Did the US DIA see ISIL as a strategic Ally against al-Assad in 2012?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)-

The answer, in a word, is “no.” Fabius Maximus is right that this is just a clickbait story or an unfounded conspiracy theory.

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s correct assessment of where things were going in Syria, done in 2012, doesn’t say that the US created sectarian groups and it does not say that the US favors al-Qaeda in Syria or the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq.” It says that those powers (e.g. Turkey and the Gulf monarchies) supporting the opposition wanted to see the declaration of a Salafi (hard line Sunni) breakaway statelet, in order to put pressure on the al-Assad regime.

It doesn’t say they wanted to see a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) state.

It doesn’t say the US or “the West” wanted to see such a thing (the US wouldn’t be included in the “powers” supporting al-Qaeda-linked groups! — especially by the DIA!)

In fact, the memo warns that any such development could lead to the break-up of Iraq, an eventuality that the authors clearly felt was undesirable for US foreign policy.

The document was sprung by the conservative site Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request:

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE – CLASSIFICATION: SECRET.
INFORMATION REPORT, NOT FINALLY EVALUATED INTELLIGENCE.
COUNTRY: (U) IRAQ (IRQ). DOI: (U) 20120730.
1. {REDACTED}
2. {REDACTED}
THE GENERAL SITUATION:

A. INTERNALLY, EVENTS ARE TAKING A CLEAR SECTARIAN DIRECTION.

B. THE SALAFIST,- THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, AND AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] ARE THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA.

C. THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY SUPPORT THE OPPOSITION; WHILE RUSSIA. CHINA, AND IRAN SUPPORT THE REGIME.

D. {REDACTED}

E. THE REGIME’S PRIORITY IS TO CONCENTRATE ITS PRESENCE IN AREAS ALONG THE COAST (TARTUS, AND LATAKIA); HOWEVER, IT HAS NOT ABANDONED HOMS BECAUSE IT CONTROLS THE MAJOR TRANSPORTATION ROUTES IN SYRIA. THE REGIME DECREASED ITS CONCENTRATION IN AREAS ADJACENT TO THE IRAQI BORDERS (AL HASAKA AND DER ZOR).
3. AL QAEDA – IRAQ (AQI):

A. AQI IS FAMILIAR WITH SYRIA. AQI TRAINED IN SYRIA AND THEN INFILTRATED INTO IRAQ.

B. AQI SUPPORTED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION FROM THE BEGINNING, BOTH IDEOLOGICALLY AND THROUGH THE MEDIA. AQI DECLARED ITS OPPOSITION OF ASSAD’S GOVERNMENT BECAUSE IT CONSIDERED IT A SECTARIAN REGIME TARGETING SUNNIS.

C. AQI CONDUCTED A NUMBER OF OPERATIONS IN SEVERAL SYRIAN CITIES UNDER THE NAME OF JAISH AL NUSRA (VICTORIOUS ARMY), ONE OF ITS AFFILIATES.

D. AQI, THROUGH THE SPOKESMAN OF THE ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ (ISI), ABU MUHAMMAD AL ADNANI, DECLARED THE SYRIAN REGIME AS THE SPEARHEAD OF WHAT HE IS NAMING JIBHA AL RUWAFDH (FOREFRONT OF THE SHIITES) BECAUSE OF ITS {THE SYRIAN REGIME) DECLARATION OF WAR ON THE SUNNIS.

ADDITIONALLY. HE IS CALLING ON THE SUNNIS IN IRAQ, ESPECIALLY THE TRIBES IN THE BORDER REGIONS (BETWEEN IRAQ AND SYRIA), TO WAGE WAR AGAINST THE SYRIAN REGIME, REGARDING SYRIA AS AN INFIDEL REGIME FOR ITS SUPPORT TO THE INFIDEL PARTY HEZBOLLAH, AND OTHER REGIMES HE CONSIDERS DISSENTERS LIKE IRAN AND IRAQ.

