It sounds like a classic replay of the great games of the 1900s when caliphates across the desert sand of Arabia struggled to emerge from years of European colonialism. Arab nationalism ran so deep then, it had to be subdued only through tricks and proxy politics. As a result, a series of artificial Arab kingdoms and sultanates installed by former colonial powers like France and Great Britain grew. For over one hundred years, they seemed legitimate until the Arab Spring came sweeping the entire Middle East region and North Africa, rewriting a new narrative—bloody and dangerous to the guardians of neocolonialism of Arabia.
When it comes to Syria and Iraq, the narrative of proxy politics has never been so chocking, as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—emerged from an unexpected sweep—is positioning himself as the new bin Laden, the new caliph-wannabe that will take the people of Arabia back to Stone Age, including Alibaba and the rest of the thieves. In this article published by Asia Times, prolific journalist Pepe Escobar takes us to the real game behind al-Baghdadi’s crusade on the desert.
Watch this caliph rip
So The Caliph is now a global superstar. Ever since Dr Ibrahim al-Badri of Samarra, a minor Sunni cleric who impersonates neo-medieval Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, showed up in the stone pulpit of a Mosul mosque at the start of Ramadan, he’s been on a roll.
He fully advertised his piece of transnational real estate – from the suburbs of Aleppo to Mosul (and promised more takeovers). He cut his own video – essentially his own, a monotone rap, dressed in trademark Men in Black regalia. He eliminated the competition, essentially by killing them all. He exalted the mujahid, inviting them to follow jihad in the name of Allah. He condemned miscreants and hypocrites, exalting the “victory of Muslims” from “the West to the East”.
Modestly sporting a US$7,000 watch (or Chinese replica) and asking for “corrections” in his behavior, The Caliph announced that his Islamic State (IS) business, former ISIS, is not only about the Levant. Want an IS passport? Just ask The Caliph.
He firmly set his sights on conquering Rome (Saracens sacked St Peter’s in 846); “You will conquer Rome and will be masters of the world.” It won’t happen before Sunday though, so Pope Francis can watch Argentina against Germany in peace without fear of decapitation.
But first, The Caliph seems to be ready to ride his holy camel shouting “Allahu Akbar!” all the way to Baghdad and then Mecca. After all, he also proclaimed that the 1916 Sykes-Picot colonial racket, sorry, agreement between Britain and France is now null and void. No wonder the House of Saud, that pristine fountain of courage, has already massed 30,000 mercenaries, sorry, troops, on their border with Iraq (until six months ago the Saudis were facilitating an Air and Bus Jihad all the way to both Syria and Iraq; now they dread the boomerang effect.)
Notorious French orientalist Olivier Roy is not impressed with all this thunder. He brands The Caliph as “delirious” without dismissing his cunning; “… as cautious and invisible as Mullah Omar, as ambitious and megalomaniac as Osama bin Laden”. Which prompts the inevitable question; how come he’s not on Double O Bama’s license-to-kill list and has not been droned into Mesopotamian sand?
The Caliph has remained mum on Operation Protect the Zionists, sorry, Protective Edge, the latest Israeli slow motion ethnic cleansing/collective punishment super-production currently starring in Gaza in over 400 targets and featuring substantial “collateral damage”. That’s a bum PR move by The Caliph, inviting double ridicule by the Arab Street for his dubious religious credentials coupled with his utter disregard for the Palestinian plight.
No more nice jihadis
Still, The Caliph is all over the place. His Salafi-jihadi Declaration of Independence – not only from historic al-Qaeda but mostly from those jaded/corrupt Arab monarchies and the Western intel apparatus which has nurtured International Jihad for decades – is indeed groundbreaking. Which explains the perplexity of the Empire of Chaos. That good ol’ “strategy” of projecting imperial/NATO power by proxy – via jihadis for rent – now lies in shambles. The Caliph is the ultimate jihadi Frankenstein.
