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It’s time for the Gulf States to leave Yemen and focus on the real barbarians — Daesh

December 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Why can’t the Arab states do as the Africans do when it comes to policing their own troubles? Both regions are post-colonial; both are relatively poor, although the Middle East has the Gulf, and some of the largest militaries in the world. Yet only Africans seem to police their own troubles. Chad is helping Nigeria to fight Boko Haram, as are Benin, Cameroon and Niger. The West is barely present, apart from some very light Special Forces support from the French and Americans, and some drone reconnaissance and the occasional air strike. Likewise, a very small number of British troops have been deployed to fight Al-Shabab in Somalia, but most of the heavy-duty work is being done by Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Djibouti and Kenya.

But take a look at Iraq and Syria. Where are the Gulf States? Where is Jordan? Where is Egypt? Where is Tunisia? Morocco? Anyone at all? The extraordinary hands-off approach to confronting Daesh by the Sunni nations is a slow motion crime of epic proportions. The Arab League’s sole purpose appears to be shouting at Israel, which has nothing to do with Daesh. The Gulf Cooperation Council is fighting its own pointless and essentially selfish war in Yemen. Instead, it is left to the West to do the heavy lifting, and that’s not a sustainable strategy.

As 2015 draws to a close, let’s be honest; the people living under Daesh are no safer than they were in 2014. The group still controls significant territory, with a population running into the millions. It has lost some cities but gained others. Given the atrocities being committed in Daesh-held territory, the humanitarian need is pressing.

It should be said here that the typical line is to argue that Bashar Al-Assad is causing nine out of ten deaths in Syria, so why isn’t the humanitarian need pressing enough for it to warrant Western military force against him? Assad may be far more dangerous but, like it or not, he has won the backing of Iran and Russia. There is simply no military solution that will not involve a third world war. What is needed in Damascus is a political solution, even though that may be a more remote possibility than even David Cameron likes to make out.

Furthermore, a political solution is not possible with Daesh. The group has been negotiated with when releasing hostages, but that is where the talking stops. Daesh wants a fight; it does not want to negotiate.

The nature of what that fight looks like must not be delivered on the militants’ terms. It must not include troops from Western nations and their non-Arab allies. The air strikes from the West must stop until the Arab states step up to the mark. They are pointless and counter-productive, not only legitimising the ideology of Daesh, but also killing civilians unnecessarily. It is a nonsense to continue to drop bombs. The air forces of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates all pretended to get involved with fighting Daesh earlier this year, then scuttled away to fight their own battles in Yemen. The West, in an astonishing show of political weakness, stood aside and let them go.

So, no more. Ground troops and pilots in the fight against Daesh must come from the Muslim world; to be more specific, the Sunni Muslim world, not the Shia. Only then will Daesh’s false prophecy of the end times be proven embarrassingly wrong. Its credibility will be destroyed. The experiment in caliphate-building will also be set back significantly, which is crucial. Al-Qaeda long opposed such efforts; it believed that it was an impossible task. If Daesh can prove that it works, though, other jihadi groups will join up. However, if the militants are overrun in weeks, as they would be if proper Sunni military force was deployed, Daesh would be proven wrong.

The longer the Sunni nations display indifference, the harder it gets. What opportunity there was for another internal “Sunni awakening” now seems to have passed, as the security apparatus put in place by Daesh’s former Baathist officials – experts in these matters – has clamped down firmly in place. Contrary to perceptions, oil supplies are significant but are not a make-or-break for Daesh finances. It also has a vast narcotics manufacturing business, and has “nationalised” the electricity grid and agricultural sectors, amongst other economic factors. By far its greatest source of income are taxes, which can only be raised if Daesh controls territory. As such, that territory must be taken off it.

We are not asking the Muslim states to do the work in order to protect the West from terror attacks, and letting us off the hook. We should be highly sceptical about claims that if Daesh is destroyed in Raqqa it will make the West any safer.

We are just asking them, like the African nations, to protect their fellow Arabs in their time of need. Is that so much to ask? The armies and air forces of the Saudis and Emiratis might lack experience, but they have the military hardware; US, British and French defence companies have made sure of that.

The Sunni nations, though, are tied up in Yemen. A ceasefire is now in place, but is barely holding. Sources in Riyadh suggest that it is the Saudis pushing for the ceasefire to be broken. They do not want that war to end in embarrassment, but it should; it was always a stupid, unwinnable conflict anyway. To take on a force of 100,000 Houthis in Yemen, you might need up to 300,000 ground troops; troops which the Sunni states don’t have. Yet to take on Daesh, you would need around a 100,000. The Sunni nations can just about pull such a force together, and they should. It’s time for them to leave Yemen and focus on the real barbarians of the Middle East; it’s time to focus on Daesh.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.