A Brief History of ISIS and the Problem With the West’s War on Terror

Polls conducted through various countries suggest the majority of the public (albeit a slim majority) would support military action against the group commonly referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is not surprising, given the ruthless, frightening and relentless terror that they have been spreading across an entire region. Mass executions, slavery, suicide bombers and the torture and execution of journalists will raise no doubt in people’s mind that ISIS is a group of people who need to be stopped for the protection and safety of the region and potentially the entire world.

Pop quiz: Apart from the general information publicized widely by the mainstream media as stated in the paragraph above, what can you honestly say you know about this ruthless group of terrorists? Surely, before someone supports military action against any one, in any part of the world, they would know something about the group that they propose to take military action against. Without doing a Google search, can you name ISIS’ leader? Do you know who makes up its ranks, and where did these fighters originated? What year did ISIS first form, and why? Where do they receive their weaponry from? What cause, exactly, is ISIS fighting for?

Why does ISIS even exist in the first place?

The truth is becoming harder and harder to control, as both Barack Obama and Tony Blair have publicly admitted the US and UK involvement in the creation of ISIS. Take, for example, this quotation from award winning investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill, who stated in an interview with Democracy Now! that:

One of the top – and this almost is never mentioned in corporate media coverage of this – one of the top military commanders of ISIS is a man named Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri al-Takriti. Who is Izzat Ibrahim? Izzat Ibrahim is the leading Baathist, who was on the deck of cards, that the United States has not captured. He was one of Saddam Hussein’s top military commanders. He was not just some ragamuffin Baathist. He actually was a hardcore general in the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War, and he was a secular Baathist.

Why is he fighting with ISIS? Well, when Bush decided to invade Iraq … when Paul Bremer was put in charge of the occupation of Iraq, one of the first things he did was to fire 250,000 Iraqi soldiers simply because they were members of the Baath Party. As one senior US official at the time said, it was the day we made a quarter of a million enemies in Iraq. All of these Baathists have been jerked around by the United States.

Bremer fired 250,000 soldiers? Why is this not mentioned in the mainstream media?

Let’s dig a little bit deeper. Before the group was rebranded as ISIS, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or simply Islamic State (IS), the group was known by the US intelligence authorities simply as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Despite what Christopher Hitchens would argue, it is commonly accepted that there was no al-Qaeda present in Iraq until the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent toppling of Saddam Hussein. In an interview earlier this year with Vice News, Obama referred to this revelation as being no more than “unintended consequences” of the Iraq War. Whilst it could be considered progress of a kind that he has publicly admitted the fact that ISIS rose out of what was formerly called al-Qaeda in Iraq, calling the disaster that followed the US invasion of Iraq “unintended” is a false assertion. In 1994, after the US had already bombed Iraq’s infrastructure to devastation three years earlier and imposed sanctions which would then lead to the deaths of 500,000 children, Dick Cheney stated in an interview:

… if we’d gone to Baghdad, we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a US occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years. In the north, you’ve got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

Unintended? The man who went on to unleash the chaos we now see in Iraq was able to explain almost a decade earlier exactly why toppling Saddam Hussein would lead to an absolute nightmare.

Most people would agree that Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator and a mass murderer. However, the basis for the invasion was not only illegal, but completely manufactured out of thin air. If it was truly in the world’s interests to remove Saddam Hussein from power, we should ask the US why it felt the need to support his rise to power in the first place by staging a coup in a bid to undermine the threat of Abdel Karim Kassem, before supporting Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Iran, which was rife with the use of chemical weapons. (The US also secretly armed Iran in this war to maximize the death toll).

In 2012, the US security apparatus not only predicted the rise of a Salafist group in Syria, it actively encouraged it. Although the West claims that it was only arming “moderate rebels,” this encouragement and support for extremists can even be seen indirectly today, for example, in the most recent failed training program (costing $580 million), in which the US trained 60 Syrian opposition fighters, resulting in most of the fighters being devastated in the battle arena and the rest of them handing over their weapons straight to the hands of al-Qaeda. However, this is not a new or unforeseen issue. The US has known since 2012 that the majority of the weapons it was sending into Syria were being delivered one way or another in the hands of extremists, yet the US did not stop sending weapons to Syria – and is still doing it. This arming of extremists has been greatly facilitated by regional players, particularly Turkey,Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, whenever the Iraqi armed forces manage to reclaim areas held by ISIS, they are constantly finding Israeli weaponry being left behind. Israel has also been providing free air support to extremists in Syria since the civil war began, assassinating an Iranian general in the process.

In 2014, the various al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Syria merged and we were left with the basis of ISIS as it stands today. However, ISIS has expanded considerably outside of Iraq and Syria. ISIS also has a stranglehold in Libya, because the US and NATO backed AQI-affiliated rebels to topple the Libyan government in 2011. In Libya, France was actively supporting the same rebel groups that it claimed to be fighting in Mali, before bombing Libya (the nation with the highest standard of living out of any country in Africa) back into the Middle Ages. This misuse of a UN Security Council Resolution to establish a no-fly zone transformed Libya into a failed state that is constantly grappling with a state of civil war. In fact, it was a French bomber that struck Muammar Gaddafi’s motorcade before militants were brought in to execute the Libyan leader without trial. ISIS’ influence in Yemen is also growing considerably, as the Saudi-led coalition intervenes with deadly air strikes on the side of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of al-Qaeda that Washington regards as the most deadly, and ISIS has been able to capitalize and infiltrate Yemen in the subsequent chaos.

