ISIS

The Decade of War and Catastrophe in Syria: Part 1- Arab Spring and Rise of ISIS

The Syrian Civil War is a decade old, March 15, 2011 (Brittanica.com) is the official date of the beginning of the most catastrophic conflict I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. The refugees, civilian casualties and amount of bombs dropped by the Assad Syrian government and numerous foreign nations is nearly impossible to put numbers on. We’ll go through the many years of tragedy, cities left in rubble, chemical weapons, many proxies, foreign intervention and the rise of perhaps, the most extreme terrorist organization in the history of the world. The most unfortunate fact of this series is nothing has been done to bring this military* and politically disastrous quagmire to a completion. Bombs keep dropping, Assad’s regime remains, propped up by the help of Vladimir Putin. Israel and the United States continue hunting Iranian militias with nightly missile attacks. While Kurdish rebels, as well as, the US backed Syrian Defense Force (SDF) battles with Turkish forces on the Northern border. No ending in sight, peace on the horizon, but we’ll get started with an attempt at revolution towards the end of 2010.

Arab Spring

It began in Tunisia, civilian uprisings, relatively peaceful protesting, the date was December 17, 2010. Many observers say the original act of defiance which ignited the revolution was Mohamed Bouazizi, who lit himself ablaze in the ultimate act of public protest one can commit. At the time, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had been President of the Northwest African nation for 23 years, after only a month of intense public demonstrations, and some international prodding, Ben Ali on January 14th of 2011 would give up his power and be sent to Saudi Arabia, into exile.(Information courtesy of news.gallup.com) It was truly a people’s revolution, as labor unions played an enormous role in gathering thousands of workers to agree to take part in the major protests. Eventually, in 2015, The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the 2015 Nobel Prize, for it’s contribution in leading Tunisia from a despotic country to a Constitutional Democracy (info compiled from usip.org). The “Jasmine” revolt which it later became known as, sparked a dozen more similar uprisings against their perceived dictatorial rulers. Egypt’s “Arab Spring” began shortly after the fall of the Tunisian regime, on January 25th 2011. President Honsi Mubarak held onto to power through brutality, also was accused of bribery, as well as, other forms of corruption. For 30 years Mubarak held down control of his people and the government of Egypt, until enough of the general population gained the courage to band together and attempt to overthrow their despised, long time, leader. Unlike Tunisia’s revolt, Mubarak had support of many of his highest military advisors. Through 17 days of non-violent civil disobedience, which was met with extreme acts of police brutality, in the two and a half weeks of battles between a determined people’s uprising and a fading dictator’s underpaid security force, the people of Egypt overcame Mubarak, despite 896 total deaths and over 6000 casualties (info courtesy of brittannica.com). Sadly, a Democratic Egypt wasn’t meant to be, the elected President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown within a year of his rule due to daily protests by various factions of the populace. Minister of Defense, at the time, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, played an integral part in the military styled coup to rid Mohamed Morsi of his role as President. After many months of social unrest and relative anarchy, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was elected in a outlandish landslide, gaining 97% of the vote on May 28, 2014. El-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt’s 6th President on July 16th, 2014 (thenewfederalist.eu). Consequently, the Arab Spring ultimately failed in Egypt as El Sisi has been just as authoritative and despotic, if not more then prior strongman, Honsi Mubarak.

The Libyan people’s revolution was truly when the “Arab Spring” movement, which began with so much hope and optimism, that maybe, Middle Eastern dictatorial rule could really become a thing for the history books took a turn for the worse in a number of ways. Moammar Gaddafi’s reign over the oil rich, secular and fairly new nation which finally shed the chains of European colonialism, lasted 42 years. Let’s forget the many tall tales from the mainstream western media machine. Gaddafi’s rule certainly had it’s up’s and down’s. Col. Gaddafi took control of Tripoli in an actual bloodless coup, overthrowing the hated monarch in 1969. He promised his own form of social reforms and for a while it worked. Now we could produce a whole three part special about Gaddafi’s years as the headman in Libya. For the case of time, we’ll skip ahead forty years to 2010, when the Arab Spring revolution was inching closer to Tripoli. Gaddafi had fallen out of favor with the average Libyan. His strange obsession with plastic surgery, his sudden diplomatic approach with western countries* seemed to backfire on him. By February 2011, the movement had made it’s way to the borders, towns and cities of Libya. Not many experts believed that the people’s revolution would dare try their hand with Gaddafi the so called “Mad Dog” but that’s exactly what transpired. Surprisingly after only a month of skirmishes between rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi, the rebels were already entering the Tripoli city limits. How could these rag-tag group of revolutionaries make it to the palaces of Tripoli at a blitzkreig pace. Well, in the skies, naturally, were NATO air force jets, lending some much needed air support to the hellbent rebels. By late March, Gaddafi had fled Tripoli and had thoughts of escaping to his hometown of Sirte, then hopefully for him, a plane to whisk him out of harms way. That would never come to fruition, in August of 2011 Gaddafi’s caravan was sighted and then blown to bits by a NATO F-18. The Colonel pathetically was later found hidden in a drainage ditch. Here’s where the Arab Spring movement went from Internationally appreciated freedom fighters to a gruesome rabble, and a made for you tube snuff film. Gaddafi bloodied, bruised and terrified was dragged through the dirt and literally ripped to pieces and eventually brutally put down. Many say he got what he deserved, be that as it may, the Arab Spring lost whatever innocence and good guy quality it had built up. A decade later Libya is still in the grips of a civil war between two factions both gunning for control of the still oil wealthy country. Despite a recent ceasefire, nothing has been accomplished in Libya, so you could surmise that the Arab Spring in Libya also turned out to be a massive failure(compiled info obtained from BBC.com).

