Limited Strikes by U.S. Will Not Diminish Islamic State Threat
Sun, August 10, 2014
Islamic State militants assassinate captured Iraqis.
The U.S. has begun airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Iraq to stop the genocide of the Yazidi minority and to protect American nationals in Erbil. Unfortunately, the limited action permits IS to retain its valuable terrorist base in Iraq and Syria. It will take a broad strategy is to remove it.
President Obama authorized the intervention on Thursday after 10 to 40,000 Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar without food or water. IS considers them to be apostates deserving of death. So far, the U.S. has dropped 7,000 gallons of water and 36,000 pre-packaged meals to the desperate minority population.
The U.S. government has an obligation to protect its citizens in Iraq and aiding innocents at risk of genocide is obviously a moral act. There are also other benefits to the U.S in attacking IS.
Obviously, the airstrikes do damage to IS. The terrorist group’s takeover of large parts of Syria and Iraq was arguably the biggest Islamist victory since 9/11. IS would love to strike the U.S. and is obtaining the safe haven and weapons to do it.
The airstrikes display both strength and goodwill, therefore countering the Islamist propaganda that the U.S. is weak and evil. In his public address, President Obama quoted an Iraqi who cried out, “No one is coming to help.” He continued, “Well, today, America is coming to help.”
The action comes after extensive pleas from Iraqi and Kurdish leaders. Rivals like Iran and Russia have been exploiting the disappointments found in American partners. Notably, the Iraqi government reached out to the U.S. in defiance of Iran and its proxies.
The partnership with Iraqi Kurds is of vital importance strategically and for the ideological war against Islamism. This population of mostly Sunni Muslims is outwardly pro-American and secular-democratic.
“I believe the United States has a moral responsibility to support us, because this is a fight against terrorism, and we have proven to be pro-democracy, pro-West and pro-secularism,” said the Kurdistan Regional Government Foreign Minister.
President Obama is being urged to develop a broad strategy against IS, but the administration may be hesitating in order to pressure the Iraqi political leadership into making much-needed changes.
“Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL,” Obama said in his address.
IS was able to advance largely because of the break-down in the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites. The Sunnis view the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister al-Maliki as a hostile extension of Iran. Al-Maliki continues to pursue an unlikely third term.
The American public is not privy to the backroom talks between U.S. and Iraqi officials. President Obama is correct that the formation of a popularly accepted government is necessary for success. It is quite possible that the U.S. believes stronger action should wait until a new government is formed instead of fully backing the troubled al-Maliki government.
There are four elements that are required for a successful broad strategy against IS.
First, there must be Sunni-Shiite political reconciliation. The Sunnis must see that the Shiites in the Iraqi government are inclusive and are not puppets of Iran. On the other hand, the Shiites must see the Sunnis rise up against IS and other Sunni terrorists that target Shiites.
This has happened before. In 2010, a cross-sectarian bloc led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won the most votes. Allawi is a secular Shiite opposed to Iran, enabling him to win the support of Sunnis. Unfortunately, al-Maliki was able to form the next government with support from Iran and the U.S.
The U.S. must condition its involvement on an Iraqi crackdown on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian-backed militias currently aiding the al-Maliki government. The Sunni population’s reasonable fear of Iranian influence must be taken into account.
Secondly, there must be cross-sectarian counter-terrorism cooperation.
Iraq’s turnaround during the “surge” is attributable to the Sunni tribes turning against Al-Qaeda. At the same time, the Shiite-led government battled extremist Shiite militias. Sunnis and Shiites took responsibility for confronting the extremists in their own backyards.
The former head of Anbar Province’s Awakening movement wants to work with the U.S. and Iraqi governments against IS. The U.S. is in communication with Sunni leaders about confronting IS and how to develop a working relationship with the next Iraqi government.
Thirdly, IS controls 35 percent of Syria and its safe haven must be targeted.
Airstrikes may be necessary and the dislodging of IS will require forces on the ground. The Kurds, who are battling IS in Syria, can play that role. There are prominent Syrian opposition figures like Kamal al-Labwani who can help the U.S. sort out friend from foe.
Finally, the Iraqi Christians must be taken care of. The U.S. is coming to the rescue of the 40,000 Yazidis surrounded by IS, but the Christian population has fallen from about 1.5 million in 2003 to 400,000. IS has captured the largest Christian town in Iraq.
The U.S. is acting to prevent the genocide of Yazidis, but the genocide of Christians has been underway since 2003. Mark Arabo, a national spokesman for Iraqi Christians, says Christian children are being beheaded by IS and women are being raped. He says, “Christianity in Mosul is dead and a Christian holocaust is in our midst.”
The problem of Christian persecution in Iraq began right after the fall of Saddam Hussein and won’t stop with the defeat of IS. The Kurds are offering safe haven to Christians, but Christians have also complained of mistreatment at their hands. Either Kurdistan will save the Christian community or the Iraqi government will have to accept an autonomous Christian region.
Part of the reason that Christians have been so victimized is because they have not established fighting forces like the other sects have. That has started to change. If the Christian community in Iraq is to survive, it must be able to defend itself from Islamist militias and terrorists or properly defended by non-Christians.
A broad-based strategy is necessary to confront the threat from the Islamic State. The Iraqis should be a part of this strategy, but it should not rest upon them. The Islamic State is a threat to the U.S. and we must be prepared to take action if the Iraqis cannot or will not.