By Claude Salhani - Trend:
The Islamist movement that took the Middle East by storm two weeks ago, capturing large swaths of Syria and Iraq, is reportedly selling oil to the Syrian government, the very people they are fighting to overthrow, according to the French foreign minister.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday that the sale was evidence of the "confusing" nature of the escalating conflict in the Middle East in which Syrian President Bashar Assad and the jihadists are in theory on opposing sides.
The main rebel group was known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL - or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -ISIS- but on Monday the group declared a "caliphate", shortening its name to the "Islamic State."
It named the group's leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the new caliph.
"We have proofs that when ISIL has taken over oil it has sold oil to the (Assad) regime," Fabius told a news conference in New Delhi. He did not offer any more details.
Referring to how the rebels in Syria and the Assad regime use each other to derive legitimacy, Fabius said: "Officially they are combating each other but in fact they are very often helping each other."
The situation in Iraq is "very, very, very worrying," he added.
"Why? Because it is probably the first time that a terrorist group -- and a ferocious terrorist group -- is in a position, if there is no reaction, to take over the whole country, and a rich country, with enormous consequences for the region and the world," he said.
The solution is for Iraq to unite behind the government and the army to drive out the jihadists, he said.
An estimated amount of $3.2 billion is reported to have been taken from banks in Mosul, along with vast amounts of weapons and munitions abandoned by the Iraqi army in their hasty retreat from Mosul and other cities in the north.
While this group represents a very real and present danger for the security of the entire region and beyond, there is particular fear for the oil and gas producing regions of Syria and Iraq, areas now under the control of ISIL.
The continual flow of oil and gas will give the group a steady income of hard cash.
However, some experts believe that ISIL may have in fact over extended itself and now in fact face the same problem that the U.S. forces faced when they tried to pacify Iraq: capturing and holding the cities, towns and regions captured.
ISIL has managed to capture certain cities, including Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, but holding them requires large numbers One estimate places the number of fighters currently available to ISIL to be around 10,000. That is hardly enough to capture and hold cities. Additionally, the fighters that stormed Mosul are not all with ISIL. There are a number of rival groups, including former Baath Party cadres who are in no fashion at all Islamist, but rather see here a marriage of convenience in fighting the government of Nuri al-Malaki.
There are very good chances that the various rivalries between the different Islamists (and the secularists like the Baathists) will eventually clash as ISIL will try to impose itself as the sole authority.
Al-Baghdadi has already potent enemies such as Osama bin-Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new al-Qaida chief, who's orders al-Baghdadi ignored and proceeded with plans to create a caliphate.
Despite the usage of Islamic names and religious terms implied by the ISIL, there is in fact little, if any, real legitimate religious authority found in this group.
A caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader - a caliph, or successor to the Prophet Mohammad. By decreeing himself caliph and demanding that all Muslims swear allegiance to him, al- Baghdadi is directly challenging the authority of the kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco who respectively carry the titles of "Sherif of Mecca," Custodian of the two holy mosques," and "Commander of the faithful."
Following ISIL's Monday declaration dictating that the areas under their control are to be henceforth called the "Islamic State" and that all Muslims pledge allegiance to the new caliph and to the 'Islamic State,' strangely enough we have not heard any substantial language dealing with any theological differences that exists between the warring parties.
Yet "Caliph Ibrahim," as he now wants to be called, has no theological training. This would be the equivalent of naming an altar boy as Bishop of Rome.
An indication that there is more to this conflict than is generally explained in over-simplified terms as a conflict of opposing Sunni and Shiites, is the position adopted by Iraq's Kurds. The Kurds, who have practically established their own state in the northern part of the country, are overwhelmingly Sunni. Yet they are siding with the Shiites against fellow Sunnis. Why?
Could it be because the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant hides behind a badge of religion?
Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor at Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. You can follow him on Twitter@claudesalhani
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