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How American foreign policy was instrumental in the creation of ISIS

Original image from Wikimedia Commons. Edits by Marta Kierkus

Genocide is going on in Iraq. The minority Yazidi population is currently fleeing for their lives as they’re pursued by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a radical militant group that has sent the country reeling over the past few months through a violent campaign of terror. Not even foreign journalists are safe from this extremist group, as made evident by the brutal execution of James Foley on Aug. 19.

What many people aren’t aware of is that, while they claim to resent Western influence, ISIS actually owes much of its existence to the West. In fact, if it wasn’t for American involvement in Iraq, ISIS probably would never have emerged in the first place.

This terrorist group was originally known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, until a falling out within the ranks led to the emergence of a new independent organization. However, over time this new group has even been disowned by Al Qaeda, partly for being deemed “too extreme.”

If recent events are any indication, ISIS definitely stands ready to overshadow its predecessors. Currently they control much of western and southern Iraq, and they have their sights set on conquering Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan, with future plans to merge with their Syrian territory.

So how did American involvement help to spawn such a fierce force?

Two catastrophic American invasions and the establishment of a corrupt and oppressive dictatorship definitely helped instill the Iraqi population with the idea that the West was truly trying to exploit them. The consequences of failing to win this battle for “the hearts and minds of Iraq,” as George Bush once put it, are only now becoming apparent.

The cause for concern here is not that ISIS will ever become a military threat to America, at least domestically. The real issue is the success that ISIS is having in recruiting followers to carry out a violent holy war, a rate of success that can be attributed to the failures of Western foreign policy. As a result, the next steps of this conflict will be incredibly vital in determining whether the region will become stabilized or suffer the same way the people of Afghanistan did under Taliban rule.

This will mean that American influence during their recent involvement in Iraq will have to remain as minimal as possible, at least in terms of visibility, in order to allow a stabilizing force to emerge legitimately. Ideally a strategy of containment would be implemented first, allowing Iraq’s neighbours, including Iraqi Kurdistan, to efficiently secure their borders from invasion. Once this is established, an ideological campaign can be waged in order to undermine ISIS’s influence and allow moderates to emerge.

The long term goal of such efforts should be to help pacify the anger amongst the majority of the Iraqi population in order to help them independently remove ISIS from power, which would be much more sustainable in the long run.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that past foreign policies have failed to bring about the peace and security that is so desperately sought after in this region. As a result, we are now faced with possibly the largest extremist movement in quite some time. Only a plan that involves working with the diverse groups in the region has any hope of bringing about a long-term solution. Working against them may cause history to repeat itself.