One of the few silver linings to the current bellum omnium contra omnes that is the Middle East was supposed to be that, as much as they both hated us, our old terrorist enemy and new—al Qaeda and ISIS—hated each other as well. As Al Arabiya reports, that is increasingly not the case:
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, classified by the United States as the network’s deadliest franchise, “prohibits taking part in the fight against” ISIS, which controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria, AQAP said in a statement posted on jihadist forums.“We urge all mujahedeen [Muslim fighters] to set aside their differences and inter-factional fighting and move instead against the crusade targeting all” jihadists, it added…“This is a campaign against Islam” that has brought together “crusaders [Christians], majus [a pejorative term for Iranians], and traitor apostate leaders,” it said.
This news comes about a week after reports that the Al Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, was trying to patch things up with ISIS. As we noted then, the US air campaign against ISIS not only has been historically weak, but also ran the risk of bolstering ISIS’ credibility among its fellow jihadis.Note too the anti-Iranian ‘majus’ language in AQAP’s release. As TAI editor Adam Garfinkle has pointed out, attacking ISIS in Syria without going after Assad at the same time had the potential to confirm the worst Sunni fear, i.e. that the US was being used as an Iranian-Syrian cat’s-paw. The more this seems to be the case, the more ISIS’ claim to be a sort of Sunni self-defense force, rather than a radical, repressive bunch of millennialists, will have holding power.If we don’t find a way to make American airstrikes more damaging than the support they gin up, we could wind up with a worst of both worlds scenario—confirming ISIS’ narrative while leaving it intact and dangerous.