by Megan Stagman of the Organization for World Peace (OWP)
In reporting conflict, there is always a temptation to radically simplify for the sake of ease and accessibility. This year has been all about the ‘bad guys’ ISIS versus the rest of the world, either the innocent victims of cruel attacks or the united heroes who seek to collectively protect and defend the vulnerable. However, the issues with this analogy become immediately apparent even upon a superficial glance at the reality of current events.
Primarily, the internal disagreement between the various states who claim to share the same goal of defeating ISIS, illustrates very clearly that they are not as united as we might assume or hope. The most recent example of this has been the demands from Iraq for Turkey to withdraw troops from an area near the country’s second biggest city, Mosul. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office stated on Saturday that the presence of these forces without formal consent from Baghdad constitutes a “serious breach of Iraqi sovereignty” and calls on Turkey to “respect good neighbourly relations and to withdraw immediately”. The city of Mosul was captured by ISIS in June 2014, providing Turkish justification for the deployment of up to 150 soldiers to the region for the purpose of training Iraqi Kurdish forces. An Al Jazeera reporter, Imran Khan, has suggested that these Turkish troops crossed the border under the invitation of the governor of Mosul, Atheel Nujaifi, who sought their help. However, as Baghdad avidly points out, such intervention was not officially sanctioned and therefore is “an incursion”.
In general, Ankara’s motives in the war against ISIS have recently been questioned by Iraq, along with Russia and Iran, who suggest that illegal oil trade between the Turkish and ISIS is ongoing. This comes amongst further animosity between Turkey and Russia that resulted from the shooting down of a Russian jet on November 24, which was returning from an anti-ISIS mission when it allegedly strayed over the Turkish border. President Putin has described this action as “a stab in the back by accomplices of the terrorists”, with the surviving Russian pilot claiming that the plane never entered Turkey, nor had any visual or radio warning prior to its destruction.
Therefore, to suggest an ‘us against them’ perspective in examining the ISIS-related conflict of recent months does not just over-simplify, but in fact completely misrepresents the truth. Even in the case of Turkish intervention, there is internal disagreement about what is prudent within the country itself between regional governors and state officials; there is an evident lack of unity between Turkey and Iraq; and there are especially poor relations between Turkey and Russia. The concept of sovereignty and policing of borders seems to crop up repeatedly, hindering the collective efforts to work towards a common goal, and rather pitting states against each other instead. With such discord between people purportedly on the ‘same side’, not only will they struggle to achieve their aims and successfully attain peace in the region, but it could indeed achieve the opposite, and only catalyze further violence between states previously on relatively good terms. Coordination and negotiated strategy is the only way in which conflict can possibly be prevented.