Islamic State versus the Free Syrian Army, Sunni Reawakening, and the Kurdish Peshmerga
With the Ukraine Crisis on the verge of another flare up thanks to everything from Putin’s threatening comments on Russia’s 5,000 nuclear weapons to Russian spy planes and submarines within NATO territory, issues like the Islamic State threat are about to go on the backburner once again. Fortunately, Middle Easterners are more or less headed in the right direction when it comes to recognizing the threat of terrorism and addressing their own regional security interests.
When the Arab Spring Revolutions began to spread like wildfire, extremists seized upon the reluctance of authoritarian governments to reform and the ensuing power vacuum that resulted from the failure of governments to stand down. At the time, the world was hoping democratic Turkey could possibly serve as a regional leader capable of guiding its neighbors to democratic reforms and channeling the support of unpopular Western nations to countries in need, especially since Israel lacked broad constructive links to much of the Muslim World.
Where the decade of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the invasion of Iraq had done much to sour the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US, America could have only hoped the long-time Western ally might come through for the region. In an almost complete turnaround, Saudi Arabia, which was the birthplace of Al Qaeda, has taken on a leadership role in terms of supporting its neighbors in an emerging war on terrorism while Turkey has been one of the least reliable allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
Truth be told, Iraq is a relatively small and unimportant country in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Western interests, yet Iraq has once again become the focal point of Western intervention and regional security interests. This is even after Iraq has cost the US trillions in dollars as well as far more in blood. Ironically, it is another war in Iraq that is finally uniting the West and Middle East against terrorism.
Far more unexpected, the support of Iran is quietly being used to fight the Islamic State, which is particularly bizarre given Iran sponsored terrorism against US troops inside Iraq in order to weaken America’s ability to respond to an Iranian nuclear threat. This is, of course, a difficult course to charter as America’s best friend Israel has actually been the one nation distracting the world from dealing with the threat of globalized terrorism thanks to untimely flare-ups in the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
The Islamic State is, however, far from subdued as US-led airstrikes are not enough. In fact, US airstrikes may well be dragging out the conflict by giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the room he needs to regroup and concentrate his assault on the Free Syrian Army, which the region needs to fight the Islamic State in Syria. Consequently, countries like Turkey are correct when they criticize the lack of effort to protect Free Syrian Army controlled territory from the Assad regime, which might include a no-fly zone as well as airstrikes against the use of heavy artillery in ground assaults.
The reality is that bolstering the Free Syrian Army while allowing Assad to divert his attention away from the Islamic State is thoroughly counterproductive. In focusing on the Islamic State, which is the far more pressing threat to regional stability at the moment, the Assad regime is going to derive a benefit, unless the Islamic State can be “encouraged” to take positions against Assad’s forces. As such, there does need to be an effort to offer Western-friendly rebels some type of defensive zone where Assad’s military would be targeted by airstrikes if they attacked rebel forces.
The Free Syrian Army is going to provide many of the “boots on the ground” that coalition members need to address the Islamic State in Syria, so they need proper material and operational support in order to service that role. Similarly, Iraqi Sunni tribes need the Shiite majority-controlled central government to finally fight for, instead of against, the interests of the minority, because they are the ones who are most likely to stop the spread of the Islamic State within Sunni communities. The same is true for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Of all those fighting the Islamic State, the ill-equipped and largely unsupported Peshmerga have been the superstars in the war against the Islamic State. From the beginning, they have fought like no others in their struggle to push back the forces of terrorism. While Turkey’s limited willingness to help the Peshmerga reinforcements transit through their territory is an encouraging signs of a Turkey growing more supportive of efforts to deal with the Islamic State inside Syria, the leaderships of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria need to overcome their historic feuds in order to support populations like the Kurds and safe themselves from the threat of terrorism.
In truth, the West has shown great favoritism toward both Turkey and Saudi Arabia for more than a half century, because these two states and others have supported Western interests. With the US moving to limit its dependency on foreign oil, US interests in the oil-rich Middle East are growing far more limited, even though US and Western support can still make-or-break a country. As America’s most pressing interest in the Middle East is the threat of globalized terrorism, those who can and will help support this interest are going to be favored by the West.
Where Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria have long-fought the reformation of a Kurdish state from territories within their borders, the clout the Peshmerga are earning for their struggle against the Islamic State, as well as the strengthening of their military prowess, points to a future where such a nation exists. For the West, which is ruled by popular opinion and social media, the Kurds will have the support of Americans and European. Efforts by Middle Eastern nations to resist this future, now or later, will only result in greater conflict and instability from either the Islamic State and/or the Peshmerga later.
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