By Zahid Salam
There has been surge in debates about the on going civil war in Syria after Russian military intervention. On September 30, Russia started air-bombing raids in Syria against what they call “terrorists in general and ISIS and al-Qaeda in particular”, after getting approval from Russian federation council, the upper parliamentary house. According to the Syrian state news agency Russia’s military involvement began after its President Vladimir Putin received a letter from Bashar al Assad, a long-time ally, asking for military assistance against his rivals.
As the bombardment continues, we see mixed reactions from the actors involved in the conflict. It seems this development has not been in harmony with the goals of the US-led coalition in Syria. On October 3, in a joint statement the US-led anti-ISIS coalition demanded immediate cessation of Russian airstrikes on what they call moderate opposition groups and to focus on ISIS. US President Barack Obama got irked to the extent that he accused Russia of aiding ISIS indirectly. The “Russian action was driving moderate opposition groups underground and it would result in only strengthening ISIS,” he said, thereby complicating the already complicated narrative of who is supporting ISIS.
From political analysis, religious commentaries, and conspiracy theorists we have so many stories regarding the question of who supports whom or who is behind ISIS. The general notion among Muslim masses is that ISIS is a western tool to control the Muslim world, particularly the Middle East. Majority of Muslims, including academicians, are of this view. They say ISIS is a CIA product aimed to control oil reserves of the Middle East and it is now out of control from their western masters. It may not make sense for some people. On the higher level we see Ramzan Kadyrow, the head of the Chechen republic, saying, the ISIS is a US-nurtured gang of terrorists and have nothing to do with Islam and deserve to be exterminated for the sake of world peace. On August 22, 2014, a pro-Asaad cleric accused Obama and Hillary Clinton of giving birth to ISIS. He asked: “Obama, wasn’t it you who gave birth to ISIS and didn’t Hillary Clinton admit that she had given birth to ISIS”? Most Saudi scholars label ISIS as enemies of Islam, like Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Fawzan, Professor of Islamic Law, who says, “Daesh, using the acronym of ISIS is an intelligence, crusader, Zionist, Safawi product.” He forgets that the government, of which he is on the payroll, has joined forces against ISIS with what are perceived as Crusaders and Safawis in the Muslim world.
On a military level in January 2014, Zahran Alloush, the leader of Turkey and Gulf backed powerful rebel group Jaish-al-Islam, mainly located in Damascus countryside and eastern Ghouta saying, “The gang of al-Baghdadi has today come out to fight us and destroy our jihad and they have cooperated with Nusayriyah and Rawafid”. Nusayriyah and Rawafid are the derogatory terms used for the Syrian Alawi government and Shias respectively.
Interestingly, Iran backed Shia militias like PMU, and Badar organisation blame the US, without whose air support they cannot liberate and maintain the control of an inch of Iraqi land as was the case with liberation of Tikrit of supplying weapons and ammunition to ISIS. Moreover, it is the US who dispatched 4,850 troops for training Iraqi armed forces and provided them with lot of weaponry including recently delivered four F16 fighter jets.
While Bashar al Assad and one Democratic Union Party of Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of supporting ISIS, the US tries to highlight the alleged cooperation between Assad and ISIS against moderate opposition. The claims of one former and latter are inconsistent with the ground realties and can be contested. Turkey has become an important player of anti-ISIS coalition after allowing the coalition forces to use its airspace and, most notably, the Incirlik military airbase. On the other hand, Syrian forces under the command of Assad are engaged in bloody battles with ISIS on many fronts like Hasake, Deir el Zor, Kweris airport. On the Iraqi side we saw a former president, Nouri al Maliki, accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting what he called open war against the Iraqi government. In an interview with France24 he said, “I accuse them of hosting al-Qaeda leaders and extremists. I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government. I accuse them of supporting them politically and in the media and supporting them with money and by buying weapons for them.” It does not end here. Though Russia and Iran do not accuse the US of directly aiding ISIS, however, they do not stop short of holding the US-led military interventions in the Middle East responsible for such movements to emerge.
All the above-mentioned opinions, theories and statements have led a phenomenon where we are not able to answer the question: “who is behind ISIS.” Now, if Russian bombing really ends after three or four months as claimed by Alexie Pushko, head of foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament, the paradoxical narratives in response to the above mentioned question would prevail for years to come.
—The author is a student of international relations at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora.Feedback:[email protected]