External Action

We must re-evaluate our anti ISIS strategy

Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari / Apr 2016

President of the U.S. Barak Obama and the prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


The fight against Daesh in Iraq is not working. Iraq and the international community are not winning against these peddlers of destruction. The European Union’s resolve has been tested in airports, theatres, metro stations, and cafes. While Europe’s human response has been courageous, its political planning has been terribly misguided. Our current strategy fails to address the real issues at the root of this fight, and in many cases only serves to exacerbate the violence and hatred that serve as the enemy's prime recruiting tool. The global and European community have a responsibility to eradicate both the symptoms and the cause of this war.

The Republic of Iraq threatens imminent collapse; as a nation, as a state, and as an ideal of pluralistic democracy under the rule of law. A weak federal government maligned with corruption, an ineffective military and a political structure that is unworkable has created a power vacuum that has been quickly filled by the Daesh terrorists that call themselves Islamic State.

While the atrocities they commit in Iraq - beheadings, torture, rape, ethnic cleansing of religious minorities - are well documented, the evil they export abroad is becoming ever more apparent to the international community.

Daesh has been successful in Islamifying as recruits across the West and elsewhere, disaffected young men that feel marginalized by their home countries and yearn for purpose – in this case, Jihad. From Brussels and Paris to Istanbul and Baghdad, the world is now engulfed in a struggle against an army of ideals. These ideals represent the very worst of humankind: hatred, intolerance, purist xenophobia, and religious fanaticism.

The West and Iraq have approached the Daesh problem almost exclusively with a hardline, militaristic response. This approach may treat the symptoms of IS, but utterly fails to recognize the cause of their success.

The tragic case of Ramadi is an example of this approach. Control over this historic Iraqi city has changed hands between Daesh, national forces, and Tehran-backed militias several times over the last few years. The city is now under Iraqi state control, and on the face of things, this may be considered a victory by Western audiences. On the contrary, however, 80% of the city lies in utter ruin, the population is hungry, destitute, and hope has been replaced by anger and desperation. To a young, unemployed man struggling to provide for himself and his family, the prospect of a Daesh salary, food on the table, and the respect of a job may be too tempting to pass over. In this way, driving out Daesh forces while simultaneously encouraging their economic and ideological appeal is tantamount to treating cancer with aspirin – the tumor will continue growing even if the pain temporarily subsides.

Fallujah is another illustration of a systemic failure to fight extremism while paradoxically encouraging its sustenance. Fallujah has been ravaged by this civil war and has become one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the conflict. The city is being used as a pawn by IS and government forces. Upon its recapture by Iraqi troops, the government decided to surround and blockade the entire city – no persons or supplies would be permitted in or out of the parameter. An ill-fated attempt to root out the terrorists inhabiting Fallujah has resulted in a civilian population held hostage by its own government. The city is plagued by disease, famine, poverty, and is unable to import any medicine or food to alleviate their suffering. This dangerous strategy lends legitimacy to the terrorist cause and allows their ideology to fester.

Lastly, the government in Baghdad has been a central contributor to the growth of Daesh. We all know that former Prime Minister Maliki’s administration was blatantly corrupt, encouraged sectarianism, and allowed IS to go unchecked throughout the country. But the present PM Abadi is so weak that nothing has changed. They have shamefully degraded the sovereignty of the state by conferring authority to Iranian-controlled militias that exact revenge killings and extrajudicial executions on local Sunni populations. The al-Abadi government has constructed a political process that is fundamentally broken.      

There is yet hope for Iraq however.

Iraqi's from all sects and ethnicities have come together in recent months to demand change because they see a future for their country. Young men from all over Iraq are able and willing to fight Daesh, to secure a prosperous home for their families. The international community must support these efforts to enable a political process that is truly representative of the people it rules. That is why I founded Peace Ambassadors for Iraq (PAFI), an international NGO dedicated to building a peaceful political solution in Iraq supported by the international community. Our work at PAFI focuses on bringing together all Iraqi's in achieving a lasting national reconciliation. By reforming the strategy against Daesh, reconstituting the political process in Baghdad, and uniting the Iraqi people, we hope to at last find peace for the Republic of Iraq.

The path to achieving these foundational steps toward a renewed Iraq is twofold. Support from the international community is critical, but must only serve as a framework for the Iraqi’s themselves to build their new country. A true reconciliation process should be facilitated by international peace guarantors, while the Iraqi people recreate a broken political system. This can only be accomplished by a genuine recommitment of the global community to stand by Iraq during a historic rebalancing of the national power structure. The international and European community are weary of expending further resources on Iraq, which is why the work of PAFI is critical. Bringing together key political actors to address the urgent need for a bilateral partnership between the outside community and the Iraqi people is an essential step in this process. Only when this work is done can the Iraqi’s finally determine the future of a country that desperately needs, and deserves, a new Iraq.


Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari

Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari

April 2016

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