As I type this, there are a bunch of politicians in London discussing wether or not the UK will go to war with the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL. The proposal is that the UK will help with strikes against the training grounds and the control centres.
Given that ISIS/ISIL have pretty much waged war on the west, on the face of it, blowing them to bits and wiping them off the planet seems like a no-brainer.
The problem is that we, the west, created ISIL in the first place.
How about a little history lesson ?
In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected prime minister of Iran. It may come as a surprise to read that Iran actually elected a prime-minister, because popular opinion has it that Iran is a lawless, perhaps communist country. He was actually a very progressive leader that pushed hard for social democratic causes. Among the many things achievements that he managed in two short years was the introduction of a social security system and rent control.
Sadly, for both him and the future of the world, he nationalised Iran’s Oil reserves. This was seen by the Americans and the British as more than a little problematic, they realised that in doing so, the price of oil would rise, Iran would become fantastically wealthy and this was seen as a pretty big problem.
So, 1953, a combination of the American CIA and the British MI6 agency, working under the code-name ‘Ajax’, managed to overthrow the elected government of Iran. From that moment on, the Shah ruled with an iron fist, but was of course helpful to the Americans in terms of oil production. The Shah would remain a faithful western ally until 1979, when the monarchy was abolished in the Iranian Revolution.
Following the Iranian revolution, things started to change again, within the Gulf region, Kuwait and Iraq started to squabble with Iran over OPEC quotas, OPEC are of course the controllers of the Oil pipelines and if anyone steps of of line, then squabbles can lead to all-out conflict. At the time, OPEC controlled production to keep the price of oil steady. If anyone over produced, the price would go down, the cartel would suffer.
In 1980, the Iran/Kuwait/Iraq squabbles increased. Iraq invaded Iraq. The Americans, unhappy with the Iranian Revolutionary party, backed Iraq, although, perhaps not officially, they certainly provided a lot of arms and political help. The eventual outcome of which was that fairly soon many of the nations were squabbling. The UAE and Kuwait both started to overproduce oil and the barrel price halved within a couple of years.
This was great for the consumers, but terrible for OPEC and especially Iran and Iraq.
Meanwhile the new administration in charge of Iran started to develop a nuclear program, much to the annoyance of the US. Set agains the cold-war era of tensions between the US and the then Soviet Union, this only heightened tensions. Since 1979, the US and Iran have been quite literally on the brink of war.
Also in 1979, the Soviet union invaded Afghanistan. This was in part due to the build-up of US weaponry in the gulf, but also in part because Afghanistan has vast reserves of Oil and Gas, along with huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other metals including lithium. If that was not enough, as a country it is ideally placed for a gas pipeline for mid-asia.
The west rallied to help Afghanistan, joined by many Arab countries. Many Arabs fought alongside the resistance, the mujahideen. These rebels received vast caches of arms and training along with covert operations to fight the Soviets. The war became one of attrition, the Afghan forces, supported by the Soviets were pretty much outclassed by the rebels, losses on the Soviet side were heavy and it became an unwindable war fairly quickly.
Buy 1989 it was all over for the Soviets, a new leader, Gorbachev, and a new approach to foreign policy saw a fairly rapid withdrawal.
Except now the country had a significant issue. During the period of support from the West, relations with neighbouring countries had broken down, specifically those with Pakistan, in later 1987 a series of cross-border fights broke out, damaging relations rather badly. Once more a rather large number of people were killed or made homeless during the war. Estimate vary vary from 850,000 to 1,500,000, in addition around 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran which is almost a third of the population of the country in 1979, another couple of million were made homeless within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.
Remember the fighters from Arab nations ? Well, they became a free-lance fighting force that fought under the banner of Islam after Jihad was declared against the occupation of Afghanistan, the organisation was lead by Osama Bin Laden. They were heavily funded by both Saudi Arabia and the US and probably trained by the CIA.
Meanwhile, in the Gulf, things started to deteriorate, the build-up of forces and the arms trades, along with a break-down in the OPEC (oil again) cartel hit Iraq. In 1990, Iraq demand $10BN as a settlement for the lost revenue from the years of over-production by their neighbours. Kuwait offered them $9BN. Iraq responded by attacking Kuwait. Despite signifiant opposition from the Arab nations, eventually the western world got involved. Eventually this lead to a pretty significant war in the desert, operation Desert Storm was all about oil. Nothing else. It was all about protecting the oil fields from falling into the wrong (non American) hands.
