Yes, Islamic State Is Dying, but Don’t Celebrate Just Yet
Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been reduced to rubble. It has finally been snatched back from Daesh after months of merciless bombardment by the US-led coalition, and a massive ground war.
But “victory” is hardly the term to describe this moment. Mosul, once Iraq’s cultural jewel and model of co-existence, is now a “city of corpses,” as described by a journalist who walked through the ruins.
“You’ve probably heard of thousands killed, the civilian suffering,” Murad Gazdiev said. “What you likely haven’t heard of is the smell. It’s nauseating, repulsive, and it’s everywhere — the smell of rotting bodies.”
Actually, the “smell of rotting bodies” can be found everywhere that Daesh has been defeated. The group that once declared a “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in 2014, and was left to expand in all directions, is now being rapidly vanquished.
One wonders how a small group, itself a spawn of other equally notorious groups, could have declared, expanded and sustained a “state” for years, in a region rife with foreign armies, militias and the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies?
But is such a question now irrelevant, considering that Daesh is finally being routed?
Well, this is what almost everyone seems to agree on; even political and military rivals are openly united on the subject.
Aside from Mosul in Iraq, Daesh has also been defeated in its stronghold in Raqqa, in the east of Syria. Those who survived those battles are now holed up in DeirEzzor, which promises to be their last major conflict. Daesh militants are also being flushed out of the western Qalamoun region on the Syria-Lebanon border. Even the open desert is no longer safe. There is heavy fighting in the Badiya desert, which extends from central Syria to the borders of Iraq and Jordan.
Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the coalition against Daesh, speaks with confidence about its demise. Daesh forces are “fighting for their life, block-by-block,” he said in a TV interview, and the militant group had lost nearly 80 percent of areas it formerly controlled in Iraq since its peak in 2014, and nearly 60 percent in Syria.
Unsurprisingly, US officials and media mostly emphasize military gains they attribute to US-led forces and ignore all others, while Russian-led allies are doing just the opposite.
But aside from the humanitarian tragedies associated with these victories, none of the parties involved has taken any responsibility for the rise of Daesh in the first place. They have to, and not only as a matter of moral accountability. Without understanding and confronting the reasons behind the rise of Daesh, its fall will only spawn another group with an equally nefarious, despairing and violent vision.
Analysts who have tried to deconstruct the roots of Daesh unwisely confront its ideological influences without paying the slightest heed to the political reality from which it came.
Whether Daesh, Al-Qaeda or any other, such groups are typically born and reborn in places suffering from the same, chronic ailments: weak and corrupt government, foreign invasion, military occupation and state terror.
Terrorism is the by-product of brutality and humiliation, regardless of the source, but is most pronounced when that source is a foreign one. Unless these factors are genuinely addressed, there can be no end to terrorism.
It is no accident that Daesh was molded, and thrived, in places such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and the Sinai. Many of those who answered its call also emerged from communities that suffered the cruelty of merciless Arab regimes, or neglect, hate and alienation in western societies.
The reason that many refuse to acknowledge this fact — and would fight tooth and nail to discredit it — is that an admission of guilt would make many responsible for the creation of the very terrorism they claim to fight.
Those who blame Islam are not simply ignorant, but many are also guided by sinister agendas. Their mindless notion of blaming religion is as foolish as George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”
Wholesale, uninformed judgments can only prolong conflict. They also prevent us from confronting specific and clearly obvious links, for example between Al-Qaeda’s rise in Iraq and the US invasion; between the rise of the sectarian brand of Al-Qaeda under Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and the sectarian division of that country under the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his allies in the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
It should have been clear from the start that Daesh, as notoriously violent as it is, was a symptom, not the cause. It is only three years old. Foreign occupation and war in the region predates it by many years.
Although we were told — by Daesh itself, but also media pundits — that Daesh was here to stay, it turned out to be but a passing phase in a long, ugly montage, rife with violence and bereft of both morality and the intellectual courage to examine the true roots of violence.
It is likely that the victory will be short-lived. The group will surely develop a new strategy or further mutate. History has taught us that much.
It is also likely that those who are proudly taking credit for systematically and efficiently annihilating the group — along with whole cities — will not pause for a moment to think of what they must do differently to prevent a new Daesh from rising from the ashes of the old.
Strangely, the “US-led Global Coalition” seems to have access to the firepower needed to turn cities into rubble, but not the wisdom to understand that unchecked violence inspires nothing but violence; and that state terror, foreign interventions and the collective humiliation of entire nations are all the necessary ingredients to start the bloodbath all over again.