Unravelling the mystery of ISIS

Reply to the article ’The Mystery of ISIS’ from The New York Review of Books

ISIS has proven more than adept at confounding critics, bamboozling experts and making a fool of those rash enough to write them off after a seemingly catastrophic setback. Their tactics are unconventional to say the least and their ability to recruit, despite offering some fairly solid odds that said recruit will not survive their first six months, remains undimmed. In the article ‘The Mystery of ISIS’ penned by an anonymous author noted to be a former official of a NATO country with wide Middle East experience, published in the New York Review of Books, the rise and continued success of ISIS as an organisation was investigated. The author offered a detailed look at the contradictions of the group that, from the outside, appears almost completely disorganized The article reveals a group who’s success is built on several counter intuitive strategis such as opening front against virtually every possible enemy simultaneously (ISIS currently find themselves aligned against Turkey, the Kurds, Syria’s government, their former Al-Qaeda counterparts in al-Nursa, the Syrian Rebels, Iran and the United States’ alliance which contains much of Europe and the Middle East), alienating potential allies and brashly facing down some of the world’s largest most tactically advanced armies in open warfare.

The article also notes that ISIS has ignored the basic tenants of fighting an insurgency which it records as the avoidance of “holding ground, fighting pitched battles, and alienating the cultural and religious sensibilities of the local population”. A quick look at the redrawn map of the Middle East would quickly assuage any doubt that ISIS is working from their own playbook, controlling vast swathes of land, including several major cities; fighting costly pitched battles in places such as Kobane; and subjecting the local populations to the rigours of their stark perspective of Islam (which includes slavery as the article points out). This movement away from the standard playbook has left planners and experts scrambling to both anticipate the groups moves and find the right course of action to engage them. Thus far the group has been impervious to all attempts aimed at its destruction.

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Julian Assange: A world apart

Julian Assange addresses him minions hoping to convince them he still means something.

When news filtered through that Julian Assange’s plea to the Swedish court of appeal to revoke an arrest warrant that has been out against him for a good part of four years had failed it was not long before the internet was abuzz with comment and critisizm from both sides of the ego rich Assange’s fence. Supporters of the Australian leaker feigned shock that these trumped up charges were to be upheld and that the extradition notice would stand, they maintained their stance that the charges based around some fateful sexual interludes that Assange undertook whilst in Sweden were nothing more than a weak excuse to get their man to return to the land of ice and snow where he would be swiftly transported to the hate filled shores of the United States and surely a cosy corner in Guantanamo. Assange afterall was to America what bin Laden had been previously, enemy number one, and they would do whatever it took to get their hands on the spindly Aussie.

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How do they get away with saying these things?

Gov. Rick Perry. One of the good guys.

As America scrambles to adjust to the new found power of the Republican party, the rest of the world can look in like a curious child peering into a candy shop, with a mixture of wondrous excitement at the color and razzle dazzle of what is on display, and horrified disgust when we see what goes into making the whole machine tick. The United States is the self proclaimed doyen of democracy, the land of the free and the beacon to all who strives for greatness. It is brash, bold and proudly straight forward but behind the lights and cameras is a country that is at war with itself. A country that is more about special interests and self interest than the interests of the whole. It is a country where the big issues can be hijacked by the wealthy who profit from blind eyes being turned. Where partisanship and short term victories are more important that the bigger picture.

This self interest and complete disregard for science or fact often creates rather amusing anecdotes, when you remove the rather frightening implications that these things are being said by people charged with steering the ship, particularly when viewed outside the bubble of American partisanship. The mere fact that some of these things can be said in public and these people people can not just remain in their jobs but actually flourish in them is, to be fair, quite incredible in itself.

So sit back and enjoy a taste of the beauty of American politics!

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Is there a solution to the ISIS crisis? pt 1

As the US gingerly pulls together their coalition of the weary in response to the plainly obvious threat posed by the radical Islamic group ISIS, a solution to the problem that led to the emergence of the group appears to be no closer to being reached.

When the first shoots of the Arab Spring emerged from the hot deserts of Tunisia during the closing moments of 2010, many in Washington saw it as the ultimate vindication of a policy of regime change that began in Afghanistan after 9/11 and ultimately appeared to have floundered in the chaotic, wreckage strewn streets of Iraq, a land where American troops were supposed to have been “greeted as liberators” according to Vice-President of the United States at the time, Dick Cheney, in a 2003 interview. The belief among those who held power was that a regime change in Iraq and its transition to a flourishing democracy would see it become a beacon of hope to the rest of the Middle East setting off a domino effect as neighboring peoples, suffering under the claustrophobic effect of authoritarianism would rise up. This wasn’t the first time the domino effect has been used as an excuse to go to war. The justification for entering the Vietnam War was also tied to the theory of falling Dominos, in that case preventing the spread of Communism throughout south-east Asia by reinforcing a friendly government against Communist Insurgents.

By the time the American effort had floundered in Iraq, the country now a hive of sectarian brutality instead of a beacon of democracy, the hope that there would be some systematic collapse of surrounding Authoritarian regimes appeared distant. Iraq’s majority Shiite population, long the victims of Saddam Hussain’s brutal security apparatus, had understandably taken power with both hands and were determined to hold onto it. The Sunni’s suddenly became isolated from the decision making process. Sunni politicians included in the political process were often only there as a token gesture to the American “liberators” who still firmly held the keys to the billions of dollars that was pouring into the country. By 2006 Iraq was in a virtual civil war along sectarian lines.

