10/16/2014, 00.00
Middle East
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Blind Arab-American policy of bombing boosting Islamic state

by Olivier Hanne e Thomas Flichy*
More than a month of air strikes have not weakened militants. A ground operation is needed. Maps published in the media underestimate the real achievements of the Islamists. World leaders focus on Kobane, in Syria, where the true target is Assad. In the meantime, Iraq is ready to fall without much of a whisper. Two scholars provide their analysis, courtesy of L'Orient-Le Jour, translated by AsiaNews.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Despite proclamations of principle and airstrikes against key positions of the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as Daʿesh) over the past month and a half, the latter does seem in any way weakened. Instead, multiple pressures have made no difference and the world is anxiously discovering that this proto-state will never be defeated without ground forces. The grand coalition appears paralysed by ineffectiveness of airstrikes.

Turkey is holding back to achieve gains in northern Syria, which the Kurds will soon pay. Eventually, Jordan may also be threatened, as Lebanon is now. As of September, the al-Nusra Front has ceased all attacks against IS, which raises fears about a possible reconciliation between the two movements. Locally, many Syrians continue to support al-Nusra against the airstrikes, and the tribes in the Iraqi province of al-Anbar do not seem ready to turn against the caliphate.

The study of the location of coalition airstrikes since August requires some reassessment of Daʿesh's threat and harmfulness. Despite all the hype about the precision and scale of the airstrikes, a critical distance from the wealth of information provided by the United States Department of Defence as well as semi-private organisations such as the Institute for the Study of War leaves one wondering.

Between 8 August and 6 October, at least 250 strikes were carried out in Iraq and 90 in Syria. However, all they do is smash equipment, buildings far from urban centres and columns of vehicles that are too visible.

Jihadists mix constantly with civilians and no one really knows what western missiles actually destroy from 5,000 feet. Images tell false stories.

Of course, vital IS centres are targeted: Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor in Syria, or Mosul, Sinjar, Haditha and Fallujah in Iraq, places that have been under Jihadist control for several months. But nearly 30 per cent of US air operations are taking place in areas in Erbil, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Amerli, cities that were said to be Daʿesh free. Does this mean that is no longer the case?

Violent clashes with Kurdish peshmerga have taken place south of Kirkuk on 2 and 3 October. In this city, the buildings of the 12th Iraqi Army blew up on 6 October. The day before, the city of Hit, south of Haditha, came under Da'esh's control without a whisper from the media.

Between 1 and October 7, pressure from IS fighters grew west of Baghdad, with US airstrikes failing to loosen their grip. The Islamic State is now firmly established some 40 km from the capital.

On 6 October, IS forces clashed with police and Shia militia near Balad Aziz, a few dozen kilometres north of Baghdad. Ramadi, the last town in the province of al-Anbar under central government control is expected to fall soon. The same goes for the al-Assad air base, near Hit.

Most maps showing the areas occupied by the Islamic State in French and American magazines are wrong (on purpose?). Indeed, they often present the relevant areas under three names: "areas controlled by the IS" (which are reduced to thin lines like a spider web); "areas under recurrent IS attacks" and "IS support areas".

No one but Daʿesh exercises authorities over these two areas. These "support zones" are more than lands to conquer, they are de facto Daʿesh territory. Reducing them to simple lines along axes makes no sense. Such interstitial spaces belong neither Baghdad nor the United States, but only to the caliphate.

Does the media war launched by the United States and the United Nations against the Islamic state hide the power of this octopus that knows how to adapt to its enemy? In reality, this terrorist organisation is fully decentralised, each battalion having its own autonomy in terms of action, boosting peripheral operations without necessarily consulting others.

Against a West that is reduced to its old, unvarying and predictable tactic of air (above ground) war stands a multipolar, reactive and rooted Jihadism.

What is more, whilst the coalition's military communication wants to focus the attention of world public opinion on Kobane and the Syrian issue, the situation is more serious in Iraq where 15 Kobane-like tragedies are likely to happen . . .

Why this choice? The United States prefers the Syrian theatre where for years it has sought to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, even bringing in Turkey by making promises, despite the latter's unreliability. Kobane will fall anyway, even with the indecisive help Ankara.

Meanwhile, Iraq has dropped off the radar whilst the threat grows. All Western governments are now repeating the same excuse: without ground troops, we can do nothing. Public opinion in various countries are gradually getting used to what will be the next step: sending soldiers or commandos to Syria and not to Iraq.

Still without a political solution and stubbornly refusing to open the door to negotiations with Iran and Damascus, the United States is getting tangled up in a strategy that contributes to the crisis in the Middle East.

*Olivier HANNE, PhD in history, a researcher at the University of Aix-Marseille

FLICHY Thomas, PhD in law, researcher and professor at Saint-Cyr

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