With an unmistakable British accent, the now-infamous Islamic State (IS) fighter thought to have killed journalist James Foley has addressed his second message to US president Barack Obama.
IS is trying to present itself as a nation but it is important to see that it is not. Its lack of legitimacy is what makes the case for intervention in Iraq so strong this time.
“I’m back, Obama, because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence in continuing your bombings in Amirly, Zimar and Mosul dam despite our serious warnings,” the IS militant says in his latest video. He continues:
Just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.
With his talk of “our people”, the militant is pushing the idea that his group has become some kind of nation. But in the area occupied by IS, none of the institutions of a nation state are functioning.
IS captured its territory at gunpoint and has alienated the local population through executions, collective expulsion and intimidation. Local authorities have been replaced with criminal foreign fighters from around the world including Europe, Africa, Chechnya and east Asia who act and behave like criminal gangs.
To protect themselves from this brutal behaviour, a quarter of the Sunni population of Mosul, together with its minority Christians, Yazidis, Shiite, Shabak and others have fled Mosul in the two last months alone. It is estimated that a third of the three million people living in Mosul have deserted the city.
IS targets Sunni opponents to the same extent as other religions and sects. However its militants choose to depict the situation, IS is not a nation state. It is a terrorist group that rules a large tract of land.
International law defines a sovereign state as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is obvious that none of these prerequisites exist in the area under the control of IS.
The same goes for legitimacy. No elections have been held and there is no evidence that the extremist group enjoys the support of any more than a tiny minority of local sympathisers.
Any western military action against IS would clearly be totally different from any former involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan. At the time of US-led invasions, both were administrated by functioning governments, even if they were brutal and authoritarian. Despite being oppressed in many ways, it was possible for the minorities of Afghanistan and Iraq to live in the homeland.
But IS has now announced its plan to establish a global Caliphate, claiming all historical Islamic lands from Spain to east Asia. It presents a threat beyond the Middle East that simply wasn’t a feature of previous conflicts in the region.
Whereas many regional governments opposed previous interventions, they have all unanimously agreed that IS must be removed – even Saudi Arabia and Iran are on board.
The international community has a moral responsibility to unite on this issue. It must oppose this monster which is rising in their midst and remove it as quickly as possible. There is a dire need to forge an international alliance against IS which must include all parties in the region and others beyond it, even if that means working with the Syrian regime. The removal of IS will enable everyone to focus on bringing democratic change to Syria.
The US has gained ground against IS with air strikes and these should be continued. There is no need to land foreign troops this time because Iraq possesses substantial federal military forces and has the Kurdish Peshmerga army.
Together, they are thought to have around one million personnel. They have proven their ability to overcome IS by fighting off its fighters in the siege of Amirly city, during which they received help from the US and other western forces.
This shows that when western governments help local forces to take on IS, it works. The militants have been badly affected and it shows. The executioner who killed Foley and now Steven Sotloff mentions Amirly in his threat to Obama. He and his group are feeling the heat, so now is the perfect time to strike again to end this disaster.