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SAEED NAQVI
SAEED'S DIARY

Saeed Naqvi is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a senior journalist.

Invite the world to fight ISIS but help it militarily

est Asia becomes more mysterious by the minute. Who is fighting whom on whose behalf? The lines were always blurred. Now they are more so. Iraq's army has just shot down two British planes as they were carrying weapons to the ISIS in Al Anbar province. How do we know this to be true? The Iraqi Parliament's National Security and Defence Committee has photos of the planes that have been shot down.

So, on whose side is Britain? It should be clear now that the key Western ally against ISIS has actually been caught delivering arms to the hated enemy. In recent months, if you called up contacts in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala you received the same response: the Americans are not here to help the government in Baghdad. They have their own agenda.

Head of the Iraqi Parliament's Defence Committee, Hakim al-Zamili, said reports are received in Baghdad regularly that US-led coalition planes airdrop weapons for ISIS.

Whatever sense of security there is in the Shia south of Iraq, derives from a widespread belief that Iran stands with the people. And now that Washington is inching towards a nuclear agreement with Iran, how does one square rapprochement with Tehran and carrot and stick policy with Tehran's allies in Iraq? Hakim al-Zamili has an easy explanation. "The US does not want the ISIS problem to end around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala." In other words, the US will keep its fingers on all possible levers of power around Iran. Signing of a nuclear deal with Iran does not spell an end to politics with the Ayatollahs.

Meanwhile, it is also a truth, regionally acknowledged that the real battle to ISIS on the ground is being given by Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian army.

If the leadership in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala is cross with Western doublespeak, it may draw some comfort from the fact that even close allies like Jordan and Egypt are on sixes and sevens anticipating the West's next moves.

Last week, the Pentagon made public something Jordan wished to keep secret. Jordan fears internal upsurge for being seen to be a US ally on most regional issues. An important Jordanian training site for anti ISIS operations, the first to be up and running was supposed to be secret until the Pentagon blew the lid, few know why. Sites in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar will be online later. But is this line-up itself not something of a puzzle?

Turkey under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as a bastion for Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar too is under the Brothers' sway. But Saudi Arabia, at least while King Abdullah was alive, was fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam, which is what the Brotherhood represents, was anathema to the extremist, monarchist Wahhabi theocracy. Clearly, policy under King Salman is undergoing some change.

Remember when Gen Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the loudest cheer came from Riyadh, along with $12 billion. King Abdullah was not going to allow Egypt, the most powerful Arab country, to go the Muslim Brotherhood way.

Has Riyadh dramatically changed its approach to the Brothers? One will have occasion to revisit this theme, but its lineup with Jordan, Qatar, Turkey to train combat troops against the ISIS does indicate a shift.

It is just possible that the new regime in Riyadh has been sold a lemon — or a great idea. The ISIS consists of three broad strands: Muslim Brotherhood as the dominant group, Takfiri Salafi group, the ones who are destroying ancient heritage and the old Baath Party elements reappearing as angry Sunnis.

Anti ISIS troops are being trained in centres not averse to the Brothers. Surely this will help neutralise the Brotherhood component in the ISIS. But for this logic to prevail, the biggest enemy of the Brotherhood in the region, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has to be managed.

Who knows, he may well have provided the opportunity to the US for his own dethronement. The manner in which the Egyptian spread out the red carpet to Vladimir Putin two weeks ago cannot have pleased Washington and its cohorts in the present phase of US-Russia rivalry. An opportunity has been provided for Sisi to hurtle headlong into the Libyan chaos. In Cairo, the restive Muslim Brotherhood may well have its focus trained on a comeback.

Meanwhile, do the Brothers or others of their ilk, have a potential in Afghanistan, Pakistan anywhere? The Americans may be looking.

 
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