Three strategies to combat the Islamic State insurgency

I am in the camp that believes Iraq’s current situation is not intractable. With sufficient clarity, political will and coordination, its ethnosectarian strife can be put to an end. Here are some thoughts:

Redrawing borders: a functioning federalism

The geopolitical architecture of the Iraqi state has collapsed. In the grip of ethnic and sectarian conflict, the country has been effectively partitioned by the federal devolution of power to the Kurds, by the Sunni rebellion in places like Anbar province, and by ISIL’s insurgency. A federal solution, as suggested by Joe Biden, in which local populations would be granted a degree of autonomy while enjoying the support of Baghdad in terms of infrastructure, benefits and in providing military support, I believe is a great hope. I think the Westphalian order can be preserved, but the Arab state system, itself a product of Western imperialist machinations (the system emerged from the Sykes-Picot Agreement negotiated between Britain and France after the fall of the Ottoman Empire), is destined to be overhauled.

Supporting democratic forces: a new Anbar Awakening

In the face of the ISIL threat, providing support to countervailing, non-sectarian, pro-democratic forces, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, should be a component of any strategy to combat the insurgency. More generally, we should remember that the local population is the centre of gravity of any insurgency and must be disconnected from it. We should repudiate the modern strategies of counter-terrorism, which have had the perverse effect of further radicalising local populations (a lesson American military planners learned in Vietnam, which they seem now to have forgotten), and instead pursue a counter-insurgency with a “hearts and minds” focus. A grand-scale awakening of tribal opposition to ISIL, like that which neutralised the Al Qaeda insurgency in Anbar Province during the Iraq War, should be promoted.

Thinking on our sins: an end to the meddling

Any solution to the crisis must involve Western powers, and their regional allies, thinking on their sins. Their role in destabilising the frangible polity of Iraq, through the Iraq invasion, the de-Ba’athification process and their machinations in Syria, must be recognized. The synchronisation of the policies of Western states and their regional allies on the ISIL threat is also essential. It is currently deeply contradictory.

A number of pro-Western regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia, propagate extreme Wahhabism, the ideological fountainhead of the ISIL insurgency, and others, such as Turkey, lend tacit support to the group by allowing them access to their oil black markets.

We have, as Noam Chomsky put it, created a fundamentalist Frankenstein in Iraq. It is an internationally marauding beast and we must look beyond hard power strategies to combat it.

Comments (2)

by Rich on January 26, 2016

Obvious policy #1, cut our dependence on middle eastern oil. The Saudis are only able to pursue their Wahhabism because we give them money (and looking further back, only got into power because Turkey supported Germany in WW1 and hence Britain wanted to promote dissent in the Ottoman empire).

Beyond that, it's pretty intractable. If we wait, 50, 100 or 200 years, the world will change and the peoples of the Middle East may tire of living under medieval theocracy. Until then we should keep well clear.

That's made more so by the different powers idea of "intervention" which stymies any of the possibly sensible ideas you propose.

- the West is (currently) afraid of ISIS and Sunni extremism in general and gives tacit support to Iran as a counterweight. It also doesn't want refugees and is squeamish of killing large numbers of people (as pursued by Assad and lately Saddam as an effective way to suppress Islamism). They distrust Russia.

- Turkey hates the Kurds and has irredentist hopes that maybe it can recover a bit of its old empire in some form. They also have internal Islamist/secular stresses and want to make money (especially given that their ideas of becoming a Normal European State are basically screwed). They also hate Russia and Shiites.

- Russia is afraid of Islam on its borders and sees the maintenance of efficient client police states (Assad came close) as the way to suppress this. It also wants to make money by selling weapons. They hate the West, Turkey, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

None of this is compatible with effective *action* at best, and at worst it could lead to an accidental hot war.


by Stewart Hawkins on January 27, 2016
Stewart Hawkins

I agree entirely with Rich, principally we need to keep clear. I make one exception however. If Iraq devolves into three regions — Sunnis, Shia and Kurds — there is a fourth minority; Christians. Like Lebanon has already done I believe the world should be opening its borders to what remains of these peoples (Assyrian is but one name).

In the meantime the West should concentrate on the enemy within. Multiculturalism is a failure throughout the world where one of those cultures is Islam. Islam, founded and maintained in blood, slavery and cruelty, cannot co-exist with any other culture and it is disingenuous of Western leadership to pretend otherwise. It is estimated that  ISIS alone holds 7000 infidel women and children as sex slaves. Where are the crocodile or other tears from our leaders?

Finally, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama's foreign policy has achieved everything a Muslim President could wish for, albeit following the dreadfully clumsy boots of George W in Iraq, namely the destruction of organised North African nations and their replacement by Islamic hordes. Egypt has currently escaped but, like Turkey, sits on the knife-edge of tipping into Islamic collapse. It is a strange feeling to find that Russian foreign policy in the Middle East is not only logical but defends Western values.

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