Unlike the US and (allies like New Zealand) Russia and Iran have a very clear goal for their intervention in Syria. Russia and Iran want the Assad regime to survive and prevail against an Islamic State that they regard as a mere proxy of the Saudi/Israeli/US axis. To that end, they’re willing to put Russian planes in the air and Iranian/Hizbollah troops on the ground to ensure Assad’s survival. And they’re willing to pay that price because they see Assad’s fall as part of a US/Saudi/Israeli plan to pick off Iran’s allies, and weaken its influence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
For now, Assad is seen as an essential plank in Iran’s survival. BTW, the best recent summary (in English) of Iran’s aims in Syria is this one.
The US goal in Syria is far more fuzzy. On one hand, it supports Saudi/Israeli attempts to topple Assad, but it also doesn’t want the subsequent vacuum to be filled by Islamic State, or by al-Qaeda-linked fundamentalist forces. So despite all the US handwringing about the humanitarian cost of the Syrian civil war, the actual American policy has been to maintain a bloody stalemate for the foreseeable: whereby Assad doesn’t lose, and Islamic State doesn’t win.
Meanwhile, the refugees will continue to stream out. That’s one reason why the Russian intervention has been relatively well received in Europe. At least it has looked like a policy that could force an outcome to the Syrian conflict – militarily or diplomatically – and might stem the refugee flow more quickly than the non-solution that the US has been so methodically pursuing. The fact the US policy in Syria takes no account whatsoever with the refugee problem has also enraged the Europeans.
The same non-solution/stalemate that the US has been pursuing in Syria extends to the situation in Iraq, as well. Sectarian realities have created a form of military paralysis. Earlier this year, the US was talking up the likelihood of an attack on Mosul, which – if it was retaken – would inflict a stunning military and symbolic defeat for Islamic State. Problem: Mosul is a largely Sunni city that could only be liberated by Shia militia and Kurdish forces, and not by the inept Iraqi Army. Yet if Shia forces took Mosul, the backlash in Sunni communities across Iraq would be a recruitment bonanza for the Sunni forces of Islamic State. Result: no attack on Mosul has eventuated. Ditto for the ongoing battle in Syria, where the IS capital of Raqqa has been under intense pressure for months from what are largely Kurdish forces. In late June, Raqqa was supposed to be ready to fall, and this was being seen as symbolic of the true ‘paper tiger ‘ status of the Islamic State forces.
This Kurdish offensive hasn’t eventuated. The reasons include (a) the sensitivity among Sunnis of an Arab city being militarily captured by a Kurdish force and
b)Turkey’s reluctance to let the US provide ammunition and other support to Kurdish YPG units that it sees as being a mere extension of its banned Kurdish political party, the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.
As a result, Raqqa will only fall if and when it can be taken by Arab-led fighting units that are not allied to Assad. Not surprisingly, these Arab-led, anti-Assad, anti-IS forces were among those recently targeted by Russian jets.
Similarly and even more tellingly, the mid year successes by the US/Iraq forces in liberating Tikrit and in rolling back some of the IS gains around Ramadi have not been followed up.
Anti-Daesh Sunnis in al-Anbar Province are said to be astonished that the US and Baghdad, after the fall of Tikrit and some successes in villages outside Ramadi, have just allowed Daesh to re-group and re-impose itself on the local population.
To the US, having the Shi’ite militia defeat IS in Anbar would be counter-productive, in it would further alienate the Shia-dominated, Iranian-linked government in Baghdad from the Sunni majority in Anbar province. So the people of Anbar have, for now, been quietly abandoned to the tender mercies of Islamic State. That’s the black comedy of the US effort ( and also the New Zealand training effort) in Iraq. Its not just that IS has to be defeated – which would be relatively easy – but that it has to be defeated by the right people, which is the hard part. Stalemate is the result.
If Islamic State was defeated and driven out of Mosul and Raqqa it would of course, simply go underground and revert to the guerrilla status it had during the mid 2000s. Yet that would mean IS would cease to be so attractive to its deluded foreign recruits, who currently think they’re joining a triumphant caliphate. None of this of course, even got on the radar of those distinguished, senior members of the press gallery who served as a virtual cheerleader squad for Prime Minister John Key on his recent trip to Camp Taji.
Walk on The Wild Side
A few weeks ago in a pitch for clickbait, I featured some cat –related music videos. Forgot to include this remarkable title credit sequence devised by the great Saul Bass, for a truly terrible early 1960s movie called Walk On The Wild Side. The credit sequence and related score by Elmer Bernstein are a perfect marriage of feline grace, music and movement.