Ja­son Burke on how to de­stroy Daesh

Force is only half the an­swer: states in­volved in this war must to­gether plan a re­ordered Mid­dle East

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON BURKE

TAKE A map and sur­vey the arc run­ning from western Africa, through the Mid­dle East and across south Asia to Bangladesh. Mark the ar­eas which are — or were — ef­fec­tively un­governed. Now mark ar­eas where Is­lamic mil­i­tancy is thriv­ing. It will not take long. The two are al­most iden­ti­cal.

This tells us about one as­pect of the prob­lem. Far from be­ing a cre­ation of states, as some once thought, Is­lamic mil­i­tancy’s cur­rent spread is a func­tion of, among other things, the lack of state author­ity.

The new Caliphate de­clared by Abu Bakr al’Bagh­dadi in June last year and the re­nam­ing of the or­gan­i­sa­tion he leads — al’Dawla al’Is­lamiyya, or the Is­lamic State — make this ex­plic­itly clear. Both are at­tempts to bring a new twisted or­der to chaos.

Nor is the form of gov­ern­ment al’Bagh­dadi and his lieu­tenants have im­posed on around five mil­lion peo­ple in the zone they con­trol en­tirely un­fa­mil­iar, though it is of a de­gree of ex­trem­ism that’s never yet been seen.

It is built on an ide­ol­ogy of sec­tar­i­an­ism, an­ti­semitism, anti-Zion­ism and anti-Amer­i­can­ism; promotes in­tol­er­ant and con­ser­va­tive strands of re­li­gious prac­tice; vi­ciously re­presses dis­sent through hor­rific pub­lic violence and covert sur­veil­lance; levies ar­bi­trary taxes that ef­fec­tively amount to a pro­tec­tion racket; spends fi­nances raised from the sale of oil and sim­i­lar re­sources to fi­nance its mil­i­tary ma­chine; and clev­erly plays on tribal or other di­vi­sions to co-opt lo­cal power­bro­kers.

The ques­tion is what can be done about it — and its af­fil­i­ates and those of Al-Qaeda around the re­gion and the world.

Here again, states have the pri­mary role. The cur­rent prob­lem is that all the states of the Mid­dle East, and pow­ers be­yond, have their own agen­das.

Tur­key will not al­low the one force ca­pa­ble of really tak­ing on Daesh — the Kurds — to do so. Tehran and Moscow back the As­sad regime, while the US and France see the re­moval of the dic­ta­tor, who has killed many more of his own coun­try­men than Is­lamic mil­i­tants have, as a pre­req­ui­site to ef­fec­tively deal­ing with Daesh. Iraq has its own aims and prob­lems, with Bagh­dad still very close to Tehran de­spite the de­par­ture of Nouri alMa­liki, the sec­tar­ian for­mer prime min­is­ter. The Saudis are more wor­ried about Iran’s Shia ex­pan­sion­ism and are pre­oc­cu­pied with the proxy war against their re­gional ri­vals in Ye­men than any­thing hap­pen­ing in

If it looks as if no oneis tak­ing charge, that’s be­cause nooneis

Syria. And so on. Com­pound­ing the prob­lem is a lack of gov­er­nance at an in­ter­na­tional, even global, level.

Sen­si­tive to do­mes­tic con­cerns, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has cho­sen to fol­low a pol­icy in the Mid­dle East which could, as re­gards Syria at least, be de­scribed char­i­ta­bly as min­i­mal­ist. The United Na­tions has been ham­strung by di­vi­sions on the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

If it looks as if no one is tak­ing charge, that is be­cause no one is.

The Paris at­tacks, as well as the on­go­ing refugee cri­sis, may change this. The sheer hor­ror of the scenes from the French cap­i­tal, as well as the in­dis­crim­i­nate na­ture of the killing, should fo­cus pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ minds not just on the prob­lem of Daesh but the broader is­sue of Is­lamic mil­i­tancy. Some kind of diplo­matic com­pro­mise that would align the cur­rently diverg­ing forces against Daesh is not im­pos­si­ble if enough pow­ers make enough con­ces­sions.

Is there a mil­i­tary op­tion? A ma­jor “boots on the ground” op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing tens of thou­sands of US troops would prob­a­bly de­feat Daesh with rel­a­tive ease but then have to do some­thing with the in­vaded ter­ri­tory. The scat­tered supporters of Daesh would be a ma­jor threat. More air strikes, A Daesh ter­ror­ist on pa­rade in Raqqa, north­ern Syria bet­ter guided by more spe­cial forces on the ground, will help.

A fi­nal prob­lem is the sta­tus of AlQaeda in Syria and its af­fil­i­ate, Jab­hat al’Nusra (Jan). The group point­edly re­fused to join other Syr­ian op­po­si­tion groups in con­demn­ing the Paris at­tacks, as one would ex­pect.

But Jan have pur­sued a more so­phis­ti­cated strat­egy than the bru­tal Daesh, avoid­ing for­eign oper­a­tions and con­cen­trat­ing, with some suc­cess, on build­ing a solid sup­port base in Syria. It would make lit­tle sense to elim­i­nate Daesh be­cause of its global threat and leave the group set up by those re­spon­si­ble for 9/11 and so many other at­tacks in place.

Western pow­ers, in­clud­ing the UK, say that if the loath­some As­sad, from a Shia het­ero­dox sect, is re­moved, the rai­son d’etre of the vi­o­lent Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups, whose lo­cal fight­ers are drawn from the Sunni ma­jor­ity in Syria, will dis­ap­pear and they will be fun­da­men­tally weak­ened. The Rus­sians and oth­ers, who back As­sad, say that only by restor­ing the author­ity of the regime can Daesh and Jan and oth­ers be de­stroyed. In the end, it is states that are the prob­lem and, un­doubt­edly, the an­swer too. Ja­son Burke is a jour­nal­ist and au­thor of ‘The 9/11 Wars’


A Kur­dish fighter trains his gun on a Daesh po­si­tion in Sin­jar, Iraq

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