What you find below is an expanded version of a comment we made elsewhere, Dear Reader, and we’d be really interested to know what you think.
As you know, we are profoundly against the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, believing that the cost in innocent civilian casualties will be too high. We have long raged against the sanitisation of civilian casualties being sanitised as “Collateral Damage”. Collateral Damage is people, as the t-shirt says.
But everyone with half a brain supports preventing Daesh from behaving as they do. And people often ask, quite reasonably, “What else can be done besides bombing them?”
Well, there are no neat solutions, but here are some we should surely consider:
Stop selling arms and ammunition to Daesh – and to those who on-supply them to them. If we starve the group of armaments then they will find it harder to terrify their local population, and eventually become much easier to defeat with local forces.
The problem with this solution is we are not entirely sure who IS arming Daesh. Certainly they have some heritage armaments supplied to them by the West when they were fighting Assad and before they morphed into what they are now. These may have been supplied to them directly, or to other rebel groups that they have since defeated or subsumed. They may have been supplied through Saudi Arabia.
The study by the London-based small-arms research organisation Conflict Armament Research documented weapons seized by Kurdish forces from militants in Iraq and Syria over a 10-day period in July. The report said the militants disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M16 assault rifles. It also included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”
The report further found that anti-tank rockets used by Daesh in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the so-called “Free Syrian Army” umbrella in 2013.
Iraqi Army soldiers fleeing Daesh attacks literally dropped most of their weapons. These weapons have now become part of the Daesh arsenal. The largely Shia soldiers were not well trained by US, and this duly led to their wholesale retreat from the rampant Sunni Daesh. Clearly, local forces need to be better trained, and above all armaments must not be allowed to fall into Daesh hands.
Lastly, criminal gangs of armament suppliers are illegally supplying Daesh with weaponry. A much more concerted effort needs to be made to cut off this supply chain and prosecute those involved.
Cut off their financial support.
Daesh receives money from a variety of sources in the Arab world, even from Western allies such as Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This is because these countries see them as a bulwark against Shia influence in the region, specifically Iran. This financial support is not official, but nor is it officially interdicted effectively. Heavily leaning on our “allies” to stop having a bet each way as far as Daesh is concerned is long overdue.
There have been continual allegations that countries such as Turkey are profiting from an illegal trade in Daesh-controlled oil. (Which is why the first UK bombing attack was on an oil field.) It should also be noted Turkey denies these criticisms. But Daesh is selling their oil to someone … and that trade needs to be interdicted urgently.
But the simple fact is that many of the things we find so objectionable about Daesh – the subjugation of women, cruel executions for things we do not consider crimes, and a badly organised and chaotic legal system – are also features of much of the rest of the Arab world. Little wonder they do not seem as distressed about those matters as the West is.
Make the price of our trade and engagement with the Arab world that they take concrete and meaningful steps to sort out their own differences.
The Sunni v Shia conflict is a very old one. It flares up, it flares down. Yet Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. In many countries it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. They share faith in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and perform similar prayers, although they differ in rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.
As the Council on Foreign relations said:
Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen.
The dispute is currently in a “hot” phase, largely driven by the Wahabist philosophy that has held sway in certain parts of the Sunni Middle East since the 19th century, exported by Saudi Arabia.
We need to make it clear that we expect the Aran world to sort it’s own troubles out. That will not happen while we are always half-pregnant as regards military involvement in the region, veering from full-blown invasions to dropping a few bombs from on high.
We also need to make it clear that we will not engage, as if they are the same as our estimation of a state, with any state that places religious belief or theocracy above basic civil rights.
So, for example, we would maintain cool but not aggressive relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on until they internally reform and cease their mutual jaw-boning.
If the Arab world wants to live in a medieval manner and a semi-permanent state of conflict then that’s their business. We will simply wait it out as best we can. Eventually, all conflicts exhaust themselves.
Developing our own energy independence – as the USA has now done – and improving our investment in non-fossil-fuel technologies would be a good start.
What is certain as of today is that Daesh wishes us to bomb them, know that we will slaughter civilians – gay and straight – in the process, and that we could do nothing better to help them recruit and maintain control in their areas. There are other courses of action, even though they might be more complex, more difficult to organise, and slower to take effect.
Nevertheless, they deserve serious consideration.
Please consider these arguments as you see Western bombs raining down on innocent civilians, or witness the next terrorist outrage on Western soil. We are being conned. By Daesh, by the countries of the region, and by our own short-sighted and incompetent political leadership.