Could ISIL Be Strengthened by U.S., French, Russian Bombing?


France and Russia have staged a series of new airstrikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Russia announced earlier today it would intensify strikes in Syria after the Russian intelligence service said it had found conclusive proof that a bomb had brought down the Metrojet airliner in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing 224 people on board last month. The United States has also vowed to intensify strikes in Syria and to step up their exchange of intelligence on potential targets with France. We speak with longtime journalist Abdel Bari Atwan about how the bombings could backfire and help grow the Islamic State.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: France and Russia have staged a series of new airstrikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or Daesh. Russia announced earlier today it would intensify strikes in Syria after Russian intelligence service said they had found conclusive proof that a bomb had brought down the Metrojet airliner in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board last month. Meanwhile, French President François Hollande vowed to step up attacks in Syria following Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.

PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: [translated] The need to destroy Islamic State is an issue that faces the whole of the international community. I have therefore asked the Security Council to hold a meeting as quickly as possible to adopt a resolution to mark this goal shared by all to fight against terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Paris to meet Hollande one day after President Obama announced the U.S. and France have agreed to step up their exchange of intelligence on potential targets. France also has invoked the European Union’s mutual assistance clause for the first time, asking its partners for military help and other aid in missions in the Middle East and Africa after the Paris attacks.

Overnight, French police conducted 128 searches. France is currently in a state of emergency, which allows authorities to search homes any time without court approval. Hollande is seeking to extend the state of emergency for three months.

A massive manhunt is still underway for Salah Abdeslam, a prime suspect in the Paris attacks. He’s a Belgian-born French national. French authorities have also identified Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud as the possible mastermind of the attacks. He’s a Belgian of Moroccan origin believed to be in Syria.

While France, Russia and the United States bomb Syria, the United Nations is warning against escalating the regional war in the Middle East. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein serves as the U.N. human rights commissioner.

ZEID RA’AD AL-HUSSEIN: This is a dark time, a time of great turmoil in the international—in the world of international relations. Paris bleeds. So, too, does Beirut and Aleppo and Sana’a and countless other cities. And it seems that the defenses against chaos and bloodshed that states erected at the close of the Second World War, the laws they wrote and swore to abide by, the agreements and treaties they signed, are giving way to increasingly unilateral action bound by no principle or any foresight.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, we are joined by longtime Middle East journalist Abdel Bari Atwan in London. He served as editor-in-chief of the London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi for 25 years. He now edits the Rai al-Youm website. He is author of the new book, The Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. He also recently wrote an article for Salon headlined “America Enabled Radical Islam: How the CIA, George W. Bush and Many Others Helped Create ISIS.” He interviewed Osama bin Laden twice in the ’90s.

Abdel Bari Atwan, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to the Paris attacks and then how Western countries are responding to those attacks?

ABDEL BARI ATWAN: Yes, Amy, it’s very nice to be with you again. I remember last time it was after 11th of September attacks. Here, we are talking after a Paris carnage which took place last Friday, Friday evening.

You know, what is happening now, the Islamic State is changing its strategy. Now they are adopting their savagery management phase. When I say that, in the beginning, they wanted to grab land, consolidate their grip on it and then expand. It seems, because of more than 7,000 air sortie against them, they decided to take revenge, to adopt the strategy of al-Qaeda, which they condemned in the beginning of their emergence. When I say to adopt the strategy of al-Qaeda, to export their terrorism to outside Middle East to the heart of Europe, to hit the industry, to hit the economy, to terrorize people, to take revenge from French, from United States, maybe Britain, who are bombarding their positions in Raqqa in Syria and also in Mosul and other parts in Iraq. So, this is their new strategy. It is not surprising, actually, that they are turning to this. It was expected.

And they are very, very organized in this field. You know, many people, they think those people are stupid—you know, sort of rusty beard, dirty beard, baggy trouser. No, they are not like that. You know, they are very, very intelligent. They are the remnant of Saddam Hussein security institutions, also the Republican Guards, the army. Those people, you know, when the army was dissolved, when the security organization were dissolved, the Republican Guards, they were dumped in the streets by Paul Bremer, the American ruler of Iraq, first ruler of Iraq. You know, they—actually, they were dumped, humiliated, frustrated. So, they were behind the establishment of this Islamic State.

Now, they move to the second stage, which is to take revenge. And that’s why we see this eight people, eight people, a very organized cell, to attack six positions, six places in Paris in the same time, the same night. It means they are lethal, they are dangerous. And this kind—these attacks is one of four attacks which took place by the Islamic State. The first thing was in Tunisia in a resort, where about 40 people were killed. And then, you know, this—the downing of the Russian tourism aircraft—224 people were killed—to destroy the tourism industry in Egypt and in Tunisia. Now they are attacking the tourism or the jewel of the crown of Europe, which is Paris, where $70 billion, actually, the revenue of the tourism industry for France. So they know what they are doing. They are adopting, as I said, the strategy of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center. Here they are attacking the center of Europe, the capital of Europe, which is Paris. And that’s why it is devastating.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the term “Daesh”? You see even, well, Secretary of State Kerry is continually now talking about ISIS as what he calls “Daesh.” Explain what that term means.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN: To be honest, you know, I am really surprised when the French president used the word “Daesh.” What it means, Daesh? In Arabic, it means Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. This is it. It is exactly. Now they shorten the name to Islamic State. So they don’t want to call it Islamic State. You know, I have been arguing, because my book is The Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. I was really bombarded by a lot of criticism because I used the term “Islamic State.” I said to them, “Look, if your name is Amy, shall I call you Carole, for example?” They named themselves the Islamic State, and there is Islamic Army, and there is Islamic Front. Why here, when it comes to this, you know, they want to change its name to Arabic name, which has the same meaning? It is really silly. And it’s—I’m really shocked by this. Its name is Islamic State. We have to call it Islamic State. Like with United States, we call it United States. So, we can’t say, “No, this is barbaric,” America, for example, or this is barbaric to, you know, planet or whatever. So, this is—this is the problem. Daesh, in Arabic, it is a shortening of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. That’s it, you know? So, many people in the Arab world, actually, they hide the sun, you know, by a little—what we call it, you know, just a little piece of cloth or something like that. And so, this—you can’t—you can’t actually deny them their name.

