Now that Iraqi government forces have finally taken control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Brian O’ Connor gives his take on what challenges lie ahead in the fight against Daesh.
For almost two years, the entire world has watched as Daesh (also known as ISIS) have gained control of more and more territory, which is now roughly the same size as Great Britain.
The news coverage involving the group is shocking but widespread. We have all seen the news footage. Whether it involves the infamous Prisoners in orange suits, Daesh’s black uniformed platoons on Toyota trucks or even the radical organization’s influence being fulfilled in the terrible attacks in Paris last November, it would be safe to say that Daesh has made an astounding impact on the media in recent months.
While the world has not been shy of its disgust at Daesh’s actions, its response has mainly involved airstrikes on Daesh’s territory. This strategy is something that involves a whole other debate, but is the Iraqi government’s capture of Ramadi the beginning of the end for Daesh?
Since Daesh took control of key cities in Iraq and Syria in 2014, there has been an ongoing debate about the nature of Daesh itself and how to combat it. What one has to understand is that war, with all of its common images of death, destruction and chaos throughout history is an evolutionary concept. Back in the age of Napoleon, Clausewitz and Wellington, war may have been as simple as conquering territory and simply moving on. But in the 21st century, war is not as simple as it used to be in spite of its common themes.
We have seen this fulfilling itself even as far back as 2003 when the American military forces devastated Saddam’s regime in a relatively short period, but ultimately failed in it’s occupying of Iraq soon after. (See the outstanding documentary No End in Sight for greater context). But in this day and age, with a perpetual source of information, propaganda and ideology, retaking territory using military methods is just the start, not the end of the struggle against Daesh. Because military and politics, in spite of the normal and constitutional viewpoint that they are separate are actually getting closer and closer to each other. Authors such as Emile Simpson will do a greater explanation of this concept than I ever will in an article such as this, but Simpson’s book War from the Ground Up is a good place to start.
It is understandable to be ignorant of the conflicts surrounding Daesh. The nuanced nature of the multipolar conflict can be very difficult to explain, never mind understand. But in very basic terms, Daesh affiliates itself with Sunni Islam. The Iraqi government based in Baghdad is affiliated with a Shiite Islam. However, it has been recently revealed that Iranian Shiite militia in the capture of Ramadi has not aided the Baghdad forces. This is significant because while the Iranian militia have been useful in aiding the Iraqi government soldiers previously, this may be detrimental in the long run as it may alienate and stigmatize the re-occupying forces from the Sunni population in cities such as Ramadi.
This is justified given the fact that the Iranian Shiite militias have been looting, murdering and pillaging the Sunni population according to Human Rights Watch. If the Iraqi government truly wants to defeat Daesh, it must be both effective with its military strategy and prudent with its political decisions. This may involve expelling if not pacifying the Iranian militias in the aftermath of a military victory. Believe it or not, this is exactly why Daesh is winning. They have been effective in their military insurgent tactics and their soft methods of selling their so-called Islamic Caliphate. What is incredible is that as early as 2007, this strategy was drawn up as a concept known as smart power. In other words, it involved both effective “hard” military power and “soft” power which involves selling your side to the local population. If the Iraqi government can re-legitimize its authority without coercion, it will have one another front in the battle against Daesh. This could involve job creation, investment in education, infrastructure redevelopment and providing free medical services but to name a few.
War is expensive, but protecting the peace can also be the same. I hope that the Iraqi government and bureaucracy in Baghdad can realize this. However, even if the Iraqi government does not have the foresight to employ this strategy, then perhaps NGOs such as the USAID or Medicins Sans Frontiérs could do some of this. If hope can be given to the people of formerly Daesh occupied cities such as Ramadi, then one can be confident that Daesh will be eradicated.
As long as there are disillusioned, uneducated and unemployed Sunnis, Daesh will have the opportunity to radicalize and recruit more members. Baghdad must recognize the cultural and religious nature of the population within cities such as Ramadi and act accordingly. Should they repeat the mistakes of the past under the likes of the Al-Malaki government; then Daesh will continue to thrive in Iraq much to the fear and discontent of the world.