State Piracy in Syria (And Iraq)
The takeover of eastern Syria and northern Iraq by the non-state entity Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)  is the biggest news in the region since the Western Coalition arrived in 2003 to oust former dictator Saddam Hussein from Iraq. The falsely media-flagged “Arab Spring” also made large headlines, but that movement merely marked the beginning of a long-planned and documented advance of Islamist extremism across the former Muslim-dominated crescent from Tunisia to Syria and Iraq. The seizure of territory by a non-state entity is the most significant turn of events in Iraq and Syria for many years.
Seizing territory from a sovereign state is an act of war and violates modern definitions of sovereignty and the Just War Tradition of the contemporary international environment. In response, other states in the international community normally act quickly to prevent and even punish such action, such as the Western Coalition’s invasion of Kuwait and Iraq in 1990-1991 to drive out the invading army of Saddam Hussein and Great Britain’s rescue of the Falkland Islands from Argentina’s seizure attempt in 1982. The act is more of an aberration when an illegitimate non-state entity attempts to seize territory from a sovereign state. If seizing territory by a foreign state is illegal, then the seizure by a non-state entity operating as the proxy of a sovereign state constitutes a form of state banditry, and even state piracy.
A non-state entity recently occupied territory from Syria and Iraq. ISIS declared its rule over territory it terms a “caliphate,” and will soon attempt to begin negotiations with other sovereign states, completing its bid for sovereignty. The common media fails to report, however, that this latest upheaval of stability in the Middle East originates from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, an alliance which this essay terms the “Muslim Coalition.” Indeed, Saudi Arabia was initially confident of dominating the “new” government in Syria when it initiated violent proxy action to depose Assad, and this organized violence has extended across northern Iraq. The underlying thread to this entire saga, however, is the potential massive wealth from a natural gas pipeline.
Initial Conditions: Syria
In 2009, Saudi Arabia and Qatar approached Hassan al-Assad, desiring to run a natural gas pipeline through Syria and Turkey to the Mediterranean, from which they could market the final product in Europe. Assad declined the Saudi deal, instead signing a deal for the “Islamic pipeline” project from southern Iran across northern Iraq to Syrian ports, which would ensure immense strategic growth for the sphere of Shia Islam. The Islamic pipeline (Shia dominated) would translate into $billions in natural gas revenue, which would transform the economies of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and thus prove to be detrimental and against the strategic interest of the Muslim Coalition. Naturally, the alliance could not tolerate this, and soon instigated non-state proxies to seize territory from Syria and Iraq, following which they plan to install a puppet government which, in the words of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia will completely control. Before initiating the regime change, Saudi Arabia even offered to pay the U.S. to conduct it, because Saudi Arabia is confident that it will control any new government in Syria. In time, this arrangement will allow the Muslim Coalition to construct the “Nabucco”  pipeline so it can compete in the European natural gas market and reap $billions, and with it increase its export of radical Islam. In this case, the negative result of state piracy is the increase of terrorism.
To conduct regime change in Syria, the Muslim Coalition staged an insurrection in Syria under the guise of a civil war by funding rebel groups, including Al Qaeda and others, and shipping in foreign fighters and sex jihadis (Muslim women who offer themselves for sex to random jihadis) from as far away as Tunisia. Syria became a bloodbath, as foreign fighters and insurrectionist rebels in Syria engaged in customary Islamist warfare: brutality, murder, beheadings, crucifixions, mutilation of enemy corpses, and extreme persecution of religious minority groups. Despite claims to the contrary from certain factions within the international community, a UN investigation found that a sarin gas attack on civilians in Syria did not originate from Assad’s government forces, but originated from a rebel faction.
The rebel factions initially united to some success, but Assad’s regime dug in and the “rebels” could not conquer. Then a branch of Al Qaeda split and rebranded itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and continued atrocities in the name of the insurrection. Indeed, the U.S. State Department confirms that “ISIL is al Qaeda,” but worse, that ISIL is “al Qaeda in its doctrine, ambition and increasingly in its threat to U.S. interests.”
