided Russia a key political role in the Syrian crisis while plummeting the political role of the Iran.

The Coalition has been less successful in Syria since it has not relied on the moderate opposition to fight Daesh. Instead it has tried to advance with aerial bombardments and on the ground has been relying on the Kurds with close links with Assad and in some occasions it has indirectly been relying on the Syrian regime’s army to fight Daesh. As a result, even though Daesh has lost some grounds in Syria but has gained in other parts.

In years 2013 and 2014 when Bashar Assad and Iranian forces advanced against the Syrian opposition, Daesh became stronger. But in 2015 when the Syrian opposition began to advance against government forces, it also led to setbacks for Daesh. However the bombardments by Russia against the Syrian moderate opposition forces, under the pretext of fighting against Daesh, was a perfect gift for Daesh.


Politically and Socially: Despite military victories of the Coalition, Daesh has been able politically and socially to keep its position as the Coalition unfortunately has not relied on the Syrian moderate opposition and the Sunni tribes in Iraq. In practice US has sided with the repressive forces in these two countries leaving the local people with two options: Accepting the dictatorship of Assad in Syria and accepting the atrocities of the pro-Iran militias in Iraq or to have Daesh. The first option is obviously much harder and more unacceptable for the people of these Sunni-dominated regions. If the coalition had worked with the Iraqi Sunni tribes and the Syrian moderate opposition, Daesh would have been more isolated and its defeat would have been easier. However with the presence of Assad and Shiite Iraqi militias, even if Daesh suffers heavy military defeats, the roots and its political and social breeding grounds are not eliminated and it could re-emerge under other formations or names.


Available Options

Theoretically, there are a number of options to confront Daesh and eliminate the epicentre of terrorist attacks against Europe. In light of the experience of the past two years, it is essential to study each option to figure out its limits and impasses and evaluate its true capacities:

Option 1 – Conceding to the status-quo combined with increased security measures

One option is to maintain the status-quo with limited changes, namely to adopt extensive security measures in Europe, particularly in France and Belgium, step up the air strikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq and tolerate Assad. In this case, a permanent element is reinforcing Europe’s defensive barriers within. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt recently said: “Without a real European intelligence service and full cooperation of various countries the security of citizens will always remain temporary and fragile. ”

But with thousands of young Europeans joining Daesh, including one thousand Frenchmen and hundreds from Belgium which has the highest number of Jihadis in Iraq and Syria per capita, covert cells of the group in Europe all across France and Belgium, continuous plots to attack - six series of which were discovered and neutralized in spring of 2015 with another plot neutralized in Argenteuil, northern Paris just after the Brussels attacks - and the return of many of them from Syria and Iraq, Europe is exposed to threats that may not be defused only by adopting stricter security measures at home. In addition, there is a limit to escalation of security controls and checks in Europe and going above that could jeopardize European democratic foundations.

Option 2 - Increasing security measures parallel to fighting Daesh

Based on the experience of the past 2 years, continued air strikes will not be able to bring about any significant change in the military balance without ground troops.

Militarily, deployment of ground troops can be the terminating response to Daesh. However, the Coalition’s member states including the US and its European allies are not willing to send their ground troops to Syria and Iraq. As far as the French are concerned, they are also involved in the Operation Barkhane in Africa’s Sahel region and they avoid getting involved in another ground war.

Even if sufficient external forces are deployed in Syria and Iraq to successfully defeat Daesh in the region, the threat will not go away in Europe as Assad’s presence, would give them dynamic existence and inspiration to carry out terrorist acts in different parts of the world.

Option 3 – Elimination of Daesh with help from Assad and Iran

This option is Tehran’s favourite option and one that it will defend without a trace of doubt. The Assad regime, however, is so weak and internally damaged that it has passed the point of no return and is not capable of being rescued. Benjamin Barthe wrote in Le Monde in 2014: “A number of Western secret services established contacts with their Syrian counterparts in recent months. They have concluded that it is of no use and the Syrian regime cannot be saved because no matter what anyone would do, the regime prepares for its own demise. How could such a regime be part of a solution to the increasing radicalization among Sunnis?”

Although Assad is very weak, keeping him in power would provide for continuation of Iranian interferences which in turn strengthens the atmosphere that is so vital for the existence of Daesh.

Some political parties in the West, who support alliance with Russia and Iran, in fact seek to preserve Bashar Assad in order to counter Daesh. The question is: How can one concentrate on a single main enemy, i.e. Daesh, by joining those whose main enemy is not Daesh but far from that have common interests with it? Such an alliance is full of rifts and will definitely lead to failure. In the meantime, in the wake of France, Belgium and California attacks this is yielding to the enemy.
As Jean-Pierre Filiu, Professor of Middle East studies said: “This theory that Maliki or Assad are better than Al-Qaeda is a strategic bankruptcy. It was thanks to Maliki and Assad that the leader of the Islamic State Al-Baghdadi, got to this point. This vision that dictatorships are a bulwark against Al-Qaeda is a futile and dangerous idea because at the end the dictators and the Al-Qaeda will both remain.”


