When in late Jan­uary Bri­tain’s For­eign Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond con­vened a gath­er­ing in Lon­don of his coun­ter­parts from more than 20 na­tions to strengthen an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion against Is­lamic State, there was a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to be up­beat. US Se


Re­fer­ring to Is­lamic State by the Ara­bic acro­nym Daesh -- a term in­creas­ingly seen as pe­jo­ra­tive -- Kerry went on to claim that half of the group’s top com­man­ders had been killed and hun­dreds of square kilo­me­ters of ter­ri­tory in Iraq had been re­cap­tured. He also pledged greater US mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to Iraq, whose prime min­is­ter, Haider al-Abadi, lamented that the sharp fall in oil prices had meant his gov­ern­ment was fac­ing a bud­get short­fall, thus hin­der­ing its abil­ity to fight.

Since then, the coali­tion has grown, but so too has the prob­lem it is try­ing to con­front. Is­lamic State is no longer just fo­cus­ing on carv­ing out the heart­land of a new self-de­clared caliphate in ter­ri­tory seized in Iraq and Syria. Libya has be­come a ma­jor area of Is­lamic State op­er­a­tions -- high­lighted by the filmed be­head­ing of 21 Egyptian Cop­tic hostages there in mid-Fe­bru­ary -- and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of Is­lamic State ac­tiv­ity are be­ing felt through­out the Mid­dle East. Groups linked to what one might call the Is­lamic State fran­chise -- a net­work that has evolved, rather as Al Qaeda pre­vi­ously did -- have be­come ac­tive in Afghanistan and the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. More­over, as vol­un­teer ji­hadi fighters from coun­tries as far apart as Tu­nisia and In­done­sia re­turn home af­ter a spell with Is­lamic State, they are pos­ing a threat to the do­mes­tic se­cu­rity of their own coun­tries, not least in Europe, where rad­i­cal­ized young Mus­lims, marginal­ized or dis­en­gaged from their home com­mu­ni­ties, are still be­ing re­cruited to the Is­lamic State ban­ner, mainly through videos and so­cial me­dia.

The young Malian-French Am­edy Coulibaly, who killed four hostages on Jan. 9 af­ter he seized a Jewish del­i­catessen in Paris, was di­rectly in­spired by Is­lamic State. Sev­eral years pre­vi­ously, while in pri­son for an armed rob­bery con­vic­tion, he had be­friended the French-Al­ge­rian Chérif Kouachi, who was re­spon­si­ble with his brother Said for killing car­toon­ists and jour­nal­ists at the French satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo on Jan. 7. The Kouachis claimed to have been act­ing on be­half of al-Qaeda in Ye­men, but French po­lice be­lieve they and Coulibaly were part of the same rad­i­cal Is­lamist ter­ror cell. “We have put our fin­ger on some ex­tremely danger­ous peo­ple,” French po­lice union spokesman Christophe Crepin told The Guardian. “We are re­ally in a war.”

Cer­tainly, the out­rages in France helped to gal­va­nize West­ern gov­ern­ments to take ac­tion against what they see as a global threat from rad­i­cal Is­lam, of which Is­lamic State is the most egre­gious ex­am­ple. What some of the well-doc­u­mented hu­man rights abuses by Is­lamic State in ar­eas un­der their con­trol -in­clud­ing be­head­ings of for­eign hostages and the rape, forced mar­riage and sex­ual en­slave­ment of Yazidi and other mi­nor­ity women and girls -- has un­doubt­edly done has been to broaden the anti- Is­lamic State coali­tion, so much so that it makes one won­der whether this was a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy by Is­lamic State com­man­ders. When a Jor­da­nian pi­lot was burnt alive in a cage, for ex­am­ple, Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah was so in­censed that he flew home from meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to take part per­son­ally in aerial bomb­ings of Is­lamic State po­si­tions.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu has un­sur­pris­ingly jumped on the bandwagon by cham­pi­oning the need for a con­certed ap­proach to com­bat­ing Is­lamic State and rad­i­cal Is­lam. Stand­ing up to Iran and its prox­ies, such as Hezbol­lah in Le­banon, was also a ma­jor cam­paign theme for Ne­tanyahu in Is­rael’s March elec­tion, strength­en­ing the per­ceived com­mon in­ter­est of the Is­raelis and Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Ara­bia. Yet on the ba­sis of “my en­emy’s en­emy is my friend,” Tehran’s con­dem­na­tion of Is­lamic State and sup­port for Iraqi and Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of­fen­sives against IS forces has prompted a re­view in West­ern cap­i­tals of Iran’s sta­tus as a po­ten­tial ally. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sent a let­ter to the Ira­ni­ans sug­gest­ing they could be part of the anti-IS Coali­tion if there is progress in talks to limit Iran’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, but the scale of the Ira­ni­ans’ in­volve­ment in anti-Is­lamic State mil­i­tary ac­tion in both Iraq and Syria means that de facto they are al­ready part of a looser coali­tion. There is even a grow­ing ac­cep­tance among Euro­pean gov­ern­ments that some sort of work­ing ar­range­ment must be made with Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s mur­der­ous regime in Da­m­as­cus, even though not so long ago many of them, along with Turkey, were call­ing for As­sad’s ouster.

Iran’s in­creased in­volve­ment in the war against Is­lamic State could risk height­en­ing the per­cep­tion in much of the West­ern me­dia that the war is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to a wider con­fronta­tion be­tween Sunni and

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