E. AQI CONSIDERS THE SUNNI ISSUE IN IRAQ TO BE FATEFULLY CONNECTED TO THE SUNNI ARABS AND MUSLIMS.

4. THE BORDERS:

A. THE BORDERS BETWEEN SYRIA AND IRAQ STRETCH APPROXIMATELY 600KM WITH COMPLEX TERRAIN CONSISTING OF A VAST DESERT, MOUNTAIN RANGES (SINJAR MOUNTAINS). JOINT RIVERS (FLOWING ON BOTH SIDES), AND AGRICULTURAL LANDS.

B. IRAQ DIRECTLY NEIGHBORS THE SYRIAN PROVINCES OF HASAKA AND DER ZOR, AS WELL AS (SYRIAN) CITIES ADJACENT TO THE IRAQI BORDER.

C. THE LAND ON BOTH SIDES BETWEEN IRAQ AND SYRIA IS A VAST DESERT PUNCTUATED BY VALLEYS, AND IT LACKS TRANSPORTATION ROUTES, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL HIGHWAY AND SOME MAJOR CITIES.

5. THE POPULATION LIVING ON THE BORDER:

A. THE POPULATION LIVING ON THE BORDER HAS A SOCIAL-TRIBAL STYLE, WHICH IS BOUND BY STRONG TRIBAL AND FAMILIAL MARITAL TIES.

B. THEIR SECTARIAN AFFILIATION UNITES THE TWO SIDES WHEN EVENTS HAPPEN IN THE REGION.

C. AQI HAD MAJOR POCKETS AND BASES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER TO FACILITATE THE FLOW OF MATERIAL AND RECRUITS.

D. THERE WAS A REGRESSION OF AQI JN THE WESTERN PROVINCES OF IRAQ DURING TI-IE YEARS OF 2009 AND 2010; HOWEVER, AFTER THE RISE OF THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA, THE RELIGIOUS AND TRIBAL POWERS IN THE REGIONS BEGAN TO SYMPATHIZE WITH THE SECTARIAN UPRISING. THIS (SYMPATHY) APPEARED IN FRIDAY PRAYER SERMONS, WHICH CALLED FOR VOLUNTEERS TO SUPPORT THE SUNNI’S IN SYRIA.

6. THE SITUATION ON THE IRAQI AND SYRIAN BORDER:

A. THREE BORDER BDES ARE SUFFICIENT TO CONTROL THE BORDERS DURING PEACE TIME FOR OBSERVATION DUTIES AND TO PREVENT SMUGGLING AND INFILTRATION.

B. {REDACTED}

C. IN PREVIOUS YEARS A MAJORITY OF AQI FIGHTERS ENTERED IRAQ PRIMARILY VIA THE SYRIAN BORDER.

7. THE FUTURE ASSUMPTIONS OF THE CRISIS:

A. THE REGIME WILL SURVIVE AND HAVE CONTROL OVER SYRIAN TERRITORY.

B. DEVELOPMENT OF THE CURRENT EVENTS INTO PROXY WAR: WITH SUPPORT FROM RUSSIA, CHINA, AND IRAN, THE REGIME IS CONTROLLING THE AREAS OF INFLUENCE ALONG COASTAL TERRITORIES (TARTUS AND LATAKIA), AND IS FIERCELY DEFENDING HOMS, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE PRIMARY TRANSPORTATION ROUTE IN SYRIA. ON THE OTHER HAND, OPPOSITION FORCES ARE TRYING TO CONTROL THE EASTERN AREAS (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), ADJACENT TO THE WESTERN IRAQI PROVINCES (MOSUL AND ANBAR), IN ADDITION TO NEIGHBORING TURKISH BORDERS. WESTERN COUNTRIES, THE GULF STATES AND TURKEY ARE SUPPORTING THESE EFFORTS. THIS HYPOTHESIS IS MOST LIKELY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE DATA FROM RECENT EVENTS, WHICH WILL HELP PREPARE SAFE HAVENS UNDER INTERNATIONAL SHELTERING, SIMILAR TO WHAT TRANSPIRED IN LIBYA WHEN BENGHAZI WAS CHOSEN AS THE COMMAND CENTER OF THE TEMPORARY GOVERNMENT.

