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The West should invest more energy crushing ISIS. Since August 7, 2014, when Operation Inherent Resolve (codenamed by the British as Operation Shader) began, the number of air sorties launched and targets hit has been disappