ISIL expands under the shadow of Iran nuclear talks
According to the U.S. administration, the capture of Ramadi by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) only some 100 km west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad was something ordinary regarding the bigger picture of the war.
But almost simultaneously ISIL entered Syria’s historical city of Palmyra, gaining control over parts of it in the direction of the capital Damascus.
Idlib, a major Syrian city in the region, had already been captured by another radical Islamist group, the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front, earlier in May.
As of May 22, agencies reported there was no border gate between the two neighbors, Iraq and Syria, which is not controlled by ISIL.
A number of border gates between Turkey and Syria are also in the hands of ISIL, with new claims that ISIL could launch another campaign to try to capture Kobane from the Kurdish forces soon.
Western strategists are making plans to recapture Mosul as ISIL captures more Iraqi and Syrian cities and expands its control within their formal - but practically non-existent - borders.
It is obvious that the terrorist organization has been using the power vacuum in the region created by not only the failing state structures in Iraq and Syria but also the international balances idled by the nuclear talks with Iran and coming presidential elections in the U.S. in 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama has kept his promises to the American voters to withdraw troops from Iraq and has no intention to send troops to another conflict (may it be Ukraine or Syria) until at least the 2016 campaign as support for the new Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
On the contrary, Obama follows a “make peace with old adversaries” policy, as in the cases of Cuba and Iran.
The ongoing talks over Iran’s nuclear program by the U.N. P5+1 group dominates all other political equations in the region, with Russia and China being parts of it. For the White House, the talks are the key to decreasing the potential for political conflicts in the Middle East, giving better security coverage to Israel and also a safer way to further reduce its presence in the region so it can focus more on the Pacific competition with China and again Russia.
As long as the Bashar al-Assad regime has the backing of Russia, but especially Iran, the U.S. and the European Union would not like to get into an active stance in order to topple him, as President Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey wants it, as a precondition to get into a more active fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey cooperates actively against the problem of ISIL foreign fighters and other radical Islamist groups but does not take part in air attacks nor open up its air bases to coalition jets to launch attacks unless the U.S.-led coalition agrees to announce al-Assad and ISIL as equal threats to the Syrian people.
In Iraq, Iran’s influence is more obvious. Shiite militia, reported to be mostly under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, play an important role in resistance against ISIL, together with the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces in the North trained by the coalition, including Turkish military trainers.
But when they managed to recapture Tikrit from ISIL earlier this year, the coalition got worried about the Shiite domination, which could alienate Sunnis further and push them into the hands of ISIL. Then came the Ramadi affair. Iran pulled back the Shiite militia under its control but the Iraqi army, now consisting mainly of Shiite soldiers, did not make its best effort to keep the town in their hands, as one ranking Iraqi official admitted on May 22, as if to force the Americans to turn a blind eye on the militia to recapture Ramadi, if not making an open call for help from them; Iran plays its game well.
The train-and-equip program for the Syrian rebel groups by the U.S.-led coalition is too slow and too weak for the time being and it is seemingly impossible for it to be effective without air support, which takes us back to square one, because the U.S. does not want any further confrontation with Iran or Russia in Syria.
ISIL takes advantage of this situation and keeps on advancing and spreading its violence all over in front of the eyes of the Western democracies.