8. THE EFFECTS ON IRAQ:

A. {REDACTED} SYRIAN REGIME BORDER FORCES RETREATED FROM THE BORDER AND THE OPPOSITION FORCES (SYRIAN FREE ARMY) TOOK OVER THE POSTS AND RAISED THEIR FLAG. THE IRAQI BORDER GUARD FORCES ARE FACING A BORDER WITH SYRIA THAT IS NOT GUARDED BY OFFICIAL ELEMENTS WHICH PRESENTS A DANGEROUS AND SERIOUS THREAT.

B. THE OPPOSITION FORCES WILL TRY TO USE THE IRAQI TERRITORY AS A SAFE HAVEN FOR ITS FORCES TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SYMPATHY OF THE IRAQI BORDER POPULATION, MEANWHILE TRYING TO RECRUIT FIGHTERS AND TRAIN THEM ON THE IRAQI SIDE, IN ADDITION TO HARBORING REFUGEES (SYRIA).

C. IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE STRATEGIC DEPTH OF THE SHiA EXPANSION (IRAQ AND IRAN).

D. THE DETERIORATION OF THE SITUATION HAS DIRE CONSEQUENCES ON THE IRAQI SITUATION AND ARE AS FOLLOWS:

1. THIS CREATES THE IDEAL ATMOSPHERE FOR AQI TO RETURN TO ITS OLD POCKETS IN MOSUL AND RAMADI, AND WILL PROVIDE A RENEWED MOMENTUM UNDER THE PRESUMPTION OF UNIFYING THE JIHAD AMONG SUNNI IRAQ AND SYRIA, AND THE REST OF THE SUNNIS IN THE ARAB WORLD AGAINST WHAT IT CONSIDERS ONE ENEMY, THE DISSENTERS. ISI COULD ALSO DECLARE AN ISLAMIC STATE THROUGH ITS UNION WITH OTHER TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, WHICH WILL CREATE GRAVE DANGER IN REGARDS TO UNIFYING IRAQ AND THE PROTECTION OF ITS TERRITORY.

2. {REDACTED}

3. THE RENEWING FACILITATION OF TERRORIST ELEMENTS FROM ALL OVER THE ARAB WORLD ENTERING INTO THE IRAQ AREA.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “GRAPHIC: ISIS claims last border crossing between Iraq & Syria”

18 Responses

  1. whatever the case. it was going to happen. it has happened. nobody really saw it coming. war is unpredictable. it takes a life of its own.

  2. Surprised at the assumption that the regime will survive.

    The Gulf states and Turkey got their nightmarish Salafist principality in ISIL.

  3. ‘Nobody saw it coming’ ? ‘War is unpredictable’ ? ‘It takes a life of its’ own’ ? And yet we jump in with billions of $$$$ eager to launch this ‘unpredictable’ thing which destroys millions of lives and ruins entire nations… while Hollywood stands on the sidelines and salivates hoping to see examples of American heroism in action… for the next blockbuster movie

  4. Please note the following from the DIA document:

    “C. IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE STRATEGIC DEPTH OF THE SHiA EXPANSION (IRAQ AND IRAN).”

    To repeat:

    “…and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime…”

    This is pretty clear. The supporting powers (I presume Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey–all U.S. allies) want a “….salafist principality in Eastern Syria”.

    Did the U.S. do anything to try and stop this from happening? So far as I can tell, no. Instead, the U.S. funneled a great deal of arms and money into the region, with the collaboration of the Gulf states, who did most of the logistical work. We know perfectly well that “ISIS” (or whatever you want to call it) has been well supplied with U.S. made heavy weapons. We know that they have resources far beyond what a local guerilla group could scrounge on their own. We know that “ISIS” has been brilliantly effective in using the Western media for propaganda purposes. As they say, when it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it most likely is a duck–or in this case, a very useful strategic asset for the West.

