The whole world is not fighting ISIS. If it did so, there would be no ISIS. Iraq will remain divided and Turkey will remain worried about the integrity of its territory. Unfortunately, the fight against ISIS will last longer than anticipated.
ZEITGEIST (the spirit of the times) has proved to be a powerful influence over radical groups of “Islamic origin” in recent decades. It actually started with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 which led to the establishment of al-Qaeda with Osama bin Laden at the head in the 1990’s. Islam is one of three ideologies, in addition to democracy and communism, that shaped the world in the 20th century, according to author Michael Mandelbaum. The American invasion of Iraq and its campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1990-1991 and in 2003 created a “space” for the radical interpretation of Islam. It could be said that a pattern was set by the Palestinian İntifadah in 1982 when the term “radical İslam’’ first appeared in literature.
The international coalition faces challenges in the fight against the Islamic State because no country wants to get involved with this radical Islamist movement. The beheading of several Western journalists as well as the burning of a Jordanian war pilot by ISIS have created fear in Western societies. Only recently has the US started bombing ISIS targets, and begun to provide assistance to Kurdish groups and Syrian opposition forces. This week, Turkey also started bombing ISIS in an effort to clear a zone on the Syrian border to prevent the inflow of Syrian refugees. But without an international coalition or NATO ground forces, there will be little success against ISIS.
Unfortunately, the whole world is not fighting ISIS. If it did so, there would be no ISIS. Which countries are supporting ISIS remains a question, but several countries have adopted an “appeasement policy” towards them hoping to avoid involvement in the area. Even the US was in no hurry to provide military support from the air. Currently, the conflict is the most intense between secular Kurds and ISIS. Turkey recently declared its intent to fight ISIS alongside the US and other Western countries primarily because ISIS now basically borders Turkey.
Over the past two years, many foreign fighters have used Turkey as a stepping off point to join ISIS, and Turkey has faced harsh criticism from several countries as a result. But Turkey has changed its policy and will erect a wall at the border areas with Syria where ISIS controls the territory. The number of foreign fighters passing through Turkey has been reduced dramatically in recent weeks.
ISIS is also taking measures to dig in at Turkey’s border. This, in effect, implies a “truce” between Turkey and ISIS, but Turkey’s policy against ISIS was complicated last year because 49 Turkish diplomats were held prisoner by ISIS for 103 days. The Turkish public feared that ISIS would kill all 49 diplomats. The AKP government had to negotiate long and hard to secure their release.
Many young people from Western countries have joined ISIS. But now most of these countries have taken measures to prevent recruitment. In addition, sympathy for ISIS is waning, indicating there may be difficult times ahead for these extremists. But the main source of youth recruitments has been the Balkan and Central Asian countries as well as countries in the Far East. A greater effort to establish intelligence cooperation among the Western countries, as well as the source countries for these young recruits, is needed.
Prior to the bombing in Suruç, actually, since last year’s NATO meeting in Wales, Turkey has shifted its policy on ISIS. But US-Turkish cooperation in fighting and bombing ISIS targets intensified after Suruç. In Turkey, several hundred ISIS militants and sympathizers have been jailed but there is a fear of further bombings. Security has been increased in every big city, in shopping malls, metro stations and at social events like concerts.
Turkey’s inactivity was criticized before, but now its activity will be criticized because Turkey is fighting both ISIS and PKK terrorists at the same time. The Suruç bombing was a turning point in Turkey’s ISIS policy. President Erdoğan’s statement and that of Prime Minister Davutoglu are evidence of this radical turn in Turkey’s politics with respect to ISIS. There will be no more appeasement.
Turkey’s alleged silent support’ for ISIS was criticized in a parliamentary debate by opposition parties. There is the general assumption that the AKP government supplied weapons to the Syrian opposition, that it’s an “open secret” in Turkey. President Erdogan discussed this in a recent speech. But accusing the government of sending soldiers to ISIS is likely an overstatement by the opponents.
The AKP government’s policy today is anti-ISIS, and Turkey and the US have now signed an agreement allowing US military bases, like İncirlik, to be used in the effort against ISIS. Turkey now sees ISIS as the enemy as is evidenced by the border control and the military security measures. A tank has been placed nearly every 500 meters on the border to prevent ISIS infiltration.
The Russian State Duma’s recent proposal is well intended, but there is a need for international support. Turkey and Russia can cooperate in this effort. Turkey has taken many measures to curb ISIS activity in Turkey since last week. This indeed indicates a turning point in Turkish policy. But ISIS will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Without a military coalition to fight ISIS in Iraq, there can be no lasting success against ISIS. The Arab countries have been cautious and are looking at the US and Turkey to fight ISIS, but without ground forces it will be difficult to defeat ISIS. Even the Kurds will not be successful in their fight against ISIS.
Iraq will remain divided and Turkey will remain worried about the integrity of its territory. Unfortunately, the fight against ISIS will last longer than anticipated.