ISIS vs the world

The coalition against the Islamic State is meeting in Brussels. How much would you the world is successful or unsuccessful in fighting against ISIS, and why? Read few comments.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (right) met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Brussels on 3 December, 3. Credit: NATO

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (right) met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Brussels on 3 December, 3. Credit: NATO

Rodger Shanahan, Nonresident Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Groups such as ISIS are difficult to defeat quickly, however the West has taken a mature approach in seeking to degrade then destroy them. Currently their momentum has been halted in Iraq and some ground they have taken has been reclaimed. In Syria they remain strong however face an ongoing threat from the air. Internationally they have had some Islamist groups throw their allegiance behind them but not the major al-Qa’ida aligned groups.

Groups such as ISIS rely on momentum, both to generate support, capture weapons and ammunition, and to attract funding and fighters. Once their momentum is stopped it becomes more difficult to do any of this and the organisation begins to degrade. Whilst still in the early stages, the West’s approach to ISIS in Iraq is having an effect, while it is doing much less to address the infinitely more complex situation in Syria.

Saudi Arabia has claimed that it has an ISIS cell operating against its Shi’a population and Westerners in the Kingdom which is a concern, as are the large number of Arab and other fighters with ISIS who will have to be dealt with now and in the future. Overall though, the West has adopted an approach to stopping ISIS that avoids becoming decisively committed against it on land which is the correct approach, although by doing so it has meant that it will be a long campaign.

Ramzy Mardini, Nonresident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

The world appears to be unsuccessful so far in the fight against ISIS. This is due for a simple reason: The more the West gets involved in the Middle East, the more it strengthens and legitimizes ISIS. The Islamic State is able to use propaganda and turn the struggle from one of believers versus crusaders. From what I am hearing from sources in Iraq, the size of ISIS is increasing, even though their expansion of territory has lessoned. They are consolidating their strength in areas that they already hold.

The idea of supporting the Iraqi government is still dangerous because the Sunnis are beginning to view Abadi as another lighter version of Maliki. They view him as someone who continues to make promises but cannot deliver on their demands. More weapons in the hands of Baghdad isn’t going to help. The West needs to take a back seat in this fight against ISIS. As long as the West is going to intervene, the regional players are not going to bear the responsibility in checking the power of ISIS. It’s important the world focuses on the politics of Iraq as the driver of the insurgency, and not put all the focus on ISIS. The Islamic State is not the problem. It is the symptom of the problem, which remains political.

Jeffrey Bale, Associate Professor, Graduate School of International Policy and Management, Monterey Institute of International Studies

I think that the anti-IS coalition has thus far met with very little success, and that it is not likely to be very successful in the future unless it changes its policies.

The first reason is because the composition of the coalition is something of a joke, given that many Arab Gulf States and Turkey had been major supporters of the IS in Syria. Given that so many members of this coalition were themselves in part responsible for sponsoring and supporting the IS, as the Iranian foreign minister has justifiably pointed out, it is hard to believe that they are now really motivated to defeat the IS. Turkey has done virtually nothing to aid the coalition it is supposedly a member of.

The second reason is because the entire strategy of the coalition is arguably misguided. In Iraq, the anti-IS states should not be supporting the Shi’a regime in Baghdad, whose anti-Sunni policies created the political problems which the IS exploited to mobilize the support of Sunnis. Instead, the coalition should be making deals with Sunni tribes and the Ba’thists, offering to support the creation of an autonomous Sunni zone not under the direct control of the Shi’a government in Baghdad in exchange for helping the coalition fight the IS. The coalition should leave it to the Iranians to defend its de facto Shi’a client government in Iraq. In Syria, the coalition should not be trying to support the “moderate” opposition, which has no military capabilities and little popular support. On the contrary, the coalition should temporarily collaborate with the Ba’thist regime against the IS and other jihadist groups (such as the Jabhat al-Nusra), since the regime is the only remaining military bulwark preventing the IS from taking control of Syria and large portions of the heartland of the Arab Middle East. The Syrian regime is a nasty, brutal regime, but it is nevertheless better than the only likely alternative: a jihadist seizure of power in Syria.

The third reason is because spokesmen for the coalition keep falsely claiming that the brutal actions of the IS jihadists have “nothing to do with Islam,” which is manifestly false given that they are justifying all of their actions by reference to passages in the Qur’an and the reported words and deeds of Muhammad (as found in the canonical hadith collections). Until the anti-IS coalition (and moderate Muslims) begin working to undermine the ideological appeal of the IS, it will not be able to reduce its support.

Justin Hastings, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

The success of ISIS comes from three things: it has taken advantage of a power and governance vacuum in Syria and northern Iraq to establish its own state that doesn’t care about international borders; it has been very strategic in its military advances, and has combined tactics typical of both conventional militaries and terrorist groups; and it has been successful in recruiting people from all over the world, people who could theoretically return to their home countries to do damage there (which is a large reason why countries like Australia care about its advances). The coalition arrayed against ISIS have made advances recently against ISIS positions, but precisely because there is a governance vacuum that can’t be filled by military attacks, and because ISIS is willing to shift between terrorist and conventional military tactics, it will be difficult to destroy ISIS entirely without greater application of resources, or the people in the areas ISIS controls turning against ISIS in a major way.


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