America’s campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria is drawing closer to an end. ISIS has been driven out of its main Iraqi strongholds, with some estimates suggesting the city of Mosul has 300 fighters remaining. They are reportedly holed up inside a 500-square-meter (600-square-yard) piece of territory. In Syria, the same will ultimately soon be said of Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto Syrian capital.
Though some people applaud these developments, little attention is being paid to what will actually follow ISIS’ defeat in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the Washington Post just posed the question: “ISIS will lose Mosul and Raqqa. What happens next?” – which appears to be a start in the right direction.
However, before we can even turn our minds to that topic, it is worth analyzing the impact of this American-led campaign in Iraq and Syria on the very people the American military is supposedly liberating. In Raqqa, a location the United States does not have legal authorization to bomb in the first place, countless civilians are being blown apart and left to rot in the street.
One Syrian by the name of Abu Ahmad (yes, they have names) told Reuters he found several of his neighbors lying dead in the street the morning after a night of heavy air strikes.
“I went out the next morning just to inspect,” he said. “I swear to God, cats were eating the corpses.”
The reality of the conflict on the ground is important to note because this devastating horror will inevitably shape what is to come. You don’t eradicate terrorism by murdering thousands of civilians; indeed, you exacerbate it. You perpetuate it. You give terrorism a cause and a meaning, and countless rubble-faced fresh recruits.
Let’s not forget that ISIS exists largely because the U.S. invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein, a man who opposed these types of Islamist movements. The vacuum of power that emerged after his removal paved the way for al-Qaeda to take root in the country, which paved the way for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to transform into ISIS. Another key failure was America’s reckless decision to fire approximately 400,000 servicemen simply because they were part of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party. These servicemen were left without jobs, and many of them went on to hold senior positions within ISIS’ ranks.
“As one senior US official at the time said, it was the day we made a quarter of a million enemies in Iraq,” investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now! when ISIS first made headlines in 2014.
AQI and ISIS were formed directly in response to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. So what is the coalition’s response to dealing with ISIS this time around?
More occupation. For example, even Canada has already announced it will stay in Iraq until March 2019 at the earliest. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend has called for U.S. troops to remain long after ISIS is defeated, as well, without giving a specific deadline.
It has already been reported that even though areas of Iraq have been liberated by U.S.-backed forces, ISIS cells still exist and are capable of launching attacks. It doesn’t matter how long the United States and its allies occupy Iraq – as long as they are burying civilians by the thousands and supporting questionable militia on the ground, these types of resistance movements will continue to expand. Without a specific territory for American-backed forces to target, they will now be harder to defeat.
This is perpetual warfare perfected. Unfortunately, ISIS is the least of our concerns, as a regional powder keg is about to ignite. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly stated that Turkey is ready to invade northern Syria to battle the Kurdish fighters that are currently backed and supported by the U.S.
This looming battle puts a NATO ally against NATO’s largest member on the Syrian battlefield. Turkey has also seemingly sided with Qatar in the latest regional spat between the Gulf states, which directly puts these two defiant states into the open arms of Iran.
Iran is also heavily embroiled in Iraq and Syria and is set to emerge as one of the biggest victors in these two heavily-interlinked battle arenas. However, the U.S. cannot allow this to happen, as Iran is their prime adversary in the region.
Though the media has attempted to paint this upcoming battle as an accidental misadventure — one through which the U.S. stumbled into a wider regional war in Syria it had no intentions of joining — the reality is that these developments have been planned for a long time, and these plans are still being formulated to this day.
Speaking at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, General H.R. McMaster, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, confirmed this fact.
“Iran is feeding this cycle of sectarian conflict to keep the Arab world perpetually weak,” McMaster said, the Los Angeles Times reported. McMaster suggested U.S. policy towards Syria and Iraq after ISIS’ defeat is to focus on isolating Tehran and preventing the expansion of its influence.
McMaster is the war hawk who replaced Michael Flynn earlier this year and booted Steven Bannon off the National Security Council before providing the Syrian military strike proposals to Donald Trump in April this year. One of those strike options included an all-out assault on the Syrian president’s palaces until he was killed, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s investigation.
Further, ISIS’ last stand in Syria will take place in an oil-rich region of Syria and will see Russia, Iran, and Syria come up against the U.S. military and the Kurdish fighters on the ground as both sets of players fight for control of the area. If you factor in Turkey’s threat of intervention, Israel’s non-stop air strikes targeting pro-regime troops and infrastructure, and Saudi Arabia’s hostility towards Iran and the current Qatar crisis, it doesn’t take a genius to see that this conflict has the potential to spiral completely out of control.
The fall of a group as brutal as ISIS would ordinarily be something to celebrate if it weren’t for the roadmap we are following right now. Clearly, the U.S. and its allies can’t defeat an ideology using the same tactics that created them. Further, a new report has found that Saudi Arabia has a “clear link” to extremism in the United Kingdom, yet Saudi Arabia continues to be a major partner in the U.S.-led coalition.
ISIS is in Yemen, Libya, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Afghanistan – to name a few countries. The group is capable of inspiring attacks throughout Europe and even in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a majority Shia nation (ISIS hails from the Sunni sect of Islam). Its caliphate in Iraq and Syria may be crumbling, but we may be witnessing the early stages of a global phenomenon.
On top of this, elements within the Trump administration are planning for more confrontation in order to counter Iran and its regional ambitions, which would more than likely lead to a direct war with Russia, as well.
There is nothing worth celebrating here.
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