How to defeat Daesh

Europe's World

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Paul W Hamill
Paul W Hamill

Daesh, the so-called Islamic State, has again wreaked havoc and destruction around the world. Attacks in Paris, Beirut and against a Russian airliner flying over Egypt have sparked a clamour for our military forces to do more. Many are even suggesting thousands of U.S. or European ground-forces be dispatched to fight Daesh directly in Syria and Iraq.

In order to succeed, military action should only be used to support a strategic political plan to rid the world of Daesh and to ensure groups like it are no longer able to grow, recruit and function.

Such a multifaceted effort must accept that death-cult groups like Daesh do not operate in a vacuum. They may have been created and led by sociopaths, but they survive and grow by different means.

We need to understand and confront the political, social and economic disenfranchisement that has allowed terror groups to gain growth and sustainability. To resolve these issues, we need to confront the root-causes in Syria and Iraq, and then the wider issues around the Islamic world.

First in Syria where the civil war caused by the Assad regime’s brutal repression of its own citizens – with military support from outside countries – has led to the disenfranchisement of the vast majority of Syrians. Daesh has been able to take advantage of Assad’s murderous campaign and usurp the Syrian people’s hopes for democracy.

In Iraq, the Government of the radical Dawa Party has excluded Sunni groups from the political and economic process. It failed to follow-up on promises made after the so-called Sunni-Awakening that rid Iraq of Al Qaeda, and continues to roundup and jail Sunnis, while forcing Tehran-backed militias into Sunni communities. The government in Baghdad so disillusioned the Sunni communities, that Daesh was able to take over cities and towns across western Iraq and even threaten the capital.

Daesh and groups like it have taken these local political problems and matched them with deeper feelings of disenfranchisement in the Islamic world.

As the world becomes ever more interconnected and globalisation reaches almost every society, many parts of the Islamic world have suffered economic and social collapse after years of stagnation and lack of progress. Young people in these communities look to the great wealth of the Gulf and the vast opportunities of the West and they feel left behind.

Daesh exploits these feelings to recruit. It tells the vulnerable this is due to some conspiracy to undermine Islam and that the only way out is to join them

Without dealing with these complex political issues, no amount of military action will ultimately solve the problem. Instead of leading with the military, the strategy to defeat Daesh should be based around five key initiatives:

– the international community should coalesce around building a peace-process in Syria. This will not be easy and will need to be matched with a long-term rebuilding and reconciliation process that brings in all those forced to leave and ensure the country does not slip back into civil war;

– the international community should ensure that a full reconciliation process is started and sustained in Iraq to bring the Sunni community back into political and economic life. This will entail a wide review of the present constitutional settlement, ensuring that Iraq does not fall back into sectarian conflict;

– a significant economic and social regeneration plan for the whole Middle East and North Africa should be created, based on opening-up of education, markets and capital. It should focus on participation for the region’s youth to offer them the sort of opportunities many in the West take for granted;

– military action should only be used in a limited and targeted fashion. It should ideally be led by Arab forces who could remove the sociopaths without stoking further anti-Western feelings;

– political leaders in the region must offer a brighter future for their citizens. The people of the region must be shown a future that is better than the past, one that can strengthen their society and culture while offering wealth and opportunity for all.

Ridding the world of groups like Daesh will not be easy and it will take time. Without a well thought-out and fully implemented political, social and economic plan, we will fail, and be confronted by more attacks like those we have recently seen.

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