The situation in Iraq has become more dire by the day. Ever since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) crossed from Syria into Iraq, the group’s march through the country’s north has not only facilitated the acquisition of weapons and resources, but also bolstered its standing among disenfrachised and frustrated men on both sides of the border. The unfolding nightmare epitomizes the very definition of spillover as a direct consequence of inaction in Syria, threatening wider regional and international interests. The only sustainable solution for the crisis includes a healthy alternative to ISIS derived from Sunni Arab community.
Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, argues that dysfunctional politics in Iraq and a resource imbalance between moderate rebels and jihadists in Syria has led to this situation. In his new issue brief, “Losing Syria and Iraq to Jihadists,” he demonstrates how simple counterterrorism efforts or leaving the conflict to play out will not defeat ISIS or eliminate the threat to Iraq. Given deepening sectarian extremism, the region and other world powers should not compound the problem by believing that support for either Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki–two leaders who have used sectarianism to further their own agendas–could solve the issue.
The United States should work with its allies to bolster support for moderate Sunni rebels with the resources to challenge jihadists, eliminate the means of entry for foreign jihadists, increase intelligence sharing with regional partners to quell the cash flow to militant extremists, and work towards a more equitable political system in Iraq (and elsewhere) to prevent further disenfranchisement of Sunnis to the benefit of jihadists.