Tony Greenstein | 02 November 2015 | Post Views:

 How the CIA, George W. Bush and many others helped create ISIS

have tried to harness the power of radical Islam for our own interests for
decades. ISIS is partially on America

By Abdel Bari Atwan

October 18, 2015 “Information
Clearing House
” – “Salon” –  Since 1980, the United States has
intervened in the affairs of fourteen Muslim countries, at worst invading or
bombing them. They are (in chronological order) Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait,
Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Yemen,
Pakistan, and now Syria. Latterly these efforts have been in the name of the
War on Terror and the attempt to curb Islamic extremism.

for centuries Western countries have sought to harness the power of radical
Islam to serve the interests of their own foreign policy. In the case of
Britain, this dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire; in more recent
times, the US/UK alliance first courted, then turned against, Islamists in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. In my view, the policies of the United
States and Britain—which see them supporting and arming a variety of groups for
short-term military, political, or diplomatic advantage—have directly
contributed to the rise of IS.
the Caliphate
Turkish Ottoman Empire was, for centuries, the largest Muslim political entity
the world has ever known, encompassing much of North Africa, southeastern
Europe, and the Middle East. From the sixteenth century onwards, Britain not
only championed the Ottoman Empire but also supported and endorsed the
institution of the caliphate and the Sultan’s claim to be the caliph and leader
of the ummah (the Muslim world).
support for the Ottoman Caliph—a policy known as the Eastern Question—was
entirely motivated by self-interest. Initially this was so the Ottoman lands
would act as a buffer against its regional imperial rivals, France and Russia;
subsequently, following the colonization of India, the Ottoman territories
acted to protect Britain’s eastward trade routes. This support was not merely
diplomatic; it translated into military action. In the Crimean War (1854–56),
Britain fought with the Ottoman Empire against Russia and won.
was only with the onset of the First World War in 1914 that this 400-year-old
regional paradigm unraveled. When Mehmed V sided with the Germans, Britain was
reluctantly excluded from dealing with the caliphate’s catchment of over 15
million Muslims, reasoning that “whoever controlled the person of the Caliph,
controlled Sunni Islam.” London decided that an Arab uprising to unseat Mehmed
would enable them to reassign the role of caliph to a trusted and more
malleable ally: Hussein bin Ali Hussein, the sherif of Mecca and a direct
descendant, it is claimed, of the Prophet Muhammad. The British employed racism
to garner support for the uprising, appealing to the Arabs’ sense of ownership over
Islam, which had originated in Mecca and Medina, not among the Turks of
Constantinople. A 1914 British proclamation declared, “There is no nation among
the Muslims which is now capable of upholding the Islamic Caliphate except the
Arab nation.” A letter was dispatched to Sherif Hussein, fomenting his ambition
and suggesting, “It may be that an Arab of true race will assume the Caliphate
at Mecca or Medina” (Medina being the seat of the first caliphate after the
death of the Prophet). Again, the British were prepared to defend the caliphate
with the sword, promising to “guarantee the Holy Places against all external
aggression.” It is a strange thought that, just 100 years ago, the prosecutors
of today’s War on Terror were promising to restore the Islamic caliphate to the
Arab world and defend it militarily.
Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, fomented by the British, got underway
in 1916, the same year that the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement was made in
secret, carving up between the British and French the very lands Sherif Hussein
had been promised. Betrayal, manipulation, and self-interest were, and remain,
the name of the game when it comes to Western meddling in the Middle East. The
revolt would last two years and was a major factor in the fall of the Ottoman
Empire. At the same time, the British Army and allied forces, including the
Arab Irregulars, were fighting the Ottomans on the battlefields of the First
World War. A key figure in these battles was T. E. Lawrence, who became known
as Lawrence of Arabia because of the loyalty he engendered in the hearts of
Sherif Hussein and his son, Emir Faisal. He was given the status of honorary
son by the former, and he fought under the command of the latter in many
battles, later becoming Faisal’s advisor. When the Ottomans put a £15,000
reward on Lawrence’s head, no Arab was tempted to betray him.
this honorable behavior and respect were not reciprocated. In a memo to British
intelligence in 1916, Lawrence described the hidden agenda behind the Arab
uprising: “The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled
they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous
principalities, incapable of cohesion . . . incapable of co-ordinated action
against us.” In a subsequent missive he explained, “When war broke out, an
urgent need to divide Islam was added. . . . Hussein was ultimately chosen
because of the rift he would create in Islam. In other words, divide and rule.”

