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Mosul Maelstrom: ISIS and the Turning Point of American Adventurism in Middle East

Mosul Maelstrom: ISIS and the Turning Point of American Adventurism in Middle East

By Sonia Mansour Robaey

July 01, 2014 "
- "
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In Mosul, a perfect storm gathered last week,
produced by decades of American adventurism in the
‘greater Middle East’.

The American
wars, including the ‘War on Terror’, were
cat-and-mouse games that did not produce a final
confrontation with Takfiri groups, but rather
multiple confrontations, which have deferred or
delayed both the domestic goals of these groups and
their destructive power abroad, while ratcheting up
their number and the resentment they carry against
the West and its regional allies.

happened in Mosul, after what happened in Syria,
threatens the pluralistic essence of Iraq and the
Levant, and promises us another decade of unrest and
terror in the region and abroad, if not addressed
cooperatively on the international level, and in a
responsible manner.

There is a
story in the Babylonian Talmud, retold by Somerset
Maugham in 1933, which my father liked to tell me
when I was a child, about a merchant in Baghdad who
sent his servant to the market to buy

. Back from the market, the servant
told his master that a woman in the crowd, who
seemed to be Death, gestured threateningly at him.
He asked his master to lend him a horse to flee to
Samarra. The merchant lent his horse and went down
to the marketplace where he saw the woman. He asked
her why she had made a threatening gesture at his
servant. ‘That was not a threatening gesture,’
the woman said, ‘I was only surprised to see
your servant in Baghdad, for I had an appointment
with him tonight in Samarra.’

By all
accounts, the appointment that was given by ISIS
(Islamic State in Iraq and greater Syria) in Mosul
to Iraq, the region and the world, seems to have
taken everybody by surprise, but it was bound to

No surprise

For decades
now, the US and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf countries, has been playing cat and
mouse with Islamist extremists trying to harness
their destructive power, without yielding to this
power, and for years, it has succeeded, exception
made of 9/11. The post-9/11 War on Terror was
supposed to be the end of this game with terror, but
it wasn’t.

The same
game is being played again, this time in the Fertile
Crescent region of the Middle East, thanks to two
events: the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq and
the 2011 toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and
Libya, along with the three-year-old failed attempt
at regime change in Syria – which came to be called
the ‘Arab Spring’.

These two
sets of events have introduced power vacuum,
weakened the central authority of these states and
their security apparatuses, attracting many Islamist
extremist groups. However, what’s different this
time in the new appointment with these groups is
their proliferation and power of mobilization based
on humiliation, and religious and class resentment
in the face of power shift and power loss. This
complex reality is acknowledged in the West only as
the one-dimensional religious sectarianism viewed
through the history of religious wars in the West.

appointment given by extremist groups in Mosul to
Iraq, the region and the world, will not only be
more deadly than 9/11, and will not only topple
regimes, but it will signal the death of pluralistic
societies in the Middle East and the Levant,
inaugurating a new era of barbarism and a new phase
of persecution of religious minorities, whoever they
are, wherever they are.

This may
seem benign to Westerners because, contrary to the
threat felt from these extremists with 9/11, the end
of religious pluralism in the Levant is, after all,
far from their shores. But it will be a mistake to
think that, in an interconnected, multicultural,
multiracial world, the end of religious pluralism in
the Levant will have no impact in the West.

The West
will not be able to escape the fallout of the
appointment given to the Middle East and the Levant
by Islamist extremist groups in a city known for its

old pluralism
. Obama may hesitate, the public in
West may be wary of wars, the war in Iraq may be
conveniently portrayed as a Sunni-Shia war, but if
no firm action is taken against these groups – not
the cat-and-mouse game we have seen so far – there
will be an appointment for the West with these
groups again.

War on Terror: An
appointment always deferred

originated in Iraq in the wake of the American-led
invasion based on the lie that Iraq had a
with Al-Qaeda. Its new name was
acquired only recently after assuming a new role
fighting for regime change in Syria. ISIS terror
operations in Iraq were led by a Jordanian named Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, who waged a savage sectarian
campaign against Iraqis in the name of Al-Qaeda, but
ended up on bad terms with the terror group as his
actions turned Iraqi Sunnis against Al-Qaeda.
Zarqawi was defeated and killed in 2006. The group
fighting with Zarqawi suffered many setbacks before
merging with other small insurgent groups –
including former officers from the disbanded Iraqi
army of Saddam Hussein – continuing terror
operations in an Iraq that had never ceased to bleed
since the American-led invasion.

