There is a strong new evil in the Middle East that we can no longer ignore. It goes by the names of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or simply the Islamic State. The American government for the most part uses ISIL.
The group grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq but exploded in power through the Syrian civil war. It has quickly subsumed other radical groups in the war-torn nation and has established a secure foothold in much of western Syria. From its bases there, it launched an offensive bringing it deep into Iraq, all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad in the south and Kurdistan in the north.
Within areas that it controls, ISIL imposes a brutal version of Sharia law. Religious minorities have been slaughtered or forced to flee. Armed Sharia experts patrol cities peering into even the most mundane aspects of citizens’ lives. Makeshift courts of self-declared Sharia experts pass judgment. Enemies of the state have their heads placed on spikes in town squares.
Disturbingly, many of ISIL’s most devoted followers have come from Western nations including the U.S. and Britain. The recent execution of American journalist James Foley was carried out by a masked man who spoke with a British accent.
ISIL is a worldwide danger. One of the group’s Twitter accounts posted pictures of American landmarks, including the White House, along with threatening messages. That is, of course, a very low bar. Thousands of people a day stand outside the White House taking pictures. Actual terrorist action would be more difficult, but is still possible.
This does make it perfectly clear that people who sympathize with ISIL’s view of the world have access to America and Europe. It is also clear that they see the West just as much their enemy as Syria or Iraq. If the Islamic State is let alone, there is little doubt that terrorists will use it as a base from which to plot attacks.
Americans are rightly concerned about going back into Iraq or becoming more deeply engaged in the Syrian civil war. But does fighting ISIL require massive U.S. intervention? In my opinion, it does not.
First, ISIL has limited resources. Basically, they are restricted to using whatever they can plunder, steal, or buy on the black market. To acquire hard currency, they must extract ransom or launder money from sympathetic Sunni Muslims in wealthy oil nations.
ISIL has few allies. While they do not seem to lack in recruits, they do not have state-backed support. Hezbollah and Hamas have been remarkably resilient because of their support from Iran. The Taliban in Afghanistan rose to power with the support of elements in Pakistan.
At the end of the day, there is no major or even minor power that wants to be seen on ISIL’s side. Even al-Qaeda disassociated from ISIL believing that their brutality would attract as much opposition as support.
Second, we have allies in the region who are more heavily invested in stopping ISIL than us. Turkey, our NATO partner, is just north of the so-called Islamic State. ISIL has taken control of border crossings with Jordan, our strong ally. The Kurds are right now engaging in ground combat, and winning now that U.S. airpower is in support.
The “boots on the ground” against ISIL must be those who have the greatest stake in bringing peace to the region. With the departure of Maliki from the post of Prime Minister, there is hope that the Iraqi forces will be able to regroup under the banner of a more inclusive government.
They really don’t have a choice. One of the great enemies identified by ISIL is the Shiite sect of Islam. Shiite mosques have been blown apart and adherents to the sect have been targeted for death by ISIL. The fact is that ISIL is everyday finding ways to create more enemies, even among moderate Sunnis.
The President did the right thing by ordering air strikes to prevent a humanitarian crisis and retake the Mosul dam, although he waited too long. We must not let ISIL alone to thrive, we must work with our regional allies to stop their evil.