Rise of IS: Obama fails miserably

The fall to Islamic State (IS) fighters of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on May 17 followed by the capture on May 20 of the Syrian city and ancient ruins of Palmyra amount to a stunning defeat for the US which currently leads a coalition campaigning to curb and roll back IS territorial gains in both countries. This defeat can be classified as “blowback” from destructive handling of the crisis in Iraq and Syria by the Obama administration in 2012-13.

A US defence intelligence agency document leaked last week warned the Obama administration at that time about the risks of the rise in Syria of IS and al-Qaeda’s official offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra which were considered by US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to be strategic assets in the campaign to ouster the Syrian government. The aim of their policy was the creation of an “Islamic state” in eastern Syria that would act as a counterweight to the Damascus regime.

Not only did this policy succeed in eastern Syria and across the north of that country but also in northern and western Iraq, forcing the US to mount air raids that have failed to counter and contain IS and Nusra advances for which Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have provided funds and arms. Their actions have not only undermined the US aerial campaign but also enabled the jihadis to take fresh territory. These regional powers see the Sunni jihadis of IS and Nusra as a challenge to Shia Iran which supports the Syrian and Iraqi governments.

In Syria, Damascus has lost control of the provinces in the north and east while in Iraq, Baghdad has lost large areas in the north and virtually the entire western province of Anbar, of which Ramadi is the capital. Anbar is strategic as it shares borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Syrian losses have been due to war weariness among overstretched Syrian troops and militia allies while the Iraqi defeat in Ramadi stems from the sectarian and corrupt regime installed by the 2003-11 US occupation .

The battle for Ramadi was lost when Iraqi troops fled the city as IS advanced. This amounted to a repeat of the IS rout of the army from Mosul last June. Nearly a year of US retraining and rearming of Iraqi forces appears to have made little difference to their performance.

Army units in Ramadi were isolated, under-strength and lacking command and control. The local police had not been paid in six months and pro-government Sunni tribesmen, promised weapons by Baghdad which did not deliver, had to buy their own arms and ammunition.

The US is blamed for the Ramadi defeat because Washington pressed Iraqi President Haidar al-Abadi not to deploy Shia militias which had driven IS from the city of Tikrit in March, fearing Shia fighters would accuse Sunni civilians in Ramadi of collaboration with IS and wreak revenge on them. Weakened by the Ramadi defeat, Abadi has deployed the Shia militias with orders to retake Ramadi from IS which is also occupying portions of Iraq’s main oil refinery at Beiji.

Although Abadi belongs to the Shia fundamentalist Dawa movement that has spawned Shia parties and militias since the 1980s, he is under challenge from ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and powerful leaders of Iran-backed Shia militias, notably the Badr Brigades, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Hizbollah in Iraq. Abadi has the backing of more nationalistic Shia militias loyal to Grand Ayatollan Ali Sistani and headed by Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr.

Shia fundamentalist front
The rivalry between the militias has, on occasion, erupted into violence, exposing divisions in the Shia fundamentalist front. If the campaign against IS succeeds, Shia infighting could take place which could prompt Iran to intervene on behalf of its clients.
It is obvious that the Obama administration ignored the warning from the Defence Intelligence Agency and has not adopted a clear policy of its own in pursuit of US national interests. Instead, the US has permitted the Saudis, Qataris and Turks to steer the course of the connected conflicts in Iraq and Syria, thereby propelling these countries into disastrous wars and risking the collapse of the core of the eastern Arab world into anarchy and chaos.

To make matters worse, if that is possible, the Saudis do not agree with the objective pursued Turkey and Qatar – the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Damascus – although all three are ready to sustain IS and Nusra with the aim of promoting a long war of attrition against the Iranian-supported Shia fundamentalist regime in Baghdad.

The current turmoil in West Asia flows from the US occupation of Iraq during which Washington handed over Baghdad to a Shia sectarian regime allied to Tehran, prompting paranoid Sunni Saudis and Gulf Arabs to use Sunni extremist proxies to roll back or corral Iran.

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