Shock and Awe: The Rise of the Islamic State & Implications for the Middle East- Part II

Posted By July 22, 2014 No Comments

The recent events in Iraq and Syria have demonstrated that the militant Islamic State (IS) [1] has proven itself as a capable and determined military force under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In March 2013, Baghdadi’s forces took over the Syrian city of Raqqa, the first provincial capital to fall to the rebels. [2] To capitalize on the increasing tensions fomenting between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shia-led government, Baghdadi’s forces seized the city of Falluja in the western An Bar province, as well as large sections of the provincial capital Ramadi. [3] Throughout these areas, the IS garnered a reputation for brutality, committing numerous atrocities, including crucifixions and mass murder against non-Sunnis, and captured Iraqi military and security force personnel. Although the circulation of ISIS’s violence online had a psychological impact worldwide, it is the conquest of Mosul that has starkly indicated that the Islamic State is severe extremist threat. [4]

Bakr Al-Baghdadi: Radicalization

Formerly known as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry, Baghdadi first came to the attention of the West when he was captured during an American raid near Falluja during the 2004 offensive against the Iraqi Sunni insurgency. [5] The American assessment at the time was that al-Badry was a “hanger-on” and not one of the committed Sunni militants. [6] It has since been argued that Baghdadi’s dramatic rise:

“has been shaped by the United States involvement in Iraq—most of the political changes that inspired his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action. And now he has forced a new chapter of that intervention, after ISIS’ military successes and brutal massacres of minorities in its advance prompted President Obama to order airstrikes in Iraq.” [7]

Not considered a threat, al-Badry/Baghdadi was released from incarceration in December 2004, along with a group of other prisoners. Meanwhile, the Iraqi scholar Hisham al-Hishami contends that Baghdadi spent five years in a detention facility and it was during this period that he became radicalized. [8] According to al-Hishami, Baghdadi grew up in a Sufi family, which is a sect of Islam known for tolerance, but found his way to Baghdad in the early 1990s, where his radicalization began. [9]

Baghdadi was attracted to the jihad insurgent group, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which was commanded by the Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi whose allegiance was to Al Qaeda’s leadership. Zarqawi was subsequently killed in 2006 and was a serious blow to AQI’s leadership. [10] American operations continued to focus on the destruction of AQI’s organizational leadership, killing its last two top figures in a joint Iraqi-American operation in 2010. One month later, Baghdadi was announced as the new leader of AQI and in June 2010 it was reported that the group’s, “intent to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq has not diminished.” [11]

Baghdadi: Descendent of the Prophet

Bahraini ideologue Turki al-Binali, writing under the pen name of Abu Humam Bakr bin Abd al Aziz-Athari, compiled a biography of Baghdadi [12] in which he stated that Baghdadi’s family was, “indeed a descendent of the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s Quraysh tribe—one of the key qualifications in Islam for becoming the Caliph (historically, leader of all Muslims).” [13] According to this biography, prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Baghdadi earned a doctorate from the Islamic University of Baghdad, where he studied jurisprudence, Sharia history, and Islamic culture. [14] Although Baghdadi does not have the religious training and education from some of the reputable religious schools, such as famed al-Azhar University in Cairo or the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, he reportedly did preach at the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal Mosque in Samarra. [15] Notwithstanding, Baghdadi appears to have a depth and breadth of traditional Islamic education beyond any past or current leaders of Al Qaeda. In comparison, Osama bin Laden was a layman and engineer, while his successor Aymen al Zawahiri is a medical doctor. Baghdadi’s education, combined with his reported family history, confers a degree of legitimacy to his claim as Caliph amongst his supporters. [16]

In contrast, there are some who argue that Baghdadi is an imposter [17] and that his claim of representing himself as a successor to the Caliph is not viewed as credible. [18] Shawki Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, argued that, “extremists violate all Islamic principles and laws” and described the Islamic State as a danger to Islam. [19] Caliphs of the past provided enlightened guidance over numerous centuries and witnessed the golden age of Islamic civilization. During this period, the caliphate did much to promote knowledge, which enabled the Islamic civilization to be recognized for its contribution in the areas of science, the arts, literature, architecture [20] and medicine. To some, Baghdadi and the Islamic State have created is a pseudo-caliphate and is perceived as being run by a group of “barbarians.” [21] Over recent months a trail of uncivilized activities committed by the IS, arguably bordering on genocidal, include beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions, assaults, random shootings, robbery, and extortion. This caliphate does not appear to uphold the tradition of previous enlightened leaders who created an environment that engendered learning and compassion.

