27 February 2016

Why No One Wants to Stop ISIS?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am genuinely curious.

My fascination with ISIS began when I discovered their branding and marketing prowess.

This was a supposedly Salafist organization aiming to strictly emulate early Muslims and yet it had movie studios churning out feature-length high production value films and video clips.

It had software development units that enabled their black-clad goons to tweet hundreds of thousands times a day.

It had an extraordinary marketing department that successfully branded their organization (ISIS) and re-branded it again (IS), making it very attractive in the process to all kinds of people from around the globe.

I posted about that aspect extensively. I also tried to explain their attraction and the adherents' deep problem with identity.

These turn out to be some of the most popular posts of this humble soapbox.

My fascination turned into a healthy obsession when I realized that that these black-clad thugs were actually there for a mission and they were extremely well-funded. The moment they showed up they had roughly $4 billion, courtesy of Qatari royal family.

When I did some digging, I discovered that their entire organization was created from scratch by Saddam's intelligence officers like Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, who recruited al-Baghdadi to give religious cover to that mission.

I also found out that the highly successful ISIS brigades executing complex tactics  and invading large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria were not a bunch of disaffected Arab kids from European suburbs like Molenbeek or Saint Denis, as corporate media outlets kept telling us, but they were the Naqshibandi Army (JRTN), a highly sophisticated military force established by Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, Saddam's Vice President and Deputy Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council.

You know, the infamous "King of Clubs."

And it is not just the military as most of the municipal structures in the ISIS Empire are run by former Baath officials.

After al-Khlifawi was accidentally killed by some rival Salafist thugs, Der Spiegel purchased his notes and the plans he used to set up ISIS. They reported in detail how a small group of ISIS militants would move to a town, keep a low profile, collect information about leading figures, blackmail them or take them out systematically and try to win over the residents through propaganda.

They would also try to win hearts and minds by providing municipal services and reduce or eliminate taxation.

Interestingly, my pieces about the involvement of intelligence agencies and non-Islamic elements in ISIS were some of the least popular posts in the history of this blog. I encounter a similar disinterest when I discussed my findings with friends and acquaintances.

It was as if people did not want to understand why ISIS was doing what it was doing. Making their actions intelligible through a rational causal framework bothered people. They seemed to prefer the emotional simplicity of the barbaric and demonic "other." Maybe they thought "understanding" ISIS would make them less evil.

I don't know.

All of this to tell you that recently, I came across two news items about both the marketing efforts of ISIS and its methodical organization in a new territory. They corroborated my initial take on these issues and they made me wonder if we really want to stop ISIS.

An alleged defector from ISIS appeared in a video (produced by a rival Jihadist group) claiming that many of the clips produced by ISIS were actually fake.
The video begins with the defector describing how he was asked to attack mosques by IS commanders. But the section of the video that really captured the imagination of Twitter users outlines alleged IS trickery in filming fake battle scenes which the group falsely claimed as genuine military victories.

The defector describes how he was enlisted to fake fights and raids in front of the camera. In some scenes, he says, IS fighters pretended to be dead Houthi rebels and were daubed with fake blood in the form of the soft drink Vimto.
Incidentally, Vimto is a spicy fruit flavored drink highly popular in the Middle East and its undiluted color is fairly close to human blood.

The reformed Jihadi's allegation did not make me think that the previous atrocities ISIS filmed were mostly bogus. I am sure ISIS is a ruthless and barbaric terrorist outfit. What the allegations did was to reinforce my belief that ISIS is, above all, a cynical and effective marketing machine. They kill when they can, they fake when they can't, but either way they market, brand and market some more.

This is why you cannot fight them on religious grounds as some people advocated.

The second news item was about ISIS' adventures in Afghanistan. It was written by a local BBC journalist. Da'esh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
I first heard talk of Da'esh early in 2014. To be honest, at first I didn't think it was anything special, just another international jihadi movement. There have been a few of those around here, including al-Qaeda.

But soon it became clear that Da'esh was different.

Da'esh was built up by a small group of fighters, maybe 60 or 70 in total. Most of them came from over the border in Pakistan and it was obvious that they were being funded from abroad.

Right from the start Da'esh had lots of money and weapons. It was also very well organised, better organised than the Taliban ever was.
As they had the means, they followed their original script and avoided taxation.
They did not try to "tax" local people, something the Taliban and other jihadis do. That made them popular.
The local ISIS guy was duly interested in publicity,
In July 2014 I met one of the organisers of Da'esh in Afghanistan. He called me up out of the blue and asked if I would like to interview him. He knew I was a journalist and it was clear he wanted publicity.

The man told me he was printing Da'esh magazines and propaganda in Pashto, the local language. 
But he also wanted to keep a low profile.
He said the plan was they would keep a low profile, quietly building strength and support locally. An FM radio station was set up to broadcast propaganda in the region. 
Ultimately, the plan did not work out because the HQ could not control the rank and file zealots who killed the wrong people and alienated too many local players.

But the fact remains that their foray into Afghanistan shows that ISIS still follows al-Khlifawi's original blueprint.

Arrive in small numbers flush with money, check.

Organize rapidly while keeping a low profile, check.

Engage in Islamist propaganda to win people over, check.

Use your money to eliminate taxation and win people over, check.

My question is this: why is everyone continue to maintain that ISIS could be defeated with what Atrios calls freedom bombs when it is clear that, unless you confront their marketing and organizational blueprint, for every ISIS goon killed, there are going to be fifty more ready to take his place.

Why the US has not been putting any real pressure on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to cut off ISIS' funding? They do make some money off oil sales but that revenue stream is negligible compared to their expenditures and with recent Russian targeted strikes it has become even less lucrative.

Similarly, why hasn't Europe forced Turkey to stop providing arms and logistic support to ISIS and al Nusra Front, not to mention a very porous border? EU is Turkey's biggest trading partner, surely they have the means to exert some pressure.

I would have thought that preventing Islamist groups to perpetuate the Syrian civil war would be a more effective solution to the refugee crisis than trying to accommodate the mercurial Turkish President?

Also, why the US did not make its alleged displeasure with Turkey's Syria policy and support for ISIS the cornerstone of its relations with Ankara?

Syrian civil war is a war of proxy but the way Sunni-Shia divide is deteriorating and the Kurdish, Russian, Turkish chess game is evolving, there is a great likelihood for it to turn into an actual war.

A war that could engulf NATO.

So why is no one lifting a finger to reduce that risk?

Do we actually want to have a war there?

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