IS Is Weak, But So Are Arab States

IS Is Weak, But So Are Arab StatesIS Is Weak, But So Are Arab States

One of the depressing mysteries of the day in the Middle East is why the many different parties involved in the struggle against the Islamic State group have not coordinated more urgently to fight and destroy IS.

You would think that Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kurdish groups and other non-state actors with military capabilities would join forces at a minimum level in order to definitively end IS’ mini-expansions into or towards their territories.

That has not happened, so it allows IS to continue waging war on several fronts, despite its vulnerabilities and its disjointed control of patches of territory in Syria and Iraq, Rami G. Khouri wrote for Agence Global.

Recent events in both Iraq and Syria confirm what many, including myself, have always assumed, that a combination of ground troops from the region supported by coordinated airstrikes from the US and others would quickly constrain, weaken and then defeat IS in local battles.

This has happened most recently in northern Syria, where Kurdish forces combined with US airstrikes, have pushed IS out of valuable territory that connected its Raqqa city heartland with border crossings into Turkey.

Well, the more accurate emerging reality in the military realm, as always pertained in the political and socioeconomic spheres, is that IS is not so strong in absolute terms, but its gains have occurred primarily because of two related reasons: The weaknesses and uncoordinated nature of its foes in Iraq and Syria, especially governments, non-state militias and foreign air powers, and the general chaos and ungoverned nature of areas where it advances.

When those two conditions are addressed and eliminated, IS is exposed for what it really is: A vicious movement that attracts desperate people from the region and abroad whose main attraction to IS is that it offers them that which they seek but do not find in their own societies.

These desperate people who join or support IS include Arabs whose lives have been a series of miseries for many decades, and Arabs and foreigners from other countries who see in IS the illusory promise of a noble struggle that gives meaning to their otherwise hollow and vulnerable lives.

Its victories on the ground, like taking Raqqa, Mosul, Ramadi and Palmyra, are less a reflection of IS’ mighty fighting abilities and more about the consequences of the incoherent and dilapidated state of the Arab societies around it.

The most significant element in the condition of the Arab societies, especially notable in Iraq, is the double-barreled problem of sectarian tensions among Iraqi nationals. Consequently, coordination among all the parties that are threatened by IS is minimized or prevented and IS is left to expand here and there almost at will.

This highlights the absolute centrality of political and socioeconomic issues over military or strategic matters, in this episode with IS as well as with conditions across the Arab world in general.

Threats from IS emphasize the central and common challenges facing all Arab states, of developing effective and equitable governance systems that allow all citizens to share in the fruits and toil of decent nationhood, and thus avoid the indecent vulgarities of IS and its ilk.