Understanding the Islamic State’s strategies in the context of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

The Islamic State’s targets may seem to be chosen randomly however, there is an absolutely historical and geo-strategic motives behind it and therefore Paris attacks should be distinguished from other Islamic State attacks. In its scale and planning, the violence in Paris — which has left at least 127 dead — are the most effective terrorist attacks since the 9/11 in the Western world.

Although the Islamic State came to prominence with brutal terrorist methods, there are particular features which are differs the Islamic State from other jihadist groups. Islamic State is the first jihadist group that began to implement the al-Qaeda’s utopia in practice which envisages the unification of Muslim countries on a vast geography (Ottoman Empire’s pre-WWI borders) under the thumb of the Caliphate and Islamic law namely the sharia as a natural successor of former Turkish/Ottoman Empire. In the meantime, the Islamic State again is the first jihadist group that take a major step forward in seizing oil fields and enterprises in mostly failed states which was an primary al-Qaeda geo-strategy to overcome Western states and their allies within Islamic world on the basis of energy (oil) cooperation. Unlike other jihadist groups the Islamic State did not only target the West or its allies but also the other jihadist groups and states in the region which were refused to obey or rival to Islamic State’s conditions and rules. In this respect, these attacks could be considered as strategic mistake for the Islamic State while they are in heavily conflict with the Kurdish Armed Resistance – the PKK’s Syria branch the YPG and Peshmerga forces and under a massive air strike by partly Russia and the United States.

Where should we situate the attacks in the bigger picture that took place simultaneously in Paris and Beirut? The motives behind those attacks are symbolically and historically integrated. 2016 is the year of the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement (the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France who share dealing collusion) which is often emphasized by the Islamic State. The Sykes-Picot Agreement represents the fragmentation and elimination of the Caliphate and Turkish/Ottoman Empire namely the Islamic world as well as historical Western, Christian intervention in the region. The Islamic State claims one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse the effects of the Sykes–Picot Agreement. “This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders,” a jihadist from the Islamic State warned in the video called End of Sykes-Picot. Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul vowed that “this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy”.

Coincidentally, one hundred years ago, on November 23, 1915 London meeting of the Sykes-Picot agreement negotiations had begun between François Georges-Picot on behalf of France who was born and died in Paris and Mark Sykes on behalf of British Empire who also died in Paris. Moreover, in the 1950s and 60s Beirut was known as ‘the Paris of the Middle East’ – widely seen as more chic, more cosmopolitan than the ‘Paris-on-the-Nile’ created by Francophile architects and planners west of the old city of Cairo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As with much of the Islamic State’s terror, the attack and the horrific imagery it has produced were designed to send a message with dual meanings. As an ideological symbol, Sykes-Picot tells us much about how the Islamic State conceives of itself, as well as its plan for future actions and targets.

About the Author
Originally from Istanbul, Turkey, Gurkan is an Oxford BA (Hons) graduated and pursuing a double master's in International Political Economy at Warwick & Strategic Studies at NTU in Singapore. He is also a published poet.