Led now by
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was liberated by the US in
2009 after five years of detention in camp Bucca in
Iraq, ISIS found a new opportunity in the Syrian
, and territorial aims.

In Syria,
ISIS gained strength, followers, and greater
coverage form the traditional and the new media,
being Western liberals or conservatives from the
Arab Gulf, willing to bet their sympathies on any
group challenging the rule of President Bashar
Assad. In Syria, ISIS also came to lay its hands on
revenues from oil refineries and seems to have
achieved financial success by attracting private
donations and logistic support for a ‘cause’ dear to
West, Gulf leaders, Saudi affiliated Sunni groups in
Lebanon, and Turkey.

ISIS terror
operations in Syria and Iraq shifted in intensity,
during late 2013, early 2014, to Iraq, due to the
advances of the Syrian Arab army. It is then logical
that ISIS, an organization with a structured
leadership and a

long-term vision
, turned to Iraq to break the
deadlock in which it found itself in Syria. Iraq was
ripe for an ISIS breakthrough, with a weak central
government, a weak leader, a political climate
poisoned by sectarianism, and a known operational
field, thanks to its own dormant cells helped by
former officers from Saddam’s disbanded army.

Syria did
not make ISIS, as some allege, it was rather the US
invasion of Iraq that made ISIS, and the Syrian
‘revolution’ gave it a sympathetic platform.

war chest is estimated at somewhere between $400
million and $2 billion now; most gained during the
Mosul takeover with the looting of the central bank,
although sources in the US say these figures are

. ISIS has been already known for its
mafia style, racketeering and imposing local taxes
on the population, with harsh punishments for those

refuse to pay
(see also ISIS


proximity to Kurdish territory, which evades
Baghdad’s control and sells its oil on the black
market, or to countries willing to defy Baghdad,
will make business easy for ISIS. In the wake of
Mosul’s takeover, many speculated about a
Kurdish-ISIS conspiracy, but this is only logical
since Kurds and ISIS, despite differing views, both
plan to sell Iraq’s oil, unencumbered by a central

Without the
US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, ISIS would not have
existed in Iraq and resurrected in Syria, and
without Gulf Arab countries’ and West’s push for
regime change in Syria, ISIS would not be claiming
its throne in

. But “Sitting a throne is a thousand
times harder than winning one.”
territorial ambitions are fantasies. Not one pious
Sunni Muslim, let alone any Muslim, outside the
fanatics who are fighting with ISIS, wishes to live
by their rules.

Since the
early 1990s, Al-Qaeda and other Takfiri groups,
militarily strengthened by the anti-Soviet War in
Afghanistan, trained and radicalized with Saudi-Gulf
money & American complicity, have been serving the
interventionist unilateral foreign policy of the
United States and its allies acting as facilitators
of armed intervention in countries they view as
theirs to subdue to their brand of Islam.

Afghanistan to Nigeria and in-between, these groups
have either reacted to US interventions or
pro-actively preceded US penetration in new
territory by causing a deep enough crisis resulting
in US intervention. A recent example is the US late
penetration of sub-Saharan Africa, achieved through
these two modes of action and reaction resulting in
the presence of these groups where there is American
presence, being on the military or security levels.
The cat-and-mouse game the US plays with these
groups follows two main objectives, which have not
changed for decades: Israel’s security and the
West’s own energy security. ISIS is no exception.

Feeding the
politics of resentment

religious extremism of Takiri groups is a project
born out of resentment; it is not a resistance
movement, neither a revolutionary one. It is bound
to fail. The politics of resentment often ignores
reality, is moved by a set of negative collective
emotions pertaining to loss of power, experience of
humiliation, and desire for vengeance. Its project
for the future is often to withdraw, return to a
previous state. It thrives on anxiety and
disenchantment with the world.

