The Islamic State has won a number of battles and punished two US and one UK citizens. In response, Washington and London launched an air campaign to deliver strikes against the Islamic State’s forces on the ground.On September 14, thirty nations, including China and Russia, have gathered in Paris for talks about the threat posed by the terrorist group. Iran wasn’t invited to the Paris conference. The United States is trying to sign up more countries to its coalition of the states willing to fight the militants in Syria and Iraq. The participants stated that the Islamic State was a threat not to Iraq only, but to the whole Middle East and the world community. The US Air Force has already delivered more than 160 strikes against the radical group in the northern part of Iraq and some areas at the distance of 80 km from Baghdad.
The Islamic State, previously calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is an unrecognised state and a Sunni jihadist group active in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring most of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control beginning with territory in the Levant region. The Levant, also known as the Eastern Mediterranean, is a geographic and cultural region consisting of the eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of southern Turkey (the former Aleppo Velayat). The group was established in 2006 to fight against the US military in the occupied Iraq under the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. When the civil war in Syria started in 2011 the group’s formations crossed the border to join armed Syrian opposition. They established control over the faraway Ar-Raqqah province and introduced Sharia laws there. It enjoyed the support of NATO and the Persian Gulf states. In August 2014 the group took advantage of discontent spread around the Sunni population in the north of Iraq with the central government under Nouri al-Maliki controlled by Shiites. It launched an offensive going deep into the Iraqi territory to seize a number of populated areas including the second largest Iraqi city of Mosul. The Islamic State practices repressions and terror towards national and religious minorities (Kurds, Shiites, Yazidis and Christians). The Islamic State’s militants tried to spread their influence on Lebanon and threatened Jordan. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is the Islamic State leader. The group has declared the introduction of Sharia law on the captured territories. It plans to issue passports and its own currency. According to Western information agencies, there are many foreign mercenaries in the Islamic State ranks, also from the member-countries of the European Union. According to French official data, there is around 700 French Muslims within the ranks of radical groups operating in Syria and Iraq. Around 800 British citizens are believed to fill the warring formations’ ranks.
The offensive to seize Kirkuk in the oil rich areas of Iraqi Kurdistan ended without success. The militants’ formations were stopped by Kurdish peshmerga units. The United States and NATO member-states said they supported Kurdistan and provided military aid to it. Kurdistan has been enjoying wide autonomy since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Actually it’s an independent entity though not formally recognized as such. The leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan has announced its intent to hold a referendum on independence. The idea is opposed by Baghdad. The United States, the European Union and Israel push Kurdistan to intensify its efforts to gain independence hoping to have a pro-Western state emerged in the region. There is another reason for their support. The Islamic State threatens to get hold of oil rich Kirkuk and Erbil (Arbil), the Kurdish capital, where the Western companies have their offices.
No matter that the United States and Great Britain claim to form a coalition of 40 states to fight the Islamic State, there is little done in practice. The US sent a few military to strengthen the protection of US representative offices in Iraq, while the US Air Force delivers strikes against the Islamic State ground formations. Washington excludes the possibility of Iran or Syria joining the opposition, no matter these states could make a decisive contribution into the coalition’s efforts (the Syrian army is waging combat against the Islamic State’s formations in the areas close to the Iraqi border). The United States has made public its intent to deliver strikes against the Islamic State forces on the Syrian territory without the permission of the country’s government. America even threatened to eliminate the Syrian air defense systems in case it defends the airspace. The United States wants to offer arms and training to “moderate” Syrian opposition forces, or the Syrian Free Army formed to topple the government of Bashar Assad. Saudi Arabia has let know it is ready to offer its territory for training camps.
The United States are pursuing the very same goals as in the past: to overthrow Bashar Assad in Syria, make forces hostile to Tehran and Damascus come to power in Iraq, weaken Iran and Shia Hezbollah movement on Lebanon and then move jihad closer to the Russian borders. Washington hopes that the Ukraine’s crisis will divert Moscow efforts and limit its influence in the Middle East.
Dr. Boris Dolgov is Ph.D. (History), Senior research fellow of the Centre for Arabic Studies of the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies.