Turkey enters the cauldron

The Feast of the Guardian Angels

The Turkish Parliament voted today 298-98 to authorize the use of the Turkish military in Syria and Iraq to fight against the Islamic State.  The motion also authorizes the presence of foreign ‘armed forces’ on Turkish soil to conduct military operations in those same countries.  The Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz stated before the vote that no one should expect any immediate Turkish action, so there may be a bit of a wait before we see how this has changed the situation in Syria, in Iraq, and in the Middle East as a whole.  But things have most definitely changed.

First the vote would seem to have given the United States Air Force the green light, with the permission of the Turkish government, to operate from its base in southern Turkey at Incirlik.  This dramatically decreases the distance that American aircraft have to fly before engaging in combat and will give them more time to operate on station and greater freedom to strike targets.  If this aspect of the situation is taken advantage of then the effectiveness of the air campaign against the Islamic State should see a dramatic improvement.

Now for the tricky part.  Ninety eight Turkish MPs voted against this authorization.  And they had their reasons.  The current Turkish AKP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu has a long standing grudge against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  This government had cozied up quite close to Assad in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war but that turned sour when Assad started using his armed forces to attack demonstrators in the early months of the uprising.  Since that time the Turkish government has openly supported and armed several rebel factions inside Syria.  There have even been brief military dust ups along the Syria/Turkey border with a Turkish fighter plane being shot down in June of 2012, several cross border mortar attacks, and a car bombing in the town of Reyhanli on the Turkish side of the border that killed forty three people in May of 2013 for which the Turkish government pinned the blame on Syrian intelligence services.

The deputy chairman of the opposition CHP, as well as a member of the Kurdish HDP party accused the government of wanting to fight the Syrian regime, not the Islamic State.  There is good reason to question the Turkish government’s enthusiasm for fighting the Islamic State since they have turned a blind eye to both supplies and militants going in to the group’s territory and oil coming out from that territory.  So we shall see.  There have been reports for years that the Erdogan government in Turkey wanted to send troops into Syria to establish some sort of buffer zone along the border. This was seen as a part of the AKP Party’s dream of getting more involved in the Middle East, a region the Turkish government had largely turned its back on after the abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922.  Now they might actually do it.  And how will the Assad regime respond?  Will Turkish troops use the pretext of the Islamic State to march south once again into the old Ottoman lands of Syria and Mesopotamia?  I don’t know but I suspect that if they do so they won’t find the going nearly so easy as it once might have been.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

 

Take this for what it is worth…

The Feast of the Holy Archangels Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

There have been a string of troubling reports in the last week or so coming out of Iraq about its army and their fight against the Islamic State.  Now there is another report coming out of the UK that the Islamic State is again advancing around Baghdad.  I am not certain that Canon Andrew White, who is cited in that report, is actually in Iraq right now.  His blog reports that he went back to the United Kingdom in early September for medical treatment and was in the United States on a fundraising trip as recently as ten days ago.  So there may be some hyperbole in his report of 1,000 Iraqis killed and the Islamic State being within a kilometer of Baghdad.

Still the United States has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq for more than a month now and the Islamic State does not seem to have been seriously crippled by them.  None of the cities they took over in June, Mosul or Tikrit, or even Fallujah have been retaken by the Iraqi army nor does the fighting capacity of Iraq’s armed forces seem to have significantly improved at this time.  There is also the rather amusing report that the first British strike mission on Iraq returned to its base on Cyprus with weapons still intact.  The Defence Ministry statement seemed to vacillate on the question of whether the Tornadoes were on an ‘armed reconnaissance mission’ or simply couldn’t find anything worth shooting at.  It is important to remember that the men fighting for the Islamic State either spent years fighting the US in Iraq or have been trained by those who did.  While the military prowess of the United States and its allies is formidable and could wipe the floor with the Islamic State if it was deployed to its full potential (which it hasn’t been and likely won’t be anytime soon), these men have been up against it before and won’t be so easily cowed by it as they once might have been.

Still Baghdad would be a tough nut to crack for the Islamic State, and I wouldn’t expect them to launch a great onslaught against it anytime soon.  It is a great metropolis and the population is mostly Shi’ite and therefore incredibly hostile to them.  There likely course of action would be to strengthen their hold on areas around the city and to disrupt communications as much as they possibly can while massacring any outlying and isolated Iraqi army units they can find in order to strike terror into the population.  I suspect that their goal for now is to do what they can to completely cut Baghdad off from the north while putting themselves in a position to effect some sort of a siege on the city.  Whether they will be successful is an open question at this point.

