‘Peace and War’

At the time of writing Russia began withdrawal of its troops from Syria while the UN sponsored peace talk in Geneva started without any hope of early solution. The current phase of peace negotiations is expected to last until 24 March with a second round beginning after a recess of a week or 10 days. As America and its allies as also the UN insist on political transition implying dislodging of Assad, Russia, Iran and the Assad regime have no intention to allow opposition players to dominate the Syrian political space.

Meanwhile, the notorious Islamic State (IS) continues to play havoc with civilian lives. There is every reason to believe that America doesn’t want to destroy IS completely. Nor do they want to choke their sources of funding and weapons. Those who are talking tough against IS in the media are no less responsible for their bloody and inhuman campaign.

A European Union mandated study has pointed to seven Indian companies, which are among those from 20 countries, named in a list whose components were used by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, to make explosives. There is a steady stream of flow of chemicals and other items to the terrorist group. The Conflict Armament Research (CAR) indicates that nearly 55 companies from 20 countries, such as Turkey, India, Brazil and the US produced, sold or received the over 700 components used by IS to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Turkey tops the list, with 13 firms involved in the supply chain. India is second with seven companies. The IS fighters in Iraq and Syria are self-sustaining in acquisition of weapons and strategic goods, such as IED components. Seven Indian companies manufactured most of the detonators, detonating cord and safety fuses. Under Indian law, transfer of this material requires a license. The explosive materials were legally exported under government licenses from India to entities in Lebanon and Turkey. The terror group mostly uses Nokia 105 mobile phone for remote detonation. Companies from Brazil, Romania, Russia, the Netherlands, China, Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic were also involved. Not that the West doesn’t know how IS is making billions of dollars by clandestinely smuggling oil. And Russian allegation that Turkey was the main beneficiary of illegal oil trade is not baseless.

With two rival governments and no functioning army, Libyan authorities have been powerless to stop the IS insurgency. IS is in Sirte, and their territory extends 250 km (155 miles) along the Libyan coast. IS has sent large convoys east towards the oil terminals of Ras Lanut and Sidra. Vast swathes of the Libyan coast have been seized by the IS, in an attempt to grab the largest oil wells and establish headquarters to replace its northern Syrian stronghold, which has been pounded by western and Russian airstrikes. The terror network has expanded inland Libya, into the expansive oil crescent. IS virtually controls 80% of Syria’s oil, but the revenue from its black market sales, has been significantly reduced in recent weeks, by airstrikes targeting its facilities in Raqqa. IS has been reportedly selling 40,000 barrels of oil a day, valued at more than $2 million.

Also, IS rakes in tens of millions of dollars each month from the resources in the territories it control across Libya, half of Syria, and a third of neighbouring Iraq. Holding more territory than some countries, IS imposes taxes and provides some services for ‘‘citizen’’ of the self-proclaimed caliphate. Its budget is that of a militant organisation and an efficient war machine. Money is lavished on loyal members, while squeezing others. Over the past year, as the jihadis have expanded the territory they control in Syria and Iraq, they have netted at least $900 million from oil, taxation and confiscation. The jihadi group operates a centralised budget from Mosul, and dozens of regional budgets managed by its ‘Walis’ (or governors). About $20 million is spent every month to pay for the group’s core fighting force, mostly comprised of foreign militants (muhajideen). A further $15 million to $20 million is spent on local fighters and auxiliaries. The core force is at least 30,000 with 50,000 to 70,000 more split between local members and auxiliary and part-time forces. Tens of millions of dollars more are spent on small munitions and explosives. IS spending for municipal work, hospitals, healthcare and schooling every month is less than a fifth of its overall income. Some electricity is produced through bartering arrangements, with the regime in Damascus. In northern Iraq, workers at the Mosul Dam Channellise power to IS areas.

Islamic State militants have enslaved an estimated 3500 people in Iraq, primarily women and children from the Yazidi community. Documents point to 18,802 deaths between January 2014 and October 2015, wounding of more than 36,000 people and displacement of 3.2 million of Iraqis including more than a million children of school age.

It’s now a widely publicised fact that Yazidi women are being utilised as sex slaves for IS fighters much in the line of ‘Korean Comfort Women’ in the Second World War. What is more, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are also destroying heritage sites. Syria is rich with Roman, Greek, Babylonian and Assyrian artefacts, six World Heritage sites, and some of the earliest examples of Sumerian writing. Already five World Heritage sites have been damaged including the 11th century Crac des Chevaliers. Ancient cities like Bosva, Homs and Aleppo have been reduced to rubble. If the Geneva negotiations fail to deliver IS will get further strengthened to make Syria a living hell beyond recognition.

Vol. 48, No. 38, Mar 27 - Apr 2, 2016