ISIS grabbed global attention not just for its readiness to do the unthinkable but also for its dubious excellence at being a ruthless intelligence and surveillance organization. It focused on the surveillance of all things in the territory it occupied and expanded its sway at all costs.
Under ISIS rule, individuals who were responsible for the training of “Sharia judges in intelligence gathering” also reported to a district emir, while a separate department of ‘security officers’ was assigned to the regional emir. It was of the utmost importance for ISIS to have knowledge of everything and at the same time it tried to deceive everyone about its true aims.
Among the principal founders of ISIS was Haji Bakr, a former Colonel in Iraqi Air Force Intelligence, who was merely rebranding what he had learned in the past from Saddam Hussein’s omnipresent security apparatus. Under that system, even generals in intelligence services were not confident on whether they were being spied on.
As an organization they successfully instilled the discipline to get others to do the unthinkable for them, which among other things was one of the hallmarks of their sadistic depravity. It is here that this subject needs elaboration.
Why ISIS targeted Sunnis, not Shiites
First, let us pose a relevant and pragmatic question. Who has benefitted from the presence of having ISIS in Syria and in Iraq for the past few years? To put it more succinctly what has been happening since the emergence of the ISIS in the Sunni Arab world?
Perhaps, before we continue one should bear in mind a fantastic piece of insight that is specifically apt for the subject of this writing – one should beware of the pitfalls of conventional wisdom.
Assad and his regime, along with their masters in Moscow and Tehran, are like a fireman who responds to the news of fire in a building, where everything seems to have been lost
In response to the first question on who has benefitted from the presence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq? Let us see here what has happened. The measure of any good intelligence operation is not where it begins, but how it ends and who benefits from the spoils acquired by the operatives.
So what happened? The areas where ISIS held sway are Sunni areas. ISIS did not control Shiite areas, and did not make any serious attempt to strike Shiite-held areas in Syria and Iraq. Can anyone recall any offensive by them on Damascus or Basra? Conventional wisdom would suggest that as a Sunni-led organization, their number one enemy would be Shiite. However, the vast majority of people slaughtered by ISIS have been Sunni, not Shiite.
And the images of individuals, families and children fleeing en masse to Europe are predominantly of Sunni Muslims, not Shiiite. How many predominantly-Dhiite held areas have fallen to ISIS?
At last check Aleppo, Raqqa, Mosul, Tal Afar, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit (just to name a few) and countless other villages are lands that Sunni Arabs have lived in for generations. Majority of military-age males who are in Syria or Iraq are either fighting on the front lines against The Butcher of Damascus or are fleeing abroad for safety.
Again, who would benefit from the fleeing of military-age males from the Sunni Arab world? One of the first actions taken after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 was the targeted killings of former Iraqi Air Force pilots. This was an effort by Tehran to decapitate the officer corps and pilots of Iraq so that they cannot be used against Iran in the future.
The Sunni Arab world was beginning to gradually recover from Gulf War II when suddenly ISIS emerged and it seems that ISIS proved highly adept at destabilizing Sunni lands and forcing them to flee en masse.
What we witness is a Shiite resettlement of Sunni lands. If you can understand what the purpose of killing Iraqi Air Force pilots was and who benefitted from it, then it would also not be difficult to fathom how Tehran would be able to further consolidate its power in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut by destabilizing the Sunni world to a point where those most affected by the violence of ISIS would choose to carry their belongings and forsake their ancestral homelands with no real idea of where the journey may end.
Who else has benefitted from the presence of ISIS? Let us shift our focus to Damascus. Why has Damascus been so indifferent to the loss of a province and its provincial capital? Why has not any effort been made to reclaim any of the lands held by ISIS? Why does the regular Syrian Army work with the ISIS to attack the honorable and principled opposition to The Butcher of Damascus?
Again, note the focus and rhetoric of the international community and The United Nations via-a-via Syria. After the death of over 300,000 people, who indulged in rape, murder, barrel bombs, chemical weapons, and anything else that could slaughter in a hurry, we have to sit with Assad to find out how to bring about a power transition?
When was the last time anyone in the international community went to Baba Amr to see what happened there, as well as in Hama or Homs? He is posing as if he was the aggrieved one, who took a measured response against the basic aspirations of his people.
And now we have to sit with Moscow and Tehran to discuss a transition for the tyrant who has obviously lost all legitimacy at home and in the region too? As you can see his image has improved somewhat since the start of the conflict. He’s no longer the Assad who gave us the ‘shahiba’ either. He’s not even the Assad who uses chemical weapons on civilians.
Cluster bombs are not legally permissible ordinance, but that doesn’t stop Damascus and Moscow from using them. Assad and his regime, along with their masters in Moscow and Tehran, are like a fireman who responds to the news of fire in a building, where everything seems to have been lost.
When other people arrive on the scene to help the guy dressed in a fireman’s uniform (who was on the scene from the start) nobody stops to ask the cynical question: What if this guy dressed in the fireman’s uniform actually started this fire and is asking us to come here to put it out so that it destroys all the evidence linking him to the inferno?
Author: Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst based in Washington DC. He tweets @mr_alshammeri.