The much touted fall of Mosul and the alleged capture of US military equipment have been in the making for a long time. It is therefore important to have some institutional knowledge of where these events began, and how a ragtag corporal in the Georgian army, sick and disillusioned, has suddenly become the poster boy for America’s war on terrorism in Iraq.
The corporal concerned is al-Shishani, AKA, Umar Gorgashvili, whose birth name is TARKHAN BATIRASHVILI. He is leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) insurgents who have been seen, very conveniently, transporting US-supplied Humvees across the border into war-torn Syria after the capture of Mosul.
Often reported as killed, al-Shishani nevertheless always turns up at the right time and right place for a photo opportunity, all part of the subterfuge. Umar Gorgashvili goes by many different names, but most of these are known only to those that have trained and have worked with him. There are (actually were, some of them have been murdered) four chechens operating in the region, thus named “al shishani”: Omar al-Shishani, Saifullah al-Shishani, Amir Muslim and Salahudeen al-Shishani.
The supposedly captured US Humvees his troops have taken to Syria are purported to be the inanimate equivalents of the US hostages held for so long in Iran in the late seventies. However, the track record of al-Shishani himself, and the various players in the region, indicates that something else is going on.
The US-backed rebels are losing ground in Syria. ISIS, though presented as the enemy in northern Iraq, has been installed there to finish the job the original rebels have proved unable to.
The capture of the equipment is in fact a strategic handover. It serves two purposes: to equip the anti-Assad forces and to provide cover for equipment being brought out of Afghanistan and handed over to ISIS. It will be said, if anyone notices, that this equipment must have been stolen from northern Iraq, because we have seen this happen on TV, and CNN says so!
Moths and butterflies
It has been interesting to watch al-Shishani/Batirashvili/ Gorgashvili, being transformed from an invalid soldier, officially too sick for duty, into the fiercest jihadist in the world. Maybe there is no choice but to present him as such, when 5,000 of his jihadists have overrun four divisions of the Iraqi army, which the US has spent $25 billion training.
Francesco Crispi, Italian Prime Minister in 1898 who had gained his position by presenting himself as a strongman, was forced to resign by a stone-throwing mob when his army was routed at the Battle of Adwa by an Ethiopian force armed largely with spears. No one wants to bow out of history in the same way over Iraq, despite all their talk about how much their actions are driven by care for the Iraqi people.
But of course that is not going to happen for another reason. The new poster boy learned everything he knows not from his fellow jihadists but from the people who trained him: the US army, the training provider for the Georgian Armed Forces under the 64 Million Dollar US Train and Equip Programme, and Turkish intelligence, also trained by its US equivalent, through whom he took on his new role. This man is another jihadist who is actually working for the other side, doing, as ever, things that side won’t dare do openly because the public who pay their wages would never support them. There is a list of them, and they too have different names and for different purposes, all their travel and foreign passports funded by US taxpayers.
The US motivation
The captured Humvees are becoming quite the celebrities. Al-Shishani has been shown driving them around unhindered, in scenes designed to outrage the supporters of the US action, and then inspecting them in Syria, thus demonstrating the international nature of the jihad and underscoring the importance of the global war on terrorism, providing justification for any action the US chooses to take against it—or inaction. They US can even symbolically send some troops back to Iraq, of course, only to protect American citizens.
All these televised images look rather similar, purely in technical detail, to a number of similar ones connected with terrorism – the faked Boston Bombing footage shot by the Boston Globe, the faked gas attack purportedly committed by Assad’s troops reported by CNN, the internationally distributed photos of Carlos “The Jackal” which do not match eyewitness accounts of the man. Details of the background do not match, images purportedly from the same day and time have different light levels and appear to be from different places, there are unexplained smudges and gaps and nothing to identify exactly when and where certain scenes were shot.
This consistency is not accidental. The US Department of Defense has written a manual on capturing scenes like these to marshal international opinion against an aggressor. Follow this link for the full original report: 1998 Report on Disinformation Warfare Manual — Chapter 7
The fact that such a manual exists does not mean that the images from Mosul and Syria are part of such a disinformation programme. However, we need to take into account two factors. First, al-Shishani was trained by the US whilst in Georgia. Everything he knows the US also knows, and everything he does the US knows he will do, because it taught him how and when to do it.
Second, the US has practically withdrawn from Iraq but is still trying to pursue its aims in Syria. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former Secretary of State, is warning that further military intervention in Iraq would be a “delicate and difficult task for our government because we certainly don’t want to fight their fight.” This is the same Hillary Clinton who wrote in a recent memoir that the Syrian conflict has spilled over into Iraq. The civil conflicts in Iraq and Syria are all part of the same thing, according to her, and therefore according to her boss, as she would not be allowed to make such statements off the top of her head when security is at risk.
So to continue the war in Iraq when you have withdrawn your troops, to justify the original conflict and lost lives, what do you do? Increase the engagement in Syria, which is now, we are told, where Iraq’s new troubles are coming from. Strangely enough, this is where the Humvees taken by al-Shishani’s men are now. Where the threat goes, funding will follow – funding which is desperately needed, with the rebels being penned back day by day.
Maybe the US genuinely fought against al-Shishani’s ISIS forces in Iraq. If it did, it suffered a humiliating defeat which puts the whole war on terror in doubt and with it the funding and public support for continuing it. But if this is the same war being fought against Syria, that changes everything.