During the 1990’s many thing happened, nearly all of them related to oil. Of course the general public enjoyed stable oil prices, the huge reservoirs in the middle east were run by western companies and despite the cultural differences, relations between the west and the Arab world were reasonable stable.
In 1991 Iraq uprisings were fuelled by the impression that the Iraq leader, Saddam Hussain was the enemy of the population of the country. Relations between Hussain and the US had broken down during the Gulf War. So in 1991, the US had another attempt at toppling him. In a radio address to the Iraqi people, then president Bush (senior) said that
“..There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: and that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations..“. At the time the CIA were funding and operating a radio station called ‘Voice of Free Iraq’.
Obviously the ‘oppressed’ people expected some form of American support, when it failed to materialise, the level of slaughter was appalling. Over 50,000 killed and over 1.5 million Kurds were suddenly homeless. Finally the US established a no-fly zone over Iraq and they helped to build refugee camps for the Kurds.
In 1992, the Iraq government tried once more to slaughter the refugees and once more the US stepped in to help.
And so it went on.
The American ‘encouragement’ then lack of actual assistance cost many thousands of lives, displaced millions of people and caused a great deal of anger and frustration among the survivors and with the middle east as a whole.
In 1993, Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centre in New York, the attack made a call for an end to all US aid to Israel, an end to US diplomatic relations with Israel, and a pledge by the United States to end interference “with any of the Middle East countries’ interior affairs.”.
The attack was relatively unsuccessful, although six people died, it did very little damage to the towers. Following this, Al Qaeda were put on the list of terrorist organisations.
In 1996, they killed 19 soldiers in Saudi Arabia, again this was in response to what it considered American interference in the middle east. Two further attacks occurred in the next few years, the first in East Africa and the second the bombing of USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
Meanwhile, in late 1998, removing Saddam Hussain became official US foreign policy with the ‘Iraq Liberation Act’, which was as the result of the difficulties encountered by the UN weapons inspectors who were looking for evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. This lead to a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq called ‘Operation Desert Fox’. This was aimed at military installations that were thought to be related to weapons of mass destruction.
The premise that the inspectors had been expelled was incorrect, frustrated over the Iraqi attitude towards the inspectors, the Americans ordered them to withdraw. Diplomacy was probably needed, violence was actually used in what was really a reflex action against Hussain being difficult.
In 2000, George W Bush was elected in the US. This immediately lead to a significantly more ‘cowboy approach’ to the middle east. One of the campaign promises was to ‘Liberate Iraq’.
In 2001 Al Qaeda they attacked the US again. The attacks of September 11th are well documented.
The attacks were in response to the escalation in the Gulf.
A fairly tenuous link was made between Hussain and Al Qaeda, wether or not there was any real link is difficult to say, we may have to wait a long time before that information is available, but once the link was made and the possibility of a link was made public, there was no going back.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.
It was probably all about the oil. Among the first targets to be secured were the oil fields.
Hussain was eventually captured, tried and executed.
The result of this war was that the oil reserves were once more available to the world, mostly the oil rights were given to American companies.
The war and the re-distrribution of oil wealth afterwards caused something of a surge of outrage against the US and the west in general, smaller groups that had been anti-American or anti-western banded together and one of the results of this action was the formation of what we have come to know as ISIS or ISIL. The group traces its routes back to 1999 and in 2003 the group pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. The foundation of the group is the hatred of western interference in Arab affairs. In 2014 they became know as ‘Islamic State’ or ISIS or ISIL.
I suspect that there is no simple answer to the threat, other than to stay of of the region. They are occupying a fairly large portion of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
I also suspect that trying to bomb them back to the stone age is more likely to aid their cause than stop them. Depriving them of an income seems sensible, they control oil fields, no buying oil from the regions that they hold seem to be a good starting point….
However there is not easy answer, they genesis was complex, but it seems obvious that we, the west, created the group in the first place.