And you cannot actually avoid—you don’t defeat it by saying, “It is Daesh, it is not Islamic State.” It is Islamic, and it is a state. When I say Islamic, they are adopting the worst interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, which was originated in Najd in Saudi Arabia. And it is, you know, a state, because it has all the terminology, all actually the description of a state. They have an army, they have a police, they have an administration, they have a cabinet, they have their own currency, they have their own flag. They have 9 million or 10 million carrying their citizenship, whatever. They have their own border until now. And they are dealing with the neighboring countries. They are selling oil to Kurdistan, north of Iraq. They are selling oil to Turkey. They are selling oil even to Europe. So, people would say, “No, no, they are not a state.” OK, good luck to you. But it is a state, and it is Islamic, whether we like it or not. You know, this is not a good beginning, actually. If you want to understand this state or this phenomena, this terrorist organization, this is not a good beginning. We have, actually, to be truthful. We have to be truthful to ourselves. We have to understand this phenomena, terrorism—

AMY GOODMAN: Abdel Bari—

ABDEL BARI ATWAN: —terrorist phenomena. We have to study it, and we have to fight it, not just, you know, say, “No, it’s Daesh,” or not even to mention its name correctly. Yes, Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: Abdel Bari Atwan, the response since the Paris attacks—the U.S. bomb, the French are bombing Syria, the Russians are bombing Syria. Do you think a military response—how do you think a military response will affect ISIS?

ABDEL BARI ATWAN: Well, Amy, you know, the problem is—sorry—when we talk about military response, you know, military alone—military solution is not actually enough. To using military solution alone, it means we are prolonging the problem. We are strengthening the Islamic State. Seven thousand sorties until now by the American and their allies. What happened? You know, the Islamic State grown up. They managed to capture Ramadi in Iraq, which is their third biggest city, and they managed to capture Palmyra in Syria, which is another very well-known as—you know, of antiquities, of history and legacy. So, this is the problem. Security solution is not good enough. See what happened. You know, the American used, you know, military solution in Afghanistan. And now, after 14 years, they are talking to Taliban, to surrender power to Taliban. And they used to call Taliban as a terrorist organization. “We are not going to talk to them. We have to root them out.” They did not root them out. The same thing in Libya. They said, “OK, Gaddafi is a bloody dictator.” Yes, he is a bloody dictator. They remove them—they removed him. And what happened? Chaos, anarchy, the vacuum filled by al-Qaeda and filled by the Islamic State and other terrorist militias. So, this is the problem. You know, whenever there is military intervention, whenever there is American intervention in particular, there is failed states. We have more than five failed states in the Middle East. Who will fill the vacuum? The Islamic State. And that’s why they have branches in Egypt, in Sinai, they have branches in Afghanistan, branches in Pakistan, now in a very strong state in Syria. And they have also—could be soon in Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. So, this is the problem. Military solution, intervention, military intervention, it is not actually the only way.

We have first—you know, Amy, if you’ll allow me, I’ll give you seven keywords, if you want to understand the Middle East and want to understand why this state is very strong and getting stronger and stronger.

First, humiliation. People are humiliated by the military intervention and by their own government, which is, you know, dictatorship.

Frustration. We have more than a hundred young people—a hundred million young people, at least, either full unemployed or partly employed. Those people are frustrated because there is no future.

The third word is marginalization. When the Americans invaded and occupied Iraq, you know, what happened? They marginalized the Sunni sect and gave advantage to the Shia sect, divided the country according to the sectarian life. So this marginalization created the incubator for the Islamic State in Iraq.

Military intervention. And I mentioned, when you intervene by military means in Arab countries, you create failed state.

The lack of—the fifth word is the lack of good governance. We don’t have good governance in the Middle East. Corrupt regimes. Look at the Saudi Arabia. Look at the Gulf region. Look at the other parts of the Arab world. It is corruption everywhere. There is no democracy. There is no human rights. There is no, actually—any transparency.

And then, the other word is underestimation. Underestimation—you know, when the Islamic State was growing in Iraq and Syria, we noticed it, and we said, “This is a very dangerous phenomena.” I wrote a book, After Bin Laden: Al Qaeda, the Next Generation. I predicted this. I predicted, you know, more radical organization than al-Qaeda, than Osama bin Laden.

And then, the final word is the social media. You know, people are not listening to the mainstream media anymore as they used to be. And the Islamic State is manipulating this social media, the Internet, the Twitter, the Facebook, you know, the Snapchat, everything. And they are using it to their own advantages. They are—you know, Osama bin Laden was actually a poor man, an old man sitting in front of a camera recording a videotape and then begging Al Jazeera or CNN to broadcast it. Now they don’t need this. Just a press of a button, they reach millions of people. They have 100,000 tweets every day. They have 50,000 accounts on the Twitter. There are thousands, you know, maybe tens of thousands of pages on the Internet—or, on the Facebook.

So, they are very, very, very—that’s why, if you want to understand the Middle East, we have to put these seven words into consideration. We will have better idea, and definitely we will know how to fight this Islamic State, not by military means only, but also by other means, by ideological means, by social means, by economic means.


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Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.