No excuse for western surprise re ISIS advances


At the risk of sounding arrogant, I would like to say that western policymakers have no excuse for being surprised regarding the ISIS advance into western Iraq, and the fragmentation of that country.  I and a number of colleagues have been writing about the rise of the ISIS organization and other putative ‘successor authorities’ in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon, and the ongoing fragmentation of these countries on ethnic and sectarian lines, and the single sectarian war taking place in these territories, for the last three years.   

In this regard, I would like to ‘re-issue’  a couple of paragraphs that I wrote on my recent return from a reporting trip on the YPG-ISiS frontlines in northern Syria: 

‘The clash between the Kurdish enclave and ISIS jihadis offers a number of lessons about the current state of Syria. First, the idea that the regime has turned the tide of the civil war in Syria needs to be put into context. In Kobani and across Syria’s north and east, the regime is little more than a memory. Both the Kurdish zones and ISIS area already have the feel of successor authorities. The rebel enclaves further west, though feuding among themselves, also remain well armed and powerful. So despite the regime’s recent gains in western Syria, the country is divided, and looks likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Second, the ISIS enclave stretches far into Iraq. The Syrian conflict has burst the boundaries of the country. A more general sectarian war is now under way.

Lastly, ISIS, despite recent setbacks, appears determined to hold on to the territories it controls while spreading its poisonous brand of Islamism throughout the region. Abu Nur, a fighter of the movement who I interviewed in Gaziantep, Turkey, told me, “We want the Islamic Khilafa (Caliphate). It’s something old and new—from the time of Mohammed. We won’t accept any other form of government.”

The world should pay closer attention to the siege of Kobani. A significant part of Syria’s and perhaps the broader Middle East’s future can be glimpsed from there.’


About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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