And just to remind everyone the border between Syria and Iraq still is open and is being erased.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

The Islamic State

The Feast of Saint Louis

Over the past two weeks the United States has begun a military air campaign in northern Iraq to prevent the forces of the Islamic State from advancing into Kurdistan and devastating Kurdish peshmerga forces and to help them regain control of the Mosul Dam.  The Islamic State then withdrew its forces from those locations and its advances in Iraq appear to have, for the moment, been blunted.  So whither the Islamic State?  Whiter Iraq and whither Syria?  What is going on here? Has the insertion of limited US air power in northern Iraq and the entrance of a few hundred military advisers into the country fundamentally changed the situation or not?

The American air strikes have so far been limited and the capabilities of the Islamic State are much more advanced than any terrorist group has had in modern times.  The have begun to actually form themselves into a state in the territories they have taken over and most importantly they have a serious budget.  Seizing large amounts of cash in Mosul, gaining oil revenue from the fields they have captured in Syria, and presumably garnering some sort of tax revenue from their conquered territories makes them essentially a terrorist army, a force that may end up being a serious threat to the current world order.

And while the Islamic State has temporarily paused its offensive in Iraq it has done no such thing in Syria.  Yesterday its forces seized the Tabqa airbase southwest of the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqah in north central Syria, thereby clearing that province of all Syrian government forces.

But here is the issue.  The Islamic State needs to be defeated in both Syria and Iraq and the border between those two countries needs to be reestablished as it was before June.  Unless the United States is prepared to send several hundred thousand ground troops into both Syria and Iraq (which it will not do) then it will need to coordinate with both Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Barack Obama will be loathe to do, and some sort of working government which does not yet exist in Baghdad and have them work in concert to set things back to the way they were.  Does anyone see that happening?

The rise of the Islamic State and its declaration of caliphate is nothing less than an attempt at world revolution akin to what the Nazis and the Bolsheviks did in the last century.  If it is not strangled in the cradle then this world will be far different by the time the next decade ends.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and for their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

Another small step toward the end of Iraq…

The Feast of Saint Augustine Zhao Rong and his Companions

Another small yet not insignificant step toward the dissolution of that grand creation of a now long dead empire: the Republic of Iraq.  The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani today withdrew (in Arabic here) all Kurdish ministers from the cabinet of Iraq’s central government headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.  This comes a day after Maliki accused the Kurdish regional government of harboring terrorists from the Islamic State in its domains.

Turnarounds are always possible, but Iraq seems unlikely to keep on existing in the form we have known it.  I suppose that Iran could throw an immense weight of forces into fighting the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq and make a supreme national effort to destroy the wannabe caliphate led by its remarkably uncharismatic khalifa before it gets a real head of steam going.  Possible, always possible but unlikely.  Or Russia could decide that they don’t want a jihadi empire rising up to their south and decide to give serious backing to Maliki, but after his lightning annexation of Crimea Vladimir Putin no longer seems able to get out of his own way in Ukraine so I would be dubious on that.

Or there could always be a good old fashioned divine miracle, but one really does wonder at this point why the Lord of history would be interested in saving the Iraq that we have known.  In any case those things are beyond my comprehension.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity.

A first step toward the official end of Iraq

The Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle

The Iraqi state, cobbled together by the now long dead British Empire from the former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul in the aftermath of the First World War, appears to be coming to its end.  The fruits of the 2003 American invasion are now laid bare for all to see.  The gains of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, over the past three weeks in the north and west of Iraq and the inability of the Baghdad government to reconquer this territory have now opened up an opportunity for the Kurds to achieve their dream, which is as old as Iraq itself, to cut off their own region from Baghdad’s control and form their own state.

The president of the Kurdish regional government Massoud Barzani today asked the Kurdish parliament to form an electoral commission for the purpose of conducting an independence referendum.  No date has been set but there is no doubt as to the outcome.  And whenever they decide to do it this referendum will eliminate any chance of putting Iraq as it has been known to the world since the 1920s back together.