Option 4 – Eliminating Daesh simultaneous with efforts to remove Bashar Assad - the only viable solution

This option will overhaul the political and military conditions in Syria and deprive Daesh of its breeding ground. Terminating a five-year catastrophe that has left nearly half a million innocent people dead and more than 10 million homeless refugees, will undoubtedly diminish motivations for terrorism to a great extent. In the next step, it will open the way for the current Syrian Army to be joined by its opponents to confront Daesh. This will halt the flow of the refugees to Europe and could even open the way for the majority of current refugees to return to their homes in Syria.

Under this option, it is necessary to aid the Syrian opposition because it can provide the troops that are needed on the ground. An essential part of any effective policy would be opening the way for the moderate Syrian opposition and the moderate Sunnis and tribes in Iraq, while giving them military and political assistance or at least protecting them against genocide and barbarism of the Assad regime, Daesh and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Ultimately it will be the people of these countries who will uproot terrorism and restore peace and security in their homelands.

As Peter Harling, an expert on Iraq and Syria, wrote: “The answer to Sunni radicalization is not to be found in the mobilization of Shiite militias, nor in the Kurdish factions and neither in the West’s air strikes.” He added: “Wherever there is no break away or safety valve for the increasing frustration of Sunni communities, there will be a strong potential for recruitment by Daesh.”

In 2007-2008, the United States made great military and political effort to finish Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the framework of an operation code-named SURGE. More than the regular army, the Americans counted on the help of local Sunni tribe leaders in those days mobilized as the ‘Awakening Councils’. Having resisted against foreign invasion, finally they had been convinced that if they free their own lands from domination of Jihadists, then the US would leave Iraq more rapidly. This strategy was successful to a great extent. But afterwards, Iraq started receding because Tehran’s puppet government in Iraq began a ruthless crackdown on the Awakening tribes to eliminate them.

A former Sunni General from Iraq, Raad Al-Hamdani, who was very active in forming the Awakening movement and driving out Al-Qaeda from the Anbar Province, wrote a strategy thesis last year, in which he wrote: “Let it be clear that it is Sunnis and Sunnis only who can fight and get rid of ISIS.” He added: “The U.S. flatly left Sunni tribal leaders in the lurch during the years following the awakening.” And while “Sunnis want nothing less than to get rid of ISIS and their atrocities,” they “are also ‘between a rock and a hard place’ in western Iraq.”

There are many positive and negative aspects to this experience which were also observed in Syria with regards to the moderate groups and especially the Free Syrian Army. There were groups that were able to oust Bashar Assad in 2012 and remove the grounds which led to the emergence of Daesh, but the West’s passive policy abandoned them as they were surrounded by Bashar Assad’s forces, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Hezbollah and Daesh. This approach seriously undermined them.

Declaration of a no-fly zone is essential to efficient aiding of the Syrian opposition. Creation of this zone would provide a safe place behind the lines for the moderate opponents, as well as a refuge for displaced people, and finally a launching pad for the overthrow of the Assad regime.

This solution will be complemented by a cultural battle against extremism; a solution which will present a tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam against fundamentalism

Misleading Arguments

In the ongoing discussions on European and Western policy in Syria and Iraq, some ideas are either totally ambiguous or follow certain political objectives preferring their party or faction’s short-term interests over the country’s long-term interests. In some instances, they are simply the product of miscalculations.

Following are some of the most prominent of these opinions:


“One cannot have two enemies”

Some people mechanically separate Assad’s regime from Daesh to prove them as two independent enemies. Their subsequent argument is that since we cannot fight two main enemies at the same time, we must focus on one enemy, namely Daesh. Their practical guideline is giving time to Bashar Assad to continue and rule a regime that provides the ground for Daesh.


“Allying with Iran is similar to the alliance with Stalin in WWII”

Some suggest that the West should unite with Iran, the Hezbollah and Russia. In the course of discussions at the French National Assembly on 25 November 2015, where extension of air strikes against Daesh was approved, French MP François Fillon argued, “Churchill, de Gaulle, Roosevelt and Stalin do not bear much resemblances, but they formed a coalition against Nazism.”

This comparison is logically wrong and fall politically in the interest of the front that fosters Daesh. The US and UK united with the Soviet Union in the WWII, but Stalin had no role in the formation of Nazism and did not in any way bear similarities to it. Nor did it finance Nazism. But as explained earlier, the Assad regime had a role in the formation of Daesh. Assad also financed Daesh by buying oil from it.