A fundamental factor of ISIS’ attempted regime change and atrocities in Syria is that they violate nearly every facet of the international norms of sovereignty, the Just War Tradition, and human rights. Not that the Muslim Coalition, ISIS, or any of the other rebel factions were interested in maintaining international norms, and this is the danger and the risk to stability in the region. According to the Saudi Prince, the attempted regime change in Syria is about the natural gas pipeline and securing its wealth for the Muslim Coalition.
Conditions Spread: Iraq
Failing to depose Assad, ISIS then moved into Iraq, seizing territory and declaring an Islamic Caliphate, and right on time, according to the timeline presented by the Al Qaeda in 2005. Known in the popular media as the “Arab Spring,” this is the movement conducted by Arab insurrectionists to reclaim territory they presume belonged to the original Islamic caliphate. The movement proceeded from Tunisia to Libya, then to Egypt where it slowed considerably and nearly ended, but then erupted again in Syria and now Iraq. Once they deposed the former rulers of these countries, perpetrators of the “Arab Spring” immediately set about installing their harsh version of sharia and terrorizing the population. In Tunisia, the new Islamist government established sharia and murdered two leaders of the political opposition, resulting in the population calling for the new Islamist regime to resign. In Libya, the “revolution” of 2011 rapidly descended into instability and an open challenge to the government by the several branches of the newly liberated militia. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood encountered stiff opposition because of its attempt to do the same, but there it ended in a popular revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood and the labeling of the organization as an outlaw group, followed by forced disbanding by the new Egyptian government. These sequential insurrections occurred according to the timeline proposed by several members of Al Qaeda, phases four and five of which call for the destruction of the “hated Arabic governments” and the re-establishment of the caliphate. In other words, the insurrectionist movements from Tunisia to Syria and Iraq did not happen spontaneously; rather, Al Qaeda and its supporters planned them deliberately. The declaration of the “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq is merely the next step in this development.
The ISIS movement of terrorist groups has now spread to cover most of northern Iraq, violating the international sovereignty there, as well. According to norms of sovereignty, the international community has an obligation to protect the sovereignty of states, especially from non-state, illegitimate actors. There are several examples of the defense of sovereignty other than Kuwait and the Falkland Islands. One main purpose of the Western Coalition’s “War on Terror” was to prevent Al Qaeda from finding safe haven in Iraq, thus defending stability in the Middle East region. Additionally, the U.S. President recently clarified to the Philippines and the Baltic States that “Allies never stand alone” in their struggle for freedom and sovereignty.  To note a contradiction, if the Coalition first demolished Hussein’s Iraq and then re-established the Iraqi government according to democratic sovereignty, it would follow that protecting the fledgling sovereignty of its newest creation would be high on the list of the Western Coalition’s defense priorities. To its detriment, however, the world community looks on, allowing an increase in strategic liability.
In Iraq, ISIS, which already “has a reputation for brutality,” has also mandated the controversial Islamic law known as sharia, in which Muslim conquerors offer only three choices to conquered people: 1) Conversion to Islam, 2) Pay the jizya, or non-Muslim tax that also carries severe social penalties and reversion to second-class citizenship status, or 3) Death. Along with enforcing sharia, ISIS also initiated the historic behavior of Islamic conquerors by engaging in extreme brutality, including beheadings, crucifixions, massacres, and even genocide against minority religious groups who have lived in Iraq longer than the history of Islam.
As an interesting side note, the popular media quickly diverted to a spontaneous development in Israel and a rogue shoot-down of a passenger airliner in the Ukraine, and seems to have forgotten about the attempted regime change occurring in Syria and Iraq. The media conveniently shifted its focus to Israel and Gaza immediately after ISIS declared its caliphate and announced that it would kill all remaining Christians in the area. Palestinians launching rockets into Israel is the proportional equivalent of bandits from Tijuana digging their tunnels under the U.S. border and launching rockets into San Diego, whereas ISIS stealing territory from Syria and Iraq is the equivalent of a Mexican drug cartel seizing the Mississippi River shipping lanes. The conflict in Israel and Gaza will soon revert to normal, but the face of Syria and Iraq, and indeed much of the Middle East, has already changed significantly, and after Gaza is over and the media readjusts its focus to include Iraq again, those who observe only the popular media will never know the difference.
