The Islamic State threatens to conquer Rome

February 16, 2015

The Islamic State today released a video that purports to show the beheading of twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped during December and January around the Libyan city of Sirte which is around 250 miles east southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast.  An armed group who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, in a strange echo of what took place in Mosul last June, seized control of government buildings in Sirte on Saturday. The executioners of the hostages vowed that the Islamic State will “conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet.”    The Egyptian government launched retaliatory airstrikes on the eastern Libyan city of Derna, a stronghold of Islamic State militants, on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between the Egyptian border and Benghazi.

So will the Islamic State launch an attack on Rome from its new base on the south shore of the Mediterranean?

I doubt that we will see armies flying the black flag marching up the Via della Conciliazione anytime soon.  The groups loyal to IS are one of a hodgepodge of armed militias fighting in the internecine warfare that makes up life in post Qaddafi Libya.  And they are far from the center of the Islamic State’s base of operations in the landlocked area surrounding the Syria Iraq border.  If these armed Libyan IS affiliates ever do manage to carve out some territory on the Libyan coast, hold it, and somehow maintain regular communication with IS central in Raqaa and Mosul they may use it to transport terrorist operatives to Italy and southern Europe or follow that tried and true ancient Muslim practice of launching assaults on Mediterranean shipping, but we are a long ways from that at the present moment.

However we should all note that the world is changing.  The current geopolitical chessboard that puts several obstacles in the path of the Islamic State is growing shakier by the day and the seemingly calm period that we have all lived through since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 is now likely over.  The divisions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine and Russia’s proper place in the world are daily hardening and growing deeper.  While the cease fire agreed to in Minsk may hold for a time it is already looking shaky and will certainly not bring a long term solution to this problem.  Catholics should prepare themselves for the fact that conditions are being created for something this generation has deemed unthinkable, a general war in Europe, to take place.  We shall see.

If that does come to pass, and even if the continent were to avoid the nuclear annihilation that would always be a looming prospect in such a conflict, Europe (and North America) will be changed forever.  Maybe the NATO alliance will fracture and since this seems to be Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal (add to that the abysmal qualities of the current leadership in NATO countries) we should not dismiss the possibility.  If this happened then southern Europe would be more open to Muslim harassment and attack than it has for several centuries.  And if the whole of Europe were weakened by some conflict with Russia then it would be exceedingly vulnerable to such threats.  Again we shall see.

The Muslims have always had the dream of conquering Rome.  They conquered the ancient Catholic Sees of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage in the first great wave of Islamic conquest in the seventh century.  They took Constantinople during the great explosion of Turkish power in the fifteenth and immediately after tried to move into Italy at Otranto but Rome was saved by the death of Sultan Mehmet II.  They have always wanted Rome but have never been able to lay a finger on it save for one raid in the dark ninth century where Arab marauders actually managed to accost the city and break into old Saint Peter’s basilica (then outside the city walls) before being driven off and never (yet) returning.

So now at least some Muslims are remembering who they are and what their religion is about.  What should Catholics do?  WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT WE ARE CATHOLIC AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CATHOLIC.  We should learn the teachings of the Church and live them.  Participate in the Sacramental life of the Church.  Go to Confession.  Live your life in a state of grace.  If one is able he should learn Latin and pray the Divine Office in Latin.  Pope Benedict XVI reinstituted the Breviarium Romanum as an optional form for the prayer of the Church when he brought back the Tridentine Mass in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.  Use it. Those Latin words of the Psalter were translated by Saint Jerome before the end of the Roman Empire, when the Mediterranean was still a unified Catholic sea.  Learn them.  Pray them.  Those words are older than Islam.

And 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 a pillar 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!

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!

 

The Islamic State nears Baghdad

The Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux

What is going on here?  The Islamic State appears to be advancing on the Baghdad Airport and nobody cares.  Rear Admiral John Kirby acknowledged (you have to scroll down quite a bit to get to the point where he actually talks about Baghdad in response to a reporter’s question) the presence of Islamic State forces within five miles of Baghdad International Airport but seemed rather dismissive of the whole thing.  Oh, the Iraqis will take care of it; they are actually a lot better than you think.  This seems to be the mantra coming out of Washington.  Do they really believe this?

My own personal opinion is that Baghdad would be a tough nut for the Islamic State to crack.  It is an urban megalopolis filled with several armed militias that are populated by people who would be overwhelmingly hostile to the Islamic State and its ideology.  And the forces of the Islamic State don’t seem nearly sufficient numbers wise to capture and control a city that big.  And one would think that a massive wave of air strikes combined with the complete and rabid hostility of Baghdad’s Shi’ite population would stop any advance of the would be caliphate in its tracks.  Maybe this is what the White House and the Pentagon are thinking?

