The Power Behind ISIL, the Breath-Taking Hypocrisy of South African Officials and the Qatari Disappearances

Back from a wonderful, golden summer.   Spent some of it reading books in various superb locations so starting next week will be a series of reviews.  I will start with a book that purports to teach people ‘how to gamble like a professional’.

However,  lets us start with ISIL, SAFA and the Qatari Police ‘disappearing’ of labour researchers.


Iraq and ISIL

Sigh.  Here it goes again.   The same clatter of the terrorist-military industrial complex revving itself up on the screens and pages of the English-language media.

If you have missed the reports, it is the same bunch of suit-clad white guys declaring that the end of civilization is upon us because of the actions of ISIL in Iraq.   These commentators (few of whom speak Arabic) declare that ISIL is a threat on the streets of London, New York and across Europe.    The TV anchors nod and look serious as they let this gang of clowns invade our public space with their malarkey.

It is all reminiscent of those outrageous stories we heard from the likes of the former British prime minister Tony Blair – “Saddam Hussein can launch a missile that can hit London in 45-minutes” – before the last war in Iraq.  The same nonsense. The same painful comparisons with Hitler or the Nazis.  The same blah, blah, blah delivered in solemn tones.

I was a freelance journalist in Iraq. I hate hearing that my colleagues were murdered.   The killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff are atrocities.  The attacks on minority groups like the Christians, Turkomens and Yezidis are loathsome war crimes.    However, like Cooley and Sotloff, I deeply revere the truth and there are some issues that needed to be clarified before we start revving up the rhetoric.

The first question is who are ISIL: a bunch of supermen?

Iraq has a population of 36 million people.   ISIL is purported to have turned 1 million of them into refugees. It is purported to have taken over control of the government and streets of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul with a population of 2-million people. It is also supposed to be actively fighting against the al-Assad regime in Syria. It is supposed to have been fighting against the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  It is also supposed to have extended control over the Sunni triangle to the very borders of Baghad.

Really?  How?

ISIL is supposed to have only 30,000 fighters in Iraq (and that is the maximum number count, most estimates put them at less than 12,000).  Either someone did some serious under-counting or there is something else going on there.

30,000 people could not fill a football stadium.  How are they supposed to spread terror and Islamic governance over an area twice the size of Scotland and a population greater than Canada?  Yes, they could act as terrorists but what we are told is that ISIL has proclaimed an Islamic state and is running the area that they control on Islamic principles.

Here is what, I believe, is going on.   All politics are local.  The Sunni tribes of central Iraq are using ISIL to put pressure on the Iraq government (largely Shia – who have been excluding them from political and economic power for the last few years).   These are powerful groups whose fighters (and former Iraqi army officers) could quickly overcome ISIL.

ISIL has risen with their help and so long as they are useful to these Sunni power centres, they will be allowed to continue. Once they get too big for their boots, the Sunni tribes will eliminate them.   As they did to ISIL’s predecessors when they tried to take over Anbar Province in 2006.

If this is the case, why the end-of-the-world rhetoric?

Part of the problem is that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are angling for more guns and military supplies.  Most interviews with western journalists features some dubious-looking Kurdish official saying, “We need more guns and supplies to beat back ISIL.”

The Kurds want more guns in part to help out against ISIL but much, much more to fight the Iraqi Army. The Peshmerga have little intention of trying to retake Mosul, but they really want to carve out an independent state for themselves in northern Iraq.

If ISIL had brains (which they do) they will reach out to the Turkish military (who loathe the idea of an independent Kurdistan and the alleged support the Iraqi Kurds give to the Turkish Kurdish guerrilla forces who are fighting for an independent Kurdish state in eastern Turkey – see how complicated this local politics gets?)

The Iraqi army ‘trained’ by the Americans that folded so quickly this summer in Mosul has been always a bunch of rabble who wore their uniforms for money and little else (as are many of their counterparts in Afghanistan). I once saw a promotional video of their US trainers rubbing one of his students on the head with his left hand.  If the American military trainers are so stupid that they do not know what an insult that action is in the Middle East and they put it in a promotional video then the fighting spirit and aptitude of the people they trained will be only as good as their next Pentagon-backed pay cheque.

Finally, the clowns we see on our screens and newspaper articles are, for the most part, trying to prime their own pump.   Since the death of Osama bin Laden funding for the anti-terrorism-industrial-complex has been on the decline. ISIL’s rise has come at the opportune moment to get it flowing again.


It is not often you can feel a twinge of sympathy for FIFA officials, but the actions this week of South African football officials is up there with great historical examples of breath-taking hypocrisy.

To review:   Some unknown South African Football Association official (or officials) helped the Dan Tan/Wilson Raj Perumal gang fix a series of international friendly matches played by the South African team just before the start of the 2010 World Cup.

The official (s) helped the fixers by persuading other officials at the cash-strapped SAFA that it would be a sensible investment to let outsiders arrange the referees for these games.

Quite why SAFA was ‘cash-strapped’ weeks before the start of the World Cup, an event which saw the country pour billions of rands/dollars/Swiss francs into the tournament is a question no one seems to have investigated.

In 2012, FIFA prepared a report on the matches stating that in the investigators’ opinion the matches had been fixed and that the fixers had help from people within the South African Football Association.  The report urges the South African government to properly investigate the matter using police or judicial powers. (This story was the basis for a series of articles that I wrote earlier this year with Jere Longman for the New York Times).

After the report was shown to them, the South Africans apparently became so concerned that someone might examine other issues (like what happened to all the money for the tournament?) that they sent their sports minister and SAFA officials to Switzerland to ask that FIFA focus any investigation on only the question of the fixed matches.

Then in March of this year, after a series of convoluted and internecine South African football political manoeuvres and whole lot of presumably-honest officials being fired from the association, the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma announced there would be no official South African investigation into the affair and that the whole problem was now FIFA’s issue.

How FIFA with no subpoena powers, no capacity to issue arrest warrants or obtain phone and computer records is supposed to get to the bottom of this issue is a mystery.

What is also a mystery is that – now – South African officials are chastising FIFA for not properly examining the issue.


Finally,  a note of support for Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.  These men are the two researchers in labour issues who were ‘disappeared’ in Doha, when they tried to investigate the conditions of workers constructing the World Cup stadiums.  It is an action that reveals the hypocrisy of the Qatari stance on human rights and anti-corruption issues.  Shame on the Qatar Government and strength to Mr. Upadhyaya and Mr. Gundev.

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