In war on IS, solutions may be everywhere

Iraq issues this moral challenge to countries that fail to stop Muslims from joining Islamic State: You must do more because of your neglect of radicalization at home and of IS recruitment.

AP Photo
A crescent moon sits atop the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center where a spokesperson for a Muslim family in Alabama has confirmed the family’s daughter has fled a Birmingham suburb to join ISIS militants in Syria after being recruited over the Internet.

At least 22,000 people from more than 90 countries have now joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, either as fighters or support staff. They were not sent by their countries. But neither were they stopped. This success by IS in recruiting foreign fighters from afar, says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, “is a failure on the part of the world.” 

As a result, he adds, Iraq needs all the world’s support. 

This is a novel and moral challenge to countries from China to the United States that continue to be sources of Islamic radicals for IS. The war is no longer “over there” but one originating almost everywhere, with a responsibility to end it becoming more widespread.

One recruit, for example, Col. Gulmurod Khalimov, the head of Tajikistan’s special police, even received counterterrorism training in the US. In the West, France may be the largest source of extremists, one reason the French hosted a 24-nation conference on Tuesday to bolster the international coalition trying to defeat IS. Mr. Abadi made his challenge at that meeting.

The coalition has provided valuable military and financial support to Iraq. It has tried to crack down on IS recruitment and break up cells of radicals in their respective countries. In addition, US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have helped push back IS in places. President Obama has deployed 3,000 troops to train Iraqi soldiers and even sent US special forces to assassinate a top IS leader. 

But the coalition was shaken last month when IS took over Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, only 70 miles  from the Iraqi capital. Abadi now says it is not enough for the world to simply expect the Iraqi government to quickly overcome its Sunni-Shiite divide and create an inclusive government in order to improve the Iraqi military. The dangerous flow of foreign fighters suggests the world must take more responsibility.

“Why [are there] so many terrorists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Egypt, [and] European countries? If it is due to the political situation in Iraq, why are Americans, French and German [fighters] in Iraq?” the Iraqi prime minister asked.

In a briefing to reporters at the conference, a senior US official seemed to agree: “This is a global problem. This is not a problem for any one country or any one member of the coalition. [Islamic State] is a threat to all of us. We all have to work together to get a handle on it.” The pace of recruitment, he added, “is something that the world has really never seen before on this scale.”

The fighting in Iraq and Syria is not yet a global war. Rather it is “a regional problem trending towards global implications,” says retired Gen. John Allen, appointed by Mr. Obama to build a coalition against IS. And in a recent interview with Newstalk, US Ambassador Samantha Power said, “For us as an international community – to be able to contest and ultimately defeat this movement – it is going to require all hands on deck.”

Abadi has issued a challenge for more support, not just material but moral. Do societies that fail to de-radicalize Muslims, many of whom are alienated, jobless, and young, bear a burden to do more both at home and in Iraq? 

Much is being done already. But if it is not enough, each country must look harder at what more it can do.

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