Quilliam Responds to Obama’s Speech on Islamic State (IS) 

11 September 2014

Quilliam welcomes the news that President Obama has outlined a more comprehensive strategy to tackle the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) in both Syria and Iraq. Broadly, the decision to build an international coalition – led by regional states – that will coordinate in an effort to systemically degrade IS infrastructure and capabilities is vital to assist in stabilising the region and securing the lives of its civilians.

The decision to limit intervention and not send in ground troops – instead offering air support for local forces – is also welcome; it is imperative that this is a condition, in order that international action does not bolster the IS ideology. Hence, encouraging and empowering Sunni Muslim-majority states that are directly threatened by IS to play a more active role is a wise choice, because it cleaves the “Crusaders vs. Islam” paradigm in two.

However, the following issues need more attention:

–        It is vital that international action against IS does not tacitly give legitimacy to the Assad regime, which has played a central role in the unprecedented turmoil wracking the region right now. Hence, the international community must also take a strong line against all of those responsible, including Assad and IS, by working with, and supporting, the most competent Syrian opposition groups.

–        The border between Turkey and Iraq/Syria must be secured to help prevent the flow of foreign fighters to IS, fighters who comprise a significant percentage of the group. The porous border between Turkey and Syria, in particular, must be secured, something for which Ankara must take immediate responsibility.

–        Greater pressure needs to be placed on states and private individuals in the region that have financed jihadist groups in Syria. IS’s precipitous rise is, among other things, a direct product of the wrong-footed policy of funding Islamist militants to pursue international political goals, and those responsible must be held to account.

–        More training and support needs to be offered to the Iraqi government to help counter the appeal of jihadism in the country. Concurrently, European governments must do more to counter the appeal of jihadism amongst their own populations and support initiatives that undermine jihadist messaging and recruitment efforts on- and offline.

–        Diplomatic pressure must be exacted upon Baghdad to ensure that the recent reshuffle in parliament makes tangible change. It is imperative that the Sunni community in Iraq is not alienated again and that the new government rules in an inclusive manner.

–        With at least 12,000 foreign citizens from 81 states fighting for IS, we must be aware that military action will cause the deaths of some of these people, including Britons. British citizens are still the responsibility of the UK government, and we must therefore redouble efforts to prevent more Britons going to fight and, equally, set up deradicalisation programmes in prison for those who return.

Quilliam’s Managing Director, Ghaffar Hussain, said in response to last night’s speech:

“Jihadism is an inherently destructive force, not a constructive one. Hence, IS may be able to take territory, but will always struggle to hold it and govern. We must plan for this. The international campaign against IS must do all it can to encourage local people living under IS rule to reject their message of hate and division and work with the new Iraqi government to restore peace and create inclusive politics. This kind of change can only come from within, and it starts with empowerment.”