In the same way that al-Qaeda was initially a US creation in order to lure the Soviets into a crippling war – ISIS did not emerge out of nowhere without a reason, without funding, without weaponry and without a cause. Can the same group of people who created ISIS’ rise to power be trusted to put an end to its terror?

The Problem With the West’s War on ISIS

One could still argue that the US-led coalition is intervening to correct its mistakes and is finally doing the right thing by opposing ISIS. Of course, this would still require us to ignore the fact that the US and NATO are still backing rebel groups who they know are defecting and giving their weaponry over to ISIS, and who regularly conduct operations together with al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian branch. But even if these were mere mistakes and unforeseen consequences, there is still one major problem.

ISIS’ influence and control over territory has actually expanded since the US-led coalition first intervened in Iraq and Syria. This was no accident. When ISIS was taking over the strategic areas of Mosul, Bajj, Ramadi and Palmyra, the US air strikes were nowhere to be seen. Terrified soldiers and civilians fled left, right and center. Those who were captured were executed; and ISIS was able to claim a large supply of weaponry, vehicles and munitions. Even at the time of writing this article, a very strategic area in Syria was claimed by ISIS, yet there were no US air strikes present to stop them. The official excuse for not intervening was to ensure the protection of civilians from air strikes. However, if you do a quick Google search of the relevant dates, you will see that the US was launching drone strikes in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan at around the same time that ISIS was launching these major offensives. Furthermore, these drone strikes are wildly unpopular due to the fact that for every one “terrorist” they have killed the drone strikes also kill scores of civilians); as well as creating an uncountable number of future “terrorists” in the process.

Western leaders have shown us where their priorities truly lie, as they are still pushing for the ousting of Bashar al-Assad from Syria. This regime change has been the goal this whole time; and this is no longer conjecture. The removal of the Assad government has been in the works since at least the early stages of the post-9/11 era. In August of this year, Obama authorized the air force in Syria to protect US-trained rebels from any fighting force, including Assad’s forces. Although the administration denied that this would be used against the Syrian forces loyal to Assad, this is directly contradicted by the fact that the rebels the US will provide air cover for are being trained to overthrow the Assad regime, as well as official statements that Assad must be removed from power. If Russia had not intervened so openly in recent times, we could be looking at the final days of Assad’s government. In response to Russia’s attempts to bolster Assad, Washington has reneged on its longstanding promise that there will be no boots on the ground in Syria and has ordered special forces units to assist Syrian rebel forces in their fight against ISIS.

This is not to say that Russian and Iranian involvement is a good thing, or that Russian bombs will help the region create any more peace and stability. However, Russia and Iran are right about one thing: Only the Syrian people can decide the future of Assad’s government.

The US and NATO are ramming it into our heads that Assad has lost all legitimacy and cannot be part of any future government in Syria (though they are now open to him being part of a transitional process). A year after the uprising, a YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by the Doha Debates and funded by the Qatar Foundation (Qatar is one of the biggest regional players trying to bring down Assad) showed that Assad still had the loyalty of the Syrian people.

In 2014, Assad won the Syrian elections by a landslide and international observers claimed that there were no violations. People will always argue that the elections are not to be trusted, but how else can we possibly know what the Syrian people think if no one will even attempt to listen to them? (On a side note, how is a US-manufactured government in Ukraine, infiltrated by neo-Nazis and former US intelligence moles more legitimate than the currently elected president in Syria?)

Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is proof alone that this issue has nothing to do with human rights. Saudi Arabia has turned Yemen into Syria within six months of bombing. The Saudi regime doesn’t even pretend to care about human rights in its own jurisdiction, openly executing dissidents like there is no tomorrow. The idea that any of these countries involved are motivated by human rights is untenable. In 2013, Iraq saw one of its deadliest years since the US invasion, due to almost daily attacks committed by AQI, yet this attracted no attention at all from Western leaders.

If the US-led coalition truly wants to encourage democracy in Syria, it should allow the country to proceed with its proposed elections; stop supporting al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups who end up defecting to ISIS; work together with the Syrian, Russian and Iranian authorities to combat the spread of ISIS; and admit past wrongs and put on trial the coalition’s previously suspected war criminals.

If they do not do the above, then nothing will ever change. The West’s war against ISIS has not significantly impeded the group’s ability to wreak havoc in the region, and the Islamic State’s influence and stranglehold over the region has continued to spread. War will become perpetual until it reaches the breaking point. Given that Russia, the US and NATO are bombing in the same country with openly stated polar-opposite interests, that breaking point could come much sooner than anticipated.