This one’s for you if you think there must be more to the conflicts in the Middle East than you can ever learn from any Western news article.

“The Rise of Islamic State” is a short book, but the author writes so concisely that I wanted to write down almost every sentence, hence why there are so many quotations in this blog. I wanted this book to transform me into someone who has a sound understanding of all of the factors that have contributed to the current situation in the Middle East, able to enter into a debate with anyone who wants to discuss it. Alas, unsurprisingly, it remains incredibly complex, but I do feel that I have a better grasp of the contributory factors. According to this particular book (disclaimer this is obviously a gross oversimplification) they were 1) Religious/ethnic divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurds 2) A shift of Sunni Islam towards Wahhabism 3) Disunity amongst ISIS’s opposition 4) Complex relationships between different groups of allies  (see below) 5) The self interest of each party involved 6) Corrupt governments, Iraq being the example discussed most in this book 7) A weak Iraqi army, largely as a result of 6). Sadly, you are left feeling that the countries of the Western world act simply to impress their own voters. Voters who know about events of the Middle East through media outlets that often overemphasise the role of the west, which has, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria “exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war.” Cockburn discusses at length the steep challenges that reporters on the ground face in trying to report events accurately.

Joe Biden (US Vice President) on the US’s idea to recruit “moderates” to fight ISIS “there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers.” xx

“The first moves from Washington [after 9/11] made it clear that the anti-terror war would be waged without any confrontation with Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, two close US allies, despite the fact that without their involvement of these two countries 9/11 was unlikely to have happened.” p4 To back up this argument the author goes on to say 15/19 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite, money from Saudi Arabia has been funding jihadis/al-Qaeda, while Pakistan is deemed to have supported the Afghan Taliban.

“In other words, three and a half months after the fall of Mosul and six weeks after the start of US air strikes, the Iraqi army was still unable to withstand an ISIS assault or carry out an elementary military operation.” p25

“As the bombing of Syria began in September [2014] the US would boast of having assembled a coalition of forty states, but this loose allegiance was not only unwieldy but had so many different agendas as to paralyse united action.” p37

ISIS, similarly to al-Qaeda, takes tax or protection money from businesses “people would not eat at any restaurant that wasn’t up to date with its tax payments to ISIS lest the place be bombed while they were dining.” p49

Iraqi  corruption. One former minister “The Iraqi government is an institutionalised kleptocracy.” Activist Ghassan al- Attiyah said “Maybe a judge sets you free but you must pay for the paperwork…Even if you are free you may be captured by some officer who paid $10,000 to $50,000 for his job and needs to get the money back.” P67

“Syrians have to choose between a violent dictatorship…or an opposition that shoots children in the face for minor blasphemy” p81

“By insisting that Assad should go as a precondition of peace, while knowing this is not going to happen, his enemies are in practice ensuring that the war will go on.” p93

“A reason for waterboarding al-Qaeda suspects was to extract confessions implicating Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia in the [9/11] attacks.” p100

“The “Wahhabisation” of mainstream Sunni Islam is one of the most dangerous developments of our era.” p108

“Journalists never fully admit to themselves or others the degree to which they rely on secondary and self in tested sources.” p122

“A government or an army can try to maintain secrecy by banning reporters but they will pay the price as the vacuum of news is filled with information supplied by their enemies.” p123

A correspondent reporting on Syria from Bierut after 2011 says it is “like reporting the last American presidential election from Canada depending on members of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party for information.” p133 The inevitable bias that results leads to a lot of surprises and unexpected developments.

On the Iraqi army “Soldiers were sent to the front with only four chips of ammunition for thei AK-47s; they went hungry because their commanders had embezzled the money to be spent on food” p136

After 2003 in Iraq and 2011 in Libya “There was absurd talk of “nation-building” to be carried out or assisted by foreign powers, which clearly had their own interests in mind” p142

One Iraqi told the author: “I never imagined that ten years after the fall of Saddam you would still be able to get a man killed in Baghdad by paying $100.” p147

“Part of the strength of the fundamentalist movement is a sense that there is something inevitable and divinely inspiring about its victories.” p153 This may also mean that ISIS will fight harder and longer in a battle, aware that “any failure damages its claim to divine support” p159

Shia militias do not distinguish between ISIS and the rest of the Sunni population so “The result is that Sunnis in Iraq have no alternative but to stick with ISIS or flee, if they want to survive.” p155

According to an Iraqi observer, Sunni Arab monarchies “like the fact that ISIS creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them.”  p156

“ISIS has many enemies, so numerous indeed that they should be able to overwhelm it in the long term, but their disunity and differing agendas mean that Islamic State is fast becoming an established geographic and political fact on the map.” p161

 

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