“This land”, wrote Camus for Algeria in 1956,  “will be populated solely by murderers and victims. Only the dead will be innocent.”

Patrick Cockburn, a foreign correspondent, has written an insightful, intelligent and depressing book about the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Cockburn, an experienced journalist, has reported from the Middle East for almost forty years. He has witnessed the civil war in Lebanon, the Gulf wars, the Afghan war and, now the Syrian war.

In “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution”, Cockburn provides a brief but comprehensive history of Islamic State of Iraq (and the Levant (ISIS). The last “s” of “ISIS” comes from the Arabic word “al-Sham”, meaning Levant, a region that includes the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea from the Isthmus of Suez to the Taurus Mountains, including present-day Syria, Lebanon, western Jordan, Israel, and the Sinai in Egypt.

iSIS“ISIS”, writes Cockburn, “is the child of war. Its members seek to reshape the world around them by acts of violence. The movement’s toxic but potent mix of extreme religious beliefs and military skill is the outcome of the war in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003 and the war in Syria since 2011. Just as the violence in Iraq was ebbing, the war was revived by the Sunni Arabs in Syria. It is the government and media consensus in the West that the civil war in Iraq was reignited by the sectarian policies of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. In reality, it was the war in Syria that destabilized Iraq when jihadi groups like ISIS, then called al-Qaeda in Iraq, found a new battlefield where they could fight and flourish.”

Along with the history of rise of ISIS, Cockburn provides a critique of Western policy in Iraq and Syria.

“It was the US, Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS.” The most serious, among the many mistakes that were made by the U.S., and the other foreign powers that backed the rebels since 2011, it was the belief that President Bashar al-Assad was going to be defeated. But in 2012 it was obvious that Assad would not fall. Cockburn says, “he [Assad] never controlled less than thirteen out of fourteen Syrian provincial capitals and was backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Nevertheless, the only peace terms he was offered at the Geneva II peace talks in January 2014 was to leave power. He was not about to go, and ideal conditions were created for ISIS to prosper. The US and its allies are now trying to turn the Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria against the militants, but this will be difficult to do while these countries are convulsed by war.” The rise of ISIS and the caliphate “is the ultimate disaster” for America, Britain and the Western powers.

A while after the publication of the book, a declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which was published by a conservative watchdog organisation called Judicial Watch, revealed that that the US not only anticipated the rise of IS, but also seems to suggest that it will be “positively interested” in the prospect of “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and indicates that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

After almost 100 years of being entangled in the region’s political conflicts, perhaps it is time tο review the Western interventions in the Middle East. They have resulted in nothing else than destruction, death hatred and division. Perhaps it is time for the people of the region to decide for their own future.

Verso books