This week’s explosive news in Iraq is an urgent wake-up call to leaders in the country, the region and the world, putting them on notice that the threat from Al-Qaeda is as dangerous and potent as ever before.
When militants from Al-Qaeda-linked ISIS swept through areas of Iraq and seized its second city of Mosul and other towns in the north, they were able to exploit the rage that has gradually built up against the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, famous for corruption, shortsightedness and playing the sectarian card in domestic politics.
While Iraqi government policies are undoubtedly one of the principal reasons for the surprising and dramatic gains of territory made by ISIS, the organization has also been active in Syria for more than a year, albeit disowned by the central Al-Qaeda leadership for moving into a new sphere of operations instead of concentrating on Iraq.
ISIS now enjoys a strong presence in parts of two countries, taking advantage of a porous border and benefiting from a variety of factors. Officials inside and outside the region must face up to the fact that wheeling out the same old rhetoric and proposals is unlikely to work this time. The phenomenon is too widespread to roll back by using what have become “standard” policies, such as stepped-up monitoring of people’s passports and bank accounts, or drone strikes directed against what are presumed to be “terrorist targets.”
Instead, officials must take a long, hard look at why Al-Qaeda has survived and grown and why the people who have stood against Al-Qaeda in the region have for the most part been shamefully ignored.