The coordinated terror attacks in Paris, believed to have been masterminded by ISIS, have claimed the lives of about 130 people so far, and the toll is expected to increase with many others being seriously injured. The worst attack occurred at Bataclan, a popular concert venue, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing. At least 80 people were killed there in cold blood.
The tactics, the scale and intensity of the well-coordinated attacks at multiple crowded places, bring to mind immediate parallels with Mumbai's 26/11 ordeal , where a railway station, two hotels, a restaurant and a Jewish centre were targeted, claiming the lives of more than 170 persons.
However, what is bewildering is that unlike the attack at the office of Charlie Hebdo in January of this year, which was motivated by the magazine's lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad, there was no immediate provocation for Friday's attacks. Secondly, it is not entirely clear why these terrorists targeted Paris. One probable reason could be France's involvement in bombing ISIS targets in Iraq.
"If coalition forces decide to attack ISIS on the ground, it will not only enhance their credibility in the Muslim world, but will encourage hundreds of ordinary Muslims to join their ranks."
Patrick Cockburn, the author of The Jihadis Return, has attributed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq as the primary reason for the rise of ISIS. This organisation did not exist, in the present form, before the occupation. The author goes on to write, "Ideologically, ISIS has emerged out of the jihadi movement and its religious beliefs are not much different from that of Saudi Wahhabism," the variant of Islam, which is effectively the state religion of Saudi Arabia. It is simply carrying these beliefs to a higher and more violent level, as ISIS's mission is to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq to begin with and later spread its ideology to other countries. ISIS, according to the author, has successfully managed to reignite the war in Iraq, which had died down but never quite ended.
It is very difficult to eliminate ISIS, as it has morphed into a strong fighting force, ready to take on the might of the US. Today, thousands of people, men, women and teens, from the UK, France and other European countries have joined the organisation. This goes to show that radical Islamisation, based on an ideology similar to Wahhabism/Salafism, has metastasized beyond the shores of Iraq and Syria.
You can bomb towns and cities, but you cannot bomb an ideology. The only way to counter these barbaric psychopaths in the long run would be to ensure that Sunnis are given important positions in the government and the army in order to win back their confidence in the regime - it's not an easy task but an attempt that may yield results in the long run.
Before that, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries in the Middle East should join hands to fight ISIS. The first step should be to send troops to Iraq to neutralise ISIS. Once this is accomplished, they should help the present government in Iraq in adopting an inclusive policy where Sunnis are given key roles in the government, and the army personnel, who were ignominiously removed, are reinstated. These are not easy tasks, but it is the only way to restore confidence among Sunnis.
The US finds itself in a bind today; it is now faced with dealing with an organisation that, unlike al Qaeda, is far more motivated and willing to engage with the US in a long-drawn war. Furthermore, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, is an astute and shrewd man, who has gained tremendous experience of dealing with US troops in Syria. According to a US intelligence official "These guys know the terrorism business inside and out, and they are the ones who survived aggressive counterterrorism campaigns during the surge."
The US is well aware of the strength of ISIS and is, therefore, treading cautiously in engaging them on the ground to avoid casualties of its forces. Moreover, if coalition forces decide to attack ISIS on the ground, it will not only enhance their credibility in the Muslim world, but will encourage hundreds of ordinary Muslims to join their ranks.
It is here that the US should enlist the support of all Muslim countries, including the Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to fight against ISIS. By doing this, they will be less likely to alienate the Muslims. Moreover, the US should also enlist the support of Russia, so that a well coordinated attack, under a central command and control system, can be effective. Moreover, we have seen that as heavy bombing has had little effect on ISIS, the only possible solution is to launch a coordinated attack both through air and land. None of this is easy to put into operation, but it may be the only way to deal with one of the best organised terrorist outfits in the world.
In the meantime, France and other countries should deal sensitively with the ordinary Muslims who call their land home, as any backlash against them would only strengthen the hands of terrorist groups.
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