According to the Muslim Coalition’s model of ultimately creating a sovereign “state,” now that ISIS “owns” territory, the group will proceed to claim sovereignty, then international recognition and funding, and finally relations with other states. The Muslim Coalition will then gladly provide support, funding, and more weapons, and then it will assume control of the “new” government, construct the Nabucco pipeline with its natural gas revenue flowing to the three donors, and finally proceed to spread its Islamic terrorism by proxy. This is the strategic risk to the world community.
The reality of this situation is that a group of non-state bandits has attacked sovereign states and seized territory, which contradicts every convention of sovereignty in the contemporary international environment. Through these proxy non-state entities, the Muslim Coalition intends to dominate the new government and install a natural gas pipeline running from Qatar and Saudi Arabia through Syria for sale from Turkish ports to Europe. This carries significant strategic implications.
The current state piracy in Syria and Iraq violates several international norms, mainly those governing sovereignty, the Just War Tradition, and human rights. Normally, the international community intends that these norms regulate and constrain the behavior of international actors, but enforcement of these norms depends on the behavior of the community itself. Indeed, ISIS only continues its occupation because the international community shows no sign of doing anything to stop it.
Groups of states created the norms of sovereignty and the Just War Tradition to govern states’ behavior during war and to reduce the moral and material damage done to states and their populations during conflict, as well as to stabilize the international environment. These norms did not appear suddenly and they are not arbitrary. Rather, concerned states and conventions of states developed and perfected them over the course of decades, even centuries, based on tried and proven experience. In other words, the norms of sovereignty, the Just War Tradition, and human rights represent centuries-old wisdom in international relations that originated not from arbitrary invention but from proven practices.
The principles of sovereignty represent good order in the world community, and govern the behavior of most states, if not all. Indeed, nation-states comprise the international community, sovereignty governs the relations between them, and states have the obligation to protect the sovereignty of other states.
Eliminating the Western Coalition’s attempt to maintain stability in the Middle East region by invading Iraq in 2003, Al Qaeda now occupies half of Iraq and portions of Syria in the form of ISIS after seizing terrain in an unjust war. The Muslim Coalition is waging state piracy to depose Assad and seize territory in Iraq, to fulfill the simultaneous strategic objectives of completing the Nabucco pipeline, pocketing the wealth from the natural gas market, and reducing Iran’s influence in the region. The purpose of the following discussion demonstrates the futility of this strategy and the danger it poses to world stability. The strategy is unsound because once the Muslim Coalition controls the “new” government, it will construct the pipeline and begin reaping natural gas revenue, which will in turn allow it to continue exporting regime change, aka “Arab Spring,” and its associated terrorism.
Ends: The Muslim Coalition’s objective, proxied by ISIS, is to depose the ruler of Syria and claim territory in Iraq to set up a regime controlled by the Saudi crown. Not only does this allow the Coalition to construct the natural gas pipeline, but also to impede the progress of its archenemy, Iran. However, seizing territory from a sovereign state contradicts the conditions of establish order in the international environment, so this end is not strategically sound.
Ways: Waging justified state on state warfare is one thing, but waging proxy war to depose Assad and seize territory from sovereign Iraq violates all seven principles of the Just War Tradition.
- Last resort: The Muslim Coalition did not exhaust all other methods of attaining its objectives, namely negotiation with Assad’s government, and it made no effort at negotiation with Iraq.
- Legitimate authority: States must fight wars using uniformed, formal state militaries. The ISIS is nothing of the sort, and is rather a group of foreign fighter bandits committing large-scale atrocities.
- Must have a reasonable chance of success: The possibility of successfully deposing Assad had clearly subsided before ISIS claimed portions of Syria and Iraq. Due to the illegitimate nature and terrorist techniques of ISIS, their claims will not last long.
