This essay puts the present focus on the crisis in Iraq caused by the ISIS insurgency in the context of the historical and contemporary forces that have shaped and are still shaping the conflict in Iraq and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
It falls in line with a policy overseen by the United States which is predicated on the re-drawing of the Middle Eastern map i.e. balkanization and of 'managing' a series of manufactured conflicts which are ultimately designed to protect America's access to the natural resources of the region.
This overarching policy accommodates a confluence of interests that cater to the hegemonic aspirations of the state of Israel, Saudi Arabia & the Sunni Gulf States and Turkey. It pits the United States and these allies against the Shia Crescent led by Iran whose allies are Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Two key points contended here are:
1.The present crisis derives from the decision to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein on a false premise and that the overriding motivation of the influential neo-conservative group within the Bush administration was to destroy Iraq to benefit the state of Israel.
2.The present crisis is an extension of the war against the Syrian government of Bashar Assad which was manufactured by outside powers for the following ends:
To destroy a government with an anti-Israel stance.
To replace the minority Alawite government of Assad with a Sunni one which would comply with Saudi, Qatari and Turkish plans to build a natural gas pipeline from the Gulf to Turkey which would supply Europe with natural gas.
Destroying Alawite power in Syria would weaken Iran (and break its link with Hezbollah in Lebanon); the Iranians being the current existential threat to the Israeli state that Saddam and Nasser once were. The Shi'ite Iranians are the chief competitors of the Sunni Saudis for influence in the Middle East and of course the Iranians do not follow the dictates of Washington.
Evidence is provided of Israel's historical and continuing motivation to break up Arab states and to stimulate turmoil via the policies of David Ben-Gurion and successive Israeli leaders as well as by reference to policy papers such as the 'Yinon Plan'(1982) and the 'Clean Break Document (1996).
Evidence is provided of the United States motive in fomenting sectarian conflicts and supporting extreme Islamic groups as has occurred in Libya, Syria and Iraq. It is based on maintaining American economic and military hegemony and is outlined in a policy paper funded by the US Army and produced by the RAND Corporation entitled 'Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects and Implications for the U.S. Army' (2008).
The declaration on 29th June, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, of an Islamic Caliphate by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of al-Dawlah Al-Islamiyah fi al-Iraq wa-al-Sham –the jihadist organisation known also as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - marks a watershed of sorts since the commencement of what used to be commonly termed as the 'Clash of Civilizations'.
For in the post-Cold War era, even before the 'catalyzing event' that was September the 11th of 2001, the avowed goal of the Osama Bin Laden-led al-Qaeda movement was to create a Sunni-led Caliphate.
It has been the dream not only of the Islamic zealot but also, perhaps, the latent hope of many ordinary Muslims to have a unity of Mohammedans in a political state on a scale at least equalling those which existed in succeeding epochs during what may be referred to as the golden age of Islamic civilization.
At the helm of such an entity would be a caliph who would command a global empire of the Ummah or believers stretching from the western part of North Africa and even the Iberian Peninsula through the Middle East and south Asia and on to the Indonesian archipelago.
To many Jihadists, the re-creation of the borders of previous Caliphates such as those presided over by the Rashiduns, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids and Ottomans would be an unambitious delimitation of what they feel should ideally cover all areas of the globe.
The ever changing name of the organisation first known the Islamic State in Iraq then as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or the Levant and as of August 2014 simply the Islamic State has seemingly reflected its geographic aspirations and its latest perhaps reflective of its resolve to escape the limitation to identifiable, colonially national imposed borders.
Certainly, the historical record of the Caliphate is redolent of an irresistible need to expand as far as possible by means of conquest. It was, for instance, the goal of the Sokoto Caliphate located in modern Nigeria and extending to a vast range of West Africa to expand the frontiers of Islam further south in order, the euphemism went, for its warriors to 'dip' the Holy Koran into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The June rampage of ISIS in a murderous Blitzkrieg starting from the eastern borders of strife-ridden Syria through the northern part of Iraq caught the attention of the world. Amid stories of Iraqi army commanders apparently deserting their posts, cities such as Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul fell.
