Though capable of staging spectacular attacks like 9/11, jihadist organizations were not a significant force on the ground when they first became notorious in the shape of al-Qa‘ida at the turn of century. The West’s initial successes in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan weakened their support still further.
Today, as renowned Middle East commentator Patrick Cockburn sets out in this explosive new book, that’s all changed. Exploiting the missteps of the West’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as its misjudgments in relation to Syria and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, jihadist organizations, of which ISIS is the most important, are swiftly expanding. They now control a geographical territory greater in size than Britain or Michigan, stretching from the Sunni heartlands in the north and west of Iraq through a broad swath of north-east Syria. On the back of their capture of Mosul and much of northern Iraq in June 2014, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been declared the head of a new caliphate that demands the allegiance of all Muslims.
The secular, democratic politics that were supposedly at the fore of the Arab Spring have been buried by the return of the jihadis. As the Islamic State announced by ISIS confronts its enemies, the West will once again become a target. Cockburn cites an observer in southern Turkey interviewing Syrian jihadi rebels early in 2014 and finding that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the US.”
How could things have gone so badly wrong? Writing in these pages with customary calmness and clarity, and drawing on unrivaled experience as a reporter in the region, Cockburn analyzes the unfolding of one of the West’s greatest foreign policy debacles and the rise of the new jihadis.
Crisis in the Middle East: The end of a country, and the start of a new dark age – Comment – Voices – The Independent
Iraq has disintegrated. Little is exchanged between its three great communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – except gunfire. The outside world hopes that a more inclusive government will change this but it is probably too late.
The main victor in the new war in Iraq is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) which wants to kill Shia rather than negotiate with them. Iraq is facing a civil war that could be as bloody as anything that we have seen in Syria and could go on for years.
The crucial date in this renewed conflict is 10 June, 2014 when Isis captured Iraq’s northern capital, Mosul, after three days’ fighting. The Iraqi government had an army with 350,000 soldiers on which $41.6bn (£25bn) had been spent in the three years from 2011, but this force melted away without significant resistance.
Discarded uniforms and equipment were found strewn along the roads leading to Kurdistan and safety. The flight was led by commanding officers, some of whom rapidly changed into civilian clothes as they abandoned their men. Given that Isis may have had as few as 1,300 fighters in its assault on Mosul this was one of the great military debacles in history.
Mission Creep? U.S. Has Nearly 1,000 Troops in Iraq Now
The U.S. sent 129 additional military personnel to Iraq to help develop an evacuation plan for tens of thousands of Iraqis stranded on a mountain under threat from Islamic extremists in northern Iraq. The new deployment raises the level of American military personnel in the country to 935, including 250 military advisors already in place, as well as an additional 100 assigned to the U.S. Embassy and the airport in Baghdad. At least 100 aircraft and more than half a dozen ships are also available to assist in the ongoing crisis.