The Implications of James Foley

The beheading in August 2014 of American journalist James Foley is reminiscent of similar actions nearly  a decade Muslim extremists of the AQI. At that time, these beheadings shocked the world, alienated Muslims and resulted in concerns by Al Qaeda that such activities, “alienated more potential supporters that it recruited.” [22] Both Al Qaeda and Islamist scholars openly criticized AQI leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, arguing that it psychologically dislocated Muslim support. [23] It was reported that in a 9 July 2005 letter from Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, “Zarqawi was told to cease and desist since he was losing ‘Muslim hearts and minds.’” [24] Furthermore, the Association of Muslim scholars in Iraq saw such activities and beheadings as a violation of Islamic law. [25] Even the well-known Egyptian scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who supports attacks of all types against occupation forces and who condones female suicide bombing, criticized the beheadings. He compared Zarqawi to the Kharijites, who are viewed as Muslim pretenders that have limited understanding of the dictates of the Koran. [26]

Despite wide spread condemnation of the beheading of James Foley, a number of aspiring jihads indicated their intention of joining the Islamic State within days of the video release. Recently a London woman, Khadijah Dare, reportedly, “tweeted that she wanted to become the first British woman to kill a U.K. or U.S. citizen.” [27] A large number of Baghdadi’s followers were recruited from Muslim communities in Europe and North America. [28] Many jihadists have their own bona fide reasons to take up arms against the governments of Syria, Iraq, the U.S. and its allies, including those seeking adventure, community notoriety, or were recent converts out to prove themselves. [29] Some volunteers may idealistically hope that Baghdadi is the new leader of the Caliphate. Furthermore, it would appear that a large number of fighters hold the notion that Islam truly is a religion of war. Thus, the IS will attract recruits with violent personalities who are capable of unconscionable mass murder, perpetrating violence on those who are, for the most part, defenceless.

To date, there is yet to be any reputable Muslim cleric or leader who has acknowledged and accepted Baghdadi’s claim to be the new Caliph. [30] Nevertheless, Baghdadi has achieved something that would be considered impossible to achieve: his caliphate now controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq, representing an area larger than France. [31]

Baghdadi and the Islamic State

In 2006, Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq joined together in an “Awakening”, working with U.S. military forces to present a coordinated front against threats from AQI. Prior to and during the “Awakening,” the AQI reportedly assassinated a number of influential tribal leaders; this behavior has continued over the last few years with predecessors of the Islamic State. In some cases, the IS brokered temporary alliances with Sunni tribes who were disenfranchised by the Shia dominated Iraqi government.  Moderate Sunnis view the IS extremists as a likely imminent threat to themselves, making these temporary alliances even more vulnerable.

Since his promotion to the leadership of IS, Baghdadi has reinvigorated the AQI and created the Caliphate. In comparison to the last 10 years, it is evident that the IS, although still brutal, appears to be attempting to win over the population within the Caliphate. [32] However, the long-term ability of the IS to retain the loyalty of the population remains a critical question. In doing so, the IS will arguably have to balance their notoriously cruel interpretation and application of Sharia law with a social welfare regime, which addresses the needs of the population. [33]

The brutal murder of Foley forced the U.S. government to address the threat posed by the Islamic State. The deputy national security advisor, Benjamin Rhodes, recently told reporters that, “If you come after Americans, we are going to come after you.” [34] He further noted that, “we’re not going to be restricted by borders.” [35] It is the contention of the Obama administration that attacks against American citizens provides the United States “international legal justification for military action under self-defence doctrines.” [36]

The Threat to Western Security

Recently, the Islamic State has been described by British, American, Canadian, and other governments as a threat to be taken seriously by the West. The IS forces have captured a large variety of U.S. supplied weapons, including heavy artillery, tanks, and other armored vehicles. [37] Moreover, the IS fighters have threatened Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, and pose a direct threat against the Iraqi and Kurdish governments. [38]

Over the past months, hundreds of recruits have made their way from the West to Syria and Iraq to join Baghdadi’s forces. They are inspired by the activities undertaken in Iraq and Syria by Muslim extremists and the leadership of new self-proclaimed Caliph, Baghdadi. These Western recruits are better able to move freely throughout Europe, and North and South America with their passports and identity papers.