March 2011 is when the protests kicked into full gear. The citizens of Syria, similar to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya had had enough of the brutal, authoritarian regime running their day to day lives. Their ultimate goal was the overthrow of Bashar Al Assad, who’d been President of Syria since July of 2000 (guides.cornell.library.edu). Not nearly as long as his exiled or murdered Arab Spring dictators before him, and unlike those relatively fast acting results this attempt at regime change is still continuing to this day. Major unrest began in mid March, in the city of Daraa. By the end of the month protesters and regime loyalists engaged in combat like standoffs. The demonstrations spread to cities: Homs, Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus to name a few. By early April, over 70 protesters were killed as regime troops used live ammunition in attempts to suppress the demonstrators. Since this section is dedicated to the Arab Spring portion of the Syrian Civil War we won’t get into extreme details of the early events in attempts to oust Bashar Al Assad. As we know, ten years have gone by, and Assad hangs on to power by a thread. Thanks to many foreign interventions, militias, terrorist orgs, mercenaries and foreign countries that have all had a hand in the ongoing violence. We will mention the most brutal, fearsome and for a while militarily successful terrorist org in Syria and Iraq. They’re the Sunni Muslim radicals known as ISIS and they would eventually take over swaths of Syrian territory.

Rise of ISIS

ISIS was the most consequential, murderous, bloodthirsty entity born out of the Arab Spring movement. Unfortunately, the fall of despots like Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gaddafi and the perceived weakening of another in Bashar Assad tend to give birth to outlaw, terrorist groups. But none invoked the fear, disgust, yet for some, strange admiration from across the world. ISIS was a different animal, with aims at invasions and taking over cities with large populations with the idea of installing Sharia Law, as well as a 21st century Caliphate which could spread through parts of Syria and Iraq. Unlike their predecessors Al Qaeda, ISIS ( who are followers  of a demented version of Sunni Islam) aimed to eliminate any and everyone would not pledge allegiance to the Caliph, Ali Bakr Al-Baghdadi. ISIS traces it’s roots back to 2004 (History.com) as part of Al Qaeda’s long reaching network. Abu Al-Zarqawi was seen as one of the originators of ISIS, but the name ISIS didn’t really appear in the news world until shortly after the Syrian Civil War began in 2013.

The Islamic State, which they also go by, used terrorism to lengths never seen before in modern history. Beheadings became their calling card, as a number of foreign hostages were shown, live on camera, having their heads decapitated. This both terrified but also enraged the international community. Still, due to the fact Iraq was left in ruins after the US failed invasion and Syria’s bloody civil war waged on, ISIS was able to overrun the Iraqi security forces. They took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and eventually made their way across to northern Syria. Using tanks and other US weapons taken from defeated Iraqi Armies, took over the city of Raqqa in January 2014 (www.independent.uk). It would quickly become their de facto capital, as ISIS took public hangings, decapacitations and even crucifixions to an unheard of level. They implemented their archaic version of 6th century Sharia Law, while horrifying the citizens with constant checkpoints and extrajudicial trials. The media branch of the Islamic State pumped out daily, and I may say so myself, professionally slick videos of life in the caliphate. Pictures of pre pubescent children running military drills, mass killings of so called apostates and your occasional apocalyptic death explosions, for good measure. The world was shocked but also determined to build some sort of coalition to rid the world of such barbarism. At the time, United States President Obama, was slow out of the gate for a number of reasons. One of his main campaign promises was to bring the majority of troops home from Iraqi warzones. He also feared reemploying tens of thousands to help defeat an enemy that Bush and his rudderless invasion/occupation helped create. During all the waiting and stalled attempts to build coalitions with varies allies, ISIS managed to cut out a piece from Central Iraq, through much of Northern Syrian the size of England. At one point they staged an emotional celebration when they obliterated a border crossing agreed to by France and England, in the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916 (numbers courtesy of history.com). Though mostly symbolic, this act of defiance against western powers gave ISIS even more international publicity. Besides Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, at ISIS’s height they controlled Raqqa, Idlib, Palmyra and Fallujah, to name a few.

The tentacles of ISIS spread across parts of Africa, and South East Asia, but it was one horrendous attack that truly gained the worlds attention and need for revenge. Friday the 13th, November 2015, Paris, France, a seemingly peaceful, fall evening in the city of light. Suicide bombers set off two large explosions at a soccer match between Germany and France, at the Stade de France. Minutes after, in the heart of the city, black cladded figures on motorcycles jumped to attention and began shooting, seemingly with a limitless supply of bullets into a curb side Cafe. On another street not far from that carnage was the bloodiest, deadliest scene of this twisted, hate-filled attack. The Bataclan nightclub was the place, The Eagles of Death Metal were the band, and ISIS foot soldiers played the role of evil. Several armed gunmen entered the concert hall, shots fired almost endlessly, by the end of the murderous spree, 89 souls laid perished on the floor of the Bataclan. By the end of the night of ultra-violence Parisians will never forget, 130 innocent souls were killed (numbers courtesy of after911.com). The hunt was on, and not just for those few gunmen who fled and lost their chance at false martydom, but for the ones who designed such a random, bloodthirsty attack on unarmed civilians. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi would make one god-like speech on camera during his short tenure as ‘Caiph’, it was the pinnacle of ISIS’s reign of terror and as we’ll read in the second part their time on top will be short-lived. Coalitions would be formed, militias will ban together and eventually ISIS will be the ones kneeling in the dirt.

For more see Part II  – The Decade of War and Catastrophe in Syria: Part 2- Foreign Interventions, Kurdish Militias and the Fall of the Caliphate here

Robert DiBlasio
Writer/Podcaster. Socialist, Pluralist, Free Speech Advocate. Born in Jersey City, NJ.
https://anchor.fm/gentlerambler
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