These startling events along with evidence of wanton violence perpetrated against civilian populations saw media outlets reflect the American government's projection of the insurgents as an extreme species of Islamic fanaticism surpassing even that of al-Qaeda which had to be stopped at all costs.
Such 'cost', it was claimed, would even countenance an alliance of sorts with the Iranian state, the arch-enemy consigned to the infamous status of an 'Axis of Evil' nation and presently subjected to the most punitive measures of economic sanctions mounted against any nation-state in recent years.
The crisis of ISIS is, of course, not an isolated, self-incubated phenomenon but rather is the latest instalment in a chain of events that goes back to the decision of the United States to invade Iraq in 2003 in order to effect the removal of the regime headed by Saddam Hussein.
It is also an episode which on closer examination may bear the hallmarks of precise direction and manipulation by foreign powers. It appeared deeply suspicious to some who noted the speed by which the Iraqi army's resistance to ISIS penetration crumbled.
How could an army with vastly superior numbers and equipment be overrun so quickly? Why did the commanders in Mosul and Tikrit reportedly desert their posts and instruct soldiers to leave?
The implication is that they may have been bribed to do so. Of this proposition, no concrete evidence has materialised, although the alternative proposition, that a lack of professionalism and cohesion within a dysfunctional army that is the product of a dysfunctional state suddenly confronted by hordes of battle-hardened and ideologically motivated fanatics is a compelling one.
Many Shia soldiers are reportedly unwilling to fight for the Iraqi state.
Still, there are some analysts who believe that it is a situation which has been manufactured with the specific aim of applying pressure on the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and that it has a medium-term endeavour of reversing the fast dissipating fortunes of the intervention which deliberately fomented a war within the borders of Syria which itself is part of a longer-term objective of redrawing the borders of the Middle East.
The instability that has in recent times befallen Iraq and Syria and which at any time could conceivably combust into a full-blown regional war represents a confluence of interests; a merger in fact of the imperial designs of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.
It is a state of affairs underpinned by the active collaboration of the United States but finds resistance from counter-measures employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran which seeks to preserve the 'Shia Crescent' which extends from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which serves as the custodian of the sacred relics of Islam is concerned with asserting Sunni hegemony throughout the region while the Zionist state of Israel has consistently fostered an agenda of balkanisation as a guarantee of its survival.
The motivations of Turkey under the 'soft-Islamist' government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, ostensibly, are less clear-cut given Turkey's longstanding 'Zero Problems with Neighbours' policy. Not least are the implications of what a large-scale amendment to the borders of the region could have on Kurdish nationalist aspirations.
Nonetheless, if the frequently bandied descriptions of Turkish neo-Ottoman pretensions sound banal and analytically lazy, the projection of Turkish influence in the region is clearly at the heart of Erdogan's recalibrations in his relations with both Syria and Iraq.
The United States for its part has largely been concerned with overthrowing regimes which do not toe the line; those of Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muamar Gaddafi being the prime examples along with the attempt to unseat Bashar Assad in Syria.
While a general impression of disengagement from the region is being given by the policies of the Obama administration which has overseen the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the overall direction and underpinning rationale of United States policy is to continue the decades-long intrigues which have been geared towards weakening the power of Iran; and if possible, to effect the overthrow of the Islamic system of government which has been in place since the abdication of the US-backed Shah in 1979.
Notwithstanding the rapprochement of sorts which has followed the change of leadership and that is primarily evidenced by the continuing talks over its nuclear developing capacity, the sanctions against that country remain as draconian as ever.
Further, the recent announcement by the Obama administration of plans to go to Congress to raise monies for the anti-Assad opposition, confirm the on-going stratagem of attempting to permanently cut off the supply routes from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The demarcation between 'friendly' and 'hostile' nations in the Middle Eastern and North African world is long established regardless of administration, although the most overt expression given to a long term plan remains the document formulated by the neo-Conservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the 1990s.
This called for the systematic overthrow of a select number of regimes adjudged to be hostile to the "interests and values" of the United States.
The removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq formed the initial phase and this was to be followed by countries including Sudan, Libya and Syria, with Iran serving as the finale.
While the neo-Conservative influence on the administration of George W. Bush favoured intervention using the direct resources of the United States military, the present administration favours the path of effecting destabilisation through a technique of supporting a cast of dissidents involved in the prosecution of asymmetric warfare.