No wonder the Obama lame-duck dinner, sorry, administration, is contemplating, at least in Syria, the usual plan A, which is to weaponize both sides (let Arabs kill Arabs). In Iraq, the plan still being discussed in the Beltway might be to drone IS convoys. It won’t be a walk in the park because the IS military leadership is composed of battlefield-experienced former Iraqi guerrillas. And they are not foolish to start parading those gleaming white Toyotas in open desert all over again now they have become instant celebrities.
On the political front, there are insistent rumors of an imminent military coup in Baghdad, planned by the city’s military commander, Abdulamir al-Shumanni. The coup-in-the-wings’ leaders claim they are supported by both Washington and Tehran (fabulous job; they should be summoned to help in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations). As for the Return of the Living (Neo-con) Dead brigade in the US, they bet on the only tainted horse they know: Ahmed Chalabi. No matter his raw ambition, The Caliph will have to get his act together. A lot of Syrian jihadi outfits have turned against IS. The same thing is happening in Iraq; Sunni militias are turning against them in Nineveh province.
Enter tribal Sunni sheikhs – the ghosts in this infernal machine. The Caliph must have enough trusted moles to tell him that once the sheikhs have finished using IS as a tool to “destabilize” the al-Maliki administration in Baghdad, they will definitely advance to smash the caliphate. This is an extremely temporary alliance of interests – a sort of remix of the previous Islamic State in Iraq having its emirate smashed because of the American cash-propelled Anbar Awakening.
The Caliph will also have to face Athel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh province; he wants a different Sunnistan with a high degree of autonomy (and lots of still unexplored oil) but still inside Iraq. Al-Nujaifi is the most influential Sunni politician in Iraq and head of the largest Sunni political party. For the moment, The Caliph seems to be taking no chances. IS operatives have arrested scores of former Iraqi army officers and Ba’athists around Mosul.
So, once again, what is the Obama administration to do? Probably a remix of Bush II; shower the sheikhs with cash so they turn against The Caliph a.s.a.p. Tehran, meanwhile, is also active, via small Special Ops contingents – such as the one that saved the beautiful Shi’ite shrine in Samarra from being captured by IS. They are aiming for a repeat of their Syrian strategy: creating a parallel Iraqi army out of militias.
The notion that The Caliph will soon attack “the West” or the US is bogus. IS terror incursions have happened so far in Irbil (in Iraq Kurdistan), Basra and Damascus. All of these cities are relatively close to IS’s operational command. IS’s reach does not extend to the West. Even attacking Baghdad is a major challenge. They are not competent enough to attack the Vatican-sized US embassy. Not to mention that Sadrists militias in Sadr City, for instance, would reduce them to dust. The most they can aspire to is to keep destroying Sunni, Sufi and Shi’ite shrines. In parallel, the really juicy story to be followed is that IS can develop as the ideal, proxy weapon of choice for the Empire of Chaos – and the House of Saud – to fight what could be described as the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria-Iraq alliance. Exactly the opposite peddled by this prodigy of wishful thinking.
Realistically, in geopolitical terms, The Caliph’s hypothetical journey to Rome is also a joke. IS is surrounded by hostile powers, from Iran and Turkey to Egypt. If the Men in Black decided to cross 300 kilometers of desert to attack King Playstation’s realm, also known as Jordan, they would be all droned to death.
So now that he’s announced himself as the new Osama, The Caliph had better watch his back. Most probably he’s a one-trick camel. He might realize he’s got a better shot at stardom by branding himself as the second coming of Michael Jackson and start doing the Moonwalk (the jihadi remix). What he will certain realize is that Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army is the only game in town on the Syrian side in terms of attacking and inflicting serious pain on IS. And on the Iraq side there are even more options.
All coup rumors notwithstanding, al-Maliki will most likely remain in power in Baghdad. And he will be fully weaponized not only by Tehran but also Moscow. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is already involved in helping to build what could be described as National Guard brigades. They will go after IS big time. In a pincer movement, attacks from Syria and from Iraq could destroy most of IS six months from now.
The Caliph, apart from his mighty watch, may now hold a lot of weapons and make money by selling oil, but his Caliphate is a mirage. Only one thing is certain. Before it vanishes into the sands of time, there will be blood. A lot of blood.
Pepe Escobar is the author of many books, including Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).