ISIS militants on Sept. 17 detonated explosive charges to destroy the Citadel of Tikrit, birthplace of Salahaddin Ayubi (popularly rendered Saladin), one of the most important archeological sites in Iraq. Iornically, Saladin is a revered figure in Islam, who liberated much of Palestine from the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. But ISIS charged that the place is revered as a shrine, and the fact that Saladin was Kurdish may have added to their intolerance of the site's veneration. Since seizing northern Iraq. ISIS have bombed many cultural, archeological and holy places of all the region's religions, including the tomb of the Prophet Younis in Mosul, the tomb of Baba Yadgar in Kakayi and other holy places of the Yazidis and Christians. (BasNews, IraqiNews, DiHA, PUKMedia, Sept. 17) ISIS is so extreme in its rejection of "idolatry" that it has even announced its aim to destroy the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site. This may backfire and eventually lead to a Sunni uprising against ISIS in their areas of control. Meanwhile, cultural treasures are being lost every day.
We've long maintained that global oil prices are not determined by scarcity or even the laws of supply and demand so much as by politics—the price rises or falls in response to war or comparative stability in the Middle East. Oil fields don't have to actually go up in flames—the mere fear that this will happen is sufficient to drive up the price: it is about perception. We've also noted that the global petro-oligarchs are hoping to reap a windfall from the multiple global crises, plugging the North American energy boom as a key to security and low prices. But ultimately, high prices are needed to fuel continued expansion of the industry, whether in North America, the Arctic, Persian Gulf or Caspian Basin. So, to an extent, the global price is manipulated—we are alternately told that energy self-sufficiency is reducing reliance on unstable global markets, and that instability threatens our "way of life" so we had better loosen burdensome environmental restraints on new exploitation. At the moment, we are on the first part of the cycle: After an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, prices have now stabilized, and we are being told it is thanks to domestic fracking and tar-sands oil. Soon enough (just you wait) they will be surging up again, especially if (as seems all too likely) the Middle East continues to escalate. This much is admitted in a Sept. 15 National Public Radio report, "With Turmoil Roiling Abroad, Why Aren't Oil Prices Bubbling Up?"...
We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)
The extremist ISIS—now calling themselves the "Islamic State"—have left a bloody trail of mass murder in their advance across large swaths of northern Syria and Iraq over the past three months, slaughtering and enslaving Christians, Shi'ites and others deemed to be heretics. It is hardly surprising that they've been taking a tough line on cannabis. ISIS militants have posted footage on the Internet showing their men burning cannabis fields in the Syrian governorate of Aleppo. The video, online at The Telegraph, shows men cutting down the plants in a large field, making a number of piles, dousing them with a flammable liquid and setting them alight. ISIS claim they discovered the farm after having captured the town of Akhtarin from the rival Free Syrian Army in recent weeks. The militants claim the farm owner fled over the nearby border with Turkey, according to Huffington Post.
The hope that a Sunni uprising will overthrow ISIS in their areas of control is daily given a boost by each new report of the organization's repression of the traditional "folk Islam" practiced by the common people of northern Iraq and Syria. Reuters on Sept. 13 reports the claim of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that ISIS militants have destroyed several Sufi shrines and tombs in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor—the latest in a string of such desecrations across their territory. In March, ISIS bombed the mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni in Raqqa, once a destination for Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Destroying even sites revered by Sunnis is precisely the kind of overreach that even al-Qaeda warned its regional franchises against when they were in control of northern Mali last year. But the affiliate organizations didn't listen, and the local populace did indeed turn against them. Can we hope for a replay?
Iraq's new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Barack Obama's announcement of a new campaign against ISIS. On the same day Obama gave his speech, Abadi met in Baghdad with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss international support for Iraqi forces in the drive against ISIS. (BasNews, Sept. 12; Aswat al-Iraq, Sept. 10) While Abadi's government continues to be Shi'ite-dominated, there are signs of success in his efforts to forge a pact with Sunnis to resist ISIS. Sunni tribes in Salaheddin governorate have formed a council to mobilize tribesmen to retake the provincial capital of Tikrit from ISIS in coordination with Iraq's army. Significantly, the new command center established for the effort is in Auja, a district recently retaken from ISIS by Iraqi troops—and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, who was buried there following his execution in 2006. (Azzaman, Sept. 12)
Well, it sure gives us a sense of deja vu. Obama's Sept. 10 speech making the case for military intervention against ISIS (Time transcript) comes exactly a year after his call for military intervention against Bashar Assad. Except this time, he seems to really mean it. Last year, he punted to Congress, saying he needed authorization to wage war—which some sarcastically called Obama's "brilliant strategy to keep us out of Syria," despite Assad having called his "red line" bluff with the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. The way it played out, Congress never even had to vote, due to Obama's acceptance of the Russian plan for "voluntary elimination" of Assad's chemical weapons—which has failed to acheive even that, and was really Putin's bid to buy time for Assad to go on killing his people by "conventional" means. Now, in contrast, that a real intervention in Iraq and eventually Syria is in the works—not against Assad but against ISIS—there isn't a peep about asking Congress for permission. Isn't that funny? Hate to say "told you so," but we've long predicted that when the US finally intervened in Syria it would not be against Assad but the jihadists. Note that Obama's speech says nothing about his erstwhile demand that Assad step down—but, on the contrary, invokes the need for a "political solution" in Syria. This implicitly means a deal with the genocidal dictator who has abetted the rise of ISIS by buying their oil. What an insult to the Syrian resistance (including the democratic civil resistance) that has been staking everything to fight the dictator and the jihadists alike.
The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against ISIS that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to the New York Times, citing "senior administration officials." The first phase, an air campaign is already underway, with nearly 145 air-strikes in the past month. The Times says the aims are "to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq." The next phase, to begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish forces and possibly Sunni tribal fighters. The final, toughest and most controversial phase is destroying the ISIS sanctuary inside Syria. This might not be completed until the next administration, some Pentagon planners are said to "envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months." (NYT, Sept. 7)