Iraq conflict requires diplomatic steps and new counter-terrorism strategy

July 21, 2014 9:00 am

The Islamic of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the terrorist group that had taken over several cities and areas in Syria and Northern Iraq, announced the creation of the so-called Islamic Caliphate on the captured territories on 29 June, the first day of the month of Ramadan, and demanded the Muslims all around the world to swear allegiance to the new state.

According to the message published on the Internet, the terrorist group changed its title to the Islamic State (IS), while its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was officially added to the USA terrorist watch list in October 2011, was appointed caliph and the leader of all Muslims.

Masoud Barzani

Masoud Barzani, President of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan

The announcement was made amid the ongoing military conflict in Iraq between the government forces and the extremists, which are supported by Sunni rebels who oppose the current administrative policies, as well as by former military from the Saddam Hussein army and lesser terrorist groups.

At the same time, Masoud Barzani, President of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, dissatisfied by the policies taken by the government and Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, announced the plans to hold a referendum on independence.

According to the foreign analysts, the current state of affairs puts Iraq on the brink of a breakup into several independent states, which not only would fail to calm the Middle East disturbances, but might make the region even more unstable and cause new conflicts.

The foreign journalists described the idea of the caliphate as anti-historical and controversial while Muslim scholars went so far as to call it “a heresy”.

“The Islamic caliphate can’t be restored by force. Occupying a country and killing half of its population… this is not an Islamic state, this is terrorism,” said Sheikh Abbas Shuman, senior representative of the Al-Azhar University.

Nadje Al-Ali, professor and member of the London Middle East Institute at the SOAS University, stressed that the reasons behind the conflict are the US intrusion in 2003-2011, deprival of Sunni minority of their rights during the American military operation, and the worldwide increase of religious terrorism.

“Another reason is, of course, the conflict in Syria and increase of Islamic extremism in terms of resistance to the Assad regime,” the expert said in an interview to PenzaNews agency.

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Günter Meyer, President of the European Association of Middle Eastern Studies and professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz

At the same time, she noted that the fighting sides do not respect the interests of many Iraqi citizens, such as mixed Sunni-Shia families.

“Many Iraqi people do not associate themselves with any of the groups,” Nadje Al-Ali added.

The expert called for the expeditious settlement of the conflict, and pointed out that military intervention by the worldwide community will worsen the situation for years to come.

“I think it is very important to find a political solution,” she stressed.

However, Günter Meyer, professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and President of the European Association of Middle Eastern Studies, found the diplomatic resolution of the Iraqi conflict improbable.

“There is no chance for a political solution of the conflict because the Islamic State is not prepared to accept any political compromise,” he emphasized.

In addition, the expert noted that military clashes with terrorists would lead to a long and bloody campaign, mainly due to the status of the terrorist group and its numerous supporters.

“Due to the very clever use of the internet and social networks the Islamic State has become the most attractive Jihadi organization on a global level,” the researcher explained.

However, as Günter Meyer emphasized, the group owes its military successes to the support of the former officers of the Saddam Hussein army and the members of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party that was banned in Iraq.

“In spite of different ideological aims, ISIS and the Sunni resistance joined forces against the polarizing Shiite government,” the expert said.

He pointed out that the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Shia militia joined the fight against the terrorists after the declaration of the Islamic Caliphate. In addition, Iran, Syria, Russia and the USA offered military and technical aid to the Iraq government. According to Günter Meyer, these steps make it possible to argue that the terrorists will eventually be defeated, but not without severe consequences for the region.

“The forces of the Islamic State will be defeated in the long run because they are isolated in the Middle East. However, they are supported by Jihadi groups in the region, which could lead to the further destabilization of Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” the expert explained.

At the same time, Noah Bonsey, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, noted that internal frictions might facilitate the fall of the terrorists.

“You are now starting to see the emergence of more tension between ISIS and non-Jihadi Sunni rebels who joined in the fight. I do think we will see those tensions rise. ISIS’ announcement of a caliphate recently is likely to only increase this tension because it highlights the fact that ISIS ultimately seeks to assume unilateral control of Sunni areas,” he said.

“These segments of the rebellion will be key if there comes a point when they turn against ISIS – either because of a resolution in Baghdad that provides Sunni leaders with a real stake in governance, or because of ISIS’ aggression against them, or some combination of the two. This can be key in slowing and eventually reversing ISIS gains,” the expert continued.

