Thursday, June 12, 2014


Isn't it sarcastic that the acronym ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is also the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess?  Because the ISIS, this time, is certainly not about a revered goddess but about creating a modern Islamic caliphate, a country stretching from Syria to Iraq and beyond, where the role of women would not have anything to do with potential divinity.

Never mind.  Given the current violence and population displacement, those concerns are not the foremost.  Stopping the violence would be, if anyone in the whole world just could figure out a way to do that, either in Syria or in Iraq.  That doesn't seem feasible.

Then the recriminations.  It's certainly true that the American invasion (to punish Saudi suicide bombers in 911 the US had to attack an unrelated country,  Iraq, though it was really about oil)  precipitated the current situation.  For instance,

While not as big as what it had been prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's military under Saddam Hussein boasted an estimated 430,000 soldiers and another 400,000 personnel in paramilitary units and security services when U.S.-led troops invaded in spring 2003.
Still, the Iraqis proved no match for coalition forces.
After the military was overrun, it was dissolved -- along with Iraq's defense and information ministries -- by Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq.
That left hundreds of thousands of troops suddenly out of work. Those with ranks of colonel and above -- who knew the most about strategy, tactics and more -- were hit even harder, as they weren't entitled to severance packages and couldn't work for the new Iraqi government.
Then they had to go somewhere.
According to Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, "hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled officers of Saddam Hussein's ... joined ISIS."

This is an example, one of many, of the lack of proper thinking before and during the US invasion of Iraq.

It is also true that the state of Iraq was patched together by the British, once upon a time, and doesn't lend itself to be a natural state, and the West's constant thirst for oil and the associated colonial history has played a major role in preparing the ground for the current events.

But we shouldn't  assume that the area would be a peaceful Eden in the absence of any Western influence.  The current violence in Iraq has to do with the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds, and the current violence in Syria is also religiously motivated.  The ISIS group appears to support an extreme form of an Islamist state in Raqqa, Syria,  where Sharia laws are rigidly applied, in their original medieval forms, and so on.  At the same time, their tactics in Iraq rely more on the support of Sunnis and the unhappiness with the current Iraqi leadership, because that works out better in the Iraqi context:

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, their strict brand of Islamic law holds sway. Activists and residents say music has been banned, Christians have to pay an Islamic tax for protection and people are executed in the main square.
In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, however, residents say the group has so far taken a more moderate approach, choosing to overlook some practices it considers forbidden.
The makeup of its forces also varies to a degree. In Syria, foreigners play a larger role than in Iraq, where locals tend to dominate.
The group has been able to do this, in part, because of the simmering anger in Iraq’s Sunni minority community toward Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They accuse al-Maliki of treating them as second-class citizens.
None of what I write here is based on any kind of expertise.  These are my amateur thoughts.

I'm not sure how democracy is historically developed, but I fear it begins with at least some bloodshed, and far too many countries appear to exist at that stage right now.  That's my more optimistic interpretation of what might be happening.  The pessimistic one is about a world divided by money and religion and sinking ever deeper into absolutes which cannot be questioned.

Though ISIS is unlikely to be strong enough on its own to create a permanent Islamic emirate or caliphate.  Ironically, should it succeed in that the outcomes would be bad for its future residents. The extremist Islamic model is a very poor fit for modern needs of economic and social development.