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Old Sunday, March 08, 2015
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War Against ISIS



Ideological Aspect & Possible Long-term Outcomes.


There is no denying the fact that any innocent life lost is certainly a life too many, and coalition forces should undergo every effort possible to avoid civilian casualties. However, we should not forget that if anyone is guilty of murdering civilians, raping women and terrorizing children, it certainly would be ISIS, not the coalition forces.

We should never forget that we are facing a terrorist group that takes pride in slaughtering journalists and humanitarian workers in front of TV cameras so that the whole world may watch.

Speaking of ideology, we should also remember that we are not facing a group of peace-loving monks who are advocating love and harmony but rather a bunch of hateful thugs who are using tanks, missile-launchers and bombs to invade cities and establish an extremist state — in the name of religion.
Frankly, inaction against the likes of the ISIS would certainly equate to a crime against humanity and global stability as well as a crime against any hope of bringing peace, moderation and prosperity to the Middle East.

As such, no one could argue against bombing ISIS's military capabilities, as this would certainly lessen this group's ability to continue doing harm and gaining more ground and resources. After all, we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that these power-hungry criminals would voluntarily denounce violence, just because someone asks them to do so nicely!

On the other hand, nobody is arguing that this war can only be won by military means, obviously an ideological battle should be waged in parallel to discredit and hinder ISIS's upper hand in spreading their propaganda.

The key question here is: how can we achieve this? The answer probably lies in a multi-layered, combined and coordinated effort of local, regional and international leaders, media outlets and religious figures.

Equally important is having a serious discussion with the major social media outlets about their content guidelines. At present, there is a universal consensus when it comes to what is defined as pornographic material but, regrettably, there is no consensus on what is considered the terrorist propaganda. One only has to skim through Twitter feeds or Facebook pages of ISIS-like groups or members to see pictures of decapitation and outright calls for committing crimes. This simply can no longer be tolerated and a solution must be found as soon as possible so that further harm is done.

Now, we should also remember that to fully defeat ISIS we must also deal with the climate which enabled them to exist. The defeat of ISIS in Iraq should be followed by the resolution of the political issues that created the space in which this group thrived. ISIS's seizure of Mosul in June and its swift advance across a wide swathe of Iraqi territory was a direct result of contemporary flaws within the political system set up after the 2003 regime change.

Similarly, one could argue the same for Syria. For if it wasn't for the international community's failure to deal with the Assad regime's massacres, the ISIS wouldn't have become the monster as it is today. Of course, the Assad regime helped and benefited from the creation of this monster in its bid to position itself as the only viable, secular and safe solution in Syria.

However, there seem to be some positive signs that the world has finally come to realize that both the problem and solution lie in Damascus. But, it's impossible to build a strong central government without toppling Assad first. However, this will not work without the consent of his allies, Iran and Russia.

The dot points below summarize the possible long-term outcomes of the battle against ISIS in Iraq.

1. Long-term decline and death of ISIS is certain. All the important regional powers — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia — have signed up to strike ISIS. Iranian military is also fighting ISIS. This broad network of regional powers means its long-term military defeat and political decline is certain.

2. An inclusive Iraqi government is inevitable. The aim is to weaken the Iraqi Sunni political support for ISIS insurgency. With a new leadership team headed by Prime Minister Heidar Al-Abadi running the Iraqi Government, diplomatic efforts of the Obama Administration have been productive in this area.

3. Defeating an insurgency from the air alone is not possible. Therefore, a reinvigorated Iraqi army must be an essential component of the fight against ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister has shown commitment to reinvigorate the Iraqi Army. Western military advisors, air power and expanded intelligence work will also be playing an important role in the achievement of long-term security results on the ground.

4. The Peshmarga forces of Kurdistan Regional Government will play an important role by supplementing the ground offensives of the Iraqi Army. The Obama Administration and France have been supplying the Peshmarga with military hardware to shore up their fighting strength. For maximum operational effect the Peshmarga and Iraqi Army will need to coordinate their offensive battles against ISIS.

5. Expanding military strength of the Kurdish Peshmarga is not ideal for Baghdad or Washington because due to its upgraded military muscle a more assertive Kurdish Regional Government will emerge after the fight against ISIS is over. If unchecked by Washington or Baghdad, this assertiveness will in the long run accelerate the Iraqi Kurdish independence goals. The economic infrastructure and resources the Peshmarga will capture from ISIS will only make this prospect far more robust.

6. For security gains in Iraq to be durable, the Iraqi Government and Kurdish Peshmarga will have to permanently hold the territory they capture from ISIS, especially after the Western air campaign stops. For this to happen, the Iraqi Army will need to successfully transform itself into a coherent fighting machine.
7. The Iraqi government will have to consolidate its military gains in the areas it has captured by providing essential services to the population centres.

8. Strength of Iraqi governance in captured areas will be an important indicator of its ability to hold the territory for the long term. Unless Baghdad provides clean, efficient, honest, secure and inclusive governance to the population centres it has captured, its consolidation of those areas will be simply incomplete.
9. Then the Iraqi army can attack the next ISIS stronghold and repeat the consolidation process there. The bulk of fighting on the grounds needs to be done by the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmarga.

10. To capture and consolidate all of Iraqi ground under ISIS control the Iraqi government will need more money and resources than it has at its disposal. The extra resources can come from two sources: (1) aid package from the western and regional powers to Iraq; (2) the Iraqi government extracts more oil from the ground.

11. Even after removal of ISIS in Iraq, the government shall remain fragile and vulnerable. In political terms that means there will be no perfect system of government for Iraq, no perfect long-term political stability.

12. After the campaign against ISIS, the most optimist scenario the regional and western powers can hope for is an inherently imperfect and fragile Iraq will emerge in the end that can hold itself together economically, militarily and can remain politically united.

13. Due to the long-term political vulnerability, even after complete removal of ISIS in Iraq stable regional powers will have a strong degree of influence over the government and fate of the country.

The degree of influence each regional player will enjoy will be directly proportional to how much resources they are willing to commit to supporting their interests in the country.

To conclude, critics of the coalition may see military action as a threat and may think that it will only intensify the problem. However, such critics seem to be ignoring that it was the inaction towards the atrocities in Syria and the failed state in Iraq that resulted in the swelling of ISIS's ranks from a few hundred to nearly 30,000 according to the latest estimates. We should see the coalition's efforts as a golden opportunity to rid the region of extremism, terrorism and injustice once and for all. However, for this to be achieved, it should include both Sunni and Shiite sects so that faith is restored in the world order.


Waqas Iqbal
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