Magazine article The Spectator

'The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution', by Patrick Cockburn - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution', by Patrick Cockburn - Review

Article excerpt

The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution Patrick Cockburn

Verso, pp.164, £9.99, ISBN: 9781784780401

The Sykes-Picot agreement will be 100 years old next year, but there will be no congratulatory telegrams winging their way to the Middle East from London, or from Paris on high alert. The Islamic State, the world's most powerful jihadist group, has filmed its men bulldozing border posts between Syria and Iraq, dealing perhaps the final blow to those Anglo-French cartological ambitions of a century ago.

The 'Caliphate' is inhabited by some six million people and is now larger than the United Kingdom. In the words of Patrick Cockburn, 'a new and terrifying state has been born that will not easily disappear'. Yet far from appearing out of the blue in 2014, IS was fostered for years by those who profess to oppose it, as this book argues convincingly.

Cockburn takes aim above all at Saudi Arabia for promoting Islamic fundamentalism; and at Turkey, so desperate to topple President Assad of Syria that it turned a blind eye to Gulf-backed foreign fighters crossing the Turkish border.

He is right, in retrospect, that the West offered Assad impossible terms for peace, namely the president's resignation; and that our failure, along with Russia's, to prevent Syria's disintegration played an even bigger role in the growth of IS than Iraq's near collapse last year.

Iraq's army crumbled last summer and Sunni resentment at Shia domination certainly gave IS fertile territory there. But it was Syria's civil war which was the first conflict to go 'viral' online, sucking in perhaps 15,000 IS fighters, some of them now exporting their virulent jihad back to Europe.

The author argues that coalition air strikes will result in civilian casualties, boosting a fighting force which may be over 30,000 strong already. IS will probably use civilians as human shields and even if it loses territory, it could compensate by trying to take its jihad global, asserting a leadership claim over the 'Umma', or worldwide body of Muslim faith.

Cockburn points out that the idea of Nato air strikes in favour of 'moderate' rebels fighting Colonel Gaddafi in Libya was as self-deceiving as the notion of arming 'moderates' in Syria is now. The UK, wisely, is staying clear of Syrian rebel army building, given that support for 'Free Syrian Army' fighters from Gulf monarchies has comprehensively failed.

Even Iraqi Kurdistan's fabled Peshmerga, who are now armed by Britain and others, are airily dismissed by one observer in this book as 'pêche melba', because young Kurdish city boys have gone so pudding soft. …

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