1) Please tell me what your take is on Obama’s strategy regarding the struggle against IS. What do you think is wrong with it and what should be changed regarding it?
The “Islamic State” (at the time, still the Emirate on the land of the two rivers, covering an area not very different from the one they cover now in Iraq) was first proclaimed on the 15th October 2006 under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, shortly after the death of the group’s historical leader, Abu Al Zarqawi (June the 7th 2006, Hib Hib, 50 KM North of Baghdad by the Tigris).
Whoever wants to understand the roots and the logic of the first original component of the group since it was proclaimed on the first of September 2001 as “Jund-al-Islam can consult the masterpiece of Jean Charles Brisard “Zarkaoui le nouveau visage d’Al Qaida” [Zarqawi, the new face of Al Qaida]. The book shows the essential role of Tehran and the strategic will of moving the main Jihadi theatre of war from Afghanistan to Iraq by Osama bin Laden.
From its beginning in 2001 in Biyara – at the Iranian-Iraqi Kurdish border – till 2006, the group grew enormously fundamentally due to the tremendous strategic errors committed by the US.
In 2007 and 2008, the US had for the very first time put together some elements of a coherent policy to combat jihadism in Iraq. Consequently the group suffered a major setback and was mostly forced to retreat to its logistical basis in Syria.
This 2007 policy is what is normally known as the “surge”. I find this expression a very misleading way to understand what happened. The increase of the military US forces presence is a secondary aspect of a major shift of policy that understood the nefarious role of Tehran in promoting jihadism.
With the new Obama administration the US came back to the disastrous policy followed previously to 2007, and consequently the US allowed the Iranian influence to grow unlimitedly in Iraq.
The Obama administration foolishness went to the point of siding with Iran in a power coup that did not allow the secular winner of the 2010 elections Ayad Allawi to become Prime-Minister in favour of the sectarian pro-Iranian Nouri Al-Maliki.
Since 2009, Iraqi policy has returned to the same sectarian logic that promoted the civil war since 2003. Sunni Arabs have been indiscriminately persecuted, murdered and jailed, namely community leaders, intellectuals and youngsters. All peaceful attempts to protest have been mercilessly repressed.
Sunni Arabs have been consistently pushed towards armed rebellion, and the Obama administration political blind support to Iran and its sectarian policies in Iraq has a major responsibility in these state of affairs.
2) My news agency recently reported that many Shia militias have been committing atrocities in Iraq that are just about as bad as Islamic State, yet no one is talking about them. As the author of a book that dealt with Iranian activity in Iran, please tell me what you know about these atrocities and how US policy has influenced Iran to increasingly make strides in Iraq.
In the book you mention, I explain that in my opinion, modern terrorism is made of the cumulative presence of three elements that existed per se, but not put together before: (1) targeting the masses of anonymous persons and not necessarily prominent individuals, the more you kill the better; (2) suicidal nature and (3) fanatic, uncompromising non-negotiated objectives. This modern terrorism is a by-product of the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
The Islamic Republic has consistently supported all sorts of Sunni Jihadi groups, clashing however with them when they become too powerful and difficult to control, but otherwise its core terrorist operations have been conducted through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Both Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Badr Brigades are part of the IRGC terror machine, and have been assigned terror operations, Hezbollah over the whole World – to a large extent helped by the spread of the Lebanese diaspora – and the Iraqi Badr Brigades in Iraq and the region of the Gulf.
As a very important BBC documentary showed last year, the US did recruit a lot of Badr Brigades members – if not entire parts of the organisation – as death squads in Iraq in 2003 in a move that assured the fiasco was the only possible outcome to the invasion of Iraq.
Since 2003, and to a large extent because of the tremendous increase of power the misled invasion of Iraq gave to Iran, a whole set of new terrorist off-springs have been flourishing in the region and most in particular in Iraq, where we count today up to 20 different Iranian sponsored terrorist Shia-groups.
Most of them act in relation to specific units of the Iraqi armed forces, Iraqi armed forces that really do not exist in the way we understand Armed Forces to be. Former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki commanded the armed forces by cellular phone side-stepping chains of command like he was commanding his militias.
