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Opinion: Arab Sunnis Must Confront ISIS | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi troops raise up their weapons as they arrive to support the Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda militia Awakening Movement in its fight against anti-government militants, including from the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Anbar province, Iraq, on June 21, 2014. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

Putting aside the precise details of what is happening in the region—including the absurd establishment of an “Islamic State” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—it is clear that we are now facing a new stage in the “War on Terror.” Whoever wins this war, will win the region.

What is happening today in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, with terrorist acts being carried out in these countries by Al-Qaeda, the Houthis, the Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, and Hezbollah, demonstrates that the region as a whole is facing a new battle in this prolonged conflict. This new phase of the conflict is completely different from the initial phase that immediately followed 9/11.

However, this war is one that must be led by Sunnis, not by Iran or its allies—or indeed its fatwas. This new phase of the War on Terror can be said to have been caused by Iran’s absurd policies in the region, from Yemen to Syria to Iraq and Lebanon. These harmful policies have specifically targeted Sunni Arab states, not Iran, which for its own part has not been directly affected by either Al-Qaeda or ISIS.

Today, capable Arab states and actors in the region—most prominently Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE—must take the initiative to form a new regional alliance based on reviving the idea of “Sunni Awakening Councils” (militias formed to fight Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups) in Yemen, Iraq and Libya. This is not to mention Syria, where these new Awakening Councils must work in coordination with the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting the Assad regime and ISIS at the same time. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE must work with the US and the EU to revive the idea of the Awakening Councils in order to break this new wave of terrorism that has beset the region, one that has been fueled—whether implicitly or explicitly—by Iran, Bashar Al-Assad and Nuri Al-Maliki, all seeking to gain international legitimacy by showing that they are also fighting terrorism.

It was Assad who was responsible for the release of the terrorist leadership who are now wreaking havoc across Syria and Iraq. Maliki is similarly responsible, but he committed an even greater crime when he disrupted the operations of the Awakening Councils in Iraq, which had previously driven Al-Qaeda elements out of the country. The government subsequently isolated and marginalized these Sunni groups, and this is a major factor in how Iraq has come to be in the position it finds itself in today. After all of this, Maliki’s ally Iran has come out and said it is fighting against terrorism, the same Iran that is helping Assad suppress and kill the Syrian people. Tehran is now offering a helping hand to Maliki, who has brought Iraq to the brink of division and collapse.

This is therefore a war that must be fought by Sunni Arabs, who with the help of the international community must unite to defeat this common enemy. We cannot allow this war to be fought by those who are responsible for it, whether we are talking about the Iranians, Assad or Maliki. This would only create further destruction and instability in our region. This is our war, and we are the ones who must fight it, not just through force of arms, but also by silencing the voices of extremism and incitement, whether we are talking about individual figures or entire media outlets.

Yes, this is our war, and we must fight it—from Yemen to Syria to Iraq and Lebanon.