DSA Statement on the Islamic State and the Crisis in Iraq and Syria

Once again the United States government is ignoring history and trying to solve an intricate political crisis, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (I.S.), by aerial bombardment. The bombing by the U.S. and its “allies” must stop, as must the threat of further military escalation. Bombing is a blunt, indiscriminate tactic that kills innocent civilians and often drives innocent bystanders to support the very foes we bomb.

The Islamic State will best be opposed by a broad international coalition led by those most directly threatened by the I.S. – the peoples of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Iran. Unfortunately these states often have conflicting regional aims. But the past failures of US unilateral intervention demonstrates that the U.S. can only act effectively against I.S. through multilateral action led by the peoples of the Islamic world.

We recognize that the I.S. is not the only brutal force in the world today, but no one on the Left should have any illusions about the I.S. They have carried out barbarous mass killings of Shiites, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, feminists and secularists. They have brutally executed independent journalists and humanitarian workers, and they oppress the people they rule over. DSA supports the democratic aspirations of the Kurdish people, as well as the democratic forces fighting against the brutal Assad regime. We condemn Turkey’s refusal to open up a corridor to the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani so that weapons and additional Kurdish fighters can reach their fellow Kurds who are being besieged by the I.S.

In order for the global community to unite effectively against the I.S., we must first understand the causes of its growth.

The origins of the I.S. lay, in part, in previous misguided U.S. policies. I.S. has garnered widespread support in the Sunni regions of Iraq because of the sectarian nature of the U.S.-backed, Shiite government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This government, and its alleged more “moderate” successor, have excluded Sunnis from real political voice and from any leadership role in the armed forces. I.S.’s arms have largely been seized from an ineffective Iraqi army, one excessively armed by the United States. These military advantages have allowed the I.S. to become an effective force fighting the Assad regime in Syria. The U.S.’s fundamentalist allies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fund I.S. as their preferred anti-Assad agent, thus weakening the democratic forces opposing Assad. What could the U.S. constructively do to weaken the I.S.?

1. The U.S. should work with Iran to pressure the Iraqi government to be more inclusive of the Sunni and Kurdish populations. The Iranian Shiite government is the regime with the greatest influence over the current Iraqi government. The international negotiations with Iran over their nuclear capacity have gone fairly well as of late; the U.S. should build on this momentum to work more closely with the Iranians to achieve a stable government in Iraq.

2. The U.S. should work with the international community to cut off funds to the I.S. by cracking down on Turkish, Iraqi and other oil dealers who purchase I.S. oil on the black market. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States largely own the banks in Northern Iraq through which the I.S. washes its funds. The United States coddles the repressive Gulf States because of our desire to have access to their oil. In order to cut off funds to the political Islamists, however, the United States government must definitively break with these regimes. These states fund both the political Islamist forces and the Wahabist religious schools that provide the ideological underpinning for reactionary political Islamists.

3. The United States must press its NATO ally Turkey to grant greater autonomy and freedom to its Kurdish population and to open a corridor from Turkey for arms and Kurdish reinforcements to reach the besieged Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kobani. The United States should provide incentives for Turkey to take these steps by increasing humanitarian aid to the displaced people from both Syria and Iraq flooding into Turkish refugee camps.

4. The United States should support and strengthen the UN efforts, previously led by special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, to convene the regional states (Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and the UAE) as well as Russia and Iran to deal with the regional crisis. The regional states should unite in an effort to restrict the flow of arms, militias and finance across the borders to the I.S. The U.S. should also work with the international community to prevent genocide, as was done with some success in the case of the Yazidis in the Kurdish region.

5. The U.S. should also work to restore UN-sponsored negotiations to end the civil war in Syria, negotiations that must include full representation of the democratic forces of Syrian civil society. This will not be an easy task, as what started as a mass democratic uprising against the Assad regime must not end with either the continuing rule of the Assad dictatorship or the triumph of anti-democratic Islamic fundamentalists.

As the civil war in Syria indicates, there are limits to what United States diplomatic and economic efforts can accomplish.  The historical record makes clear, however, that the use of unilateral United States force cannot “solve” complex regional problems. Over a decade of U.S. combat in Afghanistan has witnessed a resurgence in the Taliban and the world-wide spread of Al Qaeda. The unjust U.S. war in Iraq engendered the very rise of the I.S. forces that the United States government misguidedly thinks it can defeat by unilateral imperial military power. 

DSA does not claim to have a foolproof democratic left solution to all the world’s problems. But as citizens of the United States, DSA members must oppose United States military and foreign policies that kill innocent civilians and indirectly or directly aid undemocratic regimes. We support multilateral international efforts that deny military and economic resources to authoritarian forces of all ideological stripes and oppose the United States government’s support for repressive regimes that indirectly back the I.S. and who repress the democratic aspirations of the Kurdish people. We stand in solidarity with the democratic forces opposing the brutal Assad dictatorship in Syria and with the democratic forces in civil society that must play the central role in defeating authoritarian movements and repressive governments.

Passed by the National Political Committee October 14, 2014.