In the case
of ISIS and other Takfiri groups, these factors
pervade the religious, spiritual and political lives
of individuals from different nationalities. This is
what makes these groups dangerous to any society
they live in.

At its
source, Takfiri ideology was born in Egypt where it
thrived in a context of endemic poverty and
oppression as an alternative to the emergence of a
secular state as a process of decolonization.
Takfiri ideology not only distrusted colonial
powers, but also the process of decolonization as a
march toward separation between the religious, the
spiritual, and the state.

From Egypt,
the Takfiri ideology spread to Saudi Arabia who
tried, and succeeded, in harnessing the discontent
of these groups persecuted by Egypt’s governments
and used it against nascent Arab secular regimes.
But in Saudi Arabia, Takfiri ideology gained
traction among part of the elite who felt ostracized
and alienated by the Saudi monarchy. Before gaining
prominence on the world stage, the first attempts of
these groups at implementing their political
objectives were made in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia


Since then,
either they were manipulated to fight in many
conflicts where their resentment could find an
operational terrain or they were fought in a manner
feeding resentment, through illegal invasions,
illegal detentions, and humiliations. America’s War
on terror in the wake of 9/11 did not address the
root cause of Takfiri ideology, it worked mainly on
validating the way Takfiris view the world and the

This is
what I call a War on Terror that is deferred. After
each battle, along with or against America, these
groups have returned to fight their governments at
home, always better armed and better trained. Groups
who fought in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan
initiated the Algerian civil war.

The tragedy
of 9/11 can be seen as a reaction to Gulf countries’
willingness to surrender more sovereignty to
American troops in the form of permanent US bases,
in exchange for more protection, after the first
Gulf War. The takeover of the Syrian ‘revolution’ by
ISIS, and its offshoot Al-Nusra Front, is the direct
result of the 2003 American led invasion of Iraq,
which unsettled the power equation in the whole
region. And the current (though supposedly finished)
Iraq War, with the takeover of Mosul and the direct
threat to the integrity of Iraq is, the direct
result of the war Western and Gulf countries are
waging on the Syrian regime with the help of these

resentment of these groups, carefully cultivated
over the years, is now joined by the resentment of
Iraq’s Sunni cadres after their exile from a long
held throne. Many have questioned the unnatural
alliance between ISIS and former Saddamists, but it
is not to be seen as unnatural if we consider that
both ISIS and former Saddamists share a strong
resentment against Shia and other sects as a
motivation, for the exile of Sunnis from power.

regime never achieved the kind of secularism and
inclusion fostered by the Syrian Baath because it
relied heavily on brutal sectarian politics, and its
former cadres are moved by strong sectarian politics
against other sects, mainly the Shia. It is madness
to accuse Nouri al-Maliki of sectarianism when the
Sunni insurgency, which never abated since power has
been taken from them in Iraq, has killed mainly


descends now on Mosul and other cities in Iraq,
including Samarra, a perfect storm is gathering. Its
outcome is certain to produce only atrocities and
wars for years. And as ISIS descends on Mosul, and
Samarra, and Baghdad, there will be no escape this
time for the US and its regional allies, who have
been playing cat and mouse with these groups for
over three decades now, but to look into the eye of
the storm and act responsibly, to own the monster
they have created.

Unfortunately, this is not what the US
administration has signaled since the beginning of
this crisis. Obama, who to his credit opposed the
2003 invasion of Iraq, finds himself with no clear
policy on Iraq, and I’m not sure, even with the best
intentions, that he understands the gravity of the
situation. His two speeches until now indicate a mix
of caution and laissez-faire that has marked his
approach to foreign policy. But this is no time for
nuances and carefully studied caution.

The absence
of a coordinated campaign with other powers that
have influence in the region – namely Iran and
Russia - against ISIS makes the current situation
even more alarming. If ISIS is to consolidate its
presence in Mosul and beyond, no country will escape
the chaos created by this storm.

Sonia Mansour Robaey is a neuroscientist who teaches
Philosophy and Ethics. She tweets on the Levant at

and on
Ethics and Philosophy at


author thanks Ivor Crotty for editing this article.

© Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”,


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