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Chris Ford: No to Isis and no to attack on Syria

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The United States and some of its Arab allies attacked Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria this afternoon. Consequently, the US has now entered as a combatant into the bloody and convoluted conflict that is the Syrian Civil War.

As I've said time and time again, using military force to defeat a bunch of determined fighters is not the way to go. It will simply inflame the situation even further and not resolve it. A simple way to answer the question is this - did the American invasion of Afghanistan and countless air strikes achieve the total defeat of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? Short answer: no.

Islamic State is, after all, a more violent and repuslive offshoot and rival of Al Qaeda. Most importantly, they have gained funding and support from sympathetic individuals within Sunni-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - all American allies. Significantly, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE joined in this afternoon's strikes. I would ask, in this case, is the participation of these Arab nations an attempt to assauge the guilt that they have that some of their citizens have actually bankrolled this group? This is a question which needs answered.

Given these factors, what's really needed is two things: 1.) an externally enforced arms embargo (policed by the United Nations) and 2.) a cut off of all funding to IS. Another aspect is the need for an enduring peace settlement in Syria that now will need to involve (unfortunately) the Assad regime in some form of power sharing arrangement, even if a temporary one ahead of internationally-monitored free elections. Another component should be a UN-brokered attempt to bring about Sunni-Shia understanding and cooperation in the Middle East through the encouragement of intercommunal and cross-sectarian dialogue and localised peace deals, especially in Iraq and Syria.

But attacking Syrian territory to get at ISIS won't make the problem go away. It could mean the likely brutal execution of whatever remaining Western hostages they hold. It will mean the increased risk of terrorist attacks against US, Arab and Western targets - more than would have been the case absent military intervention. It will mean that while the Assad regime may look the other way while the West attempts to deal with a common adversary, it risks being drawn into a confrontation with regime forces whom it might try to target next. After all, at this time last year, international public opinion saw the US and the UK back away from air strikes against the Syrian regime.

So, instead of meeting brutality with brutality, it's time to deal with the sources of the conflict in terms of dealing with the intersectarial hatreds which scar the region through peaceful means and this should start with cutting off funding and aid to all fighting groups, particularly Islamic State. Otherwise, the West risks getting bogged down in a quagmire which will have had its beginning today but no conceivable end - that's unless the US comes to its senses and takes part in a more constructive but still firm way of dealing with Islamic State through utilising global institutions such as the UN.




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