At the same time, Noah Bonsey stressed that there is no strictly military solution to the conflict, because ISIS managed to establish effective funding and resources streams – for Syrian oil and seized weapons in particular.

From the expert’s point of view, the Iraqi government should stop follow the tactics of religious polarization and let the Sunni participate in governing the country in order to change the current state of affairs.

“There has to be a resolution that empowers credible Sunni leadership to play a meaningful role within the Iraqi government itself,” Noah Bonsey explained.

In his turn, Kamal Sido, head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), suggested that it is important to pay attention to the role of the Kurdish community in terms of finding the solution.

“The Kurds in Syria have been fighting against this terrorist group for 2-3 years almost all by themselves. Nobody helps them in their fight against this evil, not even Russia,” he stressed.

Kamal Sido, head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP)

Kamal Sido, head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP)

According to the human rights activist, Christians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and other confessions are opposed to ISIS as well.

At the same time, Kamal Sido noted that the most important causes of the conflict were the loss of privileges by the Sunni community after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein regime, and incompetence of the al-Maliki ministry.

“The new Iraqi crisis occurred because of big problems between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds, and the Nouri al-Maliki government couldn’t solve these problems,” he explained.

Discussing the sudden successes of ISIS, Kamal Sido pointed out two reasons behind them, one of them being the support from rich people from several Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

“Even if these states and governments do not support it officially, the people who aid this terrorist group live and work in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” the expert noted.

According to him, the second reason behind the successes of IS is skillful use of modern technologies, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Vibber, in order to boost the group’s popularity.

Kamal Sido suggested that the future developments will largely depend on whether the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds come to a consensus. At the same time, the expert left open the possibility of the country breakup if the negotiations between these sides fail.

“If the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shia won’t be able to negotiate with each other they should create three states or set up a confederation between them in the region,” he suggested.

The human rights activist stressed the fact that the worldwide community must prevent the growth of ISIS and its influence because it may become a terrorism breeding-ground for the whole world. He also urged that world leaders use their influence against the group’s financial suppliers.

“We must influence Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so that money and weapons wouldn’t reach the extremists,” Kamal Sido explained.

At the same time, Mario Abou Zeid, expert on Middle East politics at Carnegie Middle East Center, highlighted the fact that the region should unite against IS that represents a threat to the sovereignty of a large number of countries.

“ISIS does not acknowledge any of the borders of the current states in the Middle East. What is ISIS looking to do is to expand more and more,” the expert emphasized.

Speaking in regards to the reasons of the ongoing conflict, the researcher highlighted the fact that the drawn-out political crisis facilitated the split-off among the population.

“After the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq, the government that was formed under Maliki’s leadership was mainly supported by the Iranian regime, and it was fully committed to the Shia cause and to give more power to the Shia community rather than the formation of a national unity government where most of the Iraqi factions would be represented. There was a general, so to say, depression for the Sunni community in Iraq, which has led recently to this extraordinary expansion of the ISIS organization,” Mario Abou Zeid said.

The expert also added that the paramilitary groups formed to defend the country against the extremists are mostly formed out of the Shia Muslims, which drives the already-depraved and disenfranchised Sunni to join the terrorists for religious reasons. According to Mario Abou Zeid, this is why the first step out of the conflict should be a political one.

“We need to take the Sunni community and tribal leaders and make them join the political power in Baghdad. This will be the first step towards resolving the conflict from the perspective of Sunni alienation,” the analyst explained.

At the same time, Mario Abou Zeid notes that the Iraqi government and the worldwide community must realize what ISIS is and how it changed the very idea of terrorism.

“ISIS under the leadership of Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi is behaving as an upgraded terrorist group,” he said.

From the expert’s point of view, this upgraded model of a terrorist organization requires a new counter-strategy.

“Tradition terrorism activities had traditional ways of dealing with them and countering all their effects. When we have such a developed terrorist organization as ISIS and the ways, the tools, the strategy it has, there must be an upgraded counter-terrorism strategy. We cannot deal with ISIS as we were dealing with other terrorist organizations,” Mario Abou Zeid emphasized.

At the same time, according to the analyst, the West must avoid engaging in any kind of military intervention in the conflict.

“If any Western power would intervene, this will generate hatred towards the international community, especially within the Sunni community in Iraq. And this will help ISIS reshape its image as the resistance group against the foreign aggression,” he explained.

In conclusion, the expert called worldwide leaders to assist in resolving the conflict by supporting the Iraqi army in their independent combat against ISIS without resorting to direct foreign involvement.

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