Though capable of staging spectacular attacks like 9/11, jihadist organizations were not a significant force on the ground when they first became notorious in the shape of al-Qa‘ida at the turn of century. The West’s initial successes in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan weakened their support still further.
Today, as renowned Middle East commentator Patrick Cockburn sets out in this explosive new book, that’s all changed. Exploiting the missteps of the West’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as its misjudgments in relation to Syria and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, jihadist organizations, of which ISIS is the most important, are swiftly expanding. They now control a geographical territory greater in size than Britain or Michigan, stretching from the Sunni heartlands in the north and west of Iraq through a broad swath of north-east Syria. On the back of their capture of Mosul and much of northern Iraq in June 2014, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been declared the head of a new caliphate that demands the allegiance of all Muslims.
The secular, democratic politics that were supposedly at the fore of the Arab Spring have been buried by the return of the jihadis. As the Islamic State announced by ISIS confronts its enemies, the West will once again become a target. Cockburn cites an observer in southern Turkey interviewing Syrian jihadi rebels early in 2014 and finding that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the US.”
How could things have gone so badly wrong? Writing in these pages with customary calmness and clarity, and drawing on unrivaled experience as a reporter in the region, Cockburn analyzes the unfolding of one of the West’s greatest foreign policy debacles and the rise of the new jihadis.
“Amid the many books published on the current conflicts reshaping the Middle East, few are as informative or perceptive as The Rise of Islamic State.”
“Quite simply, the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today.”
“His dispatches from Iraq are an exemplary untangling of the political and social complexity that lies behind one of the world’s great crises. He writes fairly, compassionately and clearly, with a steady and knowledgeable eye.”
“One of the most accurate and intrepid journalists in Iraq.”