Robin Rowan 11/15/15
On November 13th, 2015, a horrific scene unfolded in Paris. Eight terrorists associated with ISIS carried out a well-planned coordinated multi-location attack killing over 120 and wounding over 350, 99 of them critically. The attack included suicide bombers with automatic weapons and hand grenades. The terrorists struck simultaneously at a soccer stadium, a concert hall where an American heavy metal band was playing, and busy Paris restaurants.
We need to take a look at how we got here.
Al Qaeda Iraq (AQI) was founded in 2004 under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in partnership with Osama Bin Laden. They pioneered the use of internet videos of murders for recruiting and propaganda. With a reputation of brutality previously unseen, Zarqawi was believed to have personally carried out the 2004 beheading of Nicholas Berg.
Their brutal tactics were unpopular with the local Sunni tribes as they became the leading force of Sunni insurgency in Iraq from 2004-2007. In 2005 they were responsible for three simultaneous hotel bombings in Amman Jordon that killed 60 innocent Muslims and infuriated the Muslim world.
Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike in June 2006. The AQI leaders that followed continued the brutality of their “reign of terror.” However, the Sunni tribes revolted against AQI’s terror tactics, spawning the Awakening Movement. US coalition forces wisely partnered with the tribal leaders. By 2009 over 100,000 tribesmen and former insurgents were working for the US-led coalition forces and fighting AQI.
The Pentagon reported in 2006 an Iranian backed Mahdi army was responsible for more civilian deaths than the terrorist groups in Iraq. The Mahdi army was also responsible for hundreds of American and coalition military deaths. What was left of AQI fought the Mahdi army of Iran to try to prevent a Shia control of Iraq. Car bombings continued on innocents and against the Iranians who were trying to take political power in Baghdad, but AQI had dwindled in numbers and influence.
Then in 2011, Syrian President Assad started a massacre of the innocent Syrian Sunni Muslim population, and it quickly escalated with the help of the Shias of Iran. As the death toll rose from 100,000 to over 200,000, the mass graves of entire villages brutalized by the Assad regime went unanswered by world leaders.
The greatest humanitarian crisis the world had ever seen was unfolding, and the silence of world leaders, especially the United States, was deafening.
A scattered band of 400-600 young men, former AQI, had seen their financial and organizational structure decimated by US and coalition forces in the Iraq war. In 2011, with no real structure or financial support left, they realized an opportunity to reorganize in Syria. Someone had to get in the fight and defend the Sunni villages against Syrian President Assad and his Iranian partners. The rag tag Iraqi Sunnis were ready for a fight. They called themselves ISIS and developed into a well-organized, coordinated army within Syria.
As they organized to enter Syria to fight Assad, they quickly found that financial support from other Sunni nations was readily available, and no one was watching. With the 2010 complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq by President Obama, US intelligence was lacking on the ground.
Several leaders within Syria were interviewed by Newsweek in 2014 describing their growth; “By 2012 it was estimated that, despite the open rift with their earlier partners Al Qaeda, ISIS had almost doubled its previous numbers to 2,500 fighters,” and that “ISIS are simply a bunch of ignorant young men who have been brainwashed into thinking what they’re doing is right.”
As the money continued to flow in from Sunni individuals and nations to help the cause of defending villages against the Assad onslaught, recruitment by ISIS became easy. Naively, the US President did not take them seriously, calling them a “JV team”, despite the many warnings by his Generals.
The new ISIS quickly grew from a few hundred in 2011, to 2500 in 2012, to 4,000, then into an organized army of over 10,000 by 2013. They eventually erased the Syria/ Iraq border and took new territory in Iraq villages that had once rebuked them. They ruled with fear and terror once they took control of villages, as had their founder Zarqawi. They also increased the use of internet propaganda utilizing social media for global recruitment.
Iranian army personnel, as well as Hezbollah militias backed by Iran, were reported to enter Syria as early as May 2013 to assist Assad. In August 2013 Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons against innocent Syrian Sunni’s, killing 1400 including over 400 children.
Not only was the US completely disengaged from the region, but leadership went silent and continuously downplayed the crisis in Syria. The US media was successful in keeping the focus off of the travesty and especially the involvement of Iran. ISIS continued to grow in depth and power as they fought the Iranian militias in Syria as they had done in Iraq a decade before.
The lack of US leadership, lack of any action against Assad’s genocide of the Sunni population led to not only the formation of ISIS, but also to strengthening it as it spread back to Iraq and now Yemen, Libya and throughout the globe.
The result of non-intervention in Syria has proven deadly.
The result of ignoring Assad and negotiating with Iran as they carry out crimes against humanity with him has now been felt on a beautiful November night in Paris.
Robin Rowan 11/15/15
December 2006, NY Times; “The Struggle for Iraq; Attacks in Iraq at Record Level, Pentagon Finds”
June 2014, Newsweek; “How Syria’s Assad Helped Forge ISIS”