The recruitment of foreign fighters is of immediate concern to many nations, as jihadists returning to their ‘homes’ from the fight could pose an imminent threat to domestic national security. Some of those returning may be determined to continue the war against the West on their ‘home turf.’ A number returning may have the leadership and organizational skills to recruit, train and operate terror cells intent on undertaking operations in accordance with Baghdadi’s dictates, similar to Al Qaeda and some of their acolytes since 9/11.

The Obama administration believes this crisis is an Iraqi issue and has chosen not to fully engage with the conflict. Nonetheless, the U.S. administration is doing all it can to facilitate the creation of a new government that embraces all of, “Iraq’s political factions, sharply divided along sectarian lines.” [39] More recently, U.S. Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said that the Islamic State’s, “organisation, sophistication, wealth and military was ‘beyond anything we’ve seen.’” [40] He further noted that, “they are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.” [41]

General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, buttressed Hagel’s remarks, saying, “the group could pose a direct threat to Western countries through the return of European or U.S. nationals to their home countries after fighting in Syria or Iraq.” [42] Dempsey emphasized that IS fighters would have to be confronted in neighboring Syria likely by more moderate rebel groups fighting the Assad regime. However, when the question was posed as to whether the Islamic state could “be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no,” [43] according to Dempsey.

American Leadership: Dealing with a Dilemma and the Need for a Comprehensive Plan

President Obama is treading very carefully while his administration monitors and assesses the ongoing situation in Syria and Iraq, as well as the Islamic State’s activities and operations. Reports note that American contingency plans under review include broader airstrikes in Syria. [44] Reports also note that the intelligence community has not generated a list of high-value targets, which would include leaders within the Islamic State. [45] Despite these reports, t is difficult to assess closed-door policy options and highly sensitive intelligence… Notably, all reported options including an “increasing recognition that Syria needs to be included in the battle plan to defeat the insurgents, who control some Eastern parts of that country.” [46]

Some American representatives are pushing for airstrike expansions. Florida’s Democratic Senator, Bill Nelson, stated that, “if we don’t deal with them [IS] now, we’re certainly going to have to deal with them in the future on our behalf or on behalf of our allies as well.” [47] Needless to say, airstrikes have their own utility; at present, not having an airbase or logistical footprint is politically advantageous. Another option to be considered is the, “deployment of advisors in the field and even some special forces.” [48] This would embed American military advisers in the Iraqi Army to provide advice and support for particular operations. These U.S. military advisors would likely be ordered not to engage the IS but instead advise and assist local forces. This latter option has so far been rejected by the Obama administration. [49] This tactic is reminiscent of the use of American advisers in Vietnam, which subsequently witnessed a serious widening of the war.

What is needed is a comprehensive approach to address the threat posed by the Islamic State, not only within the region, but in Europe, North America, and Africa. It is vital to formulate a comprehensive long-term policy and plans in order to identify, locate, and drive out the extremist elements from Iraq and, if possible, contain and eradicate the IS in Syria. The eradication of IS could be problematic as it may force Western nations to have to work directly with the Iranian-backed Assad regime and indirectly with Iran, another state-sponsor of terrorism. [50] The notion that Iran and Syria enter a relationship with the U.S., and other regional players to address the threat IS poses to the region is an unsavoury option.  Both the U.S. and Iran have successfully called Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to step down as a precondition in addressing the threat from the IS. [51] Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is now formulating a new government. Interestingly, there have been no protests from the Iranian government as American aircrafts execute airstrikes near Iran’s borders. [52]

The threat posed by the Islamic State to Iran is far greater than the threat emanating from Al Qaeda. [53] Moreover, the loss of Iraqi and Syrian territory has left the new Caliphate to occupy substantial area of both nations. Additionally, the departure of Iraqi Kurds would encourage a separate Iraqi Shia state. This would leave much of their oil reserves in possession by the Caliphate and Kurds. This situation would leave the remnants of Iraq desperately struggling to maintain itself as a nation-state. The old notion that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” could see the ‘realpolitik’ of a restrained alliance with one of the state sponsors of terrorism! A potentially interesting turn of events.