These belligerents ironically have tended to consist of Sunni extremists cut out of the same cloth as al-Qaeda; of which ISIS is.
Is ISIS the latest actor on a stage involving militarized Islamist groups who have done the bidding of the United States; effectively functioning as what has been cynically termed a foreign legion of America?
There is evidence pointing to the answer being firmly in the affirmative.
As is well documented, the United States through its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) supported the Mujahedin during its guerrilla campaign against the forces of the Soviet Union when they occupied Afghanistan.
Prior to this, the United States had developed a complex but enduring relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood which dated back to the 1950s during the Eisenhower-era. The aim was largely to influence the brotherhood in the context of containing the spread of communism.
Among the band of kindred Islamists waging the anti-Soviet insurgency with huge inputs of United States funding and training was Osama Bin Laden who of course later formed al-Qaeda.
The protestations by official CIA historians that aid was only directed at indigenous Afghan insurgents is reminiscent of the disingenuous distinction postulated in the present Syrian crisis between so-called 'moderate' and 'extremist' elements of the militias opposing Bashar Assad.
In any case, both native Afghan and foreign fighters shared the same Islamist sentiments. While they were fighting for nationalistic reasons as well as for Islamic aims which were to remove the foreign and 'atheist' invader from Afghan soil, they were also unknowingly fighting to fulfil an American foreign policy agenda; namely that of weakening the Cold War-era Soviet foe.
The attack of September 11th 2001 to which responsibility was affixed on Bin Laden's group has not precluded a resumption of similar mutually beneficial relationships.
A "re-configuration" of American foreign policy priorities according to the Pulitzer award winning writer Seymour Hirsch occurred about five years later during the second tenure of the administration of President George W. Bush. This involved aiding pro-Saudi Sunni militants in the Lebanon against the Iranian supported Shia militia group, Hezbollah.
With the dawning of the so-called 'Arab Spring', protests against the regime of Muamar Gaddafi transmogrified into a full blown insurrection in the city of Benghazi from where militant Islamists including the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group emerged to fight pitched battles against Gaddafi's forces until he was overthrown.
This would not have been possible but for the use of NATO's airpower as well as the logistical and instructional help such as that provided by the special forces of the United Kingdom.
The United States aided by its NATO allies were again involved in fomenting a military opposition against Bashar Assad's government in Syria. And as confirmed in June of 2013 by the former foreign minister of France, Roland Dumas, this intervention was conceived and prepared for at least two years in advance of the commencement of the insurgency which developed a few months after what appeared to be genuine protests occurred in cities such as Damascus and Aleppo.
The rebels were given staging posts in the US-allied surrounding nations of Turkey and Jordan to serve as training quarters and to mount raids.
And as reported by both the UK Daily Telegraph and the New York Times in March of last year, a large cache of arms and equipment was airlifted to the rebels in a transaction co-ordinated by the CIA and paid for by the Saudis.
But who are the Syrian rebels and what ideological underpinnings do they have?
During the early period of the uprising, much reference was made to an organisation with the designation of 'Free Syrian Army'. The background to this 'body' suggested that it had a unified command structure with a solid amount of numbers which would continue to grow as it would absorb an envisaged amount of defections from the army of Assad.
The germ of the FSA was created by a Syrian army colonel defector who, along with a number of commanders and foot soldiers, was based at Apaydin Camp in Turkey.
Despite headlined press reports of assassinations and defections of several high-level military officers, this scenario failed to materialise. Indeed, a compelling argument was made with little or no disputation that the Free Syrian Army did not exist and has never come into existence.
Instead, the name was used in reference to a range of anti-government militias fighting in different regions of Syria. Most appear to have a Salafist agenda and cannot be objectively described as being 'secular' or 'moderate'. Prominent among them are the Islamic movement of Ahara Al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham Brigade, Liwa al-Twhid and Liwa al-Yarmouk.
Indeed, a report by the Times of Israel in June of 2014 quotes the Israeli Defence Force's head of Military Intelligence Research and Analysis Division as estimating that over eighty percent of the opposition fighters "have a clear Islamist agenda".