Security and Western Foreign Policy
us fast-forward to the 1950s and ’60s, by which time oil had become a major
factor in the West’s foreign policy agenda. Again, the principle of “divide and
rule” was put to work: a 1958 British cabinet memo noted, “Our interest lies .
. . in keeping the four principal oil-producing areas [Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Iran, and Iraq] under separate political control.” The results of this policy
saw the West arming both sides in the Iran-Iraq war—which brought both powers
to the brink of total destruction in the 1980s—and then intervening militarily
with a force of almost 700,000 men in the First Gulf War (to prevent Iraq
annexing Kuwait) in 1990–91.
United States, UK, and European powers were also deeply troubled by the
cohesive potential of Arab Nationalism, a hugely popular movement led by
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and his (at that time) mighty allies in Iraq and
Syria. The idea of these three huge, left-leaning regional powers becoming
politically and militarily united was unacceptable in the Cold War context and
remained so after the fall of the Soviet Empire because of the regional threat
to Israel. To counteract the rise of pan-Arabism, the West began to support
Islamist tendencies within each country—mostly branches of the Muslim
Brotherhood—and also worked hard in the diplomatic field to create strong and
binding relationships with Islamic, pro-Western monarchies in Saudi Arabia, the
Gulf States, and Jordan. These relationships endure to this day.
most extreme manifestation of radical Sunni Islam was Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism,
which it had started to disseminate via a string of international organizations
and its self-designated Global Islamic Mission. In 1962, Saudi Arabia oversaw
the establishment of The Muslim World League, which was largely staffed by exiled
members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s
relationship with the West (and with the Gulf monarchies) has always been
inconsistent and entirely selfish. In the run-up to, during, and after, the
2011 “Arab Spring” revolution against Hosni Mubarak, the United States and UK
were actively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood as the most credible (or only)
experienced political entity. In 2014, both countries came under pressure from
the Saudis to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terror group: though neither has
yet gone that far, the UK duly launched an official investigation into the
group, headed by UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, while in the
United States a bill was introduced in Congress, the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist
Designation Act of 2014.
House of Saud itself feared an “Arab Spring” revolution and encouraged and
applauded the June 2013 coup that deposed the Brotherhood’s legitimately
elected President Morsi; Saudi King Abdullah phoned coup leader al-Sisi (now
the Egyptian president) within hours to congratulate him on his success. Egypt
under al-Sisi would prove a better friend to Israel and, like Saudi Arabia,
would brutally extinguish any new uprisings, giving the kingdom moral support
in its own battle for survival. Saudi political pragmatism (or, as some might
frame it, hypocrisy) has been progressively informed by its close relationship
with the United States and UK— and is now one of the most significant drivers
of the Middle East’s present chaos, including the emergence of ISIS.

