IS[IS], Al Qaeda, Taliban Jabat Al Nusrah, and other extremist Islamist (mostly Salafi Wahhabia and Deobandi) groups. Where did they spring from? What are the common ideological bonds and financial resources tying them together? Do we even care what is happening in Iraq and in other terrorism flash points across the world?
If you don’t care and if you believe it doesn’t affect you then you should think again.
The fall of Mosul and the sweep of ISIS or ISIL across Iraq’s Sunni dominated areas prompted much questioning around who ISIS are, where they sprang from and how they are financed. But one thing is clear and it is that the Islamic State (IS) as it is now known represents an existential threat to Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Follow the money
There is evidence that IS has grown wealthy from looting banks, plundering antiquities and selling oil to the Syrian government. However, its financial and ideological roots can be traced back to the conflict and insurgency in post invasion Iraq. But there is evidence that IS and similar terrorist outfits are receiving funding from wealthy donors in American-allied Gulf nations such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Recently one of the famous Joe Biden ‘gaff’s” the truth was revealed:
Report from the Brookings Institute concluded that:
In Kuwait, donors have taken advantage of weak terror financing control laws to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to various Syrian rebel groups, including IS[IS].
Recent claims suggest Saudi Arabia does not have a role in financing ISIS but we should remind ourselves of the contents of that famous memo from Hilary Clinton:
“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.
Clinton also said that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE needed to do more to stop the flow of funds. We are still waiting for the leopard to change its spots it seems. The chief financiers of Syrian rebels are wealthy individuals from these these states. Nor has the financing of extremist terror groups in Pakistan been stemmed. In addition these terror groups use methods such as extortion, smuggling and kidnapping to raise funds.
The source of extremist fighters in IS and similar jihadi groups is also revealing:
“The composition of foreign fighter flows to Syria (and now to Iraq again) indicates that the movement’s future is being decided by Saudis, Libyans, Tunisians, and Jordanians”
Foreign fighters also switch allegiance between different extremist groups depending on successes in combat and capturing territory. There is a shared goal between the different extremist jihadist groups – of creating some sort of caliphate, but their methods and structures differ. The recent declaration by IS of a Caliphate is direct challenge to Al Qaeda.
North Africa is also a haven for jihadists and terrorist, many of whom have expressed support for IS:
[M]any of the Tunisians and Libyans who fought in ISIS were originally members of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), which could help make both groups kingpins in the Maghrebi landscape, especially since they continue to grow closer organizationally themselves. Additionally, the Darnah-based jihadist group Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam publicly voiced support for ISIS earlier this week.
Jordan too has its own problems with jihadists.
Among some of the more bizarre claims during the past weeks have been accusations that Iran is directly responsible for the financing and rise of ISIS. But as Hayder Al Khoei argued here“It takes two to tango”. Actually in this case it is a few actors tangoing on the side of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey. And not a clandestine tango in the night, but a very lopsided tango in broad daylight, which also exposes the West’s naked complicity in fuelling sectarianism. The rise of IS in post invasion Iraq, manufactured by the West’s insatiable addiction to oil. The West’s weapon of choice, divide and rule, was deployed in an effort to foster and fuel sectarianism as evidence from Pakistani sources reveals:
In early 2005, Pakistani defence sources revealed that the Pentagon had “resolved to arm small militias backed by US troops and entrenched in the population,” consisting of “former members of the Ba’ath Party” – linked up with al-Qaeda insurgents – to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement.” Almost simultaneously, the Pentagon began preparing its ‘Salvador option’ to sponsor Shi’ite death squads to “target Sunni insurgents and their sympathisers.”
So this claim that Iran is somehow a financier and backer of ISIS deifies reality because Iran is a majority Shia nation. It is inconceivable that Iran would be the ideological and financial inspiration for an organisation which declares the Shia to be apostates, routinely bombs Shia shrines and places of worship and carries out summary executions of Shias.
The seriousness of this existential threat to Iraq is underlined by the unprecedented intervention of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who urged all Iraqis to join the security services (but predictably, despite repeated clarifications, has been deliberately misreported and misinterpreted by the media as a call for the formation of Shia militias). The media are keen to cast this as a sectarian conflict but the role of imperialist adventures and military intervention cannot be so easily downplayed. Clearly Al Qaida and similar extremist insurgent groups were not present in Iraq before the 2003 Bush-Blair invasion. The destabilisation that ensued military intervention created another set of issues and tensions which it is apparent that Bush and Blair either failed to prepare for or deliberately overlooked in a bid to pursue ‘strategic interests’.
