Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Western air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in central and northern Iraq could prompt jihadists to flee across the border into Iran and Syria, experts told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat head of the Saudi Shura Council’s Committee on Security Affairs Dr. Nawaf bin Bedah Al-Faghm warned that air strikes against ISIS in Iraq may lead to members of the radical group fleeing into neighboring states, including Iran and Syria.
The Saudi official said that regional and international forces must do more to monitor the routes that militants could seek to take to escape the conflict in Iraq.
Faghm urged the international community to uproot ISIS wherever it is found, likening its ideology to a “cancer” spreading through the region.
US military jets have been bombarding ISIS positions in Iraq, carrying out an estimated 176 air strikes since early August. Earlier this week, a US air strike targeted the group’s main bases in the Hammam Al-‘Aleel district, 23 km south of Mosul, killing 30 militants and injuring dozens.
“ISIS should be pursued wherever it goes, rather than just targeted in Iraq,” director of the Jeddah-Based Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies Anwar Eshki told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eshki argued that air strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq will only prompt Islamist fighters to seek to flee to neighboring states that are already beset by instability and disorder, warning that the international coalition must take additional steps to prevent ISIS fighters spreading to other parts of the region.
He said that Syria currently represents a “safe haven” for ISIS, and that regional and international forces must seek to confront and uproot the group across the board in order to prevent its ideology from spreading across the region.
With the backing of US-led aerial cover, the western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) should be able to push back against ISIS fighters seeking to cross into Syria from Iraq, Eshki said. This strategy, if successful, would see ISIS forces fighting a war on two fronts, trapped between advancing Iraqi and FSA forces.
However the director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies said that the conflict on the ground represents only half the battle, adding that regional powers must also work together to address ISIS ideology and clamp down on the group’s media and religious platforms.