ISIS: ONE OF THE MAJOR MENA GEOPOLITICAL RISKS FOR 2016

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ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 37
The Glamourous Life of an Author

The outlook for terrorism in the Middle East and more specifically the outlook for the ISIS crisis will not bring much New Year’s optimism to those who hopefully predict the end of ISIS and the Islamic State. The jihadist group has suffered some losses but it has also stretched its influence into several countries and reportedly has allies even in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A report released yesterday by London England-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft says that 2016 will bring ‘…. little respite from the political instability, civil unrest, economic volatility, security crises and geopolitical rivalries that defined the last 12 months, and that the global turbulence of 2015 looks set to continue.’

The report surveys risks and crises around the world but in the region often termed the MENA – the Middle East and North Africa — it highlights the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the international threat posed by ISIS as the foremost geopolitical risks for 2016.

At time of writing, Saudi Arabia and Iran have become locked in a battle of words, protests and diplomatic gun slinging, ostensibly resulting from Saudi Arabia s execution on January 02 of a Shi’ite cleric who had called for the overthrow of the ruling Saudi family. It can be reasonably suggested that Saudi Arabia authorities did not contemplate the full implications of the execution or might have reconsidered the decision.

In Tehran, demonstrators torched the Saudi embassy and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, invoked the wrath of Allah by declaring ‘God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi leaders.”

The day after the execution, Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic relations with Iran and several of the kingdom’s allies followed suit.

In the larger historic picture, the two countries have long fought a geopolitical war of rival religious beliefs, proxies and political alliances. It heated up in July when the United States and five other nations agreed to lift international sanctions in return for Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear program. The deal also provides that Iran will have access to the global financial system, can retrieve an estimated US$ 100 billion in frozen assets and can ramp up its oil exports.

The stakes in this Islamic Cold War are many: regional supremacy and the right to claim leadership of Islam. Moreover, achieving peace in Syria and Yemen appears unlikely without some rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that apperas unlkely in the short-to-medum term.

That Cold War is certainly serious but not surprisingly, the Verisk Maplecroft report points to the Islamic State as the chief security risk in the MENA. Excluding Iraq and Syria ISIS killed 1269 people in 2015.

Though it has lost territory recently the Islamic State’s reach will continue to extend across the region, according to the report. ISIS has established allegiances with groups in northern Sinai and Libya, the latter reflecting its modus operandi of tackling countries with weak central governments. The MO had certainly worked in Syria and Iraq and at least partially accounted for their early sweep of victories. Libya’s government is not just weak but split:  it has actually had two competing ‘governments’ since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Although various nations have committed in various ways to military actions against ISIS, a strategy that would lead to the defeat of ISIS appears elusive in the assessment of the report’s authors.

And notwithstanding efforts to staunch ISIS’s income sources the report estimates that the Islamic State grossed up to US$ 600 million from taxation, extortion and confiscations in 2015, a total that it says underscores the limitations of the coalition’s heavy reliance on airstrikes.

Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in Spring goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead.

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