But the divide and rule efforts ensured that the genie was out of the bottle. Shireen Hunter, Visiting Professor at Georgetown University argues:
“Iraq’s Sunni neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but also Qatar, also cannot countenance a Shia government in Baghdad. In addition to the anti-Shia impact of the Wahhabi creed that is dominant in Saudi Arabia and among the Qatari leadership, this Sunni animosity has derived from the perception that a Shia government in Iraq would change the balance of regional power in Iran’s favor. Yet Maliki is the least pro-Iranian of Iraq’s Shia leaders, with the possible exception of the now-notorious Ahmad Chalabi”
The Sunnis’psychological difficulty in accepting a mostly Shia government is understandable. After ruling the country for centuries, both under the Ottomans and after independence, and after oppressing the Shias and viewing them as heretics and dregs of society, the Sunnis find Shia rule to sit heavily on them. It is thus difficult to imagine what any Shia prime minister could have done —or could now do —to satisfy the Sunnis.
But this Wahhabi inspired Islamo-fascism has long been a feature of the Al Saud-Wahhab alliance, and turning a blind eye to intolerance and crushing of plurally and diversity by the desert kingdom was an integral feature of Britain’s foreign policy in its efforts to nurture a rival to the Ottomans. The discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula further sharpened the primacy of economic considerations over regard for human rights and ethics in Britain’s foreign policy. Because people are expendable – especially when at home they are othered and demonised as Muslims, let alone Muslims in faraway lands. But this moral blindness comes at a huge cost to minority groups such as Christian, Yazidi, Jewish, Turkoman and others in the Middle East. The real tragedy is illegal wars and allying with intolerant regimes who fund terrorism has led to a purge of minorities from the region which threatens plurality and diversity within and between religious traditions. But also the loss of architectural and historical heritage in the bombing and destruction of churches, shrines, temples and other ancient structures (we are all familiar with image of the Bamyan Buddhas being dynamited by the Taliban). This is a deliberate effort to destroy antiquities, based on some sort of hazy and uninformed understanding of the early days of Islam. Where else have we witnessed this type of architectural, historical and cultural vandalism? Yes, in the destruction of 95% of Medina and Mecca’s cultural and historical heritage – by the self appointed guardians of the Holy Sites. And all while our political leaders looked on silently.
Any discussion of Islamo fascist extremism can’t be complete without reference to the Taliban. Again, the common thread binding the most extreme terrorist groups is clearly visible. The Taliban are intolerant of religious minorities, having slaughtered Shias in Afghanistan, committed atrocities towards Pakistan’s Hazara community as well as carrying out targeted killings in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities are at risk. The Taliban are not going away any time soon, as evidenced by the recent attack on Karachi airport, for which TTP claimed responsibility.
A closer look at the roots of Pakistan’s extremist terrorism crisis is also revealing of whose hand is behind the erosion of its social base and the turn towards more intolerant forms of Islam. This piece sheds some light. The Islamic Revolution in Iran represented a direct challenge to Saudi Arabia and this is how it responded:
The kingdom poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building mosques and schools, established huge organizations that propagated its puritanical brand of Sunni Islam and flooded the Muslim world with textbooks depicting Shiites as heretics and Christians and Jews as subhuman. The same poisonous springs that nourished the kingdom’s sectarian counterrevolution would later help bring forth al Qaeda and its offshoots.
Meanwhile, other Muslim leaders were also playing with sectarian fire. In Pakistan, the dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq sought to Islamize Pakistani society, helping establish thousands of madrassas, many teaching intolerant versions of Sunnism.
So we have to distinguish between forms of terrorism their drivers. Which ones present an existential threat to more democratic forms of governance, and to humanity. Which terrorist forces are reactions to occupation, military expansionism, invasions, and economic isolation.
And you should care about what is happening in Iraq because of:
- the threat from returning jihadis
- the threat to minorities in the region and beyond
- the threat to diversity and plurality within and between religious traditions
- the threat to humanity and indiscriminate slaughter and violence
- the threat to more democratic forms of governance
- the threat to women’s rights – the right to an education, the right to vote, the right to participate in society, the workplace, to be able to drive…
Add your own threat to the list.
The ethics and moral free foreign policies espoused so dearly by our governments need to be challenged so that they are built on a concern for humanity, peace, justice, and equality, not the furtherance of transnational terrorism.
In a positive development, Iran and Qatar have agreed to co-operate against terror. Let us hope that this represents the first step in a de-escalation of the Middle East Cold War.
Follow Mahmoona Shah @MahmoonaShah