Friday, February 27, 2015

Invite The World To Fight ISIS But Help It Militarily



Invite The World To Fight ISIS But Help It Militarily
                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

West Asia becomes more mysterious by the minute. Who is fighting whom on whose behalf? The lines were always blurred. Now they are more so. Iraq’s army has just shot down two British planes as they were carrying weapons to the ISIS in Al Anbar province. How do we know this to be true? The Iraqi Parliament’s National Security and Defence Committee have photos of the planes that have been shot down.

So, on whose side is Britain? It should be clear now that the key Western ally against ISIS has actually been caught delivering arms to the hated enemy.

In recent months, if you called up contacts in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala you received the same response: the Americans are not here to help the government in Baghdad. They have their own agenda.

An amusing sketch doing the rounds on the social network shows Uncle Sam seated inside an ornate carriage. An Arab, looking rather like the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is in the driver’s seat, keeping a firm grip on four reins strapped not to horses but to four burly, hooded ISIS militants. According to this perception, the ISIS is a Western, Saudi asset.

Head of the Iraqi Parliament’s Defence Committee, Hakim al-Zamili, said reports are received in Baghdad regularly that US-led coalition planes airdrop weapons for ISIS.

If this is the state of affairs, why doesn’t Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi blow the whistle on American double dealing? Because the earlier Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defied the US on issues, he was forced to resign. The new Prime Minister, being a creature of the US in Baghdad, is therefore least likely to stand up.

Whatever sense of security there is in the Shia south of Iraq derives from a widespread belief that Iran stands with the people. And now that Washington is inching towards a nuclear agreement with Iran, how does one square rapprochement with Teheran and carrot and stick policy with Teheran’s allies in Iraq? Hakim al-Zamili has an easy explanation. “The US does not want the ISIS problem to end around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.” In other words the US will keep its fingers on all possible levers of power around Iran. Signing of a nuclear deal with Iran does not spell an end to politics with the Ayatullahs.

Meanwhile, it is also a truth, regionally acknowledged that the real battle to ISIS on the ground is being given by Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian army.

If the leadership in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala is cross with Western double speak it may draw some comfort from the fact that even close allies like Jordan and Egypt are on sixes and sevens anticipating the West’s next moves.

Last week the Pentagon made public something Jordan wished to keep secret. Jordan fears internal upsurge for being seen to be a US ally on most regional issues. An important Jordanian training site for anti ISIS operations, the first to be up and running was supposed to be secret until the Pentagon blew the lid few know why. Sites in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar will be online later. But is this line up itself not something of a puzzle?

Turkey under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as a bastion for Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar too is under the Brothers’ sway. But Saudi Arabia, atleast while King Abdullah was alive, was fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam, which is what the Brotherhood represents, was anathema to the extremist, monarchist Wahabi theocracy. Clearly, policy under King Salman is undergoing some change.

Remember when Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the loudest cheer came from Riyadh, along with $12 billion. King Abdullah was not going to allow Egypt, the most powerful Arab country, to go the Muslim Brotherhood way.

Has Riyadh dramatically changed its approach to the Brothers? One will have occasion to revisit this theme, but its lineup with Jordan, Qatar, Turkey to train combat troops against the ISIS does indicate a shift.

It is just possible that the new regime in Riyadh has been sold a lemon – or a great idea. The ISIS consists of three broad strands: Muslim Brotherhood as the dominant group, Takfiri Salafi group, the ones who are destroying ancient heritage and the old Baath Party elements reappearing as angry Sunnis.

Anti ISIS troops are being trained in centers not averse to the Brothers. Surely this will help neutralize the Brotherhood component in the ISIS. But for this logic to prevail, the biggest enemy of the Brotherhood in the region, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has to be managed.

Who knows, he may well have provided the opportunity to the US for his own dethronement. The manner in which the Egyptian spread out the red carpet to Vladimir Putin two weeks ago cannot have pleased Washington and its cohorts in the present phase of US-Russia rivalry. An opportunity has been provided for Sisi to hurtle headlong into the Libyan chaos. In Cairo, the restive Muslim Brotherhood may well have its focus trained on a comeback.

