US President Barak Obama’s decision to send aircraft to assist the Kurdish Pashmerga forces against ISIS attacks in northern Iraq excited those who which had almost lost hope in Washington’s policy of the past few years. It also gave hope to Iraqis who saw with their own eyes their “national” army collapse under the first strong blow of forces which are, in the end, simply civilian militias, even if they are well trained and organised. The enthusiasm for American support spread quickly to leaders of the Syrian opposition coalition forces, who took the opportunity to call on the US to include Syria in its military operations.
Such enthusiasm was natural after the extreme disappointment and frustration of people who had given up on America ever having a positive role in the tragic transformation of the Fertile Crescent, which Iran wanted to turn into a Shiite zone. Indeed, the people of this stricken region expect a lot more from the West, not least because Europe and the US have a historical responsibility for what is happening in the region that they have dominated since before World War One.
In order to protect its “interests”, at the heart of which are the security of Israel, free oil exports and influence over regional governments, the West sought for decades to paralyse the will of the Arab peoples. They were neutralised and at the mercy of three powerful predators in Israel, Iran and military-police authorities, and sometimes terrorists, so that they would live in fear, despair and frustration. Extremism is the natural and toxic outcome of this hostile environment and cannot be eliminated merely through the use of larger bullets. According to retired British Colonel Tim Collins, “There is no way to defeat ISIS except through the abandonment of Sunni Muslims in the region to the group, but the problem is that Sunnis, who comprise 90 per cent of the population of the area, feel severe oppression, as they look around and only see tyrants and corrupt rulers.”
The fact is that things are much more complicated. It will not be possible to fight extremism without a profound review of the policies practiced by the West in the Middle East for more than three centuries, since the policy of liens was imposed on the Ottoman Empire, whereby Western countries removed custody over sectarian groups in addition to other privileges. Selfish, crude policies were practiced where leaders of the West did not recognise the existence of distinct communities; they only recognised the presence of strategic corridors and platforms for launching disciplinary campaigns; in the current era this is a source for easy money, unbelievable trade and arms deals, cheap energy and a conscience-cleanser. The West has found it easier to free itself from a culture of racism, anti-Semitism, Nazism and colonialism by throwing the responsibility and blame on the vulnerable and disadvantaged people who are deprived of internal and external protection.
Iraq and Syria are not required to put fighters who hate Al-Maliki and the sectarian Assad in a new Holocaust, in the face of extremism produced by the weakness exhibited by the international community and the United States. What is required is for them to face up to extremism within a comprehensive solution to end the war, where all states bear their political and legal responsibilities; and begin a review of the erroneous policies that have brought matters to a hopeless head across the Middle East. The need is to address the problems whose postponement has contributed to exacerbating the situation, the growth of extremism and international terrorism.
In Syria, which has evolved into the core of a regional war, the requirement is a UN decision under Chapter VII of its charter, to force all foreign militias out of the country. The UN also needs to organise a conference for Syria to form a transitional government. This will replace the Assad regime and, operating under the auspices of the UN, reunite the people of Syria and enable them to live in peace and stability as they rebuild their country.
Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, 22 August, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.