War/Security

ISIS atrocities, real or imagined, only guarantee reprisal will be merciless

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria may be clever and rich but stoking the revenge machine reveals how impoverished its collective imagination is.

The putative Islamic Caliphate

The putative Islamic Caliphate

Over the weekend the Sunni militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claim to have killed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit. Despite pictures they supplied, their claims could not be verified. “But with their claim,” write Rob Nordlund and Alyssa Rubin in the New York Times, “the Sunni militants were reveling in an atrocity that if confirmed would be the worst yet in the conflicts that roil the region, outstripping even the poison gas attack near Damascus last year.”

In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants’ sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group’s stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region.

I guess they don’t have any objection to being “martyred,” but inviting merciless reprisal is a dubious strategy for ensuring the continuation of ISIS and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.

It’s well known that extremist groups, such as Hezbollah, once they’ve attained some power, moderate their terrorist ways in the interest of governing and providing services to the public. But one shudders to think how ISIS would behave if it took Baghdad and, however unlikely, the seat of power in Iraq. It’s time they began acting like grown-ups. After all, they’ve got enough money. According to the International Business Times, stealing $429 from Mosul’s central bank “has left it richer than al-Qaeda itself and as wealthy as small nations such as Tonga, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Falkland Islands.”

Also, in the Guardian, Martin Chulov quotes an Iraqi official after a raid on an ISIS hideout before its attack on Mosul.

“By the end of the week, we soon realised that we had to do some accounting for them,” said the official flippantly. “Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m [£515m]. Afterwards, with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.”

Previously, ISIS had

… secured massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012, and some of which it had sold back to the Syrian regime. It was also known to have reaped windfalls from smuggling all manner of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs.

What good is all that money to its cause if ISIS is crushed, in part because of its crimes against humanity?

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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