revisiting the islamic state and kurdish strategy

being a terrorist is like running a business. it needs a strategy, loyal subordinates who carry out the directives and some sort of basic business plan. income, output. the old story. plus, it needs pr. a lot of it. yet, when you are a terrorist, you do not sell a product to be paid for, but you sell an idea.

selling an idea has been called propaganda while selling goods has been called good market sense. that however does not necessarily change the actual act of marketing. what it does do is to create some new rules to the game. while even terrorists can only base success on a model of identifying a need and creating a demand, their business comes around with a threshold. according to terrorist- and counter-terrorist strategies, as expressed in the think tank start at maryland university, the threshold lies in whatever a society accepts to take as a price for the goal, the idea or the value they are fighting for. some terrorist groups for example even loose support when they get too radical. others however gain support just by being radical.
i suppose it is unnecessary to point out that the islamic state (or isis) belongs to the later category. that feature however does not derive from some “inherent arab evilness” nor does it explain the whole picture.

in order to understand isis, we need to stop thinking of them as one entity. the islamic state has several goals, justifications, leaders and tendencies. some, the ones who are front row representatives in any news report, fight for the islamic state for the simple cause of jihad. a holy war for which all intents and purposes lie in the killing of unbelievers. the killing is the end in itself. it can not be deterred. it can not be bargained with. and it can most likely and realistically never fully be eradicated.
but this is just one facet of the group that has filled the headlines under their black banner. and it is not just a quality of this one particular group either. the killings of other religions are international and visible in all religions that claim to a singular truth. yet, other groups within the islamic state are business men, others are politicians, and others again are military strategists. they all joined together in this unified force for reasons of opportunity, bandwagon and maybe even personal career. if the outlook is a place in heaven, or for the less religious ones, a place in the heroic story tellings of their ancestors, then the threshold for joining any rather successful movement that manages to mobilize deep settled frustrations against suppression, exploitation and a decrease in morale is pretty low.
now, these business men, politicians and military strategists have something in common: not only do they pose the majority of people within isis, particularly within the parts of iraq, but they are also rational subjects who express their deeply rooted anger against a shiite and us-american sidelining in iraqi politics after 2003.

so, how to solve the crISIS in iraq? the solution is so simple, some might argue it is too simple to work: give each group in iraq a fair share of the government, territory, resources and life chances. arming other groups to fight back against the islamic state – an institution that, even though western media and policy makers stubbornly refuse to accept it, has people joining them voluntarily, not just from europe and the united states, but also from within iraqi population, because they express a deep settled frustration against everything that happened to them over the last several decades – would be a grave failure and a repetition of a mistake that has been done over and over and over again. one recent and famous example is the arming of the mojahedin in afghanistan to fight against the soviet invasion 1979. and how did that turn out? al-qaeda stronghold and 2001 war. and now for iraq, ideas arise to arm the very shia militias that the united states have fought against ever since they tried to establish a government in iraq? the sunni militias who have not yet joined the islamic state officially? or bashar al-asad who is now the good guy and needs support in order to eradicate an islamic state that was created as an effort against him in the first place – supported by turkey, the united states and many others by the way?
even arming the kurds, who have suddenly appeared on the international consciousness, after trying for a hundred years to get a minimum of attention for their cause, are not there to fight a battle for the united states or anyone else. the interests of the united states and the kurdish regional government happen to be aligned right now as the islamic state attacked kurdish populated areas and the conflict gave the kurdish people a chance to express their cause more internationally. but they are not going to fight for american interests or anybody elses. they are protecting kurdish territory and people. and with the arms flowing in from all sides, they finally manage to increase their bargaining position against the iraqi state for now and for the future, making sure that the territories will not be disputed again.

let’s recapitulate the facts again. the second biggest city of iraq, mosul, has been “taken” by isis in one day. without a single shot. no army can do that unless they have the support of the people they are “invading” – or at least the majority of them. so while george w. bush was dreaming about being greeted with roses and daisies in iraq, the islamic state for large parts of the territory actually was. they actually took the entire province of anbar before ever making it into the international headlines. what happened with the christian and yezidi and other minorities is horrifying, there is no doubt about it! but when it comes to sunni arabs in iraq, we have to start understanding that the islamic state and sunni people are pretty much the same thing. sunnis support the islamic state because it is an alternative chance for them to get rid of the gridlock of shia and us- suppression. and it does not need predictions of balkanization in order to solve the issue on the ground. what it needs is for forces like iran and the united states to get their hands out of the internal meddling in iraq an start supporting a common government that respects all parts in the very diverse and divided society and that starts bridging the existing gaps by distributing money, power and influence equally, openly and fairly.

unfortunately we do not live in a cotton candy world. there are many powers and interests involved in keeping the different forces within the iraqi state at odds with each other in order to exploit the division. divide and rule – there truly is nothing new under the sun. and at that it is all but sensible that the kurdish regional government uses the current support of the international arena as long as it lasts and secures its own interests over playing the footboy of the united states or other international actor.

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