The heightened state of alert in the region is epitomized in the brief statement issued by the Saudi Royal Court this week, with King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz ordering “all necessary measures” to protect Saudi Arabia from the threat of terrorism. The extremists have reached the border. Al-Qaeda is a stone’s throw from three major regional countries: Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the most extreme faction of Al-Qaeda, mobilized its forces to confront the Assad regime and most recently has turned its attentions to the Nuri Al-Maliki government in Iraq. ISIS has built an army of thousands of suicide bombers of different nationalities, all of whom are prepared to return to their countries and start a world war.
Similar to what has happened in Syria, what is now happening in Iraq is a genuine revolution against a sectarian, repugnant rule. However Al-Qaeda has become involved in this revolution under different banners: ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar Al-Sham, just to name a few. They claim to support the oppressed people—until they are able to take center stage and hijack the revolution thanks to their extraordinary global capabilities. The group exploited the anger of millions of Sunni people around the world, from Indonesia to Britain, and made them cheer for its achievements. As such, ISIS today is the star at the box office, as my colleague Youssef Al-Dini likes to say.
In order to understand the unprecedented and rapid developments, we must be aware that we have two rivals which we cannot side with: Bashar Al-Assad and Nuri Al-Maliki’s sectarian governments on one side, and ISIS and its terrorist affiliates on the other.
Turkey, which at first confused Syrian nationalists with Islamist extremists, has finally decided to close its borders to Islamist terrorist groups, declaring that they are a threat to its national security, not the Assad regime. Jordan and Saudi Arabia had, from the beginning, distinguished between the moderate patriotic Free Syrian Army and the terrorist ISIS and Al-Nusra Front. This is despite the fact that all three oppose the Assad regime.
Now, one might ask: How could you put these rivals—Assad, Maliki, ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front—in the same basket? Well, the fact of the matter is that were it not for Assad and Maliki, ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front would not have existed. Most of their leaders had been detained in Syrian and Iraqi prisons and were released by these regimes, who believed that this would shuffle the cards. Indeed, the cards have been shuffled: Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have announced their readiness to fight these terrorist groups.
All regional and international countries are aware of what is happening. We will surely witness vital collective activity on international military and political levels to confront this threat. It is most likely that this will lead to a military camp that will see a larger-scale war being waged on terrorism.
Nevertheless, the problem is still a political one, as each state perceives the danger from a different angle. We are all against these terrorist organizations, but each state believes in a different solution. The United States faces two competing visions: the first calls for dealing with Iran, and therefore continuing to tacitly support Maliki and Assad; meanwhile, European and Gulf countries want change, believing that without an acceptable strong centralized regime in Syria and Iraq, it will be impossible to eliminate these extremist groups. Therefore, a political solution must be imposed in Syria and Iraq; Sunnis should be mobilized to cooperate and fight against the extremists.
The Gulf states believe that the fight against Al-Qaeda will only succeed through the cooperation of Iraq and Syria’s Sunnis—this is the only way to eradicate these terrorist groups. This will stop Sunnis elsewhere from sympathizing with this group and its ideology. The sectarian policies of Assad and Maliki have triggered this chaos. Therefore, the solution lies in strong central governments in both Baghdad and Damascus with American, Western and regional support.
Limiting the solution to military action against ISIS will result in failure, as seen by the failure of this policy since 2001.