After the UN security council vote, the west must heed the lessons of Iraq


Source: The Guardian

By A professor of Middle East policy studies at City University

The UN security council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2249 signals a new level of international resolve to deal with the self-styled Islamic State. What it does not do, however, is offer a viable plan for what comes after it in Syria and Iraq.

The resolution calls for eradication of “the safe haven” established by Isis “over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”, which sounds like a clear military objective for the international and local forces ranged against Isis. And even though the resolution does not invoke chapter VII of the UN charter, which would give clear legal sanction to resort to force, its adoption will no doubt lead to more aerial attacks on the Isis base in Raqqa and other targets.

Yet in the face of intensified bombardment by French and Russian planes in recent days, Isis fighters have allegedly embedded themselves among the civilian population.

The prospect of yet more dead and injured civilians in Syria does not augur well for bringing an end to war. And without troops on the ground to take over control of the city and root out Isis militants, more bombing will not by itself solve the problem.

The lessons from the war in Iraq that followed the US-British invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime are salutary. To take one example: to eliminate the Iraqi resistance in Falluja, US forces in effect reduced the city to rubble. In this instance, non-combatants were ordered out ahead of the military bombardment. But this not an option available to civilians under Isis occupation in Raqqa.

Isis is more than a bunch of gangsters or power-crazed ideologues with heavy weaponry, though that description does capture some of its essence. Isis emerged as a product of lawlessness and war in both Syria and Iraq. In the context of state failure and conflict between rival paramilitaries, variously backed by external powers, the forces of violence and destruction will drive the antagonists to ever greater atrocities. If not Isis, a comparable ugliness would have emerged in Syria. In Iraq, its fighters come from what was once Saddam’s armed forces – Sunni Muslims and Iraqi nationalists opposed to the Shia-dominated, Iranian-backed government in Baghdad.

At the forefront of the campaign against Isis in Iraq are US-backed Kurdish peshmerga. These have been helped by Kurdish forces from northern Syria, but their relations are fractious, as too are the relations between the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and the PKK, the main Kurdish force behind resistance to the Turkish authorities in eastern Anatolia.

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