Last November, the Wall Street Journal reported that about 17,000 foreign nationals joined rebel fighters in Syria against President Assad.
About half fight for the ISIS; of those, officials in Russia say, at least a thousand are from the country’s North Caucasus and from Europe, where many Chechens have sought asylum since the collapse of the Soviet Union and hostilities in Chechnya in the 1990s.
So, about one out of seven or eight jihadi soldiers of ISIS originate from anti-Russian separatist groups fighting for independence. Those are Bandar’s guys — the same ones with which Bandar threatened the Sochi Olympics if Putin interfered with the Saudi plan to depose Syria’s President Assad.
The Caucasus region is a hotspot for foreign investment in recruitment and training of jihadi soldiers to export to wars zones in Russia, the Middle East and beyond. Two major investors in the region are Saudi Arabia and the US.
The Saudi Royal Family holds a tenuous power in the Kingdom. In order to tamp down rebellion against the House of Saud by ultra-Wahhabi extremists, the Saudis have devised a scheme where radical jihadi groups are funded extravagantly through networks of Saudi charities around the world. Radical Saudi citizens are encouraged and funded to express their zeal for jihad outside of the Kingdom in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo, Chechnya, Iraq, and Syria, while leaving the Saudi royals free from rebellion in the Kingdom.
The US never stopped treating Russia (and China) as an enemy even after the Cold War ended and has invested its resources toward weakening Russia’s national alliances and destabilizing its border provinces and neighboring nations. Many of the regions targeted by the US for destabilization overlap with areas where Saudis export their jihadis including Chechnya, Afghanistan, Georgia, Serbia, and Iraq.
Prior to last autumn, the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s network of charities to invest in the Caucasus and the need of the US for a proxy army to keep Russia’s (and China’s) border territories and alliances perpetually unstable aligned nicely. Enter Syria.
Saudi Arabia wants a Sunni ally in Syria, mostly to weaken power rival Iran so that Saudi Arabia can continue to dominate the oil markets and maintain its sizable regional power. The US also seemed to want to remove Assad to weaken Iran and appeared ready to intervene militarily in Syria last summer. However, instead of bombing Assad’s forces as expected, Russia brokered a deal to prevent US forcing regime change in Damascus. What’s more, the US had been in secret talks with Iran to remove the crippling sanctions levied in response to Iran’s nuclear program.
Saudi Arabia was furious. It threatened to pursue its own interests in spite of a historic alliance with the US.
Could the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq be evidence of Saudi Arabia striking out on its own to establish a Sunni stronghold on Iran’s border? An official Saudi press release says:
The Cabinet expressed the extreme concern of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about of the latest developments in Iraq as they would not arise without the sectarian and exclusionary policies practiced in Iraq over the past years which have threatened its security, stability and sovereignty.
The Cabinet stressed the need to preserve Iraq’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, and the rejection of foreign interference in its internal affairs, inviting all Iraqi people strata to begin taking actions to ensure the real participation of all components of the Iraqi people to determine the future of Iraq and the equality between them to assume powers and responsibilities in the administration of the State’s affairs, conduct political and constitutional reforms needed to achieve this, accelerate the formation of a government of national consensus to work on the restoration of security and stability, and avoid policies based on religious and sectarian instigation practiced in Iraq.
Sounds to me like ISIS’s resurgence in Iraq is a symptom of the US’s broken relationship with the House of Saud.
Off topic welcome. Lurkers are encouraged to join in. (Sorry for typos, sloppy language and lack of links. It’s late and I’m tired)
Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.