x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

ISIL must be tackled wisely and swiftly

The success of the militant group has taken everyone by surprise. But a clear policy is needed soon

President Barack Obama speaks to the press about Iraq. Mr Obama has admitted he does not have a clear strategy to defeat ISIL. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Barack Obama speaks to the press about Iraq. Mr Obama has admitted he does not have a clear strategy to defeat ISIL. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Perhaps Barack Obama was more candid than he intended when he said the United States had “no strategy” for dealing with ISIL. In his defence, though, no one does. ISIL has mutated into a militant group that recognises no borders and that cannot be defeated by one country alone.

Speaking earlier this week at a summit in Jeddah, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned that ISIL needed to be fought “with wisdom and speed”. Unfortunately, both appear to be in short supply.

Wisdom, in the form of a defined policy for combating the militant group, is the most scarce. ISIL is a new type of threat, in that it crosses borders, operating across Iraq and Syria, and does so at a time when one of those countries is locked in civil war and the other is fragmenting.

Certainly, it is to be hoped the candour of the US president implies a recognition that when the US has blundered into the region, throwing its weight and its weapons around, the results have been less than satisfying. The rot in Iraq, of course, started with the invasion of 2003. From that perspective, it is beneficial to take the time to make sure that US allies in the Gulf and Iraq are on the same page when it comes to the necessary action, and provide input into the needed end result. But taking the necessary time is not the same as making unnecessary delays.

Speed, too, is of the essence, and yet the response has been woefully inadequate. In that regard, while there is plenty of blame to be heaped on the Al Assad regime – who, especially in ISIL’s stronghold of Raqqa, have pointedly not attacked the militant group, allowing them to thrive – that is only to be expected from a retrograde regime.

But in Iraq, there have been inexcusable delays. Yesterday, government forces moved into the northern town of Amerli to break a two-month-old siege by ISIL. That sort of resolve is welcome. But the new Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi says he hopes to complete the formation of a new government in the coming weeks. That is too slow. ISIL is a national emergency and the Iraqis must have a functioning government to tackle it.

ISIL have caught Iraqis, the region and the US by surprise. Few expected them to be so successful so swiftly. A period of reflection and planning is necessary. But that period needs to be short. Those suffering under ISIL’s tyranny cannot wait forever.