By Marwan Asmar
Big guns continue pounding the Middle East. The mission is to root out Islamic State (IS), known locally by the Arabic name Daesh, the terror outfit currently swathing through chunks of territory, across middle and northern Iraq into northern Syria on Turkey’s edge.
The international coalition of more than 20 countries led by the United States, alongside Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan have taken a front row position. An additional 40 countries, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Holland have offering logistical assistance to help stamp out this merciless organisation that seeks to impose its own ultra-extremist version of Islam on the region and the world.
Politicians from across the international spectrum are warning this conflict, currently concentrating on aerial bombardments and tomahawk missiles from ships in the Gulf and the Red Sea, could last for two or even three years, way beyond the end of the Barack Obama presidency, which comes to its close in mid-2015.
It was always going to be an all out campaign. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE entered the fray from zero hour with their military jets pounding IS targets on 23 September 2014. They wanted to establish the fact that Daesh, which also goes by the acronyms ‘IS’ (Islamic State), ‘ISIS’ (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria) and ‘ISIL’ (Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant) is a menace and a threat to the existing world order and to Islam. Their strikes on Syrian territory, as part of the wider US effort, followed in the wake of earlier bombings in northern and central Iraq that began in early August.
Jordan’s King Abdullah says the war effort could last up to three years. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal speaking from a wider perspective, emphasised that the issue should be, not only to stamp out Daesh, but to eradicate terrorism and terror organisations for the next 10 years. Methods to achieve these ends will include going after outfits liked Al Ahrar Al Sham, and the Nusra Front – the Al Qaeda affiliate that supplied the first IS recruits, who, the fear is, could now get together to fight a common enemy.
The fear is that the whole Middle East, from Turkey which announced it would join the war, right down the Arabian Peninsula, including Iran, could now be sucked in and “time-capsuled” in a regional war that could eat up a huge proportion of its resources for the coming decade. The same is true for many European countries who, not so long ago, were teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. However, for the moment all this has been put aside. The new united aim is to fight Islamic State, whose numbers in Iraq and Syria are said to be around 30,000 according to figures released by the CIA.
It is estimated that around 12,000 fighters from European and other countries have been smuggled through Turkey to Syria over the past three-and-a-half years with the aim of helping overthrow the Assad regime. However, it remains uncertain whether IS fighters will continue to hold on to acquired territories for much longer in the face of coalition strikes.
Meanwhile, the figures being bandied about are mind-boggling. On a daily basis, and seen as probably erring on the low side, the war campaign costs between $7-10 million; with each missile fired costing in the region of $1.5 million. The hourly cost of operating an F-22 is currently running at around $68,000. Experts say the air strikes are likely to cost $10 to $15 billion annually but admit that amount could well double. Meanwhile, others argue such costs amount to only small change compared to the military expenditure on Iraq whose occupation from 2004 till 2011 cost $3 trillion while expenditure in Afghanistan, was running at $1 billion a week.
Unlike previous Middle Eastern wars, such as the one to remove Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi in August 2011 after six months of revolution in that country, the fight against IS is different because of the wide area currently under its control, which over-laps two countries and also takes in Kurdish regions. What set alarm bells ringing was IS leader Abu Baker Al Baghdadi’s announcement in June, that he planned to established an Islamic Caliphate, which would include areas including Iraqi towns and cities such as Mosul, the oil fields of Bajii, Tikrit and Falluja, which he subsequently expanded to link with areas in Syria and that country’s north-west border with Turkey, currently the temporary home of thousands of refugees.
There is no envisioning of ‘boots on the ground’ and nobody is yet thinking of sending ground troops in fear it would be too bloody, complicate the coalition’s international political standing and involve fighting the Syrian army but this an open option for the long-term. One of the strategies now is to go after the money-making ventures of the IS.
Before the air strikes IS was making $3 million dollars daily from oil fields and refineries it captured. In Iraq they muscled seven oil fields and two refineries while in Syria they control six oil fields out of the 10 in the country. The Syrian Oil Ministry suggests IS extracts 50,000 oil barrels daily. Only time will tell the full extent of ground destruction and the refugee creation that would involve ridding the world of this odious enemy but one thing is certain, in terms of human suffering and financial expenditure it will not be cheap.