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Win over Sassuolo vital for Nerazzurri season

Sunday, September 14th will be the first home league game of the 2014/15 season under Walter Mazzarri. Despite it only being the start of the season the match is of vital importance to the Nerazzurri manager who must reclaim the San Siro as a cauldron of Inter dominance if the team is to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

15-4-0. That was the enviable home record for Inter Milan in the 2009/10 league season under Jose Mourinho. That Inter won the league that season, alongside the Champions League and Coppa Italia, is etched into the minds of fans worldwide; that they won by only 2 points over a resilient Roma, is perhaps not so well remembered. The season was a dog fight the entire way through as Inter struggled to hold on whilst competing on three fronts, but they eventually made it, largely on the back of their incredible home form.

That form dipped slightly in the following season to 15-3-1 as Inter fell short of a sixth straight title by six points to resurgent neighbours Milan, a credible result considering the amount of football played the previous season and during the World Cup which followed. 2010/11 would prove to be the definitive end to Inter’s period of dominance in Italian football, the beginning of the never-ending ‘year zero’ which saw Inter plummet down the table to sixth position. The team found themselves a full 18 points short of their previous season’s total and the San Siro, long the bastion of Inter’s dominance, was stormed repeatedly with no less than five teams walking away with maximum points in their pocket.

The trend would only get worse over the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons as Inter recorded scarcely believable home records of 8-4-7 and 8-9-2 respectively, the San Siro turning from a place of dreams to nightmares for the home players and fans. Last season you would need to go right down to 12th place to find a team with a worse home record in terms of wins, clearly indicating a key area where the team must improve on if they are to progress. If Inter are to challenge for the Champions League places, let alone the Scudetto, they will need to turn the San Siro back into the fortress it was five seasons ago, back into a place where visiting teams come expecting to lose; where they are overawed by the occasion, and where Inter go out as if they know they will be finishing the match with three points, not one.

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Five things we can take from the 2013/14 season

The curtain has come down on the ultimate Nerazurri rollercoaster which saw tremendous highs, such as the 0-7 demolition of Sassuolo which promised so much, and the electrifying 3-1 send off for Javier Zanetti, and dismal lows, like the appalling 0-1 loss to Milan in what must go down as one of the poorest derbys in recent memory. The season, like the previous one under Stramaccioni, offered so much in the beginning as the Nerazzurri flew out of the blocks and gave the fans hopes of fighting it out for the title only for it all to collapse, like the season earlier, into a series of poor performances and lifeless displays. Coach Walter Mazzarri has watched his value plummet over the course of the last year as he has struggled, in a manner uncannily similar to David Moyes’ struggles at Manchester United, to deal with a club the size and scope of Internazionale. By the time the final whistle was blown after a dismal but strangely apt loss to Chievo Verona, he was surely already thinking about getting away for a break to clear the head and refresh himself for what will be a do or die season. We also saw the final changing of the guard, as those legends of the treble said their last goodbyes, their era is over at the club and fans now look toward the strange prospect of seeing at least some of these men taking the field in uniforms other than the blue and black of Inter. But with all the drama now over on the pitch, it is time for reflection of a season gone by. Here are five thoughts related to the season that was 2013/2014 with perspective of building toward next season.

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‘Friends of Syria’ undermine Geneva II

"Friends of Syria" conference in Tunisia

The ‘friends of Syria’ at a press conference. They are yet to offer a solution for the crisis in Syria that is based on reality.

Despite the trumpeting over the destruction of chemical weapons temporarily distracting the world from the war in Syria, it  inevitably rumbles on. The killing of both soldiers and civilians continues unabated with many terrible war crimes still half hidden behind an all encompassing veil of death. The Syrian government’s willingness to compromise over their chemical weapons stash had led to hopes of further progress at the negotiating table that would lead to an end to the suffering and a solution to the conflict that still threatens to throw the region into another sea of fire. Following the clumsy, arrogant meeting of the so-called ‘friends of Syria‘ however, this hope has been ground like so many lives in this embattled country, into dust. Continue reading

Where to go with Syria

Anyone who has been to the Qal’at Salah al-Din (or Saladin Castle) in the lonely North-West corner of the perennially war torn Syria can only marvel at its remarkable feats of both engineering and  shear, bloody minded determination. After all it is not an simple task to slice a 28m deep, 14 to 20m wide and 156m long tench out of living rock in what is, even today, in the middle of nowhere. Adding to this marvel is a single, lonely freestanding stone needle, once encompassed by a mass of its like, now standing solitary, lonely, reaching up like a hand-less arm to provide support for a draw bridge that is no longer distended. One can stand for hours amongst the ruins of this quiet place, pondering history and war as they gaze out over the gorges that flank the citadel and stretch out into the wild, lush hills that encompass it. Long ago the din of war rang loud in this tranquil place as the rampant armies of Saladin descended on it to drive the bevy of heavily armored foreigners from the safety of its clutches. The battle only lasted three days, two of which consisted of Saladin lobbing massive stones at the citadels crumbling walls before eventually sensing the time was right to storm the gates, ordering thousands of feverish men forward to claim their prize. In the end those who found themselves standing before the great conqueror were able to buy back their freedom, but the fall of the citadel was another step in eventual ousting of the foreign invaders from what was known in the west as Outremer. Today the tranquility that surrounds the Qal’at Salah al-Din belies the devastation that has spread across this historical powder-keg of a country. As the Romans, Persian, Byzantines, Ottomans, Greeks, Mongolians and many others have found before them, Syria is a land built on the embers of its destruction. It is a land saddled with the burden of many conflicting histories that affect not just those countries that occupy the space around this remarkable place, but simmers just as violently in the hearts of those living within its borders. Tribal, personal, historical and religious conflict flows within the very fabric of what the modern country is built upon leaving the tension bubbling away beneath the surface, waiting for the opportunity to once again be unleashed. This time the trigger was not the arrival of a foreign legion intent on conquest, although aspects of this would come in time, it was an internal dispute, long in the making, that forged an opportunity created by a troubled man in Tunisia. Continue reading