Other than the 50.000 soldiers that never existed in the first place as the Iraqi authorities recently acknowledged, most of the remaining soldiers exist but are useless as a combat force. They are either without munition or without training and in any circumstance they only serve to keep them occupied or to justify the funds to their commanders, since only those who show a political allegiance to the rulers are trusted and are allowed to be operational.
The horrific stories of torture, assassination, kidnapping for ransom in both the secret and the official prison network done by these terrorist organisations can easily be obtained by interviewing Iraqi refugees in the region or even in Europe. Some of them are even well documented in film. If the US in particular and the West in general does not know them this is simply because it does not want to know them.
The US blindness went to the point where the removal of Al-Maliki was first understood as inevitable by the Iranian regime leaders than by the Obama administration. Nouri Al-Maliki acted as a gang leader and he mistreated not only Kurds and Sunni Arabs but everyone even other Shia Arab leaders close to the Iranian regime.
3) In an interview I did recently with an Iranian Kurdish dissident, it was reported that there are fears of increasing Iranian influence in the Kurdish region because of Obama’s lack of willingness to commit to helping the Kurds directly and the Iraqi central government not delivering aid earmarked for the Kurds. Please tell me what you think can be done to rectify this situation and to improve the situation for Iraqi Kurds.
Kurds in general are the least contaminated people in the region by the fanatic anti-democratic Jihadi ideology, although they have not been immune to it. From 2004 to 2009 I have been a bit all over Iraq and most in particular in Kurdistan. I was impressed with the respect Kurdish Peshmerga or police forces mainly made of Kurdish soldiers (like the one of Kirkuk) showed towards people of other ethnic and religious views, and most in particular how this contrasted with what happened everywhere else.
The sectarian hate machine that destroyed Iraq in the middle of monstrous crimes against humanity spared to a large extent Kurdistan and this is the reason why I have so much respect and admiration for the Kurdish people and Kurdish leadership.
If you allow me, I could just tell you about an episode that might be particularly telling for Israelis. In January 2009, as a member of the European Parliament, I visited Kirkuk citadel during the night, and namely the former Jewish market and Synagogue. At the ruins of the Synagogue, I could see all stones broken, and this happened, according to what I was told at the time, under instructions of Saddam’s regime. As I was well acquainted already at the time with the soldiers escorting me – there were Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrian Christians – they decided to show me something they kept in secret and this was the single stone that had survived in one piece.
And for these soldiers, this stone which writings they could not understand since it was not written in any of their languages – I could not either, but to my ignorant eyes the characters seemed not to be in Hebrew either but more alike Sanskrit ones – was precious, because being presumably Jewish, that they were taught to hate, it was nevertheless part of their heritage.
Coming back to your question, one of the major Kurdish dramas has been the capacity of the different powers in the region to turn ones against the others. This has happened virtually with all Kurdish groups and manipulation has been done by eventually all of the states of the region.
Regarding Kurds, the US dogmatic support to Maliki also went beyond what even Maliki paymasters (the Iranian regime) found reasonable to do. Whereas the US made a blockade of arms supply to Kurdish Peshmerga under the pretext arms should be channelled through proper means (that is, Maliki), the Iranians understood the magnificent opportunity to gain a foothold in the Kurdish leadership supplying them arms. So, when the Kurdish forces – basically all of the existing armed Kurdish armed forces, the KDP, the PUK and those affiliated with the PKK – were facing slaughter at the hands of ISIS, Iran came in as their saviour.
Iran has now an increased influence on the West best potential allies – Kurds – and this is yet another consequence of Western incompetency.
4) Please tell me what your opinion is regarding Obama’s Syria policy. What is wrong with it and what can be done to rectify it? What can be done to help the Kurds and other moderate forces succeed in a post-Assad Syria? What can be done to address the human rights abuses in Syria?
I share the opinion of apparently high ranking US officials that there is no such thing as an Obama Syria policy, but only an inconsequential sequence of reactions to developments on the ground.
In the beginning, the Obama administration did not understand that the Arab spring in Syria would not develop as it did elsewhere, since the Syrian Assad regime was incommensurably more ruthless than any of the authoritarian governments of the region and its master was Tehran, which was and remains the real player in the field.
