23 October 2014

Behind ISIS - the "Islamic State"



My coverage of the rise of ISIS began with my Guardian op-ed, which was closely followed by a similar piece which, however, takes a slightly different tack, published via my Al-Arabiya English column.

Sadly, the general media's approach to ISIS/ISIL/IS/Islamic State/ whateverthef*ckuwannacallem has been largely lacking much critical or investigative values. If we've not had to endure the usual jingoistic cheerleading, we've instead been subjected to shallow and frivolous criticisms that often miss the point entirely.

At risk of flogging a dead horse, I decided to tackle this by undertaking two projects - firstly, a long form analytical piece that would examine the evidence in the public record around ISIS and its emergence in the context of geopolitical realities; secondly, an investigative piece to contextualise the apparent "intelligence failure" to anticipate the rise of ISIS, in the context of the way ISIS has been exploited to kill surveillance reform and justify the expansion of the military-industrial complex. 

This led to two, in-depth long-form articles. The first, 'How the west created the Islamic State.... with a little help from our friends', first published on Medium, then by Counterpunch, Truthout, and many other outlets, expands on my long-articulated (and well-documented) thesis that the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism is a co-creation of both the Western and Muslim worlds. That is somewhat of a simplification, admittedly - but I endeavour to avoid simplistifications by digging deep into the public record to piece together where ISIS actually came from: the nexus of US-UK led covert operations mobilising Islamist extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda through the financial, logistical, and military support of regional states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. As Vice President Joe Biden himself confirmed (without, however, admitting western complicity - note, btw, the obligatory mentions in the coverage of this that Biden never said these state intended to arm terrorists....

No they did not burst out of the blue into Iraq from nowhere. No they did not spontaneously generate the ability to self-finance themselves in a way that would make most entrepreneurs salivate. No they do not even today operate as a purely non-state entity with no outside support. All these myths, routinely adopted by mainstream media pundits and even the talking head experts who court them, serve to obfuscate the reality of the unfolding crisis across Iraq-Syria and the wider Middle East. 

The next piece was first published in the stellar British magazine, Ceasefire, under the title 'Story of a War Foretold: Why We're Fighting ISIS', then printed by Counterpunch who ran it as 'How the Pentagon Exploits ISIS to Kill Surveillance Reform and Re-Occupy Iraq'. This investigative piece looked at how the Pentagon was using the spectre of ISIS to justify  the surveillance machine, the re-invasion of Iraq-Syria, the massive consolidation and expansion of intrusive new powers globally to crackdown on 'terror suspects' - including the administrator of the Pentagon's Minerva initiative. She tried to justify Minerva's co-optation of academia to develop models that might predict "insurgencies" by the intelligence community's alleged inability to predict the rise of ISIS.

This investigation showed that the intelligence community had ample warning of the rise of ISIS, knew it was coming, but did nothing - further, that the current military strategy in Iraq-Syria is bound to fail according to a range of military and intelligence experts, some active; and finally, that this failure in turn is very likely to elicit a prolongation of military operations in the region for the foreseeable future, with a great probability of ground troops. I used a range of source material - public record, press reports, official Congressional testimony, interviews with former and active British, American and Iraqi officials in military and government. 

If you want to understand what's going on in the region right now, I consider these two articles to be definitive and comprehensive primers that'll get you up to speed in an hour or so.

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