Shannon Green and Daniel Runde maintained that [1] in 2009, USAID published a programmatic guide enumerating the push and pull factors that seem to be correlated with supporting violent extremism. Among the push factors, often thought of as “root causes,” are high levels of social marginalization and fragmentation; poorly governed or ungoverned spaces; severe and widespread government repression and human rights violations; endemic corruption and elite impunity and perceptions of an existential threat to one’s culture or religion. The factors thought to pull or draw potential recruits into a violent extremist movement include personal rewards or benefits, such as access to material resources, social status, and respect; a sense of belonging, adventure, and self-esteem; the prospect of achieving glory and fame and the existence of friends, family members, or neighbours that are already part of an extremist group. With such a variety of social, political, economic, psychological, and cultural factors in play, there are multiple, unique pathways to radicalization.

What is the single-most important factor producing radicalization in the name of Islam? Regional politics. More important, can military force end radicalization or militancy in the name of Islam? After all, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not end radicalism. After 14 long years, spending more than a trillion dollars and nearly seven thousand dead American soldiers, the resurrection of the vanquished Al Qaeda came in the form of the IS. Thus, a mushrooming effect takes place in which a new movement is born given the right conditions. There are many causes of the birth of the new terrorist entity in the IS, of which the primary remains political and not religious. Islam happens to be the convenient expression of the group feeling intense aggrievement even anger at the turn of events.

An examination of recent history in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria was required to understand the IS phenomenon. After the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2005 and the subsequent overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein from power and the US support of the Shia government in Iraq had badly alienated the Sunnis. After all, they had ruled Iraq for centuries and a loss of power was unimaginable to them. Thus, they turned against the Iraqi government and took up arms to set up their own Sunni state. Also, in neighbouring Syria where the continued repressive rule of the Alawiite regime, in alliance with the Shiite Iran, led to the subsequent raging civil war which in turn created the space for the IS to emerge. In Syria the tiny ruling Alawiite sect has the support of the Christian community, even more smaller than the Alawiites themselves. Hence, the resentment against the United States. Initially, the IS was supported by the Sunni Saudis, Qataris, and other Gulf sheikhdoms because of its rabidly anti-Shiite stance.

The IS was stringently opposed to the Shia sect which it considered as being outside true Islam. The Saudi Wahhabi school of thought agreed with that stance. Many other Sunnis also consider Shias to be a cult outside true Islamic faith. Circumstances led to the establishment of the IS into the entity it is today. It was primarily the deprivation of the Sunnis that led into the establishment of the IS. Undoubtedly, the combined military might of the United States and its allies will be able to defeat the IS very soon. However, it won’t solve the problem of Sunni disenfranchisement and alienation in both the countries. Therefore, a cautious approach was needed to be adopted by the Obama administration. It would be prudent for the United States not to overreact now. Remember IS was much more than just a religious cause under the Islamic banner. It attracts the politically conscious Sunnis who resent their disenfranchisement on the hands of the Shiite. Also, it attracts the usual alienated, frustrated, simple-minded, ignorant, socially immobile and angry people.

The point being that a military approach would not be successful. A redress of the Muslim grievances was also required. The Obama Administration should follow a comprehensive strategy to defeat the IS and establish regional peace in which the military option is not the only adopted. A careful redrawing of the map in the Middle East was in order. For example, it is time for the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestine and a Kurdistan republic. Iraq needed to be partitioned also.

The Kurds have been demanding independence for so long but unfortunately denied by all the states which have sovereignty over the historic Kurdistan. It is time that Kurdistan becomes an independent sovereign state. The beginning can happen in the partition of northern Iraq in a new state. That will be the easiest to do. Later, some territory from Syria may be incorporated. Iranian and Turkish control of Kurd territory will have to wait for independence. Also, partition Iraq into Shiite south, and Sunni north. Iraq will be partitioned into three states ensuring peace, security and stability in the region. A beginning can and should be made now.

A pragmatic approach would require alliance building across the region and even beyond. The establishment of the Saudi-led 34 Muslim nation coalition is a good development. Given the scant capability of the Saudi monarchy, the coalition will not amount to much, however. Intense negotiations with the key players in the region will lead to desired changes. A beginning has been made by the establishment of the new Saudi-led Muslim coalition. The bigger Muslim states like Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan need to be more involved in securing the region.

Another issue that needs to be resolved is that of Kashmir. Without peace in South Asia the greater Middle East cannot be secured nor stabilized. A stable, secure and peaceful Pakistan and Afghanistan was a key for regional security. The much needs to be done to stabilize the region. Instead of going to war against the IS, it would be better to start building the foundations of peace in the region. Dysfunctional states are the norm and not the exception in the entire region. Bad governance is alienating the people against their own rulers. This state of affairs is the reason why IS exists. In a nutshell, a pragmatic and political approach needs to be the focus now.

Read also the Part One: The US and the War Against the IS. Part One

[1] Shannon N. Green, Daniel F. Runde, Preventing Violent Extremism Promise and pitfalls, Center for Strategic and International Studies, DEC 2, 2015, accessed December 15, 2015