US bombing of ISIS will be detrimental

The regional threat posed by the radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its Sunni allies can only be countered by reversing the destructive policy adopted by the West, its Arab allies and Iran over recent decades.

First and foremost, Sunni and Shia fundamentalism should be shunned and these powers should end efforts to undermine and topple secular non-aligned, socialist and anti-Israel nationalists by backing fundamentalists.

A clean break must be made with the entire range of fundamentalists. Radicals invariably outbid and take over from “moderates” involved in religious politics - whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian.

 On the West Asian scene, this means the US and the Western powers must exert pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Gulf states and their wealthy citizens to cut ties to and funding for fundamentalist groups.

 Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran must cease efforts to export their fundamentalist ideologies and halt intervention in the affairs of other Muslim states. Their rivalry has fuelled the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, made Lebanon ungovernable, and destabilised Egypt. Instead of competing, Riyadh and Tehran must co-operate and bring an end to the widening Sunni-Shia divide and rising violence.

While striving to effect such major changes in the policies of the external powers largely responsible for the current chaotic state of affairs in West Asia, there are specific steps that can defuse the situation in Iraq.

 Turkey, which has longstanding territorial ambitions in Iraq, and Iran, which seeks to keep Iraq within its sphere of influence, must be persuaded not to intervene militarily. Iran may have already deployed 2,000 basij militiamen under the command of Revolutionary Guard commander, Qassem Suleimani, but they should be withdrawn as soon as the situation stabilises.

Jihadi fighters

The flow from Turkey of jihadi fighters into Syria and Iraq must be halted. Since ISIS robbed banks and Iraqi army weapons depots when it captured Mosul and Takrit, the group does not need funds and arms. But the group, which has 10,000-12,000 men in core units, does need recruits to swell its ranks. The only way to "preserve" Iraq is to "save" Syria.

Turkey, the Western and Arab Gulf powers must cease their political support for the expatriate opposition coalition, which has no support in Syria, and stop providing funds and weapons to armed groups seeking to topple the Syrian government, a bastion against ISIS and radical jihadis.

The squabbling, dysfunctional opposition factions, most of them fundamentalist, are no match for the ISIS.  Based at the heart of West Asia, ISIS is far more dangerous than al-Qaeda, which is holed up in the distant border regions of Pakistan.

Both Washington and Tehran must cease supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a divisive Shia fundamentalist figure who cannot mend the sectarian rifts he has opened in Iraqi society.

 Having concentrated power in Baghdad and taken command, Maliki has disenfranchised and decapitated the Sunni community, imprisoned tens of thousands of Sunnis, and removed hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from posts in the army, police and civil service, rendering them unemployed and ready to join ISIS.

Washington has already made it clear that Iraqi politicians, now forming a new government following recent elections, must choose a figure that will unite rather than divide the country. Tehran has still to signal its readiness to drop Maliki. The US and Iran must back a neutral candidate who does not belong to a sectarian fundamentalist party.

 The US promoted Maliki in 2006, while Iran brokered a 2010 deal that gave him a second term as prime minister. 

Ayad Allawi - whose secular Iraqiya party won the most seats in the 2010 parliamentary election but was denied the premiership by Maliki and Iran - could be a neutral nominee for the post although his party split and gained only 21 seats in the 328-seat parliament.

Since the broken, corrupt, sectarian Iraqi army cannot stand up to the ISIS as long as the jihadis have Sunni supporters, it is essential to break the connection between them by delivering Sunni demands.  

These include the restructuring of the military, security forces, and police, an end to the exclusion of members of the former ruling Baath party from posts and positions in the military and administration, constitutional reform, and a wide ranging anti-corruption drive.

Without the backing of Sunni allies, the ISIS cannot take and hold territory. The call by some US politicians and commentators for US war planes to bomb ISIS units is unrealistic and dangerous.

 ISIS fighters are guerrillas who melt into local populations; therefore, targeting locations held by the ISIS would kill civilians.

As the US is now hated by Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, bombing would only boost the appeal of the ISIS and strengthen Maliki and the Shia fundamentalists.

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