    I am against unfounded conspiracy theories, but in this case, the stated U.S. policy regarding “ISIS”, etc., in Syria and Iraq has been so bizarre and contradictory that what we see in this DIA document, by contrast, looks like sanity–finally the pieces fall into place. Yes, it is very Machievellian, but it is not as if the U.S. policy elite has not lied to the public about the real reasons for their actions before. We are being played, big time, by the policy elite. We cannot believe anything that the government tells us about “ISIS”.

  5. link to philipbobbitt.com

    The “Salafist principality” recalls Giovanni Sartori’s words (as cited by Philip Bobbitt) with reference to Machiavelli’s seminal treatise on the same:

    “the term that symbolized more than any other [a] vertical focus [of power]…that term is ‘Prince’.”

    The point is that “principality” in Western-informed/derived political discourse usually evokes “verticality,” i.e. power that descends from above, from an established and frequently imperial authority–even if its methods of acting are, as is routinely the case, veiled and surreptitious.

    Indeed, per Bobbitt, such a principality may potentially be the product, as well as the agency (so in this there is a paradox) of a “fundamental change in the strategic context [that] brings about fundamental change in the constitutional order, both the order of the individual modern state and the collective order of the society of modern states,” especially when there are grave political impasses as in the case of Syria, and before that Iraq; impasses that seemingly can only be resolved when the “principality” serves as instrument of a greater “vertical” power in its own edification, in its own reification, which otherwise would never have come about.

  6. Hi Juan,

    From the section regarding then-hypothetical development of a proxy war in Syria: 7B:
    …WESTERN COUNTRIES, THE GULF STATES AND TURKEY ARE SUPPORTING THESE EFFORTS [i.e., the opposition, no distinction made between moderates and crazies].

    section 8C goes on to describe the then-hypothetical result.

    Did the western powers, which i imagine includes the US, support the Syrian opposition (not specified whether moderate or extremist), as the analyst hypothesized they might? Did the result the analyst hypothesized happen, with extremists filling the vacuum once Assad’s regime was displaced?

    It just does not look good to me.

  7. Wow, the lone superpower whose might puts Roman Empire to shame, declares ISIS as a threat and she is watching Saudi Arabia, Turkey of NATO, Qatar , etc. doing all these shenanigans and telling Iraq that her soldiers have no will to fight. Tired of figuring out who is fooling whom .

  8. A response to Juan Cole’s lack of analysis here, from the website that was the first to report “ISIS as strategic asset” angle in DIA doc:

    link to levantreport.com

    Also includes Twitter embeds of CFR and Chatham House experts who DO seem to think this DIA doc his hugely significant.

  9. Juan. To your own question: “Did the US DIA see ISIL as a strategic Ally against al-Assad in 2012?” You answer NO. Perhaps you could explain how you arrived at that answer when point 8. C of the memo states quite clearly:

    ” IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE STRATEGIC DEPTH OF THE SHiA EXPANSION (IRAQ AND IRAN).”

    What part of “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT” don’t you understand?

    • gee David, I guess I don’t think interpreting texts is a glib activity that can be done without nuance or context. I quoted that passage to the readers. The question is what ‘supporters’ means there, in 2012. It didn’t mean the USA with regard to supporting the al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoots.

  10. US is also supporting power of the Opposition.
    Vali Nasr told Seymour Hersh Bandar said they will control these people.
    Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

    link to newyorker.com
    The Redirection

    US basically is still playing Clean Break and related playbook. This is not happening in isolation. Listen to Wesley Clark’s video and what he said in his book. Obama is just continuing what Bush started.
    These Jihadis are just so stupid do not even know how they are being played.

  11. This DIA document was written with the knowledge of what the US had done to stand up a (non-Syrian) Mercenary “Free Syrian Army” in Jordan in 2010.

  12. The title of this article is “Did the US DIA see ISIL as a strategic Ally against al-Assad in 2012?” and Dr Cole answers, our DIA did not.

    However, the DIA is not the only agency with a dog in this fight; agencies notoriously do not work together and administrations have been known to foster special departments within agencies or alternate agencies, at the expense of competing agencies, to do a job that political group wants done.

    Departments that don’t seem to support a party line, get left out of the loop, underfunded, see work dry up. Voter beware

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