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How can ISIS be stopped?

PX*3924134Today’s debate in the Commons brings to a head the issue of what action should be taken to stop Islamic State in its murderous rampage across northern Iraq and Syria. It is not this time another invasion of Iraq, but a desperate plea by the new Iraqi government for outside assistance to help combat what is seen as an existential threat to the Iraqi state.  Nor is ISIS just another enemy in the complex and lethal sectarianism of the Middle East, but rather a monster with a blood lust which can be compared with the Genghiz Khan Mongols or the latter day Nazis, and one which the world can surely not turn aside from and wash its hands of.

But equally it would be foolish not to recognise the risks of military action via air strikes – the inevitable civilian casualties, the death threat to hostages, the risk of terrorist retaliation on British soil, and the mission creep towards action on Syria with its uncertain consequences on the civil war against Assad.

But perhaps the biggest problem, as always in the case of war, is the exit strategy. No war can be won from the air, and this war can only be won on the basis of conditions which will be very difficult to achieve.

First, it depends on the powers which have underpinned ISIS by the provision of money, arms and political support reaching some agreement mutually to withdraw this oxygen which keeps the pyre burning.

Second, it depends on achieving some reconciliation between Shia and Sunni Muslims which has flared up to a lethal intensity because of the highly discriminatory policies of the previous Maliki government.The new Iraqi government seems to recognise this, but has yet to set in place a power-sharing arrangement which will bring the majority Sunni population on side.

Third, the moderate Sunni element needs to be split from the extremists, and there are signs that that may already be happening, but the lessons of Sahwa, The Awakening, which played such a significant role in turning round the insurgency in 2007-8 need urgently to be revisited.

And fourth, most difficult of all, it depends on some agreement being reached between the major actors in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, using their influence to restrain their proxies and to restore a real degree of coexistence across inflamed sectarian lines.

Ultimately the war against ISIS can only be won by the repair of the broken Iraqi state, though there is no prospect whatever at present of the repair of an irretrievably broken Syrian state. In the case of Iraq, the new Prime Minister has made clear he does not want US or Western troops on the ground and insists that he has enough volunteers to contest ISIS with Iraqi forces in collaboration with air cover where needed. But in the case 0f Iraq and Syria, as well as of Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria, political weakness has turned into economic weakness, and both together become a major security weakness which turns into a black hole in which the nastiest and most brutal militias can thrive.

The only serious answer is to turn them back into real countries once again, but that takes economic and aid commitment from outside interests, especially though not exclusively from the US and Europe, which was so notably lacking in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It will certainly not be achieved by air sorties and firing off missiles.

The only justification for military action is not just to halt the momentum of ISIS and to protect communities, but to provide the time and space for political and diplomatic action to be put in place for the reconstruction of these broken States, the reconciliation of sectarian-torn communities along agreed power-sharing lines, and long-term support to bring about the revival of their economy and social institutions.


  1. Mike says:

    So I hope you will vote against military action, Michael. If the only justification is “to provide the time and space for political and diplomatic action to be put in place for the reconstruction of these broken States, the reconciliation of sectarian-torn communities along agreed power-sharing lines, and long-term support to bring about the revival of their economy and social institutions”, as you say, you must also know that this does not feature in US strategy in so far as there is one. On that basis, military action alone is likely to take us further from these laudable objectives.
    As for the stuff about Genghiz Khan and blood lust, this is emotional histrionics unworthy of you. They are ruthless terrorists, fanatics who kill their opponents and who execute hostages in order to show potential ransom payers that they mean business. Hostage ransoming, oil sales, trading in artefacts, plus some money from the very Gulf States that are now part of Obama’s coalition against them have made the richest terrorists in the region, paying double what any other militia pays. This is attractive to some armed insurgents in both Syria and Iraq. Understanding these fundamentals helps one realise that the solution to this problem is not a military one.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Michael should vote neither for nor against the action but abstain and point out that imperialism does what it likes, that the bombing is an objective fact and that the issue for socialists is not protesting this action but supporting the Syrian National Democratic Revolution in their struggle against IS and Assad and urging them to take advantage whilst being aware of false friends who have waited for the Syrian people and their democratic aspirations to be drowned in blood by the people they are now attacking before intervening.

