Once the Is­lamic State is de­feated, what is the long-term strat­egy to pre­vent IS mark 2?

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

Almost 6 months since the Is­lamic State (IS) seized large swathes of ter­ri­tory Iraq in a rapid ad­vance, the war on IS re­mains as fierce as ever in Iraq and Syria.

The ob­vi­ous goal is to de­feat IS but sheer mil­i­tary might aside, what is the long-term strat­egy to keep­ing IS de­feated? Ini­tially, IS sprung-up in Syria with limited in­flu­ence be­fore their support base and mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity snow-balled into an avalanche.

One way or another, with in­creas­ing air-strikes, mil­i­tary sup­plies to the Pesh­merga and other an­tiIS forces and a grow­ing in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, IS will be de­feated. But with­out long-term cross-bor­der mea­sures and strat­egy, could IS spring up again in the fu­ture, just when their de­feat is cel­e­brated?

The lack of a long-term vi­sion or con­sid­er­a­tion of the big­ger pic­ture could not be clearer than in Syr- ia. Syria was very much the fer­tile Ji­hadist gar­den which al­lowed the IS seeds to flour­ish. This was only ex­ac­er­bated by a lack of a clear and con­sis­tent Western for­eign pol­icy and in par­tic­u­lar re­luc­tance of the U.S. to get in­volved.

As Bashar al-As­sad scathed through the pop­u­la­tion, cross­ing var­i­ous red-lines along the way, it paved the way for hard­line sen­ti­ment to dom­i­nate and IS took full ad­van­tage. At one point, IS was even tol­er­ated or di­rectly and in­di­rectly sup­ported by some pow­ers as they be­came a tool to the top­pling of As­sad. But IS eyes were not fix­ated on regime change in Da­m­as­cus and in fact As­sad and IS had mu­tual in­ter­ests.

Now the bat­tle in Syria rages on and nowhere de­picts the cur­rent fe­roc­ity and pro-longed na­ture of the bat­tle against IS bet­ter than in Kobane. Hun­dreds of air strikes and dozens of Kur­dish sac­ri­fices later, IS was dealt a blow but re­mained a de­ter­mined foe.

Even if IS is de­feated in Syria, what then for root­cause of IS, the As­sad regime? There is much talk of a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in Syria but this has been much of the same tone since the Geneva Com­mu­nique of 2012. As­sad did not leave his throne when the regime was at its weak­est let alone when he has re­gained as­cen­dancy and mod­er­ate rebel forces are di­min­ish­ing fast.

In Iraq, long-time dis­en­fran­chised Sun­nis wel­comed and some tribes openly sup­ported the IS on­slaught in Iraq. IS may have hi­jacked the Sunni revo­lu­tion but nev­er­the­less the seeds of an­i­mos­ity and con­flict were sown long-be­fore be­tween bit­ter Sun­nis and a Shi­iteled Bagh­dad gov­ern­ment where the fu­els of sec­tar­i­an­ism were in­creased by the marginal­iza­tion poli­cies of Nouri al-Ma­liki.

Like the deadly bat­tle with al-Qaeda in the sev­eral years be­fore IS, where the grounds are fer­tile fun­da­men­tal­ism will al­ways grow.

Sun­nis are grow­ing in­creas­ingly fed up of IS and some tribes have openly fought against them, but doubts re­main as to whether a true na­tional and rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment will ever merge in Iraq. The re­cent gov­ern­ment of Haider al-Abadi has patched some cracks but does not ac­count for the many other Sunni groups and tribes that re­main un­con­vinced and hos­tile.

One fac­tor that il­lus­trates the Iraqi dif­fi­culty in strik­ing a sem­blance of unity is a lack of cross-na­tional armed forces. The sec­tar­ian-lean­ing armed forces were long viewed with dis­trust by Sun­nis and Kurds and quickly col­lapsed un­der the IS on­slaught. In fact it was the Shi­ite mili­tias and in par­tic­u­lar the au­ton­o­mous Pesh­merga that stepped up to the plate.

One key prod­uct of the IS bat­tle is the grow­ing ero­sion of Mid­dle East­ern bor­ders but also state re­la­tions and for­eign poli­cies be­com­ing much more in­ter­twined. Gone are the days that states can keep re­gional con­flicts at arm’s length and pur­sue uni­lat­eral poli­cies.

Pas­sive at­ti­tudes in the end do greater harm on one’s soil. Since 2011, many re­gional states and Western pow­ers tried to stay out of the Syr­ian civil war.

How­ever, peace in any coun­try can only be achieved with cross col­lab­o­ra­tion across the bor­ders. Whilst it’s not quite the equiv­a­lent of the Euro­pean Union, it’s the grass­roots of such unions in the Mid­dle East. Gov­ern­ments must work to­gether, unify poli­cies and seek common se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives through pacts if they are to suc­ceed.

One needs to look no fur­ther than Turkey. Just a few years ago, it was watch­ing anx­iously at the rapid de­vel­op­ment of a Kur­dis­tan Re­gion on its bor­ders and had set its own red-lines.

Just this week Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu pledged in­creased mil­i­tary support and train­ing for the Pesh­merga with the prospect of pro­vid­ing heavy weapons to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion.

Of course, it doesn’t meant that Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist anx­i­eties have evap­o­rated, one only needs to look at the Turk­ish hes­i­tancy over support of Kobane over links of the Kur­dish forces and the main party to the PKK.

But Turkey can­not turn a blind eye to the con­flicts on its door step or to the grow­ing Syr­ian Kur­dish au­ton­omy. Turkey’s se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity will not en­dure by strong re­la­tions with one side of the bor­der and an­i­mos­ity and dis­trust on another.

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