The First Public Enemy Number One
the 1950s on, the Muslim Brotherhood was supported and funded by the CIA. When
Nasser decided to stamp out the movement in Egypt, the CIA helped its leaders
migrate to Saudi Arabia, where they were assimilated into the Wahhabi kingdom’s
own particular brand of fundamentalism, many rising to positions of great
influence. While Saudi Arabia actively prevented the formation of a home-grown
branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, it encouraged and financed the movement
abroad in other Arab countries. One of the most prominent leaders of the
Western-backed Afghan Jihad (1979–89) was a Cairo-educated Muslim Brotherhood
member: Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of Jamaat-i-Islami ( JI).
and, to a lesser extent, Britain fretted about the rise of communism, which was
perceived and portrayed as the “enemy of freedom”—a term that would later be
applied to the Islamic extremists. In geopolitical terms, by the end of the
Second World War, the Soviet Union comprised one-sixth of the world’s land mass
and was a superpower capable of mounting a devastating challenge to the United
States. The White House was also concerned about the future alignment of China,
where the Chinese Communist Party had seized power in 1949. Communism was
enthusiastically embraced by millions of idealistic post-war Americans and
Europeans, posing a perceived domestic political threat. Meanwhile the West
observed with horror the increasing popularity of communism and socialism in
the Middle East; revolutionary, pro-Soviet, Arab regimes would create an
enormous strategic disadvantage and threaten oil security.
the West, radical Islam represented the best way to counter the encroachment of
Arab nationalism communism.
the Six-Day War in 1967, US and UK governmental planners noted with
satisfaction that Arab unity and sense of a shared cause were finding
expression in a revival of Islamic fundamentalism and widespread calls for the
implementation of Sharia law. This revival continued through the 1970s and, by
the end of the decade, produced the pan-Arab mujahideen that would battle the
Soviet armies in Afghanistan for the next ten years.
As in Syria and Iraq,
the Sunni jihadists were not alone in the insurgency. There were seven major
Sunni groups, armed and funded (to the tune of $6 billion) by the United States
and Saudi Arabia, as well as the UK, Pakistan, and China. Abdullah Azzam’s
Maktab al-Khidamat (the Services Office), which included bin Laden and from
which al Qaeda would emerge, was at this point only a sub-group of one of
these, the Gulbuddin faction (founded in 1977 by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). Often
overlooked in retelling the story of this particular Afghan war is the fact
that the insurgency was pan-Islamic: there were eight Shi‘i groups, trained and
funded by Iran.
the Sunni entities it was backing, the CIA preferred the Afghan-Arabs (as the
foreign fighters from Arab countries came to be known) because they found them
“easier to read” than their indigenous counterparts. In 2003,
Australian-British journalist John Pilger conducted research and concluded,
“More than 100,000 Islamic militants were trained in Pakistan between 1986 and
1992, in camps overseen by the CIA and MI6, with the SAS training future al Qaeda
and Taliban fighters in bomb-making and other black arts. Their leaders were
trained at a CIA camp in Virginia.” That Western interference in Afghanistan
actually precedes the Soviet invasion by several months is rarely acknowledged.
In the context of this book it is worth tracing the motives and methods
employed by foreign powers to further their own ends in that territory, as
these have been repeated and modified in Iraq and Syria.
location and long borders with Iran and Pakistan make it a strategic prize, and
rival powers have often fought to control it. A coup in 1978 (the third in five
years) brought the pro-Soviet Muhammad Taraki to power, setting off alarm bells
in Islamabad, Washington, London, and Riyadh. The Pakistani ISI first tried to
foment an Islamist uprising, but this failed owing to lack of popular support.
Next, five months before the Soviet invasion, President Jimmy Carter sent
covert aid to Islamist opposition groups with the help of Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia. Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in a
memo to his boss that if the Islamists rose up it would “induce a Soviet
military intervention, likely to fail, and give the USSR its own Vietnam.”
Another coup in September 1979 brought Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin to
power; Moscow invaded in December, killing Amin and replacing him with its own
man, Babrak Karmal. Brzezinski then sent Carter a memo outlining his advised
strategy: “We should concert with Islamic countries both a propaganda campaign
and a covert action campaign to help the rebels.”
December 18, 1979, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher enthusiastically
endorsed Washington’s approach at a meeting of the Foreign Policy Association
in New York, even praising the Iranian Revolution and concluding, “The Middle
East is an area where we have much at stake. . . . It is in our own interest
that they build on their own deep, religious traditions. We do not wish to see
them succumb to the fraudulent appeal of imported Marxism.”
IS is a product of Western interference in Iraq and Syria, none of the powers
that backed the Afghan mujahideen anticipated the emergence of alQaeda, with
its vehemently anti-Western agenda and ambition to re-establish the caliphate.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf wrote in his autobiography, “Neither
Pakistan nor the US realized what Osama bin Laden would do with the
organization we had all allowed him to establish.”

