The anti-ISIS (Daesh) summit in Rome was a triumph of paradox: there were ministers from countries that fought the Caliphate at times, but had previously aided it or been complicit in that at other times. In Iraq, the rise of ISIS in 2014 was useful for removing the Shiite government and the Iranian presence. In Syria, it was helpful towards the goal of bringing down Bashar al Assad.
When they realized that using the jihadists was a failure, and that attacks in Europe inspired by the Caliphate were multiplying, Westerners set out to fight Daesh together with their former Middle Eastern accomplices.
Among the latter were Turkey and Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid met with U.S. Secretary of State Blinken in Rome, with one main item on the agenda: Iran and the disputed nuclear negotiations underway in Vienna.
And as if more proof was needed, the Americans, on the eve of the Rome summit, showed once again how much they excelled in the specialty that distinguishes Washington and Tel Aviv: the war on Tehran, an “underground” one because there is very little talk about it, and which ends up on the front page only when there are sensational American attacks, such as the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020, or that of Iranian scientists by the Israeli Mossad.
As if on cue, on Sunday night, the U.S. conducted an air attack against pro-Iranian militias on the border between Iraq and Syria. This was the second attack since Biden entered the White House: the first one took place on February 25, also against militias supported by Iran, in retaliation for an attack against the American base in Erbil.
In this not-quite-festive atmosphere, Di Maio and Blinken—who also met with Pope Francis and Draghi—looked like two buddies patting each other on the back. “We are very grateful for Italy’s leadership because these challenges are at the heart of the global agenda,” the secretary of state said. But what “leadership” could that be, if it was the Americans who blew up Libya along with the French and British and then let Erdogan occupy Tripolitania?
The targeting of Iran, placed in the context of the fight against ISIS, is emblematic of the enormous misunderstanding that has marked the fight against the Caliphate. ISIS was born from a branch of Al Qaeda that appeared in Iraq when the U.S. toppled Saddam in 2003.
Many of its leaders, including Caliph Al Baghadi himself, had been in U.S. prisons in Iraq, and were also supported by agreements with Sunni Baathist forces led by former Iraqi Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al Douri. With the Iraqi army disbanded after the fall of Mosul, the rise of ISIS was initially opposed only by Iran’s Pasdaran, led by General Soleimani, along with Shiite militias, otherwise the Caliph would have entered Baghdad as well.
The penetration of ISIS in Syria was favored by the wave of thousands of jihadists allowed to flow in from Turkey with the consent of the U.S. and their Western allies, as well as the Gulf monarchies interested in bringing down Assad, a faithful ally of Tehran.
It should be clearly understood that the advance of ISIS, which at one point controlled a territory with 8-10 million people, was supported in order to collapse the Shiite Crescent on the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut (Hezbollah) axis. And the subsequent anti-Daesh coalition war has also been heavily influenced by this objective.
But Western and Arab strategists had not reckoned with Russia taking the field alongside Damascus in September 2015, marking its return in force to the Mediterranean, which was then continued with the presence of Russian mercenaries in Khalifa Haftar’s Cyrenaica.
At that point, it was necessary to fight ISIS: the U.S. and the West needed to strengthen the military presence straddling Syria and Iraq, and Israel needed to take control over the Syrian Golan Heights, whose annexation was recognized by Trump.
Among the least credible actors in the coalition against Daesh is Turkey. Erdogan pretended to fight ISIS by letting jihadists in Kobane massacre U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds and then using his military and extremist militias to occupy part of Syrian Kurdish territory no longer protected by Trump. The U.S. abandoned its greatest ally at the mercy of Turkey, for whom ISIS played the role of agents to direct their military operations.
The real leader of the jihadists today is none other than Erdogan, who is maneuvering them in Syria, in Idlib and in the Kurdish cantons, who used them in Libya to counter Haftar and then in Nagorno-Karabakh, disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now he wants to stay in Afghanistan, perhaps to use the jihadists to start an insurgency of the Uighurs, the Muslim population of Chinese Xinjang.
Nothing could be more useful to increase the military presence in Iraq than fighting ISIS and its affiliates, a project that Italy immediately joined in the name of stability in Baghdad. But also in the Sahel, where, from Chad to Mali, all of the certainties of formerly French Africa are giving way: Italy is opening a military base in Niger and is preparing to send attack helicopters to Mali.
Thus, from the Middle East to Africa, a process of endless destabilization continues: at one point disguised as the fight against Daesh, at another point justified by the need to stop the waves of migration. The Caliphate, whether real or virtual, and whoever will take its place, must always be there: the chronic state of emergency that is in effect demands it.