Fix Iraq to end ISIS?

An excellent piece makes the point that the defeat of ISIS will not heal the problems of Iraq.

It opens “it would have been difficult for the world to imagine large chunks of Iraq falling into the hands of the Islamic State. But the group’s presence — through the fall of Mosul, its expansion into Syria’s civil war, and its claiming responsibility for attacks around the world — has all but become the singular representation of Muslim radicalism, even though it has only commanded the world’s attention for just over a year. The circumstances that incubate this kind of ideological radicalization, however, are much older than the Islamic State — and they will almost surely outlast it. Unless the Iraqi government, with the help of the international community, is able to engage in legitimate state development and governance in the region, militant extremism will continue to rush in and fill the resulting social and political vacuums”.

Crucailly he writes that “The U.S.-led military campaign — despite some successes — has struggled to push the group back. To actually help Iraq defeat the Islamic State, however, the United States needs to diversify its approach. Fighting the kind of radicalisation epitomised by the Islamic State means addressing the base problem: the lack of legitimate governance structures that provide citizens with opportunities for prosperity. Iraq cannot achieve this level of legitimacy without help and investment in the country’s economic and social infrastructure. If the United States wants Iraq to overcome this challenge, it needs to help Iraqis rebuild an inclusive governance model as well as educational and economic opportunities in a way that benefits all constituents — or face the possibility of groups violently fracturing off to tend to the needs that their government cannot”.

The author is certainly correct to note the need for Iraq to provide better economic and social conditions but the implication is that ISIS are coming from Iraq. Of course it is true that some Iraqi’s are joining ISIS but many are coming from Libya, Tunisia, parts of Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East.

He correctly notes that “Weak states like Iraq function as petri dishes for extremism. The Islamic State has been able to draw recruits from local and international civilian populations at least in part because they are able portray themselves as upholders of righteousness when cast alongside the corrupt, authoritarian governments. The states’ lack of legitimacy drives people into the arms of extremist ideology”.

He adds that “the simple reality is that the situation in Iraq has grown dire for many civilians, and the Islamic State has continually been able to exploit the sectarian cracks that have crept across the country. Sunni Muslims have been dealing with social and political marginalisation since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which paved the way for the Shiite majority to acquire political control. In more recent years, indiscriminate violence by Iraqi military forces became a prime reason for local civilians to turn to the Islamic State, according to Iraq-based journalist Mohammed al-Dulaimy. The military strategy against the terrorist group has included the elevation of anti-Islamic State militant groups in the area — a security-centered approach that has led to unhelpful cycles of regional and local violence. Regional conflicts have divided into local conflicts, and more and more civilian communities are being militarized. The collapse of the Iraqi Army last summer in several key battles has led such militias, many with Iranian, Kurdish, or Turkish backing, to fill the security vacuum, which introduced an extra dimension of sectarian complication”.

He goes on to make the point that “Counterbalancing the forces that seem to be destabilizing and reorienting the Middle East demands a comprehensive strategy that bolsters institutions of education and social security, which can improve the economic inequality and lack of upward mobility in much of the region. This, however, needs to be done in a way that is suitably tailored to the characteristics of each country. So far, the proposed approach of cross-sectarian nation states adheres too much to secular Western social standards, which are often impractical and unpalatable for the region’s populations”.

He concludes “Western nations must reconsider their priorities in a way that helps restore regional legitimacy to states and protects people during conflict while enhancing their quality of life in peacetime. This means pouring more resources into areas like educational and economic development, all done in a way that bolsters inclusive and peaceful coexistence in a diverse society. Investment in inclusive governance and development will go a long way in terms of building a government’s legitimacy, which has long been a problem for the Middle East. New leaders must also embody this new legitimacy by voicing a willingness from the state to address issues like human rights and economic inequality. Without these strategies to complement a military plan, it will be impossible to prevent further violence from animating the region for a long time to come. A Middle East with even more sectarian violence than exists today is the kind of nightmare scenario that the world should do everything to prevent”.

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