Extremism: The Western Dilemma
the course of the 1990s, radical political Islam became more extremist—a shift
that was encouraged and funded by Saudi Arabia. The star of the Muslim
Brotherhood began to wane as its leaders were castigated for being too
“moderate” and for participating in the democratic process in Egypt; standing
as “independents” (since the Muslim Brotherhood was banned), its candidates
fared well, becoming the main opposition force to President Hosni Mubarak.
There was another reason for the Muslim Brotherhood falling out of favor with
Riyadh—it had supported Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The House of
Saud now linked its survival with the rise of the Salafi-jihadist tendency,
which was consistent with its own custom-fit Wahhabi ideology.
West viewed this shift into a more radical gear with some alarm as the
Salafists’ battle became international: Arab jihadists traveled to Eastern
Europe to fight with the Bosnian Muslims from 1992; New York’s World Trade
Center was first bombed by radical Islamists in 1993; and in 1995, North
African jihadists from the al Qaeda–linked GIA (Armed Islamic Group, Algeria)
planted bombs on the Paris Metro, killing 8 and injuring more than 100.
United States and UK adopted a remarkably laid-back approach to this new wave of
radical Islam. The UK government and security services did not consider that
the extremists presented a real danger, allowing the establishment of what the
media labeled “Londonistan” through the 1990s. It could be argued that this was
a successful arrangement in that, in return for being allowed to live in the
British capital and go about their business in peace, the jihadists did not
commit any act of violence on British streets. The Syrian jihadist Abu Musab
al-Suri (aka Setmariam Nasar) was a leading light among the Londonistan
jihadist community, which also included Osama bin Laden’s so-called ambassador
to London, Khalid al-Fawwaz. Al-Suri confirmed to me that a tacit covenant was
in place between M16 and the extremists.
entities and individuals funded al Qaeda and other violent Salafist groups to
the tune of $300 million through the 1990s, and the United States and UK
remained stalwartly supportive. A year after Margaret Thatcher left parliament
for good, she told a 1993 meeting of the Chatham House international affairs
think tank, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a strong force for moderation and
stability on the world stage.” When challenged on Riyadh’s appalling human
rights record—which included (and still includes) public executions, floggings,
stonings, oppression of women, the incarceration of peaceful dissidents, and
violent dispersal of any kind of demonstration—she retorted, “I have no
intention of meddling in its internal affairs.” Later, Tony Blair would talk of
the Middle East’s Axis of Moderation, meaning Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States,
Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel.
First Gulf War brought two changes into play. The first was that Saudi Arabia
now became completely dependent, militarily, on the United States for its
survival. The second was that, in an attempt to weaken Saddam Hussein, the CIA
encouraged Shi‘i groups in southern Iraq to rebel, resulting in thousands of
Shi‘a being slaughtered by regime helicopter fire. George H. W. Bush spent $40
million on clandestine operations in Iraq, flying Shi‘i and Kurdish leaders to
Saudi Arabia for training, and creating and funding two opposition groups: the
Iraqi National Accord, led by Iyad Alawi (who would collaborate in a failed
coup plotted by the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group in 1996) and the Iraqi National
Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi (who was close to Dick Cheney when he was
Defense Secretary). And yet, for the next twelve years, Saddam Hussein remained
in power despite the punitive sanctions regime.
and London continued to believe that an alliance with “moderate” Islam was key
to defeating the extremists. A 2004 Whitehall paper by former UK Ambassador to
Damascus Basil Eastwood and Richard Murphy, who had been assistant secretary of
state under Reagan, noted: “In the Arab Middle East, the awkward truth is that
the most significant movements which enjoy popular support are those associated
with political Islam.” For the first time, they identified two distinct groups
within the political Islamists: those “who seek change but do not advocate
violence to overthrow regimes, and the Jihadists . . . who do.”
new paradigm gained traction. In 2006, Tony Blair made it clear that the coming
fight in the Middle East would be between the moderate Islamists and the extremists.
The West, he told an audience in the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles,
should seek to “empower” the moderates. “We want moderate, mainstream Islam to
triumph over reactionary Islam.” Blair enlarged on the economic benefits this
would accrue to the large transnational enterprises and organizations he
championed: “A victory for the moderates means an Islam that is open: open to
West continues to behave as if Saudi Arabia can deliver the world from the
menace of extremism. Yet the kingdom has spent $50 billion promoting Wahhabism
around the world, and most of the funding for al Qaeda—amounting to billions of
dollars—still comes from private individuals and organizations in Saudi Arabia.
The Sinjar Records (documents captured in Iraq by coalition forces in 2007)
provided a clear picture of where foreign jihadists were coming from: Saudi
nationals accounted for 45 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq. They swell the
ranks of IS today.
Arab revolutions muddied the waters even more, particularly in Libya and Syria,
making it almost impossible to distinguish between moderates and extremists. In
Libya the West’s intervention strengthened the radicals and liberated
stockpiles of Gaddafi’s sophisticated weapons, which were immediately
spirited away by the truckload to jihadist strongholds. In the light of that
error, President Obama dithered in Syria, much to the fury of his Saudi allies,
allowing the most radical of the extremists to prevail: Islamic State.

“Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate” by Abdel Bari Atwan. Published by the University of
California Press. Copyright © 2015 by Abdel Bari Atwan. Reprinted with
permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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