Meanwhile, do the Brothers or others of their ilk, have a potential in Afghanistan, Pakistan anywhere? The Americans may be looking.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Obama Asks Arabs To Target ISIS Before Netanyahu Rants On Iran



Obama Asks Arabs To Target ISIS Before Netanyahu Rants On Iran
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

The appointment of Rashad Hussain, an American of Indian origin as the new coordinator of counter terrorism communication, popped up in the course of a three day summit at the State Department on violent extremism. President Obama went out of his way to correct the impression that the US was at “war with Islam”. That, he emphasized, in an “ugly lie”. A Home Ministry official represented New Delhi at the Summit.

The President’s panacea for all nations present at the meeting was to put an end to violence by “expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.”

Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, have in an analysis in the New York Times quoted Elisa Massimino, President of the advocacy group Human Rights First who attended the meeting: “We’re sitting in that room with representatives of governments who are part of the problem – if the President believes what he’s saying, then the actions that these governments are taking are undermining our supposedly shared agenda. That has to stop. Or we can have summits every month, but we’re not going to win.”

There is another problem. Autocratic regimes have taken advantage of the war on terror by settling scores with their internal opponents in the guise of fighting the war. The obvious example is the Egyptian military regime cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. The reverberations of such a crackdown will be felt wherever there is a sizeable presence of the Brothers – Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Gaza. Recruiting agents of the ISIS then go into action.

Prominent among Obama’s audience was Bahrain. It has a mind boggling human rights record. The regime treats 90 per cent of its population as the “opposition”. Years ago, about the time that the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, US diplomats had brought about a possible rapprochement between Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Shaikh Salman, leader of the Shia opposition. Before an agreement could be inked, Saudi Armoured Personnel Carriers rolled down the 37 kms causeway linking the oil bearing Qatif region of Saudi Arabia with Bahrain.

It must be billed as an important Summit, but the White House will have to cope with a degree of credibility deficit with whatever US says on the Arab world these days. Misadventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya have all left US reputation in tatters.

Consider Syria for a moment. The Syrian opposition was falling apart and there was still no sign of the promised regime change in Damascus. Having learnt a hard lesson in Iraq, the US, one thought, would be realistic in Syria. Instead we had the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, demand with an imperious wave of the hand, “Assad, move out of the way”.

The US had occupied Iraq for a decade, destroyed all the instruments of the State, killed Saddam Hussain, only then was it able to depart, leaving a once perfectly, efficient dictatorship in a disgraceful mess. How then did Washington imagine that fierce and brutal cross border terrorism alone would affect regime change in Damascus?

Last June when the ISIS appeared with the suddenness of revelation, why did Obama drag his feet? Asked why he delayed taking action against the ISIS, he did not mince words. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, had fallen foul of the US because he would not sign an open ended agreement exempting US troops from Iraqi law. He had to be shown the door. ISIS was at that stage advancing unchecked towards Baghdad. “Our strikes against ISIS at that stage would have relieved pressure on Maliki.” Military action against the ISIS picked up only after Prime Minister Haider al Abadi had replaced Maliki. Did the ISIS for that brief spell become a political tool? So, under certain circumstances terror is a diplomatic asset?

Then why blame Prince Bandar bin Sultan who for sheer audacity takes the cake. Having failed to affect regime change in Damascus, he turned up in Moscow on a hush-hush mission. He took Vladimir Putin’s breath away with his blandishments – take everything under the sun but give me Assad’s head. Then he made diplomatic history. The President of Russia would be able to hold winter Olympic games in Sochi without any fear of Islamic terrorism. Most terrorist groups, Bandar promised Putin, were under his control.

The incorrigible Prince’s continued excesses caused the Kremlin to leak the confidential minutes to a Lebanese newspaper.

Clearly, one purpose of the Washington summit was to focus on ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Salafi groups as the principal targets for his Arab coalition. There has been some dithering on who the real enemy is. Obama would like to settle this matter. He has administered something of a fait accompli. This would preempt his betnoire, Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington to address the US Congress, completely bypassing Obama. Netanyahu has found a willing partner in the Speaker of the Congress, John Boehner, who, in fact, has issued the cheeky invitations.

A foretaste of what the US Congress will hear was available to a select audience in New Delhi. Israeli Defence minister Moshe Ya’alon spent the evening persuading his listeners that all the world’s problems emanate not from ISIS or Al Qaeda but from that fount of all evil, Iran. This when there are rumours galore that a nuclear deal with Teheran is on the cards.

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