noun: revenant; plural noun: revenants
a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.
early 19th century: French, literally ‘coming back,’ present participle (used as a noun) of revenir .
[Source - Google]
In the week preceding January 10, 2016, the conflict in war-torn Iraq and Syria entered a new, and extremely dangerous phase. To understand why, we need to dial back, and quickly review the last few years of regional conflict.
The origins of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are shrouded in confusion and rumor, but it is generally agreed that it accreted from several sources, including the Jordanian-born Salafist radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, survivors of US detention camps, including the current nominal leader of ISIL, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and a group of surviving officers of the disbanded Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Republican Guard Corps, with at least some funding, advice and moral support from the remnants of the al-Qaeda organization.
However, it is vital to remember that ISIL's initial wave of success, riding on the back of the confusion caused by the fallout of the so-called 'Arab Spring' uprisings, petered out in early 2013, and was only revived by under-the-table assistance from Turkey:
This allowed ISIL to operate from its territory, under the guise of supporting the anti-Assad "Free Syrian Army". In looking over the date-progression in the map, above, it is absolutely clear that ISIL was using base areas in southern Turkey, unfettered by Turkish security forces.
Now, as Russian and Syrian government forces close in on the FSA- and ISIL-controlled city of Aleppo, in the north of Syria, Turkey is doubling down, hinting that it may intervene directly in the conflict, while chastising the US over its refusal to designate various factions of Kurdish ground forces as "terrorist organizations" - primarily because the US has finally accepted that the Kurds are the one group that it could fully rely upon in the area, within their limits. As well, several Gulf Arab States, led by a Saudi Arabia currently eye-deep in a vicious ground war on its own southern border with Yemen, have hinted that they, too, may attempt to intervene to prevent the total collapse of anti-Assad resistance.
For Turkey's part, this is easy to understand. Turkey desires a much greater role in directing regional affairs, as was demonstrated in their active support for pro-Palestinian activists in the "Freedom Flotilla's" of 2010 and 2014. Where Turkey erred was in assuming that it could secure its southern borders, as well as play kingmaker in both Iraq and Syria, by supporting - however tacitly - groups such as the FSA, ISIL and the al-Nusra Front, while ignoring its own Kurdish problem.
This, more than anything, has undermined Turkey's position: ethnic Kurdish areas comprise the southeastern third of Turkey's territory, as Kurdish forces have coalesced over the last ten or so years, and become far more professional and capable, militarily speaking. Turkey's adamant refusal to even consider negotiation with the Kurds has now brought it to the brink of war with Vladimir Putin's Russia, as the Russian colossus grinds away at the groups Turkey was supporting, and the US and Russia are no longer simply providing aid to the Kurds, but are coordinating operations with them at some level.
The danger for Turkey, at this point, is abundantly clear: acknowledgement of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and/or Syria will put pressure on Ankara to do likewise, and end its ongoing internal campaign against the Kurdish PKK in its southern region...in effect, this would severely weaken Turkey and ultimately result in its partition.
In threatening to intervene in Syria - an intervention that, although left unspoken, would certainly bring Turkish and Russian military forces into direct conflict with each other - Turkey is banking on its membership in NATO to deter Russia from taking any substantive military action against Turkey directly.
This is whistling past the graveyard, as Russia has already invested far too much to simply back away, now. That, in turn, will leave NATO, and the US, with the stark choice of abandoning a member-state, which risks destroying the alliance wholesale, or in actively aiding Turkey militarily, an action which would certainly lead to a general war -- in effect, and with no hyperbole, World War III.
This can be headed off succinctly by Washington, with a forceful and definitive statement warning Turkey that if it intervenes and enters direct combat against Russia, it is on its own...Given the appeasement track record of Barack Obama's administration, however, this is highly unlikely to happen.
But what of the other players involved in this? Why are they rattling their sabres?
Saudi Arabia is divided. Internally, there are certainly factions within the Saudi power structure who actively support ISIL, as much as there are others who are adamantly opposed to the terrorist regime. However, Saudi Arabia is tasting, for the first time in a very long time, the addictive drug of military power with its intervention in Yemen. Appearing as a strong and powerful champion of Sunni Islam is seen as a vital necessity, due to the internal divisions within Saudi Arabia.
In the case of Iran, they have been at the "war thing" for several thousand years, and are quite competent, militarily, when its government 'du jour' gives its military the chance to actually do what they are armed and uniformed to do. This is clear in Iran's response to the threat to their fellow Shiites in Iraq.
In the map video above, ISIL's strategic intent in Iraq can be discerned by watching the area around Baghdad: ISIL wisely did not attempt to actually storm the mega-city, but neither did they attempt to cut its road access. That it could have done so at any time should be painfully clear, but yet that did no act to do so. The reason for this seemingly-puzzling action - or lack of it - as the Iraqi Army was collapsing before the ISIL juggernaut.
Iran saw that one of ISIL's primary strategic goals was to goad them into sending in the Iranian army, the "Artesh", to save Shia Iraq from ISIL. This would have resulted in ISIL calling on the wider Sunni world to wage its version of "jihad" against a group it hates worse than any other, as it views Shia Islam as a terrible heresy to its own beliefs, a heresy far more terrible and threatening to itself than to other nations.
Instead, Iran sent the Quds Force, Iran's "special operations" force. Sending in this very capable unit demonstrated Iran's resolve, bolstered the flagging Iraqi Army, and required only a very tiny "footprint" on the ground.
This caught ISIL flat-footed, and at the end of its initial supply chain. At this point, ISIL fatally turned inward, trying to organize its rear areas, while getting as much equipment as possible from it's suppliers, including Turkey.
This was an inevitably fatal move, because ISIL cannot create the necessary internal infrastructure to support a modern military force in the absence of massive external aid - neither Iraq nor Syria were ever very heavily industrialized, and ISIL combat forces destroyed much of what heavy industries were present. Similarly, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIL's religious dogma severely limits its ability to create the vibrant defense industrial base without which it cannot win, in the absence of massive supply from a friendly foreign government.
Thus, the minute Russia injected itself into the conflict, essentially replicating what the US did in the early phases of its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, ISIL and its allies - "moderate" and otherwise - were doomed, as there is no way that they can respond to precision Russian airstrikes.
Unless Turkey tries to intervene to aid them directly.
The days of ISIL and its allies are numbered. This should be abundantly clear. The question now, the "wild card", is whether frayed nerves and poor decision-making and thought processes will allow this regional conflict to metastasize into a world-spanning war, as happened almost exactly one hundred years ago.