Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Isis Rising

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Isis Rising

Article excerpt


In recent months, as the country went through a general election, our focus has been on our own domestic debates. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated significantly. After intense fighting, the jihadist group Isis has now taken the city of Ramadi. They already control Fallujah and Mosul. A growing body of opinion says that something must be done, before the group moves on Baghdad or organises a major terror strike over here.

But what? There are plenty of reasons not to take action. Our interventions in Iraq have not been successful, to put it mildly. Looking at the state of the world today -- and the Middle East in particular -- any government or people would be justified in feeling some trepidation and, in the case of Iraq, a certain fatigue with the whole subject. The British government thought that, with enough money and determination, we could, as Tony Blair said, 'reorder this world around us'. It turns out that reordering Iraq -- never mind the world -- is much harder than anticipated. As we have seen there, and in Libya, if you topple a dictator, there's no way of knowing what comes next.

We have fought in Fallujah before. In 2004, when it had become a stronghold of insurgents after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the American army fought one of its hardest battles of that war. US troops fought house to house to clear the city of insurgents. More than 100 American soldiers were killed and hundreds more injured. The battle for Ramadi, which took place at the same time, was equally gruelling and bloody.

Twelve years on, Isis's success poses difficult questions. How many times must outside forces return? Are such cities better left alone? And why are Iraqi security forces -- trained at such enormous cost to the UK, US and other allies -- so incapable of standing up and fighting?

What was all that training for if the Iraqi army simply dissolves when it faces an enemy, instead of defending the civilians of Iraq? The story in Ramadi this week was the same as that in Mosul last year: of Iraqi troops abandoning their posts and their weapons. The sight of Iraq's forces being airlifted away from the fight by helicopters is one of the most pitiful sights in a pitiful business. Elsewhere in the country, Iranian forces, which have been colluded with at such high political and diplomatic risk, turn out to be less effective than expected.

But despair is not an adequate response. As a result of this week's gains, the fanatical death cult has control of another major city: worse than that, Ramadi is less than 70 miles from Baghdad, which means that Isis now hold a fortified position within striking distance of Iraq's capital. …

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