Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
When you hear the abbreviation “ISIS”, what comes to mind? Is it beheadings, hostages, world-wide chaos or a mix of many things? Lately, different forms of media throughout the world have been providing us with an extensive coverage of the ISIS and its ongoing threats. Many laymen have started to question if its actions are politically or religiously motivated, and what the world leaders are doing about the situation. Now let’s take a look at “ISIS” and understand its impact on the global stage.
What is the ISIS?
The ISIS, whose former name was Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was formed in April 2013. It is a Sunni extremist jihadist group in the Middle East that follows Al-qaeda’s hard-line ideology and adheres to global jihadist principles. ISIS’ ideology is much more extreme and violent than Al-qaeda, leading to its ousting and detachment from Al-qaeda in February 2014.
The ISIS is recognised by many other countries such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), Indonesia and Saudi Arabia as a terrorist group. The objective of ISIS is to carve out a Sunni Islamic state by bringing the Musliminhabited regions in the world under its control. There is fear that even our neighbour, Malaysia, will not be spared. In June 2014, The Economist reported that ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners. ISIS has since enjoyed considerable military success, as seen in the takeover of the Syrian City of Raqqa which is the first provincial capital to fall under rebel control.
THE THREATS POSED BY ISIS – A WESTERN PERSPECTIVE
Western countries view the ISIS as posing three principal threats - a possible collapse of the Iraqi state, an increase in bloody sectarian violence across state boundaries and continued recruitment and training of potential jihadists coming from the West. Of the three threats, recruiting Western jihadists is the key concern for Western security forces. Once these young jihadists return to their countries of origin, they would bring with them battle-hardened experience and a radical ideology that rejects Western democratic pluralism.
This international recruitment is particularly dangerous as jihadist groups have exploited violent sectarianism to spread their message. So what are leaders around the world doing about ISIS and its threats?
In September 2014, President Obama announced that he will expand the military campaign against ISIS. While this is an appropriate reaction to the growing number of threats against the US and the rest of the world, the President’s goal of destroying the ISIS has been deemed by critics to be unrealistic. His emphasis on working with the Syrian opposition also appears questionable. To build the capacity to degrade ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration may need Sunni Arab countries as well as Iran and Russia to play a role in influencing the Syria’s Assad regime. Some are also in support of a modest surge of US forces into the area, including the Special Forces. However, any Western action in Iraq must be done in conjunction with regional actors that have the ability to affect the situation on the ground.
The ISIS’ challenge to international order
The ISIS has immense self-confidence in its leadership. Regionally, the ISIS challenges the legitimacy of the prevailing order at two levels.
Firstly ISIS challenges the territorial dispensation that has prevailed since the 1916 Sykes–picot Agreement that split the region into British and French “spheres of influence”. The ISIS’ rejection of existing boundaries between Iraq and Syria indicates that the artificial borders set up in 1916 are no longer functional. This stands as an enduring symbol of betrayal and humiliation for the Arab world.
Secondly, the ISIS follows Al Qaeda’s precedent in challenging the most foundational principles of today’s global order. It is fighting hard to ensure that political authority is institutionalised in a universal system of sovereign nation states rather than anchored in a common system of religious authority. This may appear to Westerners as an absurd totalitarian fantasy, but this is ISIS’ way of handling a situation that they strongly feel is a result of Western imperialism designed to keep the Islamic community estranged from God and from one another, as well as hostage to a toxic Western secular modernity.
The role of Iran
There has also been much speculation on what role, if any, Iran should play in the current crisis. Undoubtedly, as the Iraqi government’s most important regional ally and the dominant Shia power in the Middle East, Iran has an interest in ensuring that militant Sunnis do not gain a permanent foothold on its border. For many years, the West has ignored Iran’s interests, which has contributed to its government’s meddling in the region. Iran has reportedly already sent forces to Iraq, something which could potentially contribute to the brewing Sunni-shia schism in Iraq. Whilst some have called for the US to partner with Iran to combat the ISIS, this partnership would drastically complicate the scenario in Syria. This is because though Iran and the US share the same short-term intent in Iraq, both have very different long-term interests in the region.
Militarised action by the West risks ‘mission creep’ being drawn into the Syrian conflict, and potentially supporting one side in the broader Sunni-shia rivalry. The US has proven itself incapable of successfully stabilising Iraq in the long term through military force, and there is little evidence to suggest that there is the political will or a strategy in place to once again occupy Iraq with a large Us-led force.
The West may be best served by pushing for Prime Minister Nouri al-maliki’s resignation in favour of a unity government. However, it also cannot allow ISIS to overrun Baghdad or other major centres in Iraq. If needed, military action should be limited in its scope and should be pursued in combination with pushing for internal political change. Without a change in government, Iraq will continue to be plagued by violent sectarianism – a situation that western military power alone cannot overcome.
If a big power like the US is unable to contain the present situation, what could an individual like you possibly do? Well, you could take in information from the media objectively and refrain from being easily swayed by extremist thoughts!
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/isis-too-extreme-al-qaida-terror-jihadi http://www.vox.com/2014/6/20/5827046/who-are-sunnis-who-are-shias http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/backgrounder/what-isis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/islamic_state_of_iraq_and_the_levant http://www.hscentre.org/policy-unit/isis-iraq-regional-crisis-global-implications/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/sykes%e2%80%93picot_agreement http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/iraq-isis-crisis-this-end-sykes-picot-1454751 http://www.academia.edu/8055774/the_islamic_states_challenge_to_international_order http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/iranian_intervention_in_iraq_(2014%e2%80%93present) http://time.com/3759875/iran-fighting-yemen-iraq-us/ http://www.cfr.org/peace-conflict-and-human-rights/sunni-shia-divide/p33176#!/