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!

 

Cosmas and Damian

The Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Two great saints of the East are celebrated today.  The physicians Cosmas and Damian.  The tradition that comes down to us records that they were twin brothers born in Arabia and were martyred by beheading in Syria during the great persecution of Diocletian on September 27, 303.  The ancient tradition also records that they were physicians and healers who accepted no money for their services and used their care of the sick as a prime way of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A church was raised up over their burial site in Syria in the city of Cyrus by the emperor Justinian himself in the sixth century.  These twins were of high repute in the ancient Church as there was a church built for them in both Constantinople and in Rome while their names were inserted into the Roman Canon (now called Eucharistic Prayer I) of the Mass sometime around the fall of the Western Empire where they remain today.

Nine centuries after their martyrdom Saint Francis of Assisi would experience his call in the San Damiano church, named after one of the brothers.  Many of us keep the San Damiano crucifix in our homes perhaps without realizing the ancient roots of this thing

Saints Cosmas and Damian pray for the suffering Church in this world and for the tormented land of Syria where you were crowned with victory.

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 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 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!

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.