The Islamic State may be defeated soon on the battlefield but this in itself is unlikely to bring peace to the Middle East unless the basic reasons resulting in its — and Al Qaeda’s — rise are tackled, says a British expert who was advisor to the coalition forces in Iraq….writes Vikas Datta
“It is a difficult struggle ahead in the Middle East. The IS will be defeated soon in Iraq, while it may take a longer time in Syria but defeating it only militarily will not solve matters, unless grievances of the people, issues of misgovernance are dealt with,” Emma Sky, who was political advisor to the US military commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno (2007-2010), and is now Senior Fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, told IANS in an interview.
Noting that while most regions of the world were improving, the Middle East, which has seen many major disruptions in the last few years, was not one of them, Sky, who was here for the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017, said this was due to the lack of proper governance.
“Many countries which were under colonial rule have moved ahead but not in the Middle East,” she said, adding the reasons included the “resource curse” or easy money from oil, and the relationship between governments and people.
The elites failed to create “inclusive states”, or ensure development, said Sky, noting the Arab Spring had shown that the youth wanted “justice, dignity and jobs”.
On the rise of religious parties, she said this came because traditional political parties could not operate and “the only place that the opposition could go to was the mosque”.
“This could help to mobilise people against the current regime, but not mobilise people to create something new,” said Sky, who was a panellist in several sessions at the festival.
Crediting the rise of the Islamic State, despite its having “no vision for the future”, to the destructive civil war unleashed in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003, the failure of Arab states, and the growing power of Iran in the region, she contended that the disruption in the region didn’t start after 9/11, but after the US invasion.
Sky, who wrote “The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq” on her experiences, said that although she had not supported the invasion, she worked with the US Coalition Provisional Authority, to take part in the reconstruction, “but soon realised that the US had no plan”.
“But I could also not see the civil war that would break out, the rise of Iran and the rise of the IS,” she admitted.
Noting the grievances that led to the IS’ rise have not been dealt with, Sky also said that the Iraq war and the rise of Iran after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party had also exacerbated sectarianism in the region and led to proxy wars.
“Local grievances about governance have been transformed into sectarian terrorism,” she lamented.
Sky, while noting that military options cannot ever fully solve insurgencies and can have unintended consequences, said she did not agree with a panel moderator terming the soldiers she had described in her book as akin to “Donald Trump’s voters”.
Terming other books like Rajeev Chandrasekharan’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” as a “journalist’s description”, Sky said: “In my book, I’m sympathetic to the US military. Soldiers who read it see it as their own story.
“They see themselves as an armed wing of Amnesty International, of doing their jobs well. But in the absence of political direction and settlements, they were tactically most successful, but not strategically.”
On what the region’s future would be, Sky said there was hope from the region’s youth who do not subscribe to the IS world-view but dream of a future like that of Dubai.
“The future is with the youth. We have to help them towards a better future,” she said.