Water was the medium that made the Portuguese discoveries possible. This sounds like an oxymoron, but I think water is so special it deserves a text of its own—after all, it was the circulation of seawater, and the consequences it had for navigation, that got me interested in Vasco da Gama when I was an undergraduate.

Shortly after that, specialists in hydrology began forecasting that the next great war wouldn’t be about land claims or oil—it would be about water. They’ve waited a few decades, but their predictions are finally coming true.

The Da’esh, or Islamic State, understands that in Iraq, control of water is the key to the nation. They know that the Mosul Dam, which harnesses the Tigris, controls the lives of millions of people, both directly and through crop irrigation.

The Mosul dam provides water and electricity to 1.7 million people.

The Mosul dam provides water and electricity to 1.7 million people.

The structure, which once had the unfortunate name of Saddam Dam, was briefly held by Islamic militants, now displaced through US air campaigns and Kurdish boots on the ground.

The dam leaks, which has led to huge concrete injections in problem areas—the US administration said the dam was built on unstable soil, which makes it a potential danger to downstream populations.

Da’esh has centered its campaign on water and oil. The three key dams are Mosul, Haditha, and Fallujah. The Sunni terror group secured the Fallujah dam in February 2014, and has been engaged in fierce fighting for Haditha.

In parallel, oil has provided both the cash to fuel the fight and the direct resupply of vehicles. The American ass is in the proverbial sling on this one—they know their only practical solutions are either to destroy the key resources of water and oil, or to engage in ground combat.

When I wrote Atmos Fear, it seemed obvious to me there would be unpredictable developments to a war that was both foolish and naive. Once again, truth turned out stranger than fiction.

History flags a few brilliant generals who changed the course of nations, and in every case, the only thing that stopped them was the favorite weapon of Da’esh—decapitation.

This removal of the head need not be literal, but for the likes of Caesar or Napoleon, the only brake was death. Joseph, son of Ayyub, known to the West as Saladin, died in his bed. Genghis Khan also died naturally, after securing dynastic continuity.

The US cannot destroy the oil and water that forms the lifeblood of Islamic State, an infrastructure that it rebuilt and helped maintain—that would be a tragic end to its ‘Iraqi decade.’ The obscure Saudi terrorist in Atmos Fear plotted to increase the US presence in Iraq, and in particular to force the Americans to keep boots on the ground.

The beni al kalb, or sons of dogs, as the Arabs call the US, are a magnet for unrest, and Al Baghdadi shows extremely unusual skills in conducting this asymmetric war. Caliph Ibrahim is the man to destroy, sooner rather than later.

Da’esh have forced the US back into the mire. They’ve put Obama in the worst place he could possibly be, as he enters the last period of his last term in office—the US president is forced to re-engage in the very war he voted against. They have split the West on Syria, promoted US discord with Turkey, and brought the Americans closer to Iran, thereby seriously pissing off the Saudis—Caliph Ibrahim, as the head of IS is known, is clearly a man who likes a game of chess.

IS have played Western media like a Stradivarius, chopping off the requisite heads to stir up righteous anger and force engagement. As their forces occupy or enter urban areas, the fear of civilian casualties precludes further air strikes.

Amazingly, Web 2.0, which is run by US companies, has become a weapon of mass destruction, with the likes of Facebook and YouTube publicizing the most grizzly events; the vacuous 24h news channels provide additional oxygen. Western civil liberties grant immunity to those hell-bent on destroying its very fabric.

In country, Da’esh controls towns and villages using two well-proven ingredients: fear and efficacy. The poor of Iraq, and there are many, welcome a structure that provides stability, reduces corruption, and puts the rule of law within reach of the disenfranchised common man.

The would-be caliphate provides water and electricity, and charges accordingly. It shows no mercy to the incumbents if they don’t submit to its rule. In many ways, this is the self-same model that put the Taliban in power after a decade of dissolute warlords.

The great game has changed since the days of the Afghan campaigns a century and a half ago, to a scenario where the West fights by proxy. The Sunni-Shia conflict dominates the Mid-East from Karachi to Kandahar, from Damascus to Jeddah.

The parties are burning to slay one another, fired with a zeal the West is beyond comprehending. Only Britain and the United States stay in the mix, part of a problem Churchill helped create almost one hundred years ago. In there too are the Israelis, fighting for survival.

The dams may break or the dams may hold, but blood, as they say, is thicker than water.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.


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