The Obama administration hopes that the new Iraqi leadership will reengage Sunni communities and have them reject the Sunni extremists epitomized by Baghdadi and the Islamic State. The Iraqis intend to achieve this by allowing American airstrikes on the IS in order to retake Iraqi territory. This would also help garner more arms and training for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces aligned against the IS. [54]

American airstrikes commenced on 7 August 2014, when President Obama authorized the targeting of IS fighters moving towards the Kurdish capital of Irbil in northern Iraq. The IS had encircled and threatened members of the Yazidi sect, who are a sect considered to be apostates by the Sunni extremists. [55] The success of American aerial interdiction—assisted by Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces—has provided Baghdad’s government time to form a new inclusive version of Iraq’s Shiite-led government. The US administration hopes that Iraq’s neighbors, in particular, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia will assist Iraq’s Sunnis in turning away from the extremists of the IS and support a new Iraqi government. [56]

It is the contention of the present American administration that, given the time to re-equip and train, Iraq’s military forces can eliminate and push out the IS, with some U.S. assistance. American airstrikes are, for the most part, limited to the protection of American facilities and personnel, humanitarian missions, as well as those requested by the Iraqi government. [57] The aerial assistance provided to the Kurdish forces in their taking of the Mosul Dam was critical to their success and was viewed by the Obama administration as protecting American facilities from potential flooding. [58] Nevertheless, this justified the employment of U.S. aircrafts to support the seizure of the critically important dam. One report noted that the, “limited scope for intervention appeared to have been superseded by the wider aim of destroying Islamic State in Iraq.” [59] In response to these strikes, the IS beheaded the journalist James Foley. Although Obama has ruled out a deployment of American ground forces to Iraq or Syria, these options should be included in any contingency planning.

Funding-Possibly More Than we Thought

As with the tribes on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, the Sunni tribes of eastern Syria and Iraq’s Anbar and Nineveh provinces have close tribal ties that transgress national boundaries. During the Syrian civil war, moderate rebel groups were vanquished by Syrian governmental forces and their allies. It was during this period that the predecessor of the Islamic State, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), supported by weapons and funding from jihadist supporters in the Middle East, became a leading force within the Syrian insurrection. Today, the IS is essentially self-funded by oil revenues, criminal activity like extortion and kidnapping, [60] as well as the seizure of large amounts of money and assets, particularly in the capture of Mosul. This latter haul of money and assets was initially estimated to be in the range of $422 million to $500 million [61] and now estimated at $900 million. [62] This initial assessment of all the assets accrued and available to IS has been raised to around $2 billion, [63] according to Professor Peter Newman, Kings College London. The IS is currently assessed as the richest terrorist organization in the world.

In early August, Islamic State fighters captured Iraq’s Mosul Dam, the Ain Zalah oilfield—a total of four oilfields now under the control of IS which provides funding for their operations—and three towns. [64] The strategically important electricity generating Mosul Dam was captured, but was subsequently retaken with the assistance of American air power. Strong Kurdish resistance disappeared after the initial offensive by the IS to take the town of Zumar. Here, the Islamists raise their black flags and commenced the mass execution of their prisoners and any other non-Sunni opponents. [65]

Is Strategy Leveraging Sunni Dislocation

The IS continues to consolidate its gains and appears strategically savvy as continues to successfully finance itself through strategic resources like oil. As well, the IS appreciates the advantages of having secured border crossings with Syria in order to facilitate the transportation of oil and access to supply routes. [66] So far, the IS has astutely capitalized on the Sunni psychological dislocation and frustration with the central government in Baghdad, which is viewed as Shia-dominated and substantially influenced by Iran. Moreover, there was evidence that Maliki’s intent was to stay for a third term after an inconclusive parliamentary election that occurred in May. This only further fanned the flames of Sunni disenchantment. The failure of Maliki to bring together an effective and inclusive coalition government has resulted in his fall from power.

