March 22, 2015

IS on a Killing Spree

Yohannan Chemarapally

THE brutal beheadings of two Japanese citizens and the torching of the Jordanian pilot who were in the captivity of the Islamic State (IS) were the latest instances of the group’s total disregard for basic humanitarian norms. The IS propagandists claim that they are only replicating on a smaller scale what the US and its allies did on a bigger scale with their bombings on civilian areas in Iraq and the torture that was practiced in Abu Ghraib and other CIA run centers. It is not a coincidence that the prisoners and hostages chosen for execution are all dressed in orange jump suits, similar to those worn by detainees in the American run prison in Guantanamo Bay. The IS has not confined itself to just beheadings and killings of hostages in the areas it controls in Syria and Iraq. In the Sinai Peninsula, an Egyptian group affiliated to the IS, the Ansar Beit al Maqdis, staged an attack on Egyptian army and police posts in the last week of January. At least 32 security personnel were killed in that attack. The Egyptian President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, had to cut short his visit to Addis Ababa where he had gone to attend the African Union (AU) summit. In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, a group affiliated to the IS attacked the Corinthia Hotel, a five star facility frequented by foreigners and high dignitaries. Among those killed were Americans working in the oil sector. Earlier in the year, the IS had staged an attack on a Saudi border post, killing a senior army officer. After the new King was sworn in, the IS has announced that overthrowing the monarchy in Saudi Arabia would be high on their priority list. Another monarch, King Abdullah of Jordan, has reacted to the killing of the pilot, Flt. Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh, by ordering an escalation of air attacks on IS targets. The King told a visiting American Congressman that Jordan would stop its attacks on the IS only if his air force ran out of fuel and weapons. In the second week of February, the IS reported that an American hostage, Kayla Mueller, a 26 year old aid worker was killed during a Jordanian air attack. She was the lone female American hostage known to be in IS custody. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) another member of the American led military coalition against the IS code named “Operation Inherent Resolve”, had on the other hand temporarily suspended its air operations against the IS after the shooting down of the Jordanian F-16 and the capture of the pilot. In the second week of February, the UAE announced the resumption of attacks on the IS, by sending a squadron of F-16 fighters to Amman. The IS had wanted the release of Sajida al Rishawi, an Iraqi woman, who was part of an al Qaeda group which carried out a suicide attack in a five star hotel in Amman in 2006 in exchange for the release of the Jordanian pilot and the two Japanese. Rishawi’s suicide vest had failed to explode but her husband who was part of the suicide mission had died in the operation. The Jordanian authorities initially gave the impression that they were not averse to the idea of a prisoner exchange. But the IS had made negotiations very complicated as the group had included the two Japanese prisoners in the proposed deal. The IS had demanded a payment of $200 million from the Japanese government along with the release of Sajida al Rishawi, who has been on death row. $200 million was the amount pledged by the Japanese government to the US led coalition against the IS in January this year. There were demonstrations on the streets of Amman demanding that the King release the Iraqi suicide bomber in exchange for their downed pilot. The Jordanian government’s decision to join the anti-IS coalition led by the US was unpopular domestically. Jordan is overwhelmingly Sunni and the IS gets its support from fellow Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. In the Jordanian town of Maan, the flag of IS is being openly displayed. The pilot’s family belongs to an influential tribe in the kingdom. The loyalty of the tribes is important for the Hashemite dynasty’s longevity. Though today the majority of the kingdom’s population is Palestinian, recruitment to the security forces is mainly from the Bedouin and other tribes that inhabited the area before the creation of Israel and the forced exile of Palestinians from their lands. Jordan was among the countries which facilitated the training and arming of Syrian fighters in the failed campaign for regime change in Damascus. Many of these fighters along with Jordanian citizens today are with the IS. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq and known for his brutal style of leadership, was himself a Jordanian citizen. The leader of the IS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was his acolyte. After Zarqawi’s killing in an American drone attack, his terrorist group had later morphed into the IS. The “Sahwa” militias, comprising of Sunni tribal fighter, that were trained and financed by the American to fight Zarqawi and those opposed to the occupation, have also switched sides and joined the IS. Jordan’s economy, always heavily dependent on foreign aid, has been badly affected by bloodletting in Syria. Today the kingdom hosts more than a million Syrian refugees. According to initial reports, the Jordanian King had agreed in principle for a straight forward prisoner swap with the IS, with the Iraqi prisoner being exchanged for the pilot. Now there are reports, that the IS could have been carrying out an elaborate hoax. Arab media reports suggest that the Jordanian pilot was set on fire in the first week of January itself. The IS stratagem it seems was to put the Jordanian and Japanese governments in a political and diplomatic dilemma. When the hostage negotiations were going on, there were protests in Japan against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to support the anti-IS military coalition and in the process putting Japanese citizens unnecessarily in harms way. The beheading of the Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto however shifted public anger towards the bestiality displayed by the IS. The Japanese prime minister, issued a statement threatening the IS with dire consequences. He warned that the Japanese government “would make the terrorists pay the price”. The Japanese prime minister is trying to channelise the public’s revulsion to now accelerate his agenda for rewriting the country’s pacifist constitution that have restricted military operations abroad. He claimed that these restrictions had hampered the efforts to save the lives of the two hostages as the Japanese military was not permitted to undertake overseas operations. Japanese officials have said that they have sent a proposal to the government on the feasibility of Japanese military operations abroad following the beheading of the two Japanese hostages. Prime Minister Abe has been wanting for a long time to back Japan’s “soft power” with military muscle. This year’s military budget is the biggest in the country’s post war history. The government has earmarked $42 billion for the upgradation of the Japanese military. The killing of the two Japanese hostages has galvanised some sections of public opinion in favour of Abe’s policies. At the same time, the majority of the populace remains steadfast in their support of Japan’s pacifist constitution. Even as the IS forces are being gradually pushed back in Iraq and Syria, the goal of a decisive military victory over them will remain elusive in the near future. The military operations, according to President Barack Obama are aimed at “degrading and ultimately destroying the IS”. The air raids led by the Americans have played a key role in the recapture of small towns like Kobane. But the town itself was completely flattened. Bigger cities like Mosul, having more than a million residents, will have to be completely destroyed, if the IS has to be driven out. The IS forces are well armed, fattened by the largesse from Gulf monarchies, Turkey and the US. The priority for the Gulf monarchies even today is to pin down the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shias. The Brotherhood and Hezbollah have been branded as terrorist organisations in many of the Gulf monarchies. In recent days, the American media has been full of stories about the close relationship Saudi Arabia had with militant Islamic groups which later morphed into the al Qaeda. According to the reports, the newly anointed King Salman was the key liaison between the Saudi government and the militant groups which were fighting in Afghanistan, Bosnia and other countries. Till 2013, the Saudis and their allies in the region armed and trained radical Islamist groups and the allegedly “moderate” Free Syrian Army to fight in Syria. Many of the fighters, along with their weaponry, defected to either the al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate or the IS. The IS became a quasi state after its dramatic capture of Mosul and the capitulation of the American trained Iraqi army. The loss of Mosul and the acquisition of huge tranches of American made weapons, tanks and armored vehicles worth billions of dollars left behind by the Iraqi army have helped the IS to become an even more potent fighting force. The recent killings of the hostages should serve as a wake up call for the Indian government. There has been some talk in Indian official circles of India playing a more robust role in the fight against “extremism and terrorism” in West Asia. The Obama administration is keen on countries like India joining the military alliance they had hastily cobbled up against the IS six months ago. Any overt or covert involvement of India in the American led enterprise could adversely impact on the fate of 39 Indian hostages held by the IS since the fall of Mosul last year. The Indian government has been insisting that they are alive. Iraqi diplomats have also concurred with this despite some reports suggesting that they were killed seven months ago. The Indian government has deployed a diplomat along with two intelligence officers to secure the release of the 39 Indian workers. A media report, quoting two Bangladeshi workers released by the IS, said that the IS had executed the Indians after segregating them from other prisoners. The external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, has stated in parliament that she believed that the 39 Indians are still alive and the government is hoping to bring them home safely.