The operations carried out by Inherent Resolve, the complex US-led coalition in Syria, had been announced as early as April 1, 2016 by the Head of PYD Kurdish Joint Forces, Salih Muslim.
Currently Salih Muslim is the co-President of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has long been managing power in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava, in Northern Syria.
Salih Muslim is also the vice-coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a coalition of 13 center-left and left-wing parties, with some other Kurdish activists defined as “independent.”
It is a structure, however, which has always cooperated actively with Bashar al-Assad’s government, even though the “National Committee” had recognized the Free Syrian Army as early as September 2012.
The Free Syrian Army was established – also with the support of some countries among the over 60 ones which later adhered to Inherent Resolve – by eight officers of Assad’s Armed Forces, who aimed at overthrowing the Alawite regime.
Meanwhile, in Iraq – which is the gateway and the real base of ISIS – the situation is getting more complex and radicalized.
The Iraqi Security Forces – the governmental ones, albeit with the recent massive introduction of Shiite militants linked to Moqtada al-Sadr – are now closely connected with the local Sunni tribes and to a share of recently-trained fighters.
These Forces have been the first to launch a major operation to reconquer Fallujah – a military action that began on May 23, 2016.
They have quickly gained ground in the North, including the Garma district, the traditional “base” of ISIS and of the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian faction of Al Qaeda.
Nevertheless, the highly unstable political situation in Iraq could even stultify some of the operations against ISIS, as the Caliphate launched suicide attacks both against Balad (on May 12) and Dujail (on May 21), not to mention the vast attack launched by ISIS against the Taji gas networks on May 15 last.
The large coalition of Inherent Resolve, the Kurds and the Shiites – certainly favoured by the agreements reached between the United States and the Russian Federation, which still effectively controls the area near the Mediterranean coast of Syria – reconquered Rutba (on May 19) and most of the highway running from Ramadi to the Jordanian border (on May 20).
Hence the encirclement of Fallujah has been completed with Forces certainly larger than the Caliphate’s, while ISIS has been wiped out of the Diyala district, which is the necessary passageway to Fallujah.
Therefore the Caliphate has lost most of its areas operating in Iraq, but it has organized other terrorist attacks from its new “Governorate”, the Wilayat Sahel, established on the northwest coast of Syria, with the capacity for launching attacks of shaheed (“martyrs”) to Tartous and Jableh (which took place on May 23).
ISIS also reconquered the gas field of Sha’er and later attacked the areas of Maher and Jazal, other fields for the extraction of natural gas.
Hence while the units of the Syrian Democratic Forces are heading for Raqqa, the capital of the Caliphate, so as to isolate it from the rest of the jihadist territory, the Kurdish Peshmerga of the PYD and the People’s Mobilization Forces, recently created with the support of the local Sunni tribes, reconquered Bashir (on April 30).
As already mentioned, the organizations present in the Iraqi Security Forces have reconquered Rutba and Garma on their own.
Hence two concentric encirclements – the one heading for Raqqa and the other, more external but essential to the conquest of the ISIS capital, for Fallujah and then the network of more distant areas, but equally useful at strategic level, such as Ramla, Garma and Rutba.
The US and Syrian-Iraqi Sunni tribes want above all: a) to stabilize the whole Iraqi region of Al Anbar; 2) to encircle Mosul by means of the Iraqi Security Forces; 3) to create a network of Sunni tribes encircling Raqqa before its final conquest; 4) to support the logistics of fighters, especially the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army.
As shown by the latest data from Inherent Resolve’s official sources, so far there have been five attacks launched by the coalition on the Syrian territory against ISIS targets.
24 attacks have been launched in Iraq, which is rightly regarded by the US CENTCOM as a single front with Syria.
However the relations between the Sunni tribes, the Caliphate and the Inherent Resolve actions are more complex than it may seem.
In 2014, for example, the Albu Ajeel tribe supported Isis, although it had invaded its land.
In the same period, however, the al-Jughaifa tribe present in Anbar had harshly blocked the Caliphate before reaching the town of Haditha.
The issue, which is both theological and political – as is always the case with Islam – regards the separation between Syria and Iraq: on the Syrian territory, ISIS considers many Sunni tribes not regular from the religious viewpoint and hence fights them as “infidels”, while this happens to a lesser extent on the Iraqi territory.
If we do not reason in terms of tribes we do not even understand the jihad: it is by no mere coincidence that, at the beginning of his terrorist adventure, Bin Laden was supported by his “comrades” of the Asir Yemeni tribe.
Furthermore, the Yemeni Sunnis have always opposed the Wahhabi “normalization” of the Al-Saud family who, as usual, regards them as “infidels”.