But one would also have to think that the Islamic State has taken this into account.  So what is going on here?  Probably more than meets the eye, as is usual in these cases.

First of all the Islamic State seems to be a far more formidable organization than a lot of people want to give it credit for.  An organization that can manage the siege of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) in the far north of central Syria on the Turkish border, while at the same time conducting an advance on the Baghdad International Airport 350 miles away as the cruise missile flies and maintaining a fight against the Kurds on the northern stretch of what used to be the Iraq/Syria border while all the time being under threat of US airstrikes throughout their entire theater of operations is not a pushover.

And then there is the strange deer in the headlights posture of the government of the most materially powerful nation in the world: the United States of America.  Its air campaign against the Islamic State has hardly been what one would call devastating; its Secret Service can’t seem to stay out of its own way when it comes to protecting the American President; and now there is a case of Ebola in of all places Dallas, Texas.  Maybe all of the decades of moral insanity in American society have now begun to take their toll, maybe not.  Who knows?

I don’t know what the Islamic State’s plans for Baghdad are.  My opinion is that they would love to find some way to take out the airport and to put the city under some sort of siege and/or drive a significant portion of Baghdad’s population out of the city through terrorism.  But I could be entirely wrong.  Who knows what they are going to do?  But after almost two months of US airstrikes in Iraq and a couple of weeks of those same airstrikes in Syria the initiative clearly remains with the Islamic State and that is not a good thing.

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!

America enters the Syrian civil war

The Feast of Saint Pius of Petrelcina (Padre Pio)

The United States of America and five Arab countries launched a wide ranging series of air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria from Aleppo to the Iraq border last night.  So the question now before us are as follows: has the United States recovered from the confusion it has suffered since its exit from Iraq in 2011?  Will, in six months time, the names of the Islamic State and the erstwhile successor of Muhammad the Caliph Ibrahim a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi be relegated to mere historical oddities and footnotes.  Will Syria, the Middle East, and the world enjoy greater peace and prosperity as a result of this action?  We shall see.

syriastrike

The red circles indicate strike locations last night as reported by the US Department of Defense (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/world/middleeast/us-isis-syria.html?_r=0)

Only the Lord of history knows the answer to these questions.  Though I can say that in my life I have seen one or two US military operations begin with all sorts of flash and flare and high sounding promises and then descend into the muck and mud of chaos and confusion.  I remember watching live on television as ‘shock and awe’ descended on Baghdad on the night of March 21, 2003 with the high explosive power and pinpoint accuracy of American cruise missiles and satellite guided bombs that would obliterate one building and leave the structure standing next to it without a scratch.  One would have said that night that no one could ever stand up to United States’ military might and its awe inspiring technological supremacy.  Yet it was men who devised primitive explosives and hid them inside of donkey carcasses on the side of the road who unraveled all of the American plans for Iraq.

There is not much really to tell at this point.  The coming days and weeks will give us the answers, all in due time.  The advance of  the Islamic State toward the Syrian/Turkish border over the last week has sent a tidal wave of humanity across that border.  This undoubtedly helped to provoke the American attack on Syria.  The world today is not the same as the world of 2003 or the world of 1991 when the United States crushed Saddam Hussein’s army in southern Iraq and pushed it out of Kuwait.  Russia today strongly condemned the US action in Syria and as that country is making its presence felt more mightily in the international arena than at any time in the last thirty years its opinion can no longer just be ignored.

So after all the massive explosions and high flown rhetoric on television are done with the world still will have a mess on its hands.  An we shall see where that leads us.

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!

Meanwhile the Islamic State advances…

While presidents and prime ministers dither in Washington, London, Baghdad, Paris name your capital the Islamic State staged another advance and captured twenty one Kurdish villages in northern Syria along the Turkish border during the last forty eight hours.  The low casualty count among the Kurdish forces protecting the area, seven reported killed, is a likely indicator that whoever was supposed to be defending these villages simply ran away.

The rather confused Western response since June to the menace of the Islamic State is strange since the group/state (whatever they are) could easily have been defeated then and probably still could be now by a fraction of the power that the United States military is capable of bringing to bear.  But instead worry and doubt and confusion cloud the eyes of American and European leaders and their publics.  If one looks at history, especially Biblical history, one finds that at moments of great historical change a certain blindness overtakes those who are accounted powerful.  All of the sudden they just are not capable of doing what on paper they should be able to do with great ease.  It just isn’t in them anymore.  Strange, isn’t it?  Are we at one of those historical moments?  Time will tell.

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!