States collapse power IS expansion

States collapse power IS expansion
The Islamic State group has been buoyed by support from Sunnis, and the international coalition is doing little to win them over.
4 min read
08 Nov, 2014
Sunni anger is fuelling support for IS (AFP)

The reason the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) continues its advance is simple: it has broad popular support. Moreover, this support is growing in both Syria and Iraq. That is a truth that everyone involved understands but refuses to confront directly. They go, in fact, to great lengths to avoid it. 

Needless to say the IS is the outcome of the collapse of the states in Syria and Iraq. These collapses come courtesy of the policies of the former Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the crimes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Both countries are supported by Iran which, since its revolution, has worked single-mindedly to further its own interests without consideration of any human cost, and under the pretext of supporting the resistance against Israel.

For over a month, the United States has tried to forge a coalition of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria to fight IS. The US knows that this would be a first step toward cutting the umbilical cord of the monster that is IS. But Washington has so far failed to attract significant Sunni support.

Until now, Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis don’t see any benefit in fighting the IS. Sunnis in Iraq feel IS is the only force capable of resisting Shia “death militias”. They are aware that the end of the IS now would only mean that such militias can continue their grim work with impunity. Since the US has not made any progress in securing the dismantling of these militias, the Pentagon cannot count on Sunnis to fight alongside the US-led coalition with any enthusiasm.

The earlier US-supported Sahwa (“awakening” - a Sunni military movement) succeeded because it was built in a way that mirrored Iraqi society. But as long as the odds are stacked in favor of sectarian militias supported by Iran, Sunnis will not take part in a war on the IS.

For as long as Maliki's sectarian legacy lives on in Iraq, Sunnis have little interest in fighting IS. This explains the seemingly unstoppable advance the group is making in Anbar province, of which it currently controls 80 percent. The group now seems primed to storm Baghdad. 

     Most Syrians are convinced that fighting IS would only benefit Assad.

In Syria, most people are not primarily concerned with IS, because their main target is a Syrian regime that has displaced millions and destroyed the country. Assad's men kill with impunity.

Indeed, most Syrians are deeply disappointed that the international coalition has trained their guns at IS but ignored the regime. If the international community had acted against both, Syrians would have been first in line to fight IS.

Most Syrians are also convinced that fighting IS will only benefit Assad. This is also, to a large extent, what the Turks think. In fact, this is the argument Ankara used to avoid committing itself completely to the international coalition. Turkish officials have spoken candidly about this and translated it into a refusal to aid the Kurds in Kobane (Ayn al-Arab). Complicating the picture, Saleh Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, trusts Assad more than Turkey, and has refused to break the alliance he had with Asad so that Turkey will support him in the face of the IS.

Why should Syrians fight the international coalition’s war against IS when this coalition hasn’t shown any inclination to help them and when Kurdish protection units don’t bother to hide their plan to establish a Kurdish canton? 

Some will argue that presenting the situation in this light is an exaggeration, considering the threat IS poses to everyone. However, to those who follow policy discussions in the West, it seems clear that Kurds are being seen as the future allies of the West, not Sunni Arabs.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.