Friday, October 17, 2014

Islamic State Strategy

In Syria/Iraq, an insurgency has morphed into a state. If we focus on the violence portrayed on television, we will miss an important strategic change that has taken place.

A more traditional insurgency focusses on undermining the ruling powers. They attack easy targets, wherever they find them, in a way that will gain maximum publicity. The aim is to weaken the will of their ruler and create fear among the population. They protect themselves by remaining underground.

The new strategy is a reversion plan to old-fashioned warfare with the aim of conquering land to establish a state. The leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq developed this new strategy, when the George Bush bribed the Sunni tribal leaders to squeeze them out of Iraq during the so-called Anbar Awakening. Whereas previous leaders had focussed on attacking America and its allies, they set a long-term objective of becoming a significant state in the area. Their new strategy has five steps.

Step 1 Embrace Chaos
The first step in the new strategy was to move into a chaotic situation were the ruling powers were weak and where the influence of the big powers was minimal. The leaders of the ISIS moved into Syria in 2011, after being squeezed out of Iraq. They needed to regroup and rebuild. Syria was chaotic, so they went unnoticed. They were able to tap into sponsorship from the Gulf States, which was plentiful.

Step 2 Establish Enclaves
ISIS fought against the other rebel groups to gain territory. Because the situation was so chaotic, no one from outside realised what they were doing. They began a war of conquest that the outside world did not notice, or understand. ISIS gained control of small towns and villages. During 20011 and 2012, they were funded from outside. They obtained sufficient seed funds to take and establish their first enclaves.

Step 3 Control Resources
ISIS expanded out from the enclaves they controlled to conquer strategic areas in terms of material resources: oil and water. They used these resources to become self-sufficient by the end of 2012.

Mosul was conquered in 2014, because it provides control of water and oil.

Step 4 Build Infrastructure
Wherever they go, the Islamic State builds government, economic and social infrastructure, which is a welcome improvement over the chaos that prevailed previously. The Islamic State has set up Sharia courts to provide law and order. They collect taxes, do social work and control prices. They have entered joint ventures with local people to capture smuggling revenues and resource revenues. They organise distribution of water and electricity and the production of agricultural products. They have become a self-sufficient state.

The difference between Aleppo and Raqqa is illustrative. Aleppo was the most prosperous city in Syria, but it has now been totally destroyed. The city is controlled by war lords, criminal groups, rogue military commanders and jihadists.

Raqqa is different. It has becomes the capital of the emerging state. The Islamic State worked through the tribal leaders in the area. They restored infrastructure, supplied electricity, delivered water and built a new souk. Life is peaceful, because there is law and order (except for Christians, Shia and Alawites).

The Islamic state has implemented Sharia law. This scares people in the West, because it seems harsh, but in Syria and Iraq, Sharia law is an improvement over the existing justice system. State justice is administered to favour the rich and powerful. Judges and rulers exploited the poorer classes, so ordinary people had no hope of justice, without paying exorbitant bribes. Now ordinary people can go to a Sharia court and get a decision from people who respect their religion. Many are able to get justice for the first time. This is one reason why the Islamic State has attracted young people all over the world.

According to a Reuters report,

Isis set up services and institutions, stating it intended to use the area as a base in its quest to eradicate national boundaries and establish an Islamic “state”…The group “has restored and restructured all the institutions that are related to services”, including a consumer-protection office and the civil judiciary….Isis’s pragmatism, residents and activists say, has been vital to its success in holding on to captured land. To run Raqqa’s telecoms, Baghdadi has appointed a Tunisian with a PhD in the subject.
Baghdadi has also separated military operations from civilian administration, and has appointed civilian deputies called “walis”– an official similar to a minister – to manage institutions. Administrative regions are divided into waliyehs, or provinces, which, as with the case of the recently established al-Furat province, can span national boundaries. Employees receive a salary from a department called the Muslim Financial House, which is something like a finance ministry and a bank.
Poor families were given money. A widow may receive the equivalent of £60 for herself and for each child she has. Prices are kept low. Traders who manipulate prices are punished, and shut down if they are caught again. The group has also imposed Islamic taxes on wealthy traders and families.
Step 5 Absorb the Oppressed
Once they they had secured their economic resources, the Islamic State has pushed out and gained control of territory in areas that were controlled by governments who are hated. The towns and cities of North Western Iraq fell quickly, because the people distrusted the Shia-dominated government. They quickly gained control of the Sunni areas of Syria.

This region conquered by the Islamic State is predominantly Sunni Moslem. They have been mistreated by the Alawite government of President Assad for thirty years. In Iraq, they have been mistreated by the Shia dominated government. Their lives have been disputed by the ongoing violence of war. A Sunni state that brings law and order and ends most of the anarchy and pillaging is very welcome.

The conquered peoples may not like the harsher aspects of the Islamic State, but they fear the return of Shia and Alawite militia even more. If we do not understand this, we will not understand why the Islamic State has been so successful.

By the beginning of 2014, they had expanded out and established a state covering a broad area of land. In the future, we can expect the Islamic State to expand into Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by immoral and corrupt House of Saud.

Misunderstood Strategy
Western powers focus on the beheadings of hostages, so they assume they are fighting against terrorism. Labelling the Islamic State as terrorists is a good way to whip up support for a war against them, but it is not a good basis for strategy.

The West is still fighting a modern war against an insurgency, which isn’t one. Its impact has been limited. Bombs do not work because the Islamic State is integrated with the population. Anti-terrorist or anti-insurgency strategies will fail.

The Islamic State is fighting an old-fashioned war, and it is working for them.

The Islamic State strategy has been effective, because it was planned ahead. The same has been true of their fighting. In the past jihadist groups attacked targets that would create greatest publicity and the most fear. The Islamic State has a different strategy that they are applying consistently. They planned a traditional war to build a new state, and their battle tactics reflect that. That is why they have been successful.

The war on Kobani is an example. Western media are concerned the Kurdish inhabitants. The reason that the Islamic State have attacked Kobani is that it is the port of entry into Raqqa, their capital city. They need to control the Kobani to protect access to their core Sunni area and prevent an attack on their capital.

Social Media
The Islamic State uses technology very effectively. The Smartphone is there most important weapon. The Islamic state has used social media to promote their strategy.

Their social media strategy appeals to young people all over the world. The message is not, “Come and die in a suicide attack, so you can enjoy paradise with 72 virgins”. The message is different. “Come and fight with us to support this new state. This a just state, not corrupted like the existed dictators and kings of the Middle East. This is the true state of our religion”.

Young people are being invited by their peers to come and make a contribution to something new and better. They are offering a political utopia. For the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate, a true political utopia is being presented to young people. This message is very appealing to young people all over the world, who are struggling with the economic devastation in the wake of the GFC.

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