Welcome to the rabbit hole. Since this is the Middle East, it goes a really long way down.
The problem with trying to make any sense of things is that the Muslim world is…
1. Rife with bizarre conspiracy theories that accuse everyone of being puppets of someone else
2. These claims are often true due to bizarre enemy-enemy-friend alliances that seem to make no sense
This isn’t a new rabbit hole and before we get started, let me point out that this comes from Yvonne Ridley. Ridley is a British journalist who went full Stockholm after being captured once, converted to Islam and is supportive of terrorists. She is about as credible as any other lunatic and she has a history of making bizarre and outlandish claims before.
She has worked for both Sunni and Shiite Jihadist fronts like Al Jazeera and Press TV. She’s basically a freelance Jihadist propagandist. Which means that nothing she writes should be taken seriously… and yet this isn’t the first time this has come up.
This time Ridley (via Brian of London) claims to have conducted an interview with the head of the Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade. Its leadership was then wiped out by an ISIS attack making it virtually impossible for them to issue a denial.
Ahrar Al-Sham was the third major Al Qaeda group in Syria. It also appears to have been the closest link to Zawahiri and the Al Qaeda leadership.
The Syrian government, he pointed out, has targeted many rebel groups but it seems that ISIS has not engaged in any frontline fighting with Assad nor has it ever been targeted by the president.
“For instance, even if there are three cars travelling in the countryside Assad’s air force will strike them in the belief that it must be a convoy. Now you tell me, when movement is coming under such intense scrutiny how was ISIS able to move a convoy of 200 vehicles from one province to another and finally into Iraq without coming under one single attack or meeting resistance at any regime checkpoints?”
Indeed, as ISIS emerged in Syria, its forces attacked other rebel groups and as soon as areas were taken under its control a new administration would be introduced, including sharia courts, said Abboud.
“They refused to enter into any deals with other rebel groups,” he explained, “and because they weren’t engaged in fighting Assad’s forces they also appeared to spend a great deal of leisure time with limitless resources and funds.”
In conceding that the ISIS invasion and occupation of huge swathes of Iraq was nothing short of “military brilliance”, Abboud made perhaps the most shocking of his accusations.
“I think it was all worked out and devised by Qasem Soleimani, the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He is the one person who could have pulled all of this together. He wasn’t able to stop the revolution in Syria but when ISIS arrived everything stopped and there was a turning point.”
Shiites tend to believe that ISIS was a creation of the US. Some on the right have fallen into that same error. Sunnis are more likely to blame Assad and Iran.
The question is whether there is any truth to that.
On the surface it seems absurd, but the surface in the Middle East is rarely revealing. Iran did train Al Qaeda at one point. It’s not inconceivable that Iran and Assad could have decided to back Takfiris in the hopes of spreading some chaos and keeping the US out of it. If so their plan worked well enough before it backfired badly.
The problem with backing Jihadists is that they tend to become a lot more dangerous than you would expect. Both the US and USSR found that out the hard way.
After Al Qaeda in Iraq had dedicated itself to slaughtering Shiites and with a weak Shiite government in Iraq, could Iran have been insane enough to gamble on using ISIS to avert the fall of Syria?
It seems absurd, but on the other hand, stupider moves have been made in the region.
Iran has a long history of trying to extend its reach by working with Sunni Jihadists. It fawns on Hamas and has humiliated itself by trying to court the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, back when it was in power, and Al Qaeda in the 90s and oughts.
But Middle Eastern strategy also tends to be subtler and more flexible than our own. What we would consider a disaster, they often consider another piece on the board. They think strategically in Machiavellian ways. While we play checkers, they play chess. They aim as much to block other players and to prevent them from making certain moves as to win the game on their own.
Helping boost ISIS very much fits into that strategy.
On the other hand the Muslim world is also overrun with insane conspiracy theories, most of which are not only untrue, but make no sense. Unfortunately that also means that the players in the game react not just to what is happening, but to the various conspiracy theories. Imagine playing poker with a paranoid schizophrenic. That’s what Middle Eastern politics is like.
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