With the threat of IS are we Chamberlain or Churchill?

Islamic State are clearly a threat to the West, argues Edisa Korugic and Robbie Travers, but the question is what do we do about it?

Islamic State are clearly a threat to the West, argues Edisa Korugic and Robbie Travers, but the question is what do we do about it?

The problem we face today in Iraq in the form of the hydra-like monstrosity of ISIS is not a direct product of the invasion of 2003. In fact, ISIS‘ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was an extremely weakened and marginal force in Iraq by the end of the last decade due to the Surge by Western coalition forces and the Sunni Awakening. There was no space for al-Qaeda to gain a foothold in Iraq, thus some within al-Qaeda were desperately waiting for an opportunity to regain strength.

It was the Syrian civil war, which offered al-Qaeda a safe retreat and training ground to re-group their forces and gain battleground experience as well as weapons, money and fighters. Assad targeted alliances and groups of moderate, secular and more democratic Syrian rebels while sparing ISIS groups, which led to ISIS growing into the formidable terror army they are today.

From 2011 onwards, al-Qaeda in Iraq morphed into the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), culminating in a split between the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIS leaders in Syria. Al-Zawahiri, very sceptical about the ambitions of ISIS in Syria, urged the ISIS fighters to return from Syria and fight the battle in Iraq. For their part al-Qaeda disowned ISIS for their extremism and disloyalty.

What makes ISIS so dangerous is that they are a prototype for a new form of terror state, which uses a mix of sophisticated methods to subjugate the domestic population. On the one hand they try to win hearts and minds by providing humanitarian aid and security within their tightly defined rules, and on the other they talk freely of ethnic cleansing and genocide to punish those who aren’t willing to bow to their demands.

The Kurds were among the first to feel the heat, but ISIS are persecuting all of Iraq’s minorities from Yazidi, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabaks and Kaka’i. ISIS’ goal is to destroy the ancient multi-ethnic fabric of Iraq and replace it with a homogenous, devout Sunni Muslim population. Some Sunni tribes in Iraq have aligned with ISIS, not because they subscribe to their agenda but because they have felt marginalised in former Prime Minister Maliki’s Iraq. Some blame the West for the Maliki government, but if democracy is to mean anything then the West could hardly do more than try to steer the elected government of the Iraqi people in the right direction.

Now that the peaceful retreat of Maliki and the transition to the new Prime Minister al-Abadi has been agreed, there is a great potential to win the Sunni tribes back and thus break the speedy advance of ISIS. Indeed, the Iraqi interior and defence ministry reported to have just successfully recruited 15,000 fighters from the Anbar tribes.

While ISIS are not only a serious threat to those in the Middle East, they do pose a threat to global security to the extent that it would be irresponsible not to take action. It’s important to remember that part of ISIS’ highly successful offensive in Iraq has been its high level of international recruitment: with approximately 500-700 UK citizens alone fighting with ISIS forces and ready to commit heinous atrocities as the recent murder of American photo journalist James Foley has shown.

Of course, ISIS recruits aren’t simply coming from the UK, there are multiple reports of French, German and Australian citizens fighting with them, too. The problem remains that when these citizens return, there have been clear indications that they wish to continue promoting ISIS agenda with some even openly declaring they wish to bring their jihad of intolerance and sectarianism to the streets of western civilisation.

Whether you view the intervention by UK and US coalition forces in Iraq in 2003 or the inaction in Syria 2011 as the cause of ISIS existence, it is clear that ISIS have set their sights on the west, They are as committed to the destruction of Western civilisation as they are the cultural heritage and diverse ethnic tapestry in Iraq. ISIS will continue to perpetrate genocides, inflict mass human rights abuses, and incite racial hatred across Syria and Iraq.

ISIS differ from many other terrorist and even Islamist movements that preceded them. The resources of the so called Islamic State are large, with unprecedented social media coverage and presence, include funds of nearly 2 billion dollars according to some worryingly high estimates, and a troop count of nearly 30-50,000 in Syria and Iraq alone, the majority of whom are experienced and battle-hardened. This organisation now rivals the beast that spawned it: al-Qaeda.

More than ever, Iraq needs our help. Military action in the form of air strikes by Western forces can limit, if not outright destroy ISIS. But inaction would let ISIS continue to grow like tumorous cancer in the heart of the Middle East. And like a cancer, untreated it will spread to other areas, eventually resulting in fatal consequences for the whole.