The Islamic State’s Strategic Intent

The first edition of the Islamic State’s impressive magazine, Dabiq, which appeared shortly after Baghdadi declared the Caliphate, outlined the IS’s perception of reality. Their belief is that the world is divided into two camps, “the camp of Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere, and the camp of the jews, the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions[…]all being led by America and Russia and mobilized by the jews.” [67]

The second edition of Dabiq made the Islamic State’s strategic intent clear and reflected the words of Prophet Mohammed, “You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You’ll then invade Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it.” [68]

For the present, the ability to undertake this mission remains unknown since it would require more military and logistical capabilities that Baghdadi has within his current forces.

Although Al Qaeda has been under continuous pressure from drone strikes and leadership targeting they still present a threat to the West. Should security in Afghanistan decline after the withdrawal of the international military forces in December 2014, Al Qaeda could recover with the assistance of the Afghan/Pakistan Taliban who have not relinquished their alliance with Al Qaeda.

Secondly, the eclipse of Al Qaeda’s leadership by the Islamic State may force the AQ to undertake a spate of daring operations in order to prove their relevancy to their followers. This alone has serious implications that could spark dangerous competition between these two extremist elements intent on doing damage to Western civil society. For Al Qaeda, the outcome would define their relevance to the ongoing struggle or their relegation to a footnote in history.

The Is: State of Play

The Islamic State has seized Iraq’s second city, Mosul, and is pressing the outskirts of Baghdad while within striking distance of Kirkuk. It is consolidating its territorial interests in Iraq and expanding into the Aleppo province of Syria. It has pushed the Iraqi government to the brink of collapse. Throughout these recent events, Baghdadi and his followers [69] have continued to capitalize on their successes and have demonstrated an impressive ability to propagandize these feats through social media and the Internet. These mediums have proved to be most effective in attracting the attention of young men and women to their cause. [70]

Currently, IS success is partly measured by the substantial numbers of foreign fighters it has recruited—many of whom have no previous links to the IS or other extremist groups. Nevertheless, the IS has garnered hundreds of foreigners embracing a number of nationalities including American, Australian, British, Canadian, as well as other European nations. [71]  In geographic terms, the widespread instability within Africa has also proven to be a profitable area for recruits from, “Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, and as far afield as Morocco, Mali and Mauritania.” [72] In a disconcerting video broadcast by the Islamic State, armed militants stand by a tank menacingly holding their personal weapons declaring to the camera that, “Our message to the entire world is that we are the soldiers of the caliphate state and we are coming.” [73]

Baghdadi’s proclamation of the Caliphate on 29 June 2014 in a mosque in Mosul [74] was not only symbolic, but based on a number of political realities. Baghdadi and the Islamic State appear to have usurped the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al Qaeda in the role of global leader of the jihad. Baghdadi’s success has garnered the approval of Indonesia’s Al Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiah whose leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, argued that they should shift their allegiance to the Islamic State. [75] Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen also announced their support for the Caliphate.

The threat posed by the Islamic State resides not only in its reported 10,000 fighters equipped with armor, artillery and rockets, but also in the wealth it has accrued from seized government funds, the sale of oil, extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activity. These activities allow Baghdadi to pay his fighters and support the Islamic States organizational network, while providing funds to garner influence and assist other like-minded extremist groups. Within the cities that it controls, the Islamic State is drawing taxes and generating a reported revenue of more than $1 million a day. [76]

The capture of the Mosul Dam, although temporary, meant that IS controlled the water resources and electric power throughout northern Iraq, and posed a threat of flooding of key cities. [77]With the retaking of the Mosul dam, these threats have temporarily subsided. Nevertheless, Baghdadi and his followers control much of the gas and oil producing areas in Syria and hold a third of Iraq’s territory, while occupying much of the eastern and northern parts of Syria. [78]

Unlike his predecessor Zarqawi, Baghdadi appears to be an astute strategist with the intent of ‘winning hearts and minds’. In the territories and cities that the Islamic State has conquered, governors are appointed to ensure that the populations are served [79], towns and cities administered, food properly distributed, businesses taxed, infrastructure maintained and developed, and medical facilities, education centers, as well as courts are operating effectively. [80] For those who oppose the Islamic State’s ideology, there is the ever present threat of public beheadings, hangings, and crucifixions. [81] These stern warnings act to deter any challenges to the prevailing ideology of the new and evolving Caliphate.

