Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Putting ISIS in Perspective

By Robert Wenzel

At best ISIS has 50,000 fighters in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq.

But this high number count comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This is what NYT tells us about SOHR:
Military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war. The United Nations and human rights organizations scour its descriptions of civilian killings for evidence in possible war crimes trials. Major news organizations, including this one, cite its casualty figures.

Yet, despite its central role in the savage civil war, the grandly named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is virtually a one-man band. Its founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, 42, who fled Syria 13 years ago, operates out of a semidetached red-brick house on an ordinary residential street in this drab industrial city...

He has been called a tool of the Qatari government, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Central Intelligence Agency and Rifaat al-Assad, the exiled uncle of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, among others. The Syrian government and even some rebels have accused him of treachery.
As far as ISIS fighters in Iraq, it should come as no surprise that a civil war is taking place in the country. It was expected, by all but the dull,  after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, who through his brutal ways maintained calm, for most, in the country, and after the more exponentially brutal  US forces left.

The single most important factor in ISIS' recent resurgence is the conflict between Iraqi Shias and Iraqi Sunnis. ISIS fighters themselves are Sunnis, and the tension between the two groups is a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS, explains VOX.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, has built a Shia sectarian state and refused to take steps to accommodate Sunnis. Police have killed peaceful Sunni protestors and used anti-terrorism laws to mass-arrest Sunni civilians. ISIS cannily exploited that brutality to recruit new fighters, VOX goes on to report.

That's the only way the Iraq fighting number could get as high as 30,000 in Iraq.

Dexter Filkins at the New Yorker puts things into perspective:
When the last American soldiers left Iraq, at the end of 2011, the bloody civil war between the country’s Sunni and Shiite sects had been stifled but not resolved. Now the sectarian violence had returned, with terrifying intensity. For more than a year, thousands of Iraqis, nearly all of them members of the Sunni Arab minority, had been gathering to rail against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government. Although the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces responded harshly, detaining thousands of Sunni men without charges and, in one encampment, touching off a spasm of violence that left hundreds of civilians dead. Across the Sunni heartland, north and west of Baghdad, the town squares filled with angry crowds, and the rhetoric grew more extreme. In Ramadi, protesters raised black jihadi flags, representing the extremist Al Qaeda offshoot that had dominated the city during the American occupation. “We are a group called Al Qaeda!” a man shouted from a stage in the protesters’ camp. “We will cut off heads and bring justice!” The crowd cheered.

Speaking into the television cameras on Christmas, Maliki ordered the protesters to disband. Largely ignoring his own men’s excesses, he claimed that the protests were dominated by extremists. “This site has become a base for Al Qaeda,” he said, filled with “killers and criminals.” Maliki ended his speech with what for him was a flourish of emotion, lifting a hand from the lectern. “There will be no negotiations while the square is still standing.”

In the protests at Ramadi, a Sunni member of parliament named Ahmed al-Alwani had inflamed the crowds, accusing Maliki of being in league with the Iranian regime, the region’s great Shiite power. “My message is for the snake Iran!” Alwani shouted into a microphone, jabbing his finger into the air. Referring to Maliki and those around him as “Safavids” and “Zoroastrians,” terms that denote Iranian invaders, he said, “Let them listen up and know that those gathered here will return Iraq to its people!”

Three days after Maliki’s speech, security forces surrounded Alwani’s compound. Officials claimed that they had gone not to arrest him—as a member of parliament, he had immunity—but to capture his brother, who was wanted on vague charges of “terrorism.” Gunfire broke out. The troops killed six people and took Alwani away. A photograph apparently smuggled from jail showed him in an orange jumpsuit with bruises on his face. His brother had fared far worse: he was shot to death in the fighting.

Soon afterward, troops cleared the Ramadi camp, on a day when it was sparsely occupied. Anbar Province erupted, along with the rest of Sunni Iraq, and the violence has not ceased. A wave of car bombers and suicide bombers struck Baghdad; in January, more than a thousand Iraqi civilians died, the overwhelming majority of them Shiites, making it one of the bloodiest months since the height of the American war. In the effort to put down the upheaval, Maliki ringed the province’s two largest cities, Falluja and Ramadi, with artillery and began shelling. Forty-four Sunni members of parliament resigned. In Falluja and Ramadi, Sunni police abandoned their posts.

Maliki, apparently realizing that he had miscalculated, ordered the Army to leave both cities. Within hours, dozens of armed men, their trucks flying black flags, swept into the downtowns, declaring that they were from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda splinter group. Locals said that it was made up of men who had fought the Americans. “

Further, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies' Michael Knights, the US and Iraqi governments released a huge number of al-Qaeda prisoners from jail, which he thinks caused "an unprecedented infusion of skilled, networked terrorist manpower - an infusion at a scale the world has never seen."

In other words, this is all blowback from the original U.S. invasion of Iraq. Thank you, the Bush family.

That said, ISIS has not even been able to quickly topple the incompetent Iraqi government and its incompetent army.

As a military force, ISIS is about as much of a threat to the U.S. as Costa Rica, which disbanded its military ages ago.

As for potential terrorist attacks in the U.S., that would appear to be motivated by further U.S. intervention in the Iraqi civil war, which, again, is the result in the first place of the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein. Bottom line: The U.S.empire can not patrol the world and muscle every sectarian group in the world. It is a delusional idea that will do nothing but goad the undermanned and under armed targets of U.S.muscle to start considering the U.S. as a terror target that makes sense.

The U.S. should pull out of the region and basically tell the warring factions, "Good luck, and may Allah sort this all out for you."

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics


  1. Yes, yes, ISIS. What I want to know is why there is no mention in libertarian circles about the supposed terrorist camps in the U.S.? Hannity ran it on his show:

    All of my conservative friends are posting it on Facebook and, if Googled, there are a ton of threads on conservative websites. Here we are, 8 weeks from mid-term elections and there's this wave of terrorist camp talk in conservative ranks and very little discussion in libertarian circles.

    It reminds me of Bush 43's second election and how everything centered on fear and war to keep conservatives in line - to help people forget all the other republican promises going by the wayside. The timing of this seems to be in line with keeping the Tea-partiers and moderates faithful to the neocons.

    Does anyone know of any research done on these so-called terrorist camps?

  2. Obviously, the largest most powerful "terrorist camp" is the federal government located in Washington, DC.