Inside ISIS: Men addicted to war

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 17 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

Global View Columnist Bret Stephens on whether the ISIS threat has increased the possibility of a formal nuclear deal with Tehran. Photo: Getty Images

THEY have come down from Chechnya or across from Afghanistan, men addicted to war. Others are jihadi tourists from England, the United States and Australia, driven by the idea of an adventure in violence.

Then there are the Sunni true believers. They come from Syria and Iraq and are behind the Islamic State's ambition to create a medieval Caliphate, or Kalifah.

Such is the profane alliance that the Coalition is hoping to assist the Iraqi government in defeating, though chances of a quick fix in this war are rapidly dimming.

Talking on background to combat experts in Australia's forward operating base in the Middle East, they have a clear picture of this enemy, even if so many different factions have united under the one black flag of ISIL.

American intelligence suggests there are 31,000 men and women in the ISIL camp, including formed brigades of suicide bombers. They have vowed to "sell the life of this world for the hereafter".

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Gathering power ... Islamic State fighters. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

The Chechens are Muslims from southern Russia, where their insurgency was beaten down by Moscow — though never entirely defeated — in two wars during the 1990s.

There are Afghans and Pakistan Taliban who have headed west, lured by the promise of collaborating in a death wrestle against Iraq, Syria and the West.

From Indonesia come Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (the former Jemaah Islamiah) and Abu Sayyaf from the Philippines. China's Uighurs have been spotted in the mix.

And then there are the blood hunters, the criminally minded Australian city boys who have deluded themselves into believing they are devout Islamists who have no place in the West.

They are the lowly footsoldiers of highly skilled veterans who have survived numerous regional conflicts and long ago discarded the instinct of fear.

Taking over ... an Islamic State militant convoy. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

Among them are technicians with specialist tasks, such as the "rocket men", whose only job is to fire shoulder-launched missiles at bases and tanks, or those who build the improvised explosives that bring such chaos and pain to urban warfare.

Though there are some Taliban-type elements, they are different to the fighters Australia's Special Forces faced in Afghanistan, who could be more likened to the Vietcong — hard agrarian men with everyday struggles for food, water and shelter.

Australia acts ... a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft unloads its cargo of ammunition at Erbil International Airport, Iraq. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

The majority Syrian and Iraqi elements come from more sophisticated and cosmopolitan backgrounds. They have known society's comforts and had the opportunity of an education.

The Iraqis who have joined ISIL are most likely Sunnis who supported Saddam Hussein's secular Baath Party regime and were marginalised when the US invaded in 2003.

They were originally trained by the French and are now operating tanks and heavy artillery for ISIL. They have become an urban-based terror group that has been fighting in Syria and also in the west and north of Iraq.

Ammunition ... destined for Iraq is seen loaded aboard a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft at Tirana International Airport, Albania. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

The ISIL power structure has a military, led mainly by the Chechen vets, and an executive arm, led by a former Iraqi al Qaeda insurgent, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He spent four years in Camp Bucca, a US-run detention centre in southern Iraq, hardening his resolve against the West.

He is experiencing his own power struggle. There is al-Baghdadi's original Islamic State faction, which wants to create the Caliphate in the Land of the Two Rivers, being the Tigris and Euphrates, which run from Syria and Turkey down through the length of Iraq.

They have been joined in an edgy alliance by the Khorasan, a name unknown to most of the world until a few weeks ago when the US Administration announced they were planning to attacks on American soil.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaching during Friday prayer at a mosque in Mosul. Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images

This group has global terror ambitions, as does the third pillar of influence, al-Nusra, also sometimes known as "al Qaeda in Syria".

Added to this is President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian Armed Forces, who have for two years been at war with the group that has morphed into ISIL; and the Free Syrian Army. Both reject al-Assad but the latter despises ISIL and is supported by the US.

Incredibly, despite heavy fighting in both Syria and Iraq, ISIL has managed to fund itself by trucking oil — which literally pools on the ground in northern Iraq — out of the conflict zone and into Turkey, earning themselves up to $2m a day.

And there are the charitable fronts operating out of places such as Qatar, which are vehicles for Sunni oil barons to fund the insurrection.

The Chechens, Syrians and Iraqis are most likely paid for their work; the Westerners are volunteers.

Heavy smoke ... following an airstrike by the US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group. Picture: Getty Source: Getty Images

Hundreds of fighters have come out of Muslim strongholds such as Birmingham, England. They can be likened to the bands of brothers and cousins from Virginia fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but only in the sense that having mates at your side in battle gives them the strength to stick it out.

But ISIL knows who their families are back home. Step out of line or falter in courage, their families are threatened with murder. Once they've signed on, there's no getting out except from a bullet to the back of the head.

Via cruel, sickening and slick full-length combat-propaganda films such as the recently released "Flames of War", which professes to show ISIL as a glorious unstoppable force, they continue to invite all comers from all corners of the earth to give their lives cheaply as Soldiers of Allah.

"They're almost a coalition of terror groups who have rejected the international order and the protections of civil society, the things civilised nations work together to build peace and harmony," says Major General Craig Orme, leading Australia's fight against ISIL in the Middle East.

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Leader's warning ... the Australian Commander of Joint Task Force, Major General Craig Orme, in his headquarters at a remote air base in the Middle East. Picture: Gary Ramage Source: News Corp Australia

ISIL's weakness is that it cannot provide a long-term governance strategy in the cities and towns it has overrun in Syria and Iraq — the basic needs of any society.

"You've got to remove the garbage, keep the schools and hospitals going, and that's where they fail," says Major General Orme.

ISIL offers hideous choices for the people of the villages and towns of northern and western Iraq. The men are required to enlist or face execution after seeing their wives and daughters raped and sold.

The Iraqi, Kurdish and Coalition fight against ISIL is all that can save such people — and stop the West from becoming its terror playground.

In the end, says Major General Orme, the justification for stopping ISIL is simple. "People just want to go to work in the morning and come home and share a meal with their family, whether they live in an adobe hut or in Toorak," he says.

paul.toohey@news.com.au


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