Crisis Group Releases Landmark Report on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State
14 Mar 2016
The International Crisis Group today released “Exploiting Disorder: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State”, a special report examining both groups’ extending influence and reach over the past few years. The report launches a Crisis Group project on Violent Extremism and Modern Conflict, looking at how to counter the evolving threat posed by these groups and their ideology.
Extremist movements are now protagonists in many of the world’s deadliest crises, complicating efforts to end them and prolonging humanitarian suffering. Some control territory, supplanting the state and ruling with a mix of coercion and co-option. Little suggests they can be defeated by military means alone, yet they espouse, to varying degrees, goals hard to accommodate in negotiated settlements.
“The report draws from Crisis Group’s extensive work on al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS), other extremist movements and the wars they fight in”, said Richard Atwood, Head of the New York office and the report’s lead author. “Over the past few years, both groups have exploited disorder as much as caused it and their extending reach often owes more to their enemies’ missteps than to their own strengths”.
The report looks in particular at the Islamic State’s roots in Iraq and Syria, its ability to expand elsewhere and the resilience and growth of some al-Qaeda affiliates. These movements have exploited new wars, state collapse and geopolitical rivalries in the Middle East and pose an evolving threat elsewhere, particularly in Africa. “It is crucial to understand the specific local and regional dynamics that have contributed to the growth of extremist movements across the Lake Chad Basin and greater Sahel”, said Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director.
Reversing these movements’ gains requires avoiding the mistakes that enabled their rise. This means distinguishing between different movements; using force more judiciously; ousting militants only with a viable plan for what comes next; and, despite the difficulties of doing so, looking to open lines of communication, particularly on issues of humanitarian concern.
“The current strategy against IS, particularly in Iraq, involves destroying the cities and towns in which they are rooted, which risks increasing the suffering of Sunnis and deepening their dangerous sense of victimisation” , said Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director and the report’s co-author. Similarly, “military escalation against IS in Libya without a wider political settlement risks deepening the chaos”, said Claudia Gazzini, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Libya.
World leaders’ concern is well-founded: IS and al-Qaeda attacks kill civilians and instil fear across societies. But action against these groups should not distract from or deepen graver threats, notably heightened geopolitical tensions. “We must find ways to dial back the growing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia” said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and CEO of Crisis Group. “This high-stakes competition drives both Shia and Sunni radicalism, fuels conflicts and poses one of the biggest challenges to international peace and security today.”
Kavita Menon (New York)
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