      1. David Ellis says:

        IS is in fact the product of Parliament’s decision not to give air support to the Syrian rebels in the first place. That was a decision hailed by the UK left as some kind of triumph for the anti-war movement who suddenly saw Parliament not as the black heart of imperialism but in the vanguard of anti-imperialist movement. 10s of thousands have been butchered by Assad since. The executives of both the US and UK were happy to sit back and wait for IS and Assad to eviscerate the Arab Spring in Syria and are now just looking to put the fascist IS back in its box and slowly bring the degenerate butcher Assad back under the West’s wing. The left’s opposition to non-existent, apart from Russia, imperialist intervention in Syria has put them on Assad’s side when its place should have been beside the revolution. Now they are not so noisy about an intervention because of the hope it holds out to the hated Assad. If the West wants to intervene to contain IS fine. I say to the rebels that are the product of the Arab Spring don’t think twice about taking advantage to reclaim lost territory, push back IS and progress the undermining of Assad.

      2. Robert says:

        He voted for it, as he did Iraq in 2003 a left leaning chap who is left when it suits him. who is about as left as Cameron or sadly Miliband.

  2. David Ellis says:

    I don’t think anybody is going to lose too much sleep over IS getting some of their own medicine. The worst thing about the bombing though is that the insane butcher al Assad is using it to suggest that America is now on his side and he has a point. In order not to be seen breaching Syria’s sovereignty and encouraging the nut job Putin in his illegal annexations in Ukraine despite international law the West are claiming they have Assad’s permission. Assad, who has killed over 200,000 Syrians in the most appalling manner may well come out of this smelling of Western roses. The left, far from protesting this operation, should be urging the forces of the Syrian National Democratic Revolution awakened by the Arab Spring to take advantage of the situation to reclaim lost liberated territory from both IS and Assad whilst all the time of course bewaring false friends who have sat on their hands whilst a democratic movement has been slaughtered by a combination of the Assad tyranny and the IS and al Nusra fascists. By making opposition to this action its main priority instead of the ouster of Assad and the pushing back of IS the UK left hampers the development of progressive forces in Syria.

    1. Will Slater says:

      The US admitted to attacking a secondary Islamic group in Syria and not just Daesh (Islamic State).

      This could force that group to ally with Daesh against Assad and furthermore it could very well strengthen their existing forces.

      Regardless I think it is only a matter of time until Daesh invades Turkey and then we will have no other choice but to have boots on the ground.

    2. Robert says:

      I will not of course think more of the young people brain washed by the ass holes in this country who will still be spouting the same rubbish tomorrow and getting more of our young to fight in holly wars.

      We will kill those but lets see how many within the UK will be jailed or kicked out for the brain washing, god we may even make them MPs to help brain wash us into voting.

      The problem is this army is growing it’s growing for a reason and bombing them from the sky the words used last week after a bombing mission we believe it was a communications room, you believed it was, what happens if it another communications room we call a School ah well they are dead so who cares.

      We all say the UK and the USA bombing schools hospital and homes last time collateral damage yep sounds about right.

  3. swatantra says:

    The solution musty surely be the creation of a secular State so that no one religious sect shia or shiite christian or jew dominates. Otherwise the religious conflicts are as old as time, as old as catholics against prtotestant or jew against muslim. Thank goodness I’m a hindu and well out of it, but India is a Secular State and has stood so from its Independence, give or takes a few episodes where the islamofacists tried to intervene, and incursions into Indian territory by Pakistan.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Inida has just elected a far right sectarian hindu pogromist to lead it so keep your self congratulatory bullshit to yourself. There are plenty of Hindufash about.

    2. Robert says:

      And yet your here in the UK, a failed candidate for labour

  4. Paul Blount says:

    This is being presented falsely as there being no alternative to start bombing. Wrong! There is enough military hardware and manpower for the neighbouring allied Arab states to deal with this fascist caliphate on their own. We in the West have been meddling militarily in that area of the Middle East for 34 years. Time to butt out!.. and don’t fall for the propaganda that ISIS present an immediate threat to this country. They don’t, unless they have weapons of mass destruction…and where have we heard that before

    1. Robert says:

      They know better why waste your money when the UK and America can do it for you.

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