The War Against ISIS Needs To Speed Up, And Iran Holds The Key

24/02/2016 7:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
ALEPPO, SYRIA - DECEMBER 24: Sniper from the Syrian opposition fighters attacks DAESH militants at Kafr town in Aleppo, Syria on December 24, 2015. (Photo by Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

During the course of a recent visit to London, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated publicly that the fight against Daesh (ISIS) was something that could help unite the region in a common cause. Advocating a "collective move forward" (in place of a 'zero sum approach'), Zarif was adamant that all parties stood to benefit through a new paradigm and the adoption of a "positive sum perspective".

Given the current situation in the Middle East, which has never looked more convoluted in living memory, this may be an opportune moment for giving serious consideration to Zarif's offer. It could lead to a decisive outcome in the battle with Daesh which the American presidential hopeful, Donald Trump has described as "all talk and no action".

Iranian efforts have so far prevented Daesh from straying south in Iraq by taking Baghdad or threatening the holy Shiite shrines.

While all contending sides in the region as well as the international community are vocally united in wanting to defeat Daesh and dismantling its so-called 'Islamic State', the net result of their combined efforts have fallen seriously short of achieving this desired outcome any time soon. According to pundits, the reason why this array of different coalitions, albeit with different agendas, seems incapable of ejecting Daesh from its key strategic strongholds is almost entirely due to the absence of capable forces on the ground to complement the aerial campaign and literally finish the job. However, all the Western parties currently engaged in the aerial campaign are not interested in any activity beyond enabling their local partners on the ground to do the job for themselves. More recently, the offer to send ground troops to Syria, ostensibly to fight Daesh, by Saudi Arabia (and the UAE!), which has no combat experience apart from tribal warfare and has never fought a land war outside the Arabian peninsula since the rise of Islam in the 7th century, seems more like a frivolous prank than anything serious, bearing in mind that the Saudis are already engaged in a exhaustive and costly campaign in Yemen.

While the Saudis' prime motive (in conjunction with its raging cold war with Iran) continues to be the dismantlement of the Assad regime in Syria, for all others, defeating Daesh and preventing its surrogates from resorting to vicious acts of terrorism in Europe and America remains the most important priority. Yet, irrespective of all the rhetoric, there appears to be no visible sense of urgency in dealing decisively with this issue. The removal of Daesh from its strategic strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa is symbolically critical in dealing a mortal blow to its stature, thereby impacting its overall fundraising capabilities and recruitment appeal. Only then will Daesh, much like Al Qaeda in the aftermath of 911 in Afghanistan, be on the run with thousands of helpless people under the yoke of their cruel and ungodly 'Islamic State' finally liberated.

Enlisting the participation of Iran will undoubtedly add greater momentum and hasten the removal of the scourge of Daesh from the Middle East and beyond.

Removing Daesh from its strategic strongholds, in addition to depriving it of its various sources of income (e.g. sale of oil and antiquities, 'taxation', extortion) as well as recruitment of foreign fighters is an urgent mission that can be completed in 2016.

But according to the most optimistic scenarios projected by Western analysts, the campaign for liberating Mosul alone is not projected to happen until the end of the current year or early 2017. This is due to the fact that local ground forces in Iraq, despite having successfully evicted Daesh from Ramadi, cannot be made ready any time sooner for tackling that task. Who exactly is to be charged and enabled with the mission for removing Daesh from Raqqa in Syria is not at all clear at this time, given especially the exception which the Turks have taken to American trained and supported Kurdish forces who were successful in fending off Daesh advances in places like Kobani and Sinjar and who are now positioned in the border areas between Syria and Turkey.

There is no realistic option for speeding up the urgent process of defeating Daesh -- in conjunction with the existing aerial campaign, and the international diplomatic efforts that are in progress for trying to come up with some kind of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war -- other than to enlist the active support of the Iranian government in organizing a 'ground option' that can successfully demolish and dislodge Daesh from their strategic strongholds.

Iranian efforts have so far prevented Daesh from straying south in Iraq by taking Baghdad or threatening the holy Shiite shrines. Given the right incentives, such as recognition of their legitimate interests as 'Custodian of the Shiites' in the region, they can be induced to work in parallel with other coalition countries for making the required difference.

In the aftermath of the successful resolution of the arduous nuclear dispute with Iran, it only seems prudent that Zarif's offer should be construed as a sign of willingness on the part of Iran to work positively with the international community, particularly on issues where Iranian national interests are also at stake. Enlisting the participation of Iran will undoubtedly add greater momentum and hasten the removal of the scourge of Daesh from the Middle East and beyond. This is the next obvious step which all involved parties now need to focus on if more human tragedies in the region as well as in major Western cities are to be averted.

Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari is a former Iranian diplomat.

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