By the most conservative estimates, there are serious doubts that the Iranian regime and Assad would want Daesh annihilated before the regime of Bashar Assad is completely solidified. It should also be reminded that the Government of Stalin in WWII was not in danger of being overthrown by a popular uprising where 500,000 people were killed and half of the population have been displaced. Also it could not be denied that without the suppression of Sunnis in Syria and in Iraq - both carried out by Iranian-backed governments - it would have been impossible for Daesh to emerge as a serious threat. Therefore, those who call for cooperation with Assad or the mullahs in Iran are actually asking the metaphorical arsonist to help extinguish the fire.

In addition, Bashar Assad’s enormous bloodshed in Syria has deepened the ruling regime’s conflict with its people so much that any thought of a compromise which in practice legitimizes the massacre emanates either from political thoughtlessness or from inability to adopt a brave policy. Supporting Assad or the role of Iran in Syria is tantamount to bolstering the Hezbollah and helping to save the mullahs from their own crises.

“Bashar Assad’s fall will contribute to further expansion of terrorism”

Some people are worried for Syria’s future and argue that the collapse of the ruling Government might repeat the experience of Iraq where the fall of the incumbent regime led to disintegration of the country’s vital structures and turned Iraq into a safe haven for terrorists. This is of course a legitimate concern. The catastrophic consequences of destruction of Iraq’s regular army and its security, political and even civil structures, continue to persist.

With such a legitimate concern in mind, a glance at the present situation in Syria leads us to conclude that the most significant mechanism that is destroying Syria’s vital structures is the continued rule of Bashar Assad. The displacement of half of the population and an increasing number of victims symbolizes this escalating destruction. As a matter of fact, to preserve the remaining structures of Syria, Assad’s removal becomes an urgent priority.

Recommendations

A study of the above-mentioned options leads to the fundamental conclusion that without ousting Assad, four vital undertakings could not be realized:

1.Daesh would not be effectively eliminated;
2.The exodus of refugees towards Europe would not stop;
3.Foreign military, ranging from revolutionary guards, Iranian backed Hezbollah, and Shiite militias to Russia, could not be expelled from Syria;
4.Security, military and civil structures of Syria could not be saved.

On this basis, it is proposed that in conjunction with firm security measures in Europe, particularly France and Belgium and airstrikes against Daesh:
1)Ouster of Bashar Assad should be set as the prime target of EU’s strategy in Syria while encouraging the US to adopt the same direction;
2)The moderate opposition, especially the Free Army of Syria, should be supported militarily and specifically with air-defence batteries;
3)Removal of foreign forces, especially Iranian IRGC, Hezbollah and their affiliated militias from Syria, should be a fixture of the EU’s position during the peace talks;
4)The formation of a no-fly zone with help from the US and Turkey;
5)Supporting democratic Muslims who advocate a tolerant Islam in Europe and on the international arena as the strategic antithesis to extremism under the banner of Islam.

 


About ISJ:
International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ) was initially formed in 2008 as an informal group of EU parliamentarians to seek justice for the Iranian democratic opposition. In 2014 it was registered as a non-profit NGO in Brussels expanding its membership beyond elected parliamentarians to former officials and other dignitaries with an interest to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability. ISJ's campaigns have enjoyed the support of over 4000 parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic.

President: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of European Parliament (1999-2014)
Board of Advisors: Patrick Kennedy, Congressman (1995-2011); Günter Verheugen, Vice President of EU Commission (2004-2010); Nicole Fontaine, President of European Parliament (1999-2002); General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff (1997-2001); David Kilgour, Canadian Secretary of State (1997-2003); Ingrid Betancourt ; Prof. Raymond Tanter, President of Iran Policy Committee, Washington D.C.; Prof. Horst Teltschik, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (1999-2008); Colonel Wesley Martin, Antiterrorism/Force Protection Officer of all Coalition forces in Iraq (2005-2007); Senator Lucio Malan, Quaestor of Italian Senate; Alessandro Pagano MP, President of Committee of Italian Parliamentarians for a Free Iran; Antonio Razzi Secretary of Italian Senate Foreign Affairs Committee; Gérard Deprez MEP, Chair Friends of a Free Iran intergroup European Parliament; Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice President of European Parliament; Tunne Kelam, Member of European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, Co - chairman of British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, former independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislations; Lord Clarke of Hampstead CBE, Former Chairman of UK Labour Party; Lord Maginnis of Drumglass; Lord Dholakia OBE, Deputy Leader of Liberal Democrats in House of Lords

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