- Fought to re-establish peace: ISIS only expands conflict with its torture, mutilation, and oppression.
- Violence must be proportional to the injury suffered: Neither the Muslim Coalition nor ISIS received wrongs of violence from Syrian or Iraqi forces. Although Assad’s regime may have committed violence in certain areas, ISIS inflicts its terrorist rule on the entire populace, which is not proportional to Assad’s violence.
- Must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants: ISIS does not discriminate, but inflicts its Islamist tortures and arbitrary edicts on the entire conquered populace, civilian or military.
- To right a wrong suffered: States can fight wars only to “redress a wrong suffered.” Assad may have committed atrocities in Syria, but according to point two, only a formal, legitimate authority can wage a war against Assad. ISIS, with its composition of foreign state pirates, is not a legitimate authority.
Means: Occupying a sovereign state’s territory is one thing, but sending a non-uniformed force to do it violates the second principle of the Just War Tradition, which holds that only legitimate authorities, i.e., only formal militaries from sovereign states, can execute them. This principle of the Just War Tradition has its origin in preventing precisely the occurrence of events surrounding the current state piracy in Syria and Iraq, meaning the prevention of mistreatment of conquered populations by ill-disciplined and oppressive mercenaries. The long list of torture, massacre, genocide, and other human rights violations by ISIS clarifies the necessity of this principle.
Is it suitable or acceptable? No. This action is not suitable because it violates the principles of sovereignty, the Just War Tradition, and human rights. The U.S.-led coalition repulsed Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990-1991 because of Hussein violated Kuwait's sovereignty. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is no different, and is indeed more of a violation of sovereignty because the Muslim Coalition is using a non-state entity as its means. ISIS’ use of inhumane, unjust, and otherwise criminal tactics make it that much more unacceptable.
Is it feasible? Yes, but only in the short term. The ease at which ISIS seized power indicates that this piracy is indeed physically possible. Just because a non-state entity can seize territory and oppress its populace does not mean that it should, or that the local populace or international community will allow it to remain. Because the operation is unacceptable at any level, it will not stand in the long run.
Risk: There are two main risks to the Muslim Coalition’s strategy in Syria and Iraq, which are the violation of international norms and the risk of unintended consequences. First, in violating the norms of sovereignty, the Just War Tradition, and human rights, ISIS and the Muslim Coalition risk a backlash from the international community. In light of historical response to such violations, it is only a matter of time before some actor responds to ISIS and its extremism. The international community does not appreciate violations of the long-established norms of sovereignty, and Iran is a possible strong ally of Maliki in Iraq. The Barbary Pirates commandeered ships and sailors, and thus the property of other sovereign states, which led to the victim states’ reaction and the end of the piracy.
Second, this action risks destabilizing the region with unintended consequences resulting from using an illegitimate proxy. The torture, beheadings, crucifixions, female genital mutilation, genocide, and even the use of poison gas by ISIS destabilize the region because of resistance to such measures, including uprisings against any rule it may attempt to install. Strict regimens such the sharia enforced by ISIS on “its” territory are never popular. The tribes of Mosul already rejected the strict sharia rule of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and many of its allies.  This means that ISIS’ rule is already eroding, as did the rule of the “Arab Spring” Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. With this record, local popular support for the “Arab Spring” in each of its target states has rapidly turned as cold as an Islamist winter. True to form, such atrocities do not sit well with neighbors, and they are responding. The Muslim Coalition therefore risks greater disorder and possibly international criminal proceedings for the violations of international norms - in short, the state piracy - of its ISIS pirates. U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf has already called for the referral of ISIS to the International Criminal Court for its crimes against humanity. It appears that these risks are insurmountable and are already reducing ISIS’ influence on “its” new territory. Even members of Al Qaeda and former ISIS allies declared the leader of ISIS illegitimate and removed themselves from the alliance, and numerous Iraqi civilians “reject [ISIS], their caliphate and their bloody approach.” As the strategic analysis predicts, the power of ISIS is already waning.
