Quilliam chairman Maajid Nawaz writes op-ed for The Evening Standard about recent events in Iraq concerning the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
To say I’m angry would be an understatement. A jihadist group so maniacal that even al Qaeda has disavowed it now controls nearly a third of Iraq. Beheading and crucifying opponents along the way, Isis’s commanders are the heirs to the late “Butcher of Baghdad”, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Previously run to ground by the “Sahwa”, or Sunni Arab Awakening, AQI’s disintegration was predicted after the killing of Osama bin Laden. But now its former members are more relevant than ever.
With the takeover of Mosul, £256 million has fallen into their hands. With that, Isis has become the richest jihadist group in history. To put this into context, that is enough money to pay 30,000 jihadists £350 a month for two years. Considering that Isis defeated the 30,000 Iraqi soldiers in Mosul with only 800 men, these numbers are deeply worrying.
This was a propaganda, military, political and economic coup for the most poisonous form of jihadism.
I am angry because before President George W Bush’s wrong-headed invasion al Qaeda was practically non-existent in Iraq and Syria. I am angry too because there was a time in which we could have stopped these genocidal jihadists with legal airstrikes, but we didn’t.
After that abysmal failure, we should have known that Isis would target Iraq next. But our aversion to intervening anywhere — even when justified — has empowered the worst form of terrorism imaginable.
If any jihadist group is prepared to use chemical, biological or other weapons of mass destruction, it’s Isis. The group is now within miles of Baghdad, and if Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki fails to defend it, Iran will most likely intervene. So, as we sit moralising about how to “stop the war”, we could end up witnessing a far worse regional sectarian bloodbath.
And, if this isn’t enough to stir us, Isis plans to send some of the thousands of foreign fighters who have joined it back here. Last month’s attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels by a suspected French jihadist who shot four people dead is likely to be only the first instance of this.
At the root of the crisis is Maliki’s sectarian politics. Since the US withdrawal, he has systematically purged Sunnis from his Shia-dominated government. Now he is facing blowback. Sunni tribal leaders have deliberately capitulated to Isis.
It may now not be wise for Obama to intervene directly but the threat must be used to encourage Turkey and the Gulf states to strike hard at Isis positions in north-east Syria from the air.
Simultaneously, US support for Maliki must be leveraged to insist that he urgently makes overtures to the Sunni Arabs he has so recklessly isolated. There can be no stability in Iraq without Sunni inclusion.
Turkey, Iran and Iraq must also offer cover to the Kurdish Peshmerga, the only military force near enough to Mosul that stands a chance of retaking the city. They will not come to Baghdad’s aid for nothing, though.
But none of this can happen until and unless Obama stops dithering on Middle East policy. Now is the time for America to live up to its claims of global leadership.
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