I just finished reading ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M Berger. This blog is not a synopsis of the book rather a few of my thoughts that I will take away from the book.
I was amazed at the low numbers of ISIL fighters. The author says there are only about 25,000 fighters in the ISIL army. To think that it has taken city after city in both Iraq and Syria and continued to advance despite coalition airstrikes, with only 25,000 fighters is kind of alarming. Is 25,000 passionate fighters all it takes to hold at bay armies and air forces of multiple countries?
I was equally amazed at the following statement: “Foreign Fighters are over represented, it seems among the perpetrators of the Islamic State’s worst acts,” says Thomas Hegg-hammer, a leading scholar of jihadist history, in an interview with Billmoyers.com. “So they help radicalize the conflict – make it more brutal. They probably also make the conflict more intractable, because the people who come as foreign fighters are, on average, more ideological than the typical Syrian rebel.
I was shocked at the violence and brutality of the Assad Regime. I was aware to some extent that this regime was brutal but reading some stories that left me shaking my head at the ability of humanity to inflict pain and suffering on another human.
I was disappointed to read of the political maneuverings of the Iraqi Government led by Prime Minister Maliki, and his seemingly eager willingness to get into bed with the Iranian Government in order to sure up his tenuous leadership, post an election. He purged the Government of Sunni influences rather than embracing them, which led to an even greater sense of disenfranchisement and assisting the environment that was giving birth to the rise of ISIL.
As I read the book I was amazed to read of the failure of the US to really understand the political and sectarian landscape of the country they were invading post 911. Not only that, but, according to the book, when they withdrew in 2013, they completely lost interest in the country and they had no contact from Senior Obama Officials once the withdrawal was announced.
One observation that I found particularly relevant that illustrated the failure of the US and Coalition forces to really understand pre Invasion Iraq was the comment made by the author that the US saw Iraq as a roach motel where they expected that they could come in and the bad guys would scatter. Instead history shows that Iraq was a hornet’s nest that just made the hornets angrier and spread hornets throughout the region.
The book presented an insight into the brutality inside ISIL. I mention this particular point as there have been a lot of media coverage of late of women leaving their Western homes and fleeing to Syria or Iraq to joining the ISIL fight. Here is a pertinent quote. “The defector told a jarring story of a women’s squad of morality police, who whipped women seen on the streets wearing anything that did not measure up to ISIS’s rigid ideal of female modesty. The defector went on to say she was increasingly alarmed by the domestic and sexual violence she saw ISIS wives endure.
Further detailing life inside ISIL, the book explains what happened as ISIL came under increasing external pressure. “In the most important cities under ISIS control, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, electricity is limited and garbage is lying in the streets for many days. In Mosul, a shortage of Chlorine has rendered the water dangerously undrinkable and ISIS has cut off most communication to the outside world in its effort to suppress news about the reality on the ground.”
The reality is that the violence within the area controlled by ISIS is spreading into the Western World: On September 21st 2014, ISIS’s chief spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, called for supporters around the world to rise up and respond to Western led airstrikes, by carrying out attacks against any citizen of a country that belonged to the coalition against ISIS.
Do not let this battle pass you by wherever you may be. You must strike the soldiers, patrons, and troops of the unbelievers. Strike their police, security, and intelligence members, as well as their treacherous agents. Destroy their beds. Embitter their lives for them and busy them with themselves. If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or Australian or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling. Both of them are disbelievers.
If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, or Frenchmen, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run over him with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him….If you are unable to do so, then burn his home, car, or business,. Or destroy his crops. If you are unable to do so, then spit in his face.
As the book was heading toward its end, I was looking forward seeing what the author would recommend as a course of action to deal with ISIL. The authors was certainly not in favor of further military action as they said it clearly is a strategy that hasn’t worked. Here is the conclusion quoted from the book:
Instead of smashing ISIS in the same way we approached al Qaeda, Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute proposes, we should consider “letting them rot,” in some ways the modern equivalent to a medieval siege. The rot may already be setting in. Reports in December indicated that ISIS’s capitals in Iraq and Syria, Mosul and Raqqa respectively are suffering under dramatically deteriorating living conditions.
Rather than trying to displace ISIS with an external force, we should consider efforts to cut off its ability to move fighters, propaganda and money in and out of the regions it controls, weakening its ability to use brute force and extreme violence to keep the local population in check. It would also force ISIS to fail based on its own actions instead of being displaces by outsiders, which would do much over the long run to discredit future efforts at jihadist nation building.
This makes sense to me but the problem with this strategy is the pain and problems this causes on innocent civilians. This would be a significant moral dilemma.
In conclusion the book was a well researched well written piece. It was a tad repetitive in places, but that aside it was a read well worth having and I am certainly more educated now on ISIL and its origins than I was.