|Life Magazine 1952: The beheading of a partisan|
My good friend Danny Weston, whom I respect a great deal, emailed me this morning to say that both Richard North and I have underestimated ISIS. We don't think so.
There is a great deal of hyperventilation over the beheading of James Foley along with a threat that if US forces do not stop their attacks against ISIS a second journalist will be killed. This tells us that ISIS are worried.
ISIS is touted as being a cohesive fighting force and a grave threat to the West. It isn't. It isn't even that much of a threat to Iraq. Their military successes are due to the Iraqi army deserting due to Sunni officers refusing to engage which is entirely a consequence of domestic politics. The reputation of ISIS is further forged by the use of casual brutality because fear is a potent weapon. Their reputation alone means they didn't have to fight running battles as the Iraqi army was not prepared to fight them.
ISIS seemingly has a sophisticated grasp of the power of media and social media, and it is trolling the West using our media as a weapon. As Mr Weston remarked "they've got our number". The horrors they post online are magnified many times on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, and ISIS knows the Western media will obligingly spread their message of fear far and wide. But it isn't working.
With the removal of Maliki and we are seeing the Iraqi army re-engaging. While the first engagement in Tikrit can not be said to have yielded immediate results, 4000 volunteers came forward today to fight a new offensive. ISIS have very little domestic support on the ground in Iraq, and I don't suppose Tikriti people will give any more of a tinkers damn about a dead Western journalist any more than I do.
This is not by any means a new practice. The Japanese in World War Two were accomplished decapitators, with the practice widely used in Korea and Vietnam along with suicide bombings. While rumours of this practice were demoralising, when it happened to a particular squad, the only word on a the lips of an entire brigade was "payback".
With British media apoplectic over this demanding that something must be done, local media from the region is reporting that something is being done - by Iraqis, for Iraqis, with the Iraqi air force finally engaged in the fighting. And about time too.
Morons like Con Coughlin who have bought the line that a caliphate has been established are misreading the situation because they simply haven't bothered to look beyond the claustrophobic confines of Western media, which is often days behind the times and lacks the necessary scepticism to separate fact from supposition.
"I believe the Government is fully justified in taking whatever action is necessary to defeat the jihadist menace." says Coughlin, but actually, on reflection, this is a tedious run of the mill tribal uprising and it's entirely up to the Iraqis to get their act together. It's looking like they will. Meanwhile, the hyperbole that ISIS "controls the city of Tikrit" is put into perspective with a quick trip to Google Maps. It's the size of Skipton in North Yorkshire, with a similarly primitive culture.
I can't see the threats by ISIS weakening US resolve and I don't see it impacting Iraqi opinion at all. ISIS have had their day in the sun, but tribal alliances are fickle and can change overnight - and this mythical fighting force of ten thousand will soon be halved, and sooner or later will turn on each other. The script is already written because that is how tribal surges always play out. As to the Kurds, everything that is politically convenient is being done and I expect to see further positive results in the near future. So can we please not lose our heads over this?