Syria or Islamic State: Which One is Obama’s Target?

Syria or Islamic State: Which One is Obama’s Target?

The United States is to launch war against the radical Islamist group called the Islamic State (a Sunni jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria previously calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). That’s what President Obama said on September 10 as he outlined an open-ended campaign to combat the threat posed by the radical group, significantly expanding the counter­terrorism strategy - a hallmark of his presidency.  In a prime-time speech televised from the White House the US President said that the United States will join “with our friends and allies to degrade, and ultimately destroy, the terrorist group known as ISIL,” (the President used an alternative acronym for the group that has emerged in Iraq and Syria). On September 11, 2001 the Twin Tower tragedy led to formation of a broad coalition (ISAF) for launching the multinational operation in Afghanistan. It ran smoothly those days. It’s not that easy this time.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs questioned the strategy of opposing the Islamic State. Tehran also questioned the position outlined by US President. The Iranian Foreign Ministry noted that some members of the coalition being formed provided funds for terrorists while others turned a blind eye on what the terrorists did.   The White House will hardly be able to explain why the “good terrorists” all of a sudden became “bad terrorists.” The militants fighting against the Bashar Assad’s government had been friends of the Obama administration. In a mysterious way they turned into enemies as soon as they crossed the border and move to Iraq. 

13 years have passed since the tragedy that took place on 9/11. In 2001 the US invaded Afghanistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden. The US effort was supported by the largest coalition the history has ever known. Leading the international anti-terrorist effort the US has achieved minor results. After two bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Washington has done away with the leader of Al Qaeda and some other  known terrorist leaders but failed, or did not want to, to liquidate the terrorist groups they led.

The United States used the invasion by the Islamic State and the situation in Iraq to get rid of former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and influence new assignments in the country’s government.  The armed conflict in the northern part of Iraq began on June 10, 2014. Washington was expected to react  but it dragged its feet limiting the response to sending around 300 military advisers to the conflict zone no matter the United States has great responsibility for what is happening in that country.

The invasion of the Islamic State is the result of US intervention in 2003. The group had been gaining strength for more than ten years.  Thousands of former Iraqi military fired by the US for serving in the armed forces commanded by Saddam Hussein have filled the Islamic States ranks.  The United States made a mistake by bringing Shiites to power. Now the Islamic State is 100 percent Sunni, it has become a sworn enemy of   Shiites. A lot of Iraqi Sunni Muslims support the group.  President Obama never said a word about how to tackle the problem of the divisions along the Sunni-Shia lines.  Actually the President has not made a final decision on who is number one enemy of the United State. Is it the Islamic State or the regime of Bashar Assad?   

Syria has a long history of fighting the Islamic State militants operating on its territory. The US ignores the fact. Marie Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, said the White House does not abandon the plans to topple the regime of Bashar Assad. According to her, the US is gradually increasing aid to “moderate mainstream opposition rebels” called terrorists by Damascus. And it is very cautious about providing support to warring parties.  

The “caution” is used for providing funds to the militants of the Syrian opposition who are by and large the same type of people as warriors of the Islamic State. President Obama wants Congress to approve $500 million dollars for this purpose.  Mr. Obama said he is prepared to order airstrikes on Syrian territory as part of an expanded counter-terrorism plan to confront the Islamic State jihadist group operating in both Syria and Iraq. “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” Obama said while discussing plans for expanded airstrikes. The US is not going to ask the Syrian government for permission.  The President noted, “Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.  Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.  In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people -- a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.  Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”  In other words President Obama wants “good terrorists” be included into the ranks of the coalition fighting “bad guys.” Other states invited to join the planned operation believe that this approach is damaging their international reputation.

Russia believes that the plans to strike Syria are nothing else but preparatory steps to launch an intervention.  A Russian Foreign Ministry statement says the United States was turning a blind eye on the terrible things the radical extremists did in Syria for a long time. It’s a good thing it realizes the scale of the disaster affecting the whole Middle East region now.  The realization came only after the radicals had seized a large chunk of Iraqi territory, announced the emergence of “caliphate” and committed an act of unbelievable cruelty killing US journalists. But it’s better late than never, the statement notes.    

The purposeful slowness of the President Obama’s reaction has resulted in thousands of lives among civilians and the loss of large part of Iraqi national territory. Now the group has about 90 thousand square km under its control. It’s comparable to the territory of Belgium.  It includes such large cities as Tikrit, Mosul, Fallujah, Tal-Afar and the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah. The seized land has the population of eight million people. The Central Intelligence Agency had shied away from making comments on the situation, but right after the Obama’s remarks it said the strength of the Islamic States militants armed formations is three times higher than estimated before with around 31 thousand fighters filling the militants’ ranks.    

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. administration are disappointed by Russia’s initial reaction to President Barack Obama’s speech on the Islamic State militant group. In an interview On September 11 with VOA in Saudi Arabia, Kerry said, “There are problems through many of the countries around Russia and near Russia and even in some of the parts of Russia,” he said, referring to its experience with Chechnya. "There are terrorists, many of whom will take an example from ISIL and what is happening in Syria and Iraq."

Actually Russia is ready to join the international anti-terror efforts. But Mr. Kerry’s hopes for Moscow joining the anti-Assad coalition are in vain. The State Secretary said, “«I think over time, Russia will see that the real need is for them to be more cooperative and stop supporting a guy like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who kills his own population, and to help bring about a political solution.” But Moscow has already said that the strikes against the Islamic State militants on Syrian territory would be a gross violation of international law. The Washington’s bellicose plans may make the Middle East situation get completely out of control.

The Iran’s views on what is happening in Iraq largely coincide with the Russia’s position.  Iran accused the United States on Saturday of seeking to "topple the legitimate regime" of Bashar al-Assad in Syria under the pretext of fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants. The speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, warned the United States against launching strikes against Iran's ally Syria. "The United States is playing with fire in the region and must know that it cannot attack Syria on the pretext of fighting against the Islamic State," he said. The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani emphasized that Washington was "trying to divert the eyes of the world from its pivotal role in supporting and equipping the terrorists in Syria in a bid to topple the legitimate regime." "On the pretext of fighting terrorism, the United States want to pursue their unilateral policies and violate the sovereignty of states," Shamkhani said.

Tags: ISIL   Syria