The growing strength and influence of the ISIS is rooted in a deep-seated regional disagreement over the nature of the threat posed by jihadist extremists. Until the fight against the ISIS is decoupled from the sectarian fires engulfing the region, efforts to make progress against the group will flounder.
Despite US efforts over the last two years, recruits and resources have continued to make their way to the ISIS across a porous Turkish border and from the Gulf. While this situation is slowly changing, much more needs to be done to get full cooperation from regional allies in this effort.
The ISIS has now become a self-sustaining and well-established force that poses a serious threat to Iraq and the broader region. US assistance alone will not be enough to save Iraq. A broader process towards national unity is needed to give Sunnis and Kurds a greater stake in the country’s future and undermine the sectarian narrative of ISIS and former Baathist forces now occupying large swaths of Iraqi territory.
In Syria the US needs to urgently refocus its efforts on jihadist extremists. We should be open to talks with the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which has been at the center of the battle against ISIS. In addition, we need to recognize that groups combating the Assad regime will be focused first on that priority. US decisions to aid the moderate armed opposition in Syria should be assessed on their own merits, not as a key component of a comprehensive strategy against the jihadist threat in Syria and Iraq.