Walter Rhett

The Short ISIL Story

In Perlo on September 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm

When fighting on multiple fronts, it helps to have a single objective that benefits but contrasts with the purpose of other groups. This, in large part, is the ISIL advantage. Its goals, unmatched by other groups, entangle historic conflicts, civil conflicts, and regional struggles for hegemony.

Unlike other Syrian opposition forces, ISIL went after resource rich areas that enabled it to pay its own way. It controls these areas through force and cooperation. It built an oil smuggling network using Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria and Iran to access a black market returning $1-2 millions a day! It taxes population centers in which it allows businesses to operate.

It conceals its fighters and operations by embedding with the Syria/Iraq Sunni population, the traditional enemies of the region’s Shia governments. It controls Syrian territory al-Assad is unable to defend and Iranian territory Maliki ignored.

It’s psychological appeal reinforces its power: imagine 30,000 young men, armed and untouchable, paid regularly, possessing absolute power shared only with each other; the power trip, reinforced by killing, breaks down ethics. The power to kill is king! (It resonates: see al-Assad’s 190,000 civilian dead; ISIL’s massacre of 1700 Iran regulars, the vicious taunt of the beheadings. )

Western journalists ask old questions of strategy; this is a new phenomena. Facts and context are better for its understanding than reports of speculation and political calculation.

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  1. Very helpful and in only a few words. You have pointed at something that perhaps Barack Obama with his wealth of advisors does not understand. We have been hearing here on Swedish public radio about the careful targeted recruiting of young Arabic speaking men, who even though they seem to have been having a decent life have been persuaded, left Sweden, and been killed. In the present deluge of information it helps to have something short that nevertheless provokes reflection. Larry

  2. For young men, it’s about the inner psychology of the group, whether sports teams, gangs, or terrorists. The unconditioned protection of peers with guns (who have your back) is powerful. You are outside of all social norms.

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