Save Syria, Iraq is already lost
ISIS is knowledgeable about history, and it dreams of a caliphate state as it eyes the Levant
Have you recently taken a look at the original map of the Sykes-Picot border? It includes Iraq’s second city Mosul and Greater Syria, which are the lines currently being drawn. So is there an aim to set things straight?
The first draft of the map was as such before it was amended to the current borders between Syria and Iraq by the preferences of Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot in London and Paris. But why was this amendment done? We need a historian to answer this. However, anyone who knows history is aware that no Islamic state was established in Mosul without expanding to Aleppo and the rest of the Levant. So is Mosul the natural extension of the Levant and vice versa? This looks like a fun exercise during a history session but when it comes to politics, it's a nightmare for the region. The state we're talking about is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I think it's time we give them the “respect” they deserve after the victories they achieved last week and after they forced themselves on the region. We must thus call them "the state," as they like to be called, despite our huge differences with them and the mandatory fear of them.
A dark relationship
ISIS is also knowledgeable about history, and it dreams of a caliphate state as it eyes the Levant. This truth must remain clear amid claims that ISIS is an "Iranian product" and that it is "allied with Assad." These are just conclusions and not facts. Yes, ISIS secretly dealt with these two regimes and their intelligence but recent events show that this was an exchange of benefits between two parties that have contradictory aims. This dark relationship between two fanatic parties which despise one another has always been a huge mystery that can only be interpreted as a result of Iranian slyness and an evil strategy to incite sectarian strife wherever Iran is active.
ISIS is knowledgeable about history, and it dreams of a caliphate state as it eyes the LevantJamal Khashoggi
This is how Iran justifies its sectarianism and its mobilization of the region's Shiites - by making them feel continuously threatened. The policy, however, backfired and the genie was let out of the bottle threatening Tehran and Damascus and eliminating the fool among them. It's clear now that the al-Qaeda organization has used them both as much as they used it. Everyone gambled and al-Qaeda won.
Saving Syria can be achieved by preventing its fall in the hands of ISIS. This of course cannot be carried out by saving Bashar al-Assad and his regime as Assad is the cause and he's the one who brought about all this evil. It's only a matter of time before the borders between ISIS and the Shiite Iraqi South are drawn. Borders with the Kurdistan region are already established. But the responsibility of confronting Kurdish ambitions in Kirkuk and what's around it of the central government (previously) in Baghdad will be that of Commander of the Faithful who rules from his secret chamber. In the end, everyone will agree on borders. Of course, the agreement will not be signed at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo but it will be a fait accompli.
ISIS benefitted from its previous mistakes and expanded its alliances. Some are experts and strategists from the old Baath regime. It's also not considered an "organization" but a real state that has oil resources factories, farms and national production and which is in charge of few million people's security and livelihood. Therefore, it's acting like a state and a government. Of course it's different from the world's definition of "government" as the latter definition is based on acceptable common international relations. The world actually rejects and despises ISIS which is gradually progressing and avoiding failed wars. This was clear via its movement when it progressed towards Baghdad last week moving around Samraa which it knows there's no popularity or anger like those it used to win the support of people of Mosul and Anbar.
The upcoming battles will reveal the extent of ISIS’ maturity. Most probably, it will stop at the maximum extent in the south like it now with the North’s Kurds and it will rest a little benefitting from international incompetence. The U.S. will of course not launch war. Deterring ISIS will not be achieved without a complete war that's no less than the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. America and Obama don't want such wars or what's even lesser than that. Iran knows that the truce with "al-Qaeda-ISIS" has ended and remember the message which "Salafist jihadism" sent in 1994 via Ramzi Youssef who was behind the bomb explosion of Imam Reza shrine in mashhad and who's currently serving time in the U.S. for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Someone from ISIS or al-Qaeda must've sent the Iranians saying: "Remember what we can do when your borders are open to us, from the east and west."
The second easy target for ISIS and where the circumstances are similar to Mosul, Anbar and Ramadi before they took over them is Syria where there's Sunni suppression, daily murder and international reluctance. ISIS is hated there but it has supporters. Success will bring it more victories and power alters previous convictions. Jabhat al-Nusra and its emir, Golani, must be more worried now. However there must be common ground that justifies some sort of reconciliation with them, with the Islamic Front and with the rest of Salafi organizations. The Free Syrian Army is almost finished off and the upcoming ISIS attack will completely finish it off. The anti-aircraft missiles which the U.S. prevented Syrian rebels from attaining are now available to ISIS. No one will prevent the latter from transferring some of these missiles to Syria. And just like we woke up few days ago to the news of Mosul's fall into the hands of ISIS, we will soon wake up to the news of the fall of Aleppo and other cities in the hands of ISIS. Is this good news? He who wants to be saved from Assad's daily barrel bombs and from the international community's reluctance and who desires some peace will accept ISIS.
Those who are worried by the expansion of this fundamentalist state which wants to change all the region's rules of politics and who prefer to besiege this state in its current Iraqi zone until it destroys itself, should better go forward, topple Assad and his regime and establish a pluralistic system that adheres to constitution and elections.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on June 21, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.