What chance the Kurdish state will have in the future I cannot say; there are powers in the Middle East such as Israel who see it as some sort of buffer against the rise of the Islamic State but we shall see.  Meanwhile the Islamic State is gaining strength (doubtless due to the influx of Iraqi weapons) in Syria and has taken control of large parts of the Euphrates valley.  Only the Syrian government controlled town of Deir az-Zour stands between the Islamic State and its control over the whole of the Euphrates valley from Raqqa to Haditha.  All of this while other Syrian rebels are saying that they will give up fighting against the Islamic State.  Nothing succeeds like success, as IS is showing right now.  Events are fluid in the Middle East and it has been a long time since the world has seen so much that most people take for granted across the world in such doubt across such a wide region.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

A barren stretch of desert and the end of a world

For most of the first three quarters of the twentieth century this was the failed dream of Arab nationalists like Gamal abd al-Nasser: to undraw the borders of the former Ottoman Empire that the European powers who dismantled that empire drew after the First World War.  Today it might actually be happening.  The militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) have now seized the great bulk of Iraq’s border crossings with Syria (the Kurds in the north now hold one) along with Iraq’s one border crossing with Jordan along with the town of Rutbah that sits astride the highway leading from Baghdad to the Jordanian border.  The Iraqi government, has now effectively lost control of its western border regions and after taking the al-Qa’im crossing yesterday and the al-Waleed crossing today the militants whose operations straddle both sides of the Iraq/Syria border have, for the moment at least, erased that border.

The Iraqi commanders in Baghdad announced that their forces had conducted a ‘tactical retreat’ from the border crossings and were regrouping for an assault to retake them.  We shall see.  If the ISIL can hold their gains then they will have transformed this barren stretch of wasteland (save al-Qa’im in the Euphrates valley the Iraqi/Syrian/Jordanian border runs through one of the most inhospitable deserts on earth) into the birth of a whole new Middle East and possibly a new world.

It isn’t just a matter of a few border crossings or even a few cities falling into the hands of marauding Islamic militants.  There has been a progressive breakdown of central authority in Iraq since the American invasion in 2003 and a massive breakdown of central authority in Syria since the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s regime started in 2011.  Prolonged absences of trust in or respect for or fear of the central government followed by a sudden onslaught such as the ISIL just launched have a way of permanently changing things.  It is doubtful that either of the regimes in Baghdad or Damascus possess or will possess any time soon the strength or the resources to remove the ISIL from the scene and to erase what they have done in the last two weeks.  ISIL is a more formidable force than anyone seems to have realized.  After their first victories in Mosul and Tikrit when the road to Baghdad seemed open they didn’t take it like everyone (myself included) thought they would.  Instead they have focused on securing their flanks in Diyala and Anbar provinces and eliminating the Iraqi/Syrian border to gain them freedom of movement and to show that they could in fact destroy that border which has always been one of their goals.  They will of course have to move on Baghdad at some point in order to dismantle the Iraqi state as the world has known it for the last 80 years.  If there is any kind of central government in Baghdad there is always the great possibility that it will regroup and destroy them, but if that goes away then there will be very little threat anymore to the existence of ISIL.  And then they could move on Damascus.  Time will tell but the earth is moving under our feet here.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and for the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim people.

The Turn of Tikrit

The forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ( الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) continued a rapid advance south of Mosul today seizing the city of Tikrit (95 miles north of Baghdad) and large parts of the city of Baiji (120 miles north of Baghdad).  Heavy fighting was also reported in the Shi’ite holy city of Samarra (about 60 miles north of Baghdad).  This onslaught means that the ISIL has effectively cut off the highway that runs north of Baghdad through Tikrit, Samarra, and Baiji to Mosul.  Any Iraqi reinforcements sent by the central government in Baghdad will have to fight their way through these cities to wrest Mosul out of the Islamic state’s control.  The only immediated threat to the city at present is the Kurdish peshmerga militia dug in on the east bank of the Tigris River.  Whether the Kurds will seek to intervene on Baghdad’s behalf is doubtful but the possibility shouldn’t be entirely dismissed since the rapid ISIL advance may begin to pose a threat to the stability of the Kurdish region.

It is difficult to imagine the ISIL launching a sustained assault on Baghdad (an urban metropolis of many millions) simply due to their lack of numbers, but this group has proven themselves to be determined, resourceful, audacious, and extremely cunning so I really wouldn’t put anything past them.  And it should be noted that the rapid collapse of Iraqi forces in Mosul and the surrounding region allowed a mass of armored vehicles and even some military helicopters to fall into the hands of ISIL which will aid them greatly in any push on Baghdad.

The world is changing.  I do not know what the end result of this chaos in Iraq will be.  ISIL could advance too far too fast and find themselves vulnerable to counterattack (they seem to have a long exposed flank to the east of Highway 1), but maybe they won’t.  And the longer they can sustain these gains the harder it will be to dislodge them.  And since their ideology to which they are ruthlessly committed is to destroy the borders of the Middle East drawn up by the European powers after the First World War and to replace it with a unified Islamic state this will, if accomplished, create a whole new world.

In any case pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.