Then, it did not understand that Iran would play the card of the Sunni Jihadis in Syria exactly as it did in Iraq. To sponsor Sunni Jihadis offers three immediate advantages to Tehran: (1) it insures the decapitation of the local intellectual elites, paving the way for future colonisation; (2) it insures the West will be confronted with a ruthless enemy and (3) it plays as the ultimate argument why non-Jihadis have to rely on Tehran protection or perish. In the long run, as it happened in historical occasions, Sunni fanaticism will smoothly be transformed into Shia fanaticism, the recalcitrant being wipe-out.
So, in 2011, the Assad regime released all main Jihadi leaders and agreed to a lot of their requests, while stepping up brutal repression on its secular opposition.
ISIS, which was originally created by Iran and Osama bin Laden at the Iranian Kurdish border, was kicked out of there by a joint PUK-US operation after the invasion in 2003 and regrouped in Syria, where it has been based up to our day. Since 2011 it has been very useful for the Syrian regime as a means to get rid of its opposition, but as time went by the situation changed, the same way the whole regional geopolitical scenario changed.
Erdogan’s Turkey saw the Arab Spring as the golden opportunity to advance one step further its dream of leading the reconstruction of the Islamic Caliphate, destroying all Infidel governments. This dream is in open competition with Iran theocracy plans.
As it often happens in the Greater Middle East, alliances shifted rapidly and ISIS became more aligned with Turkey, whereas Iran broke the arrangement with Turkey and started supporting Kurdish forces mostly aligned with PKK.
Both Jihadi Sunni and Shia factions, however, agree on the need to destroy Syrian liberal secular opposition. If the Kurdish various leaderships are not fool, they are certainly conscious that once major disputes between the regional big-Whigs will be overcome, Kurdish will be smashed mercilessly, has they have been in the past.
The very same Obama administration that unwisely said yes in the end of 2011 to support all Syrian opposition woke up slowly to the fact there were those in opposition that should have never been supported.
The very same Obama administration that threatened to use military force as a reprisal for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, duly accepted a shabby deal for Assad to get rid of them and now openly ignores the fact Syria is using these weapons.
When the news came last Sunday 8th of December that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons to keep the control of its airport of Deir ez-Zor – reportedly, a hundred victims among ISIS forces – not a single protest for this blatant break of international law or the US promises was heard.
Western leaders seem not to understand how disastrous for the security of their countries this attitude will prove to be. Here, it is only fair to say that Europe is no different, and to a certain extent it is true that the Obama administration is a sort of European-minded rule on the other side of the Atlantic.
As on what has to be done in Syria, I see no other option than starting the stepping-up engagement and dialogue with all Kurdish forces. We have to act having full conscience that we already allowed the devil (Iranian theocracy) to penetrate the sanctuary; that the virus of other illnesses – less mortal in our day, but still dangerous – like a communist single party ideology exist over there, that corruption and political arrogance is a major problem, that Turkey is now clearly on the other side of the fence, but I see no alternative than starting by full engagement with Kurdish forces from Iraq or Syria.
Liberated free areas around the Northern part of the Syrian-Iraqi border could be used for accepting refugees and organising resistance to the two-headed monster regime in Syria.
Nothing will however be possible without a clear understanding of the vital interests of a free World in the region and their enemies, Jihadism being the number one.
5) From your visits to the region, please tell me what you have observed regarding the plight of women, religious and ethnic minorities given the current situation. What can be done to enhance their situation?
Democracy as we built it around the globe cannot be understood without equality of rights regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion.
The stepping up of Jihadism in both Syria and Iraq made what seemed to be impossible come true: the development of a situation even worse than the previous one under the Baathist regimes.
Tehran masterminded Shia-terror groups started ethnic and religious cleansing as well as persecution of women shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Soon after the invasion, a city as vibrant with ethnic and religious minorities like Basra assisted to widespread ethnic cleansing and despotic measures against women.
How many Mandeans remain in Southern Iraq, if any at all? What happened to the vibrant communities of Armenian Christians? And what happened to the Sunni Arabs there? What can a woman do over there without getting acid on her face or being murdered?
Soon, this scenario was being replicated in the rest of the country (Kurdistan being a happy exception).
I think that the clear rejection of Women, ethnic or religious apartheid must be the main criteria to define the political basis of the region opposition’s forces to the rule of the Islamic States (the one sieged in Tehran as the one sieged in Mosul).