It’s crucial to consider how ISIS were born and how they were given new life: this helps us view the dangers of our inaction clearly. Our failure to intervene in Syria has led to a political and security vacuum, in which terror groups like ISIS could fester. It’s time to reverse our policy of inaction and appeasement when confronted with pure savagery and evil. How we deal with this threat goes to the core character of our generation.

The question is: are we in our hearts Chamberlain or Churchill?

Edisa Korugic is a political and security risk analyst specialising in military interventions. Robbie Travers is the director of the Agora think tank which seeks to engage young people in politics.

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21 Responses to “With the threat of IS are we Chamberlain or Churchill?”

  1. insolito

    This is not the sole inaccuracy in this article, but it is the most important:

    ‘ ISIS’ goal is to destroy the ancient multi-ethnic fabric of Iraq and replace it with a homogenous, devout Sunni Muslim population. ‘

    No. ISIS’ goal is to destroy the ancient multi-ethnic fabric of Iraq and replace it with a homogenous, devout Salafist Jihadist population.

    This is not about ISIS’ Islamism. It is not even about Sunni Islam – which in most iterations is a tolerant order. It is about a specific branch of a specific – and incredibly acsetic – branch of Sunni Islam. As you say, most Sunnis do not agree with ISIS, and so it is a shame that you then state ISIS’ aim is based on Sunni, rather than Salafist Jihadist ideas and aims.

  2. insolito

    ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq, was an extremely weakened and marginal force in Iraq by the end of the last decade due to the Surge by Western coalition forces and the Sunni Awakening.’

    In as far as it goes. In fact, Al Qaeda only NEEDED to be weakened in Iraq because after the West toppled Saddam it was so inept in planning for and delivering a workable future for the region, instead leaving a vast power vacuum waiting to be filled.

    Don’t get me wrong: ISIS is responsible for its despicable actions, not the UK, US, France or anyone else. But if we’re going to start taking CREDIT for stuff, we’d better have better reason than ‘we weakened Al Qaeda in Iraq after enabling them to set up and become powerful there.’

  3. Matthew Blott

    The author states ISIS wish to create a state of devout Sunnis not Sunnis per se.

  4. insolito

    That’s true, and fair enough if that’s how the majority of people read that.

    But to me ‘devout Sunni’ sounds like a normal Sunni who’s just especially good.

    That’s not what ISIS wants. They want a state comprised of Salafist Jihadists. Being good at being a Sunni – and being a particularly dedicated Sunni is not the same as being a Salafist Jihadist. Most Salafists – who regard Sunnis as misguided – would not fit ISIS’ demand, let alone most Sunnis.

  5. Matthew Blott

    I’m all for action to deal with these thugs but what? A real problem is the proxy war being fought between bigger Sunni and Shia powers in the region. Qata and Saudi have allowed the Islamist monster to grow and the West just shrugs. Of course we do need their oil but they also need us to buy it. I can’t see any international agreement for a Qata or Saudi invasion but more pressure needs to be put on the real sponsors of terror in the region. We could make a start at home by banning Saudi sponsored schools along with their disgusting “teaching” materials.

  6. Matthew Blott

    Someone devout would generally be understood as someone who is very committed to their religion – a religious conservative. I can’t speak for ISIS but my understanding is if you follow their conservative tradition then that is all that’s required.

  7. insolito

    Yeah but that’s the point: Salafism is not a ‘specially devout version’ of Sunni faith. And Salafist Jihadism has been disowned by the majority of Salafists. ISIS does not bwant a state of devout Sunnis. Nor does it want a state of Salafists. It wants a state of Salafists who have given up one of the basic focal points of Salafism – not using violence to spread their message.

    It’s a basic fault in the view of the conflict: Salafist Jihadism is not the same as Sunni Islam. It’s arguably a far far far stricter sect with some similarities to Sunni Islam, but its members do not accept Sunni Islam as an acceptable path.

  8. insolito

    Despite what we are talking about below, I agree: Saudi and Qatar should never have done this. It’s not acceptable to fund murderers.

  9. Peem Birrell

    >>Our failure to intervene in Syria has led to a political and security vacuum, in which terror groups like ISIS could fester

    No, it was the West’s hostility to Assad and encouragement of anti-Assad forces. Unless you mean that we should have intervened on Assad’s side, as indeed we should have done in Libya to support the Gadaffi regime. It’s wishful thinking about Arab ‘democracy’ that leads to all this crap, including the present state of Iraq and the carnage still to come elsewhere.

