The struggle against terrorism is one of the gravest threats to peace in the modern era. The emergence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq, thriving in the political vacuum following the uprising against President Bashar al Assad, has been a source of terrorism since its inception. Yet despite the instability in Syria and the complex patchwork of relationships that spreads across the disintegrating country, the international community quickly united against Daesh and the dangerous type of extremism it represents.
In turn, those who lead the fight against Daesh have been targeted by Islamic extremists. In Europe, the 2016 attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin, to name a few, show that terrorism can strike anyone at any time. The Middle East has also seen its share of attacks. Saudi Arabia is one of Al Qaeda and Daesh’s main targets, and Saudi cities from Mecca to Qatif have been targeted in a nation-wide bombing campaign.
No-one, however, has been hit as hard as those who have been attacked directly by Daesh forces, their land invaded and their people displaced and murdered.
The Kurds are one of these people. Spread across Turkey, Iraq and Iran, their land in north-east Syria was taken first. Soon after, Daesh moved on Kurdish-minority areas in Iraq like Mosul and Kobani, before unsuccessfully assaulting Kirkuk and the Iraqi Kurdish homeland.
But the Kurds have fought back. Using their experience of resistance against Turkey, Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Peshmerga forces have led the military response to Daesh. Receiving support from the US and the international coalition, Kurdish fighters – famously including women in their ranks – have driven Daesh out of Mosul and are continuing their campaign, chasing the extremist group back to Syria with the aim of defeating them completely.
These brave Kurdish efforts are in marked contrast to Iran’s efforts in Syria. Instead of actively contributing to the international coalition against Daesh, Iran has been focused instead on shoring up the murderous Assad regime, desperate to preserve the influence it has over Damascus. Iran’s military efforts in Syria have targeted not Daesh extremists but rebels fighting Assad.
Not content with attacking these non-extremist rebels, Iran has made it its mission to hit civilian populations in areas under rebel control. The battle over Aleppo is a case study in Iran’s operations in Syria: obliterate those living in the city as punishment for supporting, or even just being near, rebel fighters. The indiscriminate regime campaign, undertaken thanks to Iranian planning, leadership, materiel and soldiers, was the civil war’s most horrific event and one of the greatest contributors to Syria’s humanitarian crisis.
Now contrast Iran’s deployment of its resources to that of the Kurds. Kurdistan, operating on a shoe-string budget as a semi-independent part of an embattled Iraqi state, has dedicated all the energy and, critically, military manpower at its disposal to fight Daesh. Iran, a nation that vastly outnumbers Kurdistan in financial and military terms, is instead dedicating its efforts to keep a terrorist and murderer in power.
It is worth noting that Iran is the only country in the region not to have been attacked by Daesh and Al Qaeda, despite the fact that it is run by Shia clerics, who Sunni fundamentalists claim to despise. This is less surprising when one remembers that the US Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for its “support to terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in Iraq” in February 2012.
If Iran were to dedicate as much attention to fighting terrorists like Daesh as the Kurds have, instead of supporting rogue regimes like Assad, the fight against Islamic fundamentalism would be many steps closer to victory.