The Islamic State has evolved dramatically, growing from a terrorist organization that emerged from the shadows to an effective ground force whose victories have seized territory, including towns and cities, while instituting governance into these areas in what has been described as a ‘proto-state.’ [82] What is less understood is how the strategy embraced by Baghdadi’s group is substantially different from other Islamic extremist organizations. While Al Qaeda and other like-minded organizations inspired or launched various terror attacks with the strategic attempt of weakening the West, Baghdadi and his followers have gone much further in achieving a strategic vision. It has created a military organization that is capable of taking and holding territory, similar to that of a Westphalian nation-state consisting of land, population, and law. This reality was confirmed when Baghdadi announced the creation of a new Caliphate and himself as the Caliph. Doing so incorporates the territories that the Islamic State controls in Iraq and Syria.

Dealing with the Devil: The Need for Realpolitik and Engaging Regional Powers

It is quite clear that the Obama administration will be, “seeking support from its allies, including Britain, for any major escalation of its mission.” The US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel spoke:

“of the need to consider hitting the militants in Syria, observers insisted that the Islamic states defeat required international effort. Others have noted that its involvement puts the US in the awkward position of effectively being on the same side of the Assad regime, which is battling Islamist networks, as well as moderate secular opposition.” [83]

However, it was understood that, “The Obama administration can’t partner with Assad overtly at this time, but the logic in trajectory of White House policy in Syria leads in that direction,” [84] according to Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Assad’s Syrian government, which is also committed to combating the Islamic State, poses a major dilemma for the West. Politically, Assad and Iran are viewed as supporters of terrorism and anathema to any political or military alliance. Unfortunately, as General Dempsey noted, the destruction of the Islamic State would have to incorporate a comprehensive strategy to root out IS and its well established organization within Syrian territory. This would necessitate the Assad government and likely Iran to acquiesce. This option would be quite unpalatable, but pragmatic for the strategic objective of eradicating Islamic State.

General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, has argued that the West must cooperate with President Assad to effectively confront the Islamic State. Understanding that the threat resides in both Iraq and Syria, Dannatt argues that, “the Syrian dimension has got to be addressed. You cannot deal with half a problem.” [85] The call to join forces with Assad did not resonate with the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond. Hammond stated, “We may very well find that we are aligned against a common enemy.” [86] However, “that does not make us friends with someone, it doesn’t make us able to work with them.” [87] It was further argued that working with Assad would ‘poison’ efforts to separate moderate Sunnis from the Islamic State. [88] This dilemma of dealing with the Syrian and Iranian government also pervades France.  In contrast with the British and US positions, the pragmatic French President, Francois Hollande, said, “the world now faces a ‘terrible choice’ between fighting Assad and defeating Isil.” [89] He further posited, “If, two years ago, we had acted to ensure a transition, we wouldn’t have had Islamic State. If, one year ago, the major powers had reacted to the use of chemical weapons, (in Syria) we wouldn’t have had this terrible choice between a dictator and a terrorist group.” [90]


What is necessary is a coalition of regional players and other interested governments to formulate a broad strategy to eradicate the Islamic State. This coalition would ideally include the nations neighboring Iraq and Syria, as well as other Sunni and Shia regional powers—Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and others. Israel must also be considered as a regional power, as it also faces a direct threat should the IS become a regional player. To undertake such a coalitional initiative would demand that all parties understand the common threat they are confronting. Only through this can they transcend the spectrum of differences which encompass historic suspicions, religious, tribal, ethnic frictions, and territorial issues, amongst others. In the wake of some 13 years of conflict in Afghanistan, and nearly a decade in Iraq, a conflict with this proto-state appears to be somewhat inevitable. The longer we wait to address this extremist threat, the worse things will get.