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Faruk Rahmanovic

Olga Saniukovic

Nathan Hayford

Over the last few years, ISIS has seized territory roughly the size of Syria, or half of Iraq.
International intervention methods have included bombing since September, assisting the Iraqi
military and the Kurds of Iraq and Syria, to no avail. Use of force, however, no matter how
overwhelming, is unlikely to produce lasting results. ISIS success is not merely based on military
prowess or technology; their mission is one of inclusivity and populous representation if in a
disturbingly perverse way. It is the draw of this message that makes military solutions to the ISIS
problem untenable. To understand how and why ISIS managed to prosper in the region, a brief
consideration of the historical context is necessary.
Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of WWI, the Middle East
became a series of artificial states, drawn up by the French, British, and Russians. The people of
these states were an amalgam of the people of the Ottoman Empire - varying in ethnicity, tribe
affiliation, and religion. New states, having no national identity that brought them together, were
often fragmented and ruled by minorities that seized power militarily with the help of colonial
powers. Thus Iraq (65% Shia, 32% Sunni), has been ruled by the Sunni minority from the 1920s
to 2003; while Syria remains ruled by a Shia Awalite minority (12%), which took power in the
1970s.
However, it would be a gross oversimplification to claim that Sunnis ruled Iraq. In fact,
ethnic Arabs of Iraq are divided into dozens of tribes and sub-tribes that do not act as unified
groups, despite shared religious or sectarian attitudes. Saddam played on this tribalism by
appointing to office only those individuals who came from his own tribe or ones closely related
to it. As a result only some 2-5% of the population was actually represented by the government.
In Syria, the Alawites are the only group that holds office in any meaningful way, leaving the
other 88% of the population as an artificial minority.

Faruk Rahmanovic

Olga Saniukovic

Nathan Hayford

The Iraqi democracy (2005-present) effectively changed nothing. The new government
was elected by the Shia majority, leaving the Sunnis out in the cold. As with Saddam, the
majority was not actually given a voice; instead, tribal politics meant that only a few percent of
the population was privileged with functional representation. In Syria, rebel forces rose against
Assad, but due to tribal differences fought each other as often as they fought Assad. Every rebel
group knew that nothing would change for its people and their allies, unless the regime-change
put them into power. Otherwise, it would be politics as usual, with a different tribal minority
running the show.
It is against this historical backdrop that the unique nature of ISIS becomes apparent.
They reject all national divisions and actively work to stamp out ethnic/tribal divisions. They
focus their inclusionary principle on adherence to their vision of Sunni Islam, and seek to
represent and rule all the people in the region who adhere to this basic tenant. As a result, they
are the only representative of tens of some 23 million people across Iraq and Syria, who have had
no functional representation for decades. This is a crucial feature of ISIS.
Commission of atrocities is a common feature of the governments in the region. In Syria,
Hafez al-Assad committed genocide in the 1980s, and his son Bashar al-Assad is doing the
same; Saddam committed genocide against the Kurds, and the new government is doing little
better leaving the political/ethnic/tribal outgroups to the mercy of terrorists and violent militant
groups. Consequently, ISIS garners support by representing those who have been abandoned
over the past century. While these same people oppose ISIS atrocities, the fact that similar
actions are common to all the regional governments means that ISIS is no worse than any
alternative, in this respect. On the other hand, ISIS does offer something other regional

Faruk Rahmanovic

Olga Saniukovic

Nathan Hayford

governments do not a state which generally represents the people, without tribal/ethnic
favoritism.
In light of the ISIS ideology of inclusive unity, a military solution is destined to fail. At
best, it may force people back into the arms of their uncaring governments, only to have them
revolt again at the first opportunity. The only real solution is a political alternative to ISIS; an
inclusive and representative state that opposes atrocities. The regional failure to produce such a
state is the primary reason behind ISIS success, and will continue to be the main obstacle to
resolving the problem that is ISIS.