Transcon - Intensive, Relevant French and Arabic Instruction since May 2005 - Matt Quade

French Language Guide:

Extract: The Baghdad Bugle December 2015


Where do you see IS (Islamic State) ten years from now?

Hard to say overall but there are two things to keep in mind. The tension between AQ (Al Qaeda) and IS (Islamic State) is ramping up significantly. There is currently a wider push by Islamic State to take over Al Shabab in North Eastern Africa from AQ. Al Shabab (by definition AQ-linked) recently 'arrested' one of their own commanders and four of the men in his group that wanted to defect to IS. All five potential defectors were executed. 

AQ have no intention of being walked on, hence the arrests and executions, and are even proposing to some Gulf States to be the paid bulwark against IS in the region. In other words, the plan is for our closest allies in the Middle East (still flush with petrodollars despite the oil price) to directly finance and provide material support to Al Qaeda to fight IS. This brilliantly thought out ‘plan’ is already well underway. This probably sounds far-fetched but is actually just par for the course in this part of the world. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Gulf States cannot make head nor tail of current US foreign policy in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear deal, that they are bitterly opposed to, is a prime example. For this and other reasons, the Gulf States are actively looking for friends elsewhere in the world. Al-Qaeda, with its sandals on the ground in the Middle East, and France with its sophisticated weaponry in the West, fit the bill perfectly, for now. Al-Nusrah, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, is also now in possession of sophisticated American weaponry due to the fact that Western attempts to arm and train certain groups in Syria have not worked out so well. Another story …

So, essentially, both sides are well-armed and well financed, give or take the vagaries of the IS-controlled black market in oil. Most shockingly, it appears that certain senior al-Qaeda figures have shown a distinctive lack of compassion in their descriptions of Islamic State, describing the murderous, raping, slave-selling, genocidal organisation as ‘Un-Islamic’. This is a clear cut case of a lack of respect for other people’s personal religious choices. 

These tensions also reveal a fundamental difference of opinion between the two organisations over the treatment of civilians and minorities. Islamic State is essentially the progeny of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the AQ psychopath who terrorised Iraq, particularly Shi’ites and Yazadis until he was killed by US forces in mid-2006. The current incarnation of Zaqarwi has not changed course from its original founder. Bin Laden couldn’t control his ‘protégé’ and make him understand that Western forces were the prime target, not other, ‘inferior’ Muslims. This failure to control Zaqarwi cost AQ dearly and they have no intention of making the same mistake a second time. Today, Al Nusrah (al-Qaeda in Syria) are essentially described as ‘great guys’ by some Syrian civilians previously under their control. With finance from the Gulf States and weapons by default from the U.S., Al Nusra presents a serious challenge to the Islamic State. Nor can it be forgotten that historically, groups such as IS always tend to splinter. Life is short, jealousies fester over how the loot is divided and these outfits always have more Messiahs than a Life of Brian movie.

Verdict: I could be wrong (I usually am) but I find it hard to imagine that IS will still be on the Middle Eastern map in its current form, if at all, ten years from now. As for Africa, it’s simply too difficult to call. They are more geographically dispersed here. In addition, there is no long term, coordinated and sustained effort, nor political will to eliminate such groups in the regional areas of Africa. It’s basically a free-for-all fuelled by all the elements on this continent that have brought about the expression, TIA (This Is Africa).

To end on a cheery note, all of the latest reports indicate that Al Shabab factions wishing to pledge allegiance to Islamic State are growing in number and belligerence. Apparently, application of the death penalty last month to the gang of five, while certainly merited, hasn’t had the desired effect.


For further reading on the alliance of our Gulf state allies with Al-Qaeda;

Spectator article: The enemy’s enemy: how Arab states have turned to al-Qa’eda by Ahmed Rashid.

Matt Quade