  10. cacheton

    I’m sure many feel it is not acceptable to fund murderers. But, as more and more people are realising, Western governments are also guilty of this. The West has imposed sanctions on Russia for apparently arming the separatists in Ukraine, but who is ‘helping’ the Kiev government cleanse Eastern Ukraine of ethnic Russians, choosing to believe Kiev when it says that it is the separatists who are blowing up their own civilians? We managed to see straight through that argument when Israel tried blaming Palestinian civilian deaths on Hamas, yet seem blind to it in Ukraine.

    As has been pointed out, weapons do not appear out of thin air. We could target the suppliers of IS’s weapons, apparently Saudi and Qatar. But that is difficult as they are supposed to be our ‘friends’.

    Lack of consistency seems to be a problem.

  11. Kay

    There is a blueprint for success: painstaking research, patient monitoring of individuals, intelligence gathering over months and years, and then drone strikes on the ISIS’ “Most Wanted”. Trouble is, because the strategy is covert, it appears that the West are doing nothing, failing to intervene and standing by as a catastrophe unfolds.

    Arguably, the CIA’s strategy did more to undermine and weaken Al Quaeda than the highly visible armed forces. The covert work of the security services and Special Branch in the UK after 7/7, has been remarkably successful so far.

    As to the question of the British men involved in ISIS – there is no blueprint. (Personally, I’d like to see a multi-national judicial process rather than each country trying its own nationals, but that’s by the by) Emboldened by unopposed, walk over victories in Iraq, the British men swagger with the confidence of champions. Buoyed up by their moral superiority in the face of the Assad regime, they are feted as heroes and liberators by their peers. But all that could change once they get a taste of defeat. I’m not talking about a defeat in a gun battle, but the pernicious, creeping sense that they are no longer in control when their mobile phones don’t work, their supplies run thin, leaders are taken out and they can’t put their hands on any cash.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Well, the West showed we were not interested in supporting the values we espoused, so they took their own action – sent Islamists to support their cause. This has backfired on then, predictably, but still.

  13. Guest

    Yes yes, of course you see now bowing to autocrats like Putin, not surrendering to terrorists like Hamas…

    Yes, your lack of consistency is your problem.

  14. Guest

    Ah yes, we didn’t condemn people for daring not to die when a dictator started a civil war. We didn’t try and condemn millions of refugees to death for the sin of simply being the wrong ethnic group!

    Of course you think that we should back any petty tyrant and dictator, prove ourselves worse morally than any mere Islamist, as you spout about how Arabs can’t handle democracy, which is straight Untermensch bullcrap…

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    The current strategy of providing weapons and intelligence to the Peshmerga seems to be working fine for me. Simply beheading leaders is a short-term solution, since others will always arise (and you can’t get them all) – in fact, you’re creating martyrs.

    No, you need to defeat them on the ground.

  16. Peem Birrell

    >>Ah yes, we didn’t condemn people for daring not to die when a dictator started a civil war.


    I don’t think we should back any petty tyrant or dictator- our pols should stay out of stuff they don’t understand.

    As for Arabs and democracy… let’s see a few examples.

  17. Matthew Blott

    Oh go away you predictable whataboutery blame the West bore.

  18. JoeDM

    Arab ‘democracy’!!!!!

    The so-called “Arab Spring” has brought chaos, death and disaster to those countries involved and the role of religion is central to the problem.

    It is clear that modern stable democracy is very difficult without some sort of ‘enlightenment’ process which the West went through in the 18th century which dilutes the religious extremism.

  19. dave furioso

    “The question is: are we in our hearts Chamberlain or Churchill?”

    no, the real question is – how on earth did this bilge get published? Again this is a covert ‘told you so’ about intervening in Syaria, when we’d have been bombing the same Assad who ISIS are also fighting, giving them even more strength and ability to nip over and cause carnage in Iraq.

    also please for the love of God stop using the ‘Churchill/Chamberlain’ analogy. It gets sillier and stupider every iteration. Then again, the authors of this piece seem to literally be 18 years old, so I guess they have a vague excuse.

  20. Guest

    Make your mind up. The facts are there.

    And let’s see, the Arabs in the UK don’t have a problem with democracy. Or those in America. Etc.

    Running away from problems which *are* well understood is no less than moral cowardice, and often outright endorsement of their views.

  21. Guest

    Keep on claiming there are two sides, as you frantically defend Assad. No, both you and IS are in the wrong.

    The FSA and the refugees you’d slaughter…well, yea, that’s you. As you use excuses.

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