This minor local setback can be reversed by defeating the instigators in Syria. But where exactly are these instigators? ISIS is not fighting on the side of Assad in Syria. It is fighting against him, like the crumbling Free Syrian Army and US-backed rebel forces, and indeed largely replacing these groups, as they have failed to secure Assad’s removal.
So al-Shishani is fighting both against and for the US, simultaneously, in the same war. Taliban militants in Afghanistan are complaining that they did not join it to fight FOR the US, as they are now effectively doing as a result of the latest turns of the peace process. One wonders how such a thing could happen in Iraq and Syria, unless it was always intended to be this way.
According to the BBC Omar al-Shishani entered Syria from Turkey to get involved with the conflict there. This is a well travelled route and this has been confirmed by Chechens who lived in Georgia as well. In Syria, Turkey has tried to play its own game; the US has not agreed to share tactics and strategy with Turkey and, incredibly, Northern Iraq
We sure that Tarkhan entered Syria by Turkey, based on good sources about it and who trained him? After all, he travelled a lot, and not only in this direction but participated in executing some ethnic Ossetians inside of Georgia proper back in 2008, prior to the start of the 2008 Russian Georgian war.
Turkish collaboration with the Chechens is nothing new. It dates back to the eighteenth century, when both Chechnya and the Ottoman Empire were under threat from Christian Russia. Then the Turks offered the Chechens help to “defend the caliphate”, now the mantra is “jihad against the Russians in the Levant paves the way for the return of the caliphate, and taking the jihad back to the Russian heartland.”
Chechens wishing to continue this jihad invariably do so through Turkey due to this longstanding tie. From there they enter both Syria and Iraq. Mosul is the largest Christian city in Iraq, therefore an obvious target for jihadists. Its capture from the dysfunctional Iraqi government reassures Turks that “genuine Moslems” now control not only the surrounding region but its oil reserves. The country extracting the largest quantity of oil from those fields is Turkey.
But Turkey is also a US ally and member of NATO. It will continue to support US causes, such as prolonging the conflict in Syria, to further its own geopolitical ambitions, which have recently begun to bear fruit. Turkey is increasingly following the path of China: it has become a regional powerhouse, expected to intervene in conflicts and act as an honest broker between smaller nations, without giving up any of the anti-democratic conduct which previously saw it ostracised on the world stage.
Political violence, ethnic conflict and arbitrary justice are not things of the past in Turkey. Politicians still pander to martial sentiment by being as adversarial as possible, the military still plays a major role in government behind the scenes and a mainstream variety of radical Islam continues to undermine the secular state as much as Kurdish and other minority communities’ terrorist groups. But it has the economic clout to dominate the region regardless, so these previous bogies no longer come into view, regardless of the consequences.
By continuing to provide a pathway for Chechens to get involved in jihad Turkey keeps part of its “strongly” Moslem population happy and enhances its own claims to be both a Western and Moslem nation. It also helps the US by ensuring the fall of Iraq, making it appear a hopeless case not worth defending any further, but blaming that on Syria, enabling it to increase its involvement there.
The international nature of al-Shishani himself, an ethnic Chechen/Kist actually from Georgia fighting in Iraq and Syria, brings home the international nature of the war on terror and the fact that even Moslem countries are threatened by it. This again serves both US and Turkish objectives, as governments fund each other, and keep each other in power, to conduct this war.
The only trouble is that al-Shishani gets the raw end of the deal. He now has to defend his conquests with arms, all the while looking over his shoulder for the day when he is no longer useful, and is executed by his friends as a terrorist, like so many before him. Chechens themselves also get an even worse name than their association with terror has given them now, making their engagement in civilized conflict resolution impossible as no one will, officially, negotiate with a terrorist.
Minority groups, particularly dispossessed ones, always have a cause. They are willing to get into bed with anyone to further that cause. A number of monarchist Russians who went into exile in 1917 sided with Hitler throughout the Nazi era, not because they were Nazi, but because he was an aggressive antithesis of the hated Communists, a situation he exploited to his advantage.
The Moslem Chechens do not have a state of their own, and live surrounded by Christian peoples. Anyone who offers them a way to pursue the fight against those Christians, even if they are infidels themselves, is potentially a friend, but a friend much bigger and stronger than them, whose will they will eventually have no choice but to follow, whatever blandishments are initially offered.
Chechens such as Omar al-Shishani can be used for any purpose, and Georgia has seen it all before. The US has been inserting groups of Chechen fighters and Arab terrorists into Pankisi Gorge in Georgia to destabilise Russia for a number of years, and the snipers who shot at people indiscriminately in Maidan Square were subsequently evacuated through Georgia. Whatever cause al-Shishani may once have had, he has merely become an adjunct of US foreign policy, and must be well aware of this.
Does Omar still have tuberculosis? No one seems to know for sure. But what is clear is that this new international monster has now become a sicker and more helpless man than he ever was. He will be discarded in due course, and his alleged conduct has made it all the harder for the Chechen cause to be seen as anything other than an excuse for violence. He may not have set out to bring this on himself and his people, but that is what he is doing, with thousands of innocent civilians as collateral damage he will be blamed for causing.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.