Pretty much everyone in New Zealand agrees that ISIS is a barbaric organisation. Videos of public beheadings and burning people alive turn our stomachs.
Before we rush off to war, we should try to understand how such a barbaric organisation came to administer such a large territory and achieve some degree of support from the local populace.
The answer lies in the way the largely Sunni people in the territory were mistreated by the mainly Shia regimes in Syria and Iraq and the corruption of those regimes.
Even Iraq’s vice-president for reconciliation, Iyad Allawi, recognises this problem. He says there is currently “widespread ethnic cleansing” of Sunnis in the territory surrounding Bagdad and “scores and scores of people… have been expelled from their areas and they can’t go back because of the dominance of militias.” He is backed up by another senior Iraqi official, Dr Hisham al-Hashimi who says the tribes in the area “have started to reflect on the idea of joining ISIS. The tribes believe that there are moves to deport them from their lands.”
In this context US air strikes only make things worse, increasing Sunni support for ISIS. The Sunni populace is not well-disposed to the Americans to start with. They remember the death and destruction visited on their communities following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US-led “coalition of the willing”.
Air strikes don’t make us as sick the stomach as the ISIS beheadings. Following an air strike we never see the blood-splattered bodies on the ground or hear the anguished groans of the injured. Most of the casualties of these air strikes are inevitably civilians, for two reasons. Firstly, most of the targeted ISIS fighters would be living among the people, rather than in separated barracks (where they would be more vulnerable to air raids), Secondly, the US-led forces target economic infrastructure in the ISIS-controlled territory, particularly oil installations, and this often results in “collateral” civilian casualties.
New Zealand joining the US military crusade in Iraq will probably be counter-productive, helping ISIS garner more Sunni support as it takes on yet another pro-Shia “foreign invader”.
If New Zealand really wants to help the Iraqi people it would be better to provide more aid for the social and economic development in the territory controlled by the Iraqi and Kurdish governments.
On the UN Security Council, New Zealand could be advocating moves to restrain those outside parties who still supply ISIS with arms and other essential supplies.