ISIS controls an area the size of Britain: Syria expert

  • Written by:

By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
oshua Landis, a top Syria expert and the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies. (Al Arabiya)
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) controls a third of Iraq and a third of Syria, a land mass that is the size of Britain, Joshua Landis, a top Syria expert and the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, told Al Arabiya’s Diplomatic Avenue on Friday.

“The country that ISIS is building is the size of Great Britain; it has about eight or nine million people in it,” he said.

Speaking to Talal al-Haj, Al Arabiya’s New York bureau chief, about the role of the Syrian National Coalition in the fight against ISIS, Landis said: “That coalition does not actually control any militias, which is one of the problems and it is why the United States has stopped sending money through the coalition.”

Landis said that U.S. intelligence agency C.I.A. is sending arms and is dealing directly with militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria since the former head of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Salim Idris, was pushed out of Syria a year ago.

“All of his arms that were coming from America and other products were all stolen from him by the Islamic Front, and so the United States gave up on him…and began to just work directly with various militias,” he explained.

“I don’t think that Washington has a clear plan,” said Landes, adding that many American military leaders argue that U.S.-led international coalition “cannot destroy ISIS by bombing them.”

The region needs better governments or else “there will constantly be an insurgency and radicalism,” he added.

Responding to a question about whether the U.N. mediator in the Syrian conflict, Staffan de Mistura’s “bottom-up” peace effort plan is feasible, Landis said: “I think de Mistura is in a terrible situation. He does not have an army; he cannot change the balance of power on the ground.”

De Mistura’s plan involves “incremental freezes” to conflicts between the Syrian regime and opposition forces in certain areas of the country for humanitarian aids to come in – a plan criticized by some rebels as benefiting President Assad.

Syria has been entrenched in war since 2011 – with activists claiming a death toll that exceeds 200,000 people – giving space for rival extremist groups, and mainly ISIS, to run free and armed in the country and claim territory. ISIS proclaimed itself an “Islamic Caliphate” that does not conform to the region’s borders, which were drawn by the West in the 20th Century.