I have already written here about what ISIS is and where they came from, so will try not to cover the same ground twice. ISIS/ISIL, variously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham or now just Islamic State (IS) is a Salafist country in the Middle East fashioned out of the Sykes-Picot carve up of the region. It is bigger than Great Britain and is very well run. Much of its politics and policies are very similar to those of Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi brand of Islam is a nearly identical form of Salafism. In the 21 months between November 2012, and August 2014, Saudi Arabia beheaded 113 people, one for witchcraft. And the Saudi Mutaween religious police are every bit as petty, vicious and dogma ridden as their equivalents in IS.
When IS conquer land they are pushing at an open door. In Syria the state has broken down and most of the country is totally anarchic. In Iraq the pernicious and corrupt Shia Maliki government practiced huge prejudice against the Sunni minority, so IS were welcomed when they arrived in Sunni territory. And when IS arrive many good things happen, law and order returns (but very strictly Sharia), water and fuel oil become available, electricity is fixed, roads are repaired. IS is the best civil government that most people in the region have ever seen. Admittedly after a while some become fed up with the very strict constraints of Salafism, and that will probably contribute to the eventual undoing of IS.
The boss, or Caliph, of IS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Documents have been produced linking him right back to the prophet Mohammed, so he has spiritual and temporal authority. Much of the management of the state is by ex Saddam Hussein civil servants. So it is very well run by experienced administrators. The military side is largely run by Chechen and North African fighters who are very battle hardened and capable.
The Westerners who join IS enter via Turkey and are given a month of political indoctrination and military training. But they are considered to be fairly useless for much serious military use, they lack the fighting experience and extreme Islamification of, say, the Chechens, so they are given menial tasks to do and some are used for working in the propaganda department, using their knowledge of social media. The Westerners who have returned home tend to be very traumatised and utterly disillusioned. A greater threat to themselves than to broader society.
Now IS has killed two American journalists we have decided to take them on. Yet Israel has deliberately targeted and killed 17 journalists in the recent Gaza conflict and we are not taking Israel on.
There are a number of problems we face when taking military action against IS. The first is that if we succeed what happens next? In the second Gulf War we destroyed the enemy and then had to stay behind for years to run the place because we had created a power vacuum. In Libya we destroyed Gaddafi from the air, but once again created a power vacuum, this time we didn’t have boots on the ground so the power vacuum became total anarchy. If we have learned our lesson we need to have powerful government on the ground that can take over when IS are defeated. The Maliki government was utterly incapable of doing this. The USA are trying to fix this problem but it looks like an insurmountable task.
The second problem is that IS don’t make very good targets. We have total air superiority over Iraq and can drop bombs anywhere and any time we want. But IS are only targets when their vehicle columns travel along roads or when they are attacking somewhere. The rest of the time they just melt into the local civilian population, occupying accommodation deserted by fleeing Christians and Shias.
The third reason is that Syria has a very good air defence system, so it could be unhealthy for our air crews to fight there. Some say we should do a deal with Assad, but Assad really is a lot worse than IS. The reality is that we need to massively degrade Assad’s capabilities before taking on IS. Putin would not be at all happy with this, a good reason to do it.
The fourth reason is that we have to base our air assets somewhere. If in Turkey we have the problem that their government has been fighting the Kurds for decades, so may be unhappy at us helping the Kurds. If in Cyprus we have the problem that Syria blocks the route to Iraq.
The fifth reason is why should we when there are sufficient local forces to do the job? Countries like Egypt have huge, well equipped, militaries. We could treat this as a local problem and leave the locals to sort it out.
Now let’s look at the weapons both sides can use. IS have a big military advantage on the ground because of the fanaticism of their troops, who are not bothered about being killed. However this is backed up by more than 50 captured American made M198 artillery pieces. These weigh around 7 tons so can be towed very quickly with the advancing army. When they encounter opposition they can rapidly set up and fire a wide range of different shells up to 14 miles at up to 4 rounds a minute. So they can destroy an enemy from a distance. These howitzers are, obviously, the top target for American bombers.
Currently the Americans are using aircraft carrier based F-18s to attack IS. Because they have to take off from a carrier these aircraft are very limited in the weight of munitions they can carry and how long they can loiter looking for targets. Better to use B52s, each of these can carry 70,000 lb of smart weapons and can loiter for long periods at high altitude. Assets further down, such as drones, can designate targets one by one. Carrying 140 500 lb JDAMs this once strategic bomber can now bring huge tactical power to the battlefield. Also America has specialist close air support assets such as AH-64 Apache helicopters, A-10 Warthog aircraft and the fearsome AC-130 gunships. All of these could make life exceedingly unpleasant for IS fighters.
Many people don’t realise that IS are now a broadly based Sunni movement. Black IS flags can be seen flying in the towns and villages of many countries in the region. When IS advance they become bigger and stronger because very many Sunnis join them. This is startling. Earlier this year, when they were based in Syria and had not attacked Iraq, they had about 4,000 fighters. Now they have about 80,000. They are gathering size like a snowball rolling down a mountain. If they entered Jordan or Saudi Arabia they would very quickly grow in size again. This is our real problem, whilst they are in the deserts of Iraq and Syria they can’t do us harm, but if they get near the Saudi oil fields we will be in immense trouble.
Some people ask why other Muslims have not denounced IS. They have, on a huge scale, it is just that the Zionist controlled Western media are not prominently reporting it. British Muslims have got together and issued a Fatwa against IS. The Saudi Grand Mufti has denounced IS. The World’s top Muslim leaders got together to denounce IS attacks on Iraqi Christians. Thousands of British Muslims gathered to condemn IS. Muslim groups worldwide condemn killing of American journalist. And so on. The Islamic movement worldwide, from top to bottom, is universal in its condemnation of IS.
One huge inconsistency with IS is that they take the Koran utterly literally, they want to take humanity back to the 7th century. Because tobacco doesn’t appear in the Koran they have totally banned it across the State and have had huge bonfires of all the stock they have found (a good idea). Yet they are perfectly happy to use electricity, modern weapons and the internet. They must have some very contorted theology and dogma.
Finally let’s apportion some blame. Obviously IS grew from the instability in the Middle East created by Bush and Blair, and also continuously for decades by the CIA and Mossad. That IS specifically was allowed to grow is the direct fault of Ed Miliband. A year ago the British and Americans were preparing to support the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria. If we had done this the IS would have been nipped off at the bud. But this was vetoed in a House of Commons rebellion led by Ed Miliband. Obama was then unwilling to proceed without UK support. The FSA was utterly demoralised and to some degree fell apart, with many of its fighters joining IS. Ed Miliband has a lot to answer for.