ISIS has “won the support” of the Sunni tribes with terror and threats, with its particular Koranic welfare and with the protection of communication lines – just as criminal organizations do in Southern Italy or in Latin American countries with the drug production areas.
When there was only a single government welfare, and the Cold War ensured extra-profits for the peripheries of both Empires, Hafez el Assad “won the support” of the Sunni tribes with prominent public posts for their leaders, with subsidies, as well as with selective and favourable commercial and tax regulations.
Hence ISIS has replaced State cronysm with its territorial jihad.
Will Inherent Resolve alone be enough to solve this equation that is military, but also political and social?
It is also worth recalling that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate punishes traitors brutally and ferociously: in 2014, when the Al-Shaitat tribe rose up against ISIS, over 1,000 tribal militants were killed during a “death march” heading for Deir Ez-Zor.
The Shiites in power in Iraq (but the Kurds are mostly Sunni, while being of Iranian ethnicity, hence Indo-Europeans) have mistreated and impoverished the Sunni tribal areas all too much, by excluding them from power.
In this case the war will be won after the cessation of hostilities, and we must be vigilant so that the agreements which will back the non-Shiite tribal areas are implemented on a permanent basis.
Hence the project of a tripartite Syria according to the ethnic-religious lines comes back: Alawistan, a de facto protectorate of the Russian Federation; the Sunni area, the real primary objective of the Turkish regime and finally a great Syrian-Iraqi Kurdistan, which would step up the separatist tensions of the Kurdish areas already present in Anatolia.
Not to mention the Turkish Alevi, a sect speaking Kurdish in religious ceremonies, that since 1970 (with a fatwa of Imam Khomeini) has been part of the Twelver Shia Islam, in power in Iran after 1979. Said sect is linked to the Bekhtashi Sufi brotherhood, largely present among the old Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.
After the disbandment of the Janissary corps, in 1826, the Bekhtashi reestablished in Tirana, Albania.
The Sufi network in the Ottoman world was the basis for the specific “modernization” of Kemal Ataturk, a Sufi Western Mason and first protector of the Alevi and the Shia.
Currently, however, Inherent Resolve, the Kurdish forces, the Sunni tribal networks are all converging towards the communication networks leading to Raqqa.
Will it be enough to eliminate Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate? The answer to this question is both yes and no.
It will certainly reduce it to nothing or a little more than nothing at territorial level, but nothing prevents it from reestablishing as a purely non-territorial terrorist cell – a cell, somewhere not completely de-jihadized, of Iraq or, less likely, of Syria.
Hence from ISIS we will go back to the old Al Qaeda model.
And the possibility for the Caliphate to be reconverted into an informal network of jihadists operating in Europe, in the Balkans or Central Asia can hardly be considered negligible.
What about Turkey? How does it see this new US strategy in Inherent Resolve uniting Kurds, Sunni tribes, the Free Syrian Army, as well as other forces far from being Bashar al-Assad’s enemies?
Obviously it sees it negatively, but the problem is much more complex.
Both the US and Syrian (as well as Russian) aircraft have long been on alert, with the order of shooting down any Turkish and/or Saudi aircraft flying over Syrian skies.
The very recent choices made to further increase the daily oil production in Saudi Arabia suggest that the Kingdom wants to “make money” quickly to support military expenditure, which is deemed urgent.
Nor is it unlikely that, with Saudi Arabia’s implicit or explicit support, Turkey decides to invade the Syrian territory directly from the ground, with its large Second Army, so as to defend its national interests, certainly including oil ones, but above all to avoid manu militari that the Kurds – including those operating only in Syria – succeed in uniting.
For the jihadist groups supported so far by Turkey, the issue would lie in creating a sort of safe zone along the Turkish Southern border with Syria.
Obviously the NATO rules make this project very difficult, but nothing prevents Turkey from organizing a provocation, a ferocious attack typical of the false flag operations, so as to create the undisputable casus belli.
The Turkish Second Army has long been positioned along the Southern border with Syria, with its headquarters in Malatya, and counts 100,000 well-trained soldiers. It would create the safe zone for the Syrian jihad by clearly separating the Syrian-Iraqi Kurdistan north of Idlib from the one operating in Jarablus.
A Turkish limited invasion which could clash with the US network which is expanding towards Raqqa and Fallujah, but nothing still prevents Turkey from creating an additional buffer with some Sunni tribes that could prevent the operating contact between Inherent Resolve and the Turkish Second Army.
Surely, however, President Erdogan’s government will not simply stand idle watching the events.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France