The final assessment of the Muslim Coalition’s strategy of using a proxy to wage state piracy against Syria and Iraq is that it is not suitable, it is not acceptable, and it carries insurmountable risk. This is an illegitimate operation in Syria and Iraq, to the extent that “No one likes ISIS,” and therefore, no one likes the proxy takeover. If the strategy is unsound and it violates international norms, then the international community also bears responsibility to stop it, and will reap the consequences of ignoring it.
When criminals conduct illegal activity, appropriate terms and actions apply. State to state negotiation is diplomacy, but attempted regime change and seizing territory in order to further states’ special interest is closer to state piracy. Instead of adhering to normal guidelines regarding international diplomacy and commerce to secure a pipeline deal with Syria, the Muslim Coalition used proxy entities to attempt regime change and seize territory in Syria and Iraq. This strategy is unsound because it violates international norms, it increases terrorism and instability, and it increases strategic risk to the entire region. By ignoring these violations and refusing to intervene according to well-established conventions of international behavior, the Muslim Coalition and the world community invite the consequences of allowing pirates to establish states.
 This article includes ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in its reference to ISIS.
 Landay 2014.
 Musharbarsh 2005.
 Fowler and Bunck 1996; Just War Theory.
 Garamone 2003, Landay 2014.
 Landay, Reuters 2014, “Convert, pay tax, or die, Islamic State warns Christians.”
 Ahmed 2013; Durden 2013; Klein 2013, “Is this what Syria war really about?”; Klein 2013, ““Saudi Tail Wagging U.S. into War?”; Zaman 2014, Landay 2014; Pipes, “Iraq Crisis.”
 Klein 2013.
 Taylor 2014.
 Ahmed 2013, Durden 2013, Klein 2013, “Is this what Syria war really about?”
 Klein 2013.
 Ahmed 2013, Durden 2013, Klein 2013, “Is this what Syria war really about?”
 Klein 2013, “Is this what Syria war really about?”; Klein 2013, ““Saudi Tail Wagging U.S. into War?”
 Ibid., Ahmed 2013, Durden 2013.
 Klein 2013.
 Pipes (both), Starr 2014, Zaman 2014, Landay 2014, Klein 2013, , Ahmed 2013, “Tunisian women 'waging sex jihad in Syria,'” Klein 2013, “Is this what Syria war really about?”
 Hofmann 2013; Hollingsworth 2014; Landay 2014; Saul 2014; Spillet 2014; Chiaramonte 2014; “Iraq crisis: Voices from Mosul under ISIS control;” Pipes, “ISIS Rampages.”
 Ahmed 2013, Watson 2013, “Syria chemical attack: What we know,” “The Syrian War What You're Not Being Told.”
 Starr 2014, Landay 2014.
 Landay 2014, Pipes, “ISIS Rampages.”
 Musharbash, 2005.
 “Tunisia: Opposition leader shot dead,” Putz 2013, “Tunisia: A political deadlock?”
 Nasser 2013, Manfreda.
 Musharbash 2005.
 Marszal, et. al, also "‘Allies do not stand alone,’ Obama assures PHL."
 “Convert, pay tax, or die, Islamic State warns Christians,” ““Iraq crisis: Voices from Mosul under ISIS control,” Starr 2014, Saul 2014, Hollingsworth 2014.
 Hollingsworth 2014, Saul 2014.
 Just War Tradition.
 Editing notes from Dr. Dan Gilewitch, CGSC.
 Al-Obaidi 2014, “Anbar tribes reject negotiations with al-Qaeda,” “Anbar tribes reject ISIL loyalty bid, vow to fight,”Nasser 2013, Manfreda.
 Hollingsworth 2014.
 Al-Qaisi 2014, “ISIL's self-glorified Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi lacks legitimacy.”
 Al-Qaisi 2014, “Iraqi civilians, officials reject ISIL's 'caliphate.'”
 Pipes 2014, “ISIS Rampages.