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The War in Iraq and Syria: Who Are the Players?

Needed: A strategy of dual containment.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

August 16, 2014 - 11:43 pm
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The war currently raging in Iraq and Syria is a single conflict, pitting a number of clearly identifiable alliances against one another.  This war also stretches into Lebanon.

Who are the players?

Most famously, the Islamic State organization now dominates a contiguous land area stretching from Mosul in western Iraq all the way to the Syrian-Turkish border. This murderous gathering of jihadi fighters from across the world is in the process of swallowing up what is left of the Syrian insurgency in the north of that country. Only U.S. airstrikes and a general Kurdish mobilization stopped it from reaching Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, last week.

The IS has also now manifested itself in Lebanon.  In the recent fighting in Arsal, hundreds of fighters of the movement demonstrated that despite the efforts of Assad and Hizballah, IS is still able to cross the Syria-Lebanon border at will and in force.

So one of the combatant sides is a barbaric jihadi alliance of great military potency — at least in the landscape of Iraq-Syria-Lebanon, where most of the military forces are second rate.

The issue of who backs IS remains murky. It is somewhat hard to believe that the organization could have assembled the strength that it has without some form of state assistance.  There is strong evidence that in the early stages of its activities, when it was fighting Kurdish militias in northern Syria, it received help from Turkey. The current status of Ankara’s relations with the IS remains unclear. As of now,  this issue is an unanswered question.

Facing this Sunni jihadi force is a largely Shia Islamist alliance, led by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This alliance consists of Iran itself, the ruling Dawa party in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hizballah and its allies in Lebanon.

These two alliances are at war with one another. But both are anti-western.  Both desire the destruction of Israel.  Both are hostile to Christians — though the Shia alliance sees Christians as second-class citizens, while the Sunni jihadis take an openly murderous attitude toward them.

In addition to these two  blocs, there is a Kurdish interest, defending two distinct versions of Kurdish autonomous rule in northern Iraq and northern Syria. In Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government of Massoud Barzani presides over the best-governed and most peaceful part of the country.

Barzani’s armed forces, nevertheless, performed disappointingly against IS in the fight for Sinjar and at the Mosul Dam. Lack of ammunition and superior equipment in the hands of IS (including U.S.-made tanks captured in Mosul city) were responsible for this.

Further west, there are three additional areas of Syrian autonomy stretching across northern Syria.  These are effectively controlled by the PKK organization via its local franchise. In contrast to Barzani’s Pesh Merga, the PKK and PKK-trained YPG guerrillas have performed very well in fighting against IS over the previous year. Even in such difficult-to-defend areas as the beleaguered Kobani enclave in north-central Syria, the Kurdish guerrilla fighters have refused to cede ground to the jihadis.  The corridor from Singhal Mountain via Syria to safety in Dohuk, which has saved the lives of thousands of Yezidi refugees, was organized by these forces.

So that is the war that is currently taking place, and these are the three alliances arrayed against one another in the area still officially known as Iraq/Syria/Lebanon.  What should the west do?

First of all, what the west should emphatically not do is to line up behind the Shia alliance because its methods for dealing with infidels are marginally less insane than those of IS.  The mainly-Shia, Iran-led alliance is not less dangerous than the Sunni jihadis.  Indeed, in many ways it is more so.  It has the organized power of a state with an advanced nuclear program behind it, as well as the primary regional agency specializing in subversion and proxy warfare (the Revolutionary Guard Corps).

Aligning with this bloc — by, for example, seeking to bolster the Baghdad government alongside the Iranians — would be an exercise in folly.

What, then, is the alternative?

Top Rated Comments   
Western civilization is in a battle for its very existence against "radical" Islam. Who is at the front line of saving Western Civilization? http://why-israel.com/saving-western-civilization/
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment

The main source of funding and weaponry for ISIS originates in Qatar and Saudi Arabia then funneled through turkey and other nations. This is well known except apparently for writers on PJM.
By design or default the West has assisted creation of ISIS using Proxies in the Middle east. Now we are supposed to be shocked / surprised at what is occurring?
At some point naivety becomes too much.




4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The issue of who backs IS remains murky. It is somewhat hard to believe that the organization could have assembled the strength that it has without some form of state assistance. There is strong evidence that in the early stages of its activities, when it was fighting Kurdish militias in northern Syria, it received help from Turkey."

[http://shoebat.com/2014/04/09/cia-involved-benghazi-attack/]

In early 2012, the Obama administration, along with the administration of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reached an agreement that would have Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia provide funding for an operation run by then CIA Director David Petraeus (the Petraeus Operation). The purpose of the operation, carried out by the CIA and Great Britain’s MI6, was to move weapons from Libya into Syria, using back channel ‘rat lines’.

4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
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Thank you Dr. Spyer, excellent strategic analysis.

It seems like providing tactical air support to Kurdish ground forces is a correct strategy.
3 weeks ago
3 weeks ago Link To Comment
>>The issue of who backs IS remains murky. It is somewhat hard to believe that the organization could have assembled the strength that it has without some form of state assistance.

What makes anyone think there is a "good guy" on any side of this conflict? I recall seeing "rebel" fighters cutting out and eating an internal organ of a fallen soldier. Let it burn.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems as though the battlefield is being shaped for a world divided not by government type but by religion. We will have the liberties of Christendom or the tyrannies of Caliphate. Interesting times.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Any chance you want to revise this regarding the post-Maliki Iraqi government?
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Arm the Hindus, the Kurds, the Israeli Jews, and Christians. Bolster Southern Africa's defense against the the Islamic Onslaught from the North...all across Africa.

Severe travel and immigration restricitons for any Muslims to Europe and the Anglo Nations.

Bolster security at the Greek-Turkish land border.

Boot Turkey out of NATO and form a Pan European Christian Anti-Islamic alliance with Russia.

And last but not least, Russia, Canada, and the US....drill, baby, drill.

4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Western civilization is in a battle for its very existence against "radical" Islam. Who is at the front line of saving Western Civilization? http://why-israel.com/saving-western-civilization/
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
And in other news not making the news, rolling blackouts in Cairo (and across Egypt) have gotten so bad they're now up to 5 or 6 a 24 hr. day, each one lasting one hour. At one hour each, they're obviously planned but at all different times so you don't know when one's coming. Some are claiming the infrastructure can't keep up with growth, others a shortage of fuel. Gov't officials are citing as many as 300 attacks on Egypt's electrical infrastructure by people trying to embarrass the El-Sisi gov't.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
The rise of ISIS in some ways mirrors the rise of AlQaida. Both were formed in a lawless region while battling a govt. AQ was formed battling the russians. ISIS has been formed battling Syria's Assad. Undoubtedly foreign govts provided money in both cases in order to help the proxies defeat their enemies.

While ISIS has not beaten Assad it has gone in another geographic direction to obtain its own goals. In reality ISIS is not much militarily but no one in the region seems to be truly motivated or able to take them out.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Support the kurds to clean out the other slime there & let 'em make their own nation...
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
including parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq....

Agreed.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Qatar, Kuwait, UAR, and particularly Saudi Arabia birthed ISIS.

"How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, highly influential Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

"Sir Richard Dearlove does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: "Such things simply do not happen spontaneously."

"Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein's monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 510-mile-long Turkish-Syrian border open."

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/iraq-crisis-how-saudi-arabia-helped-isis-take-over-the-north-of-the-country-9602312.html

Beware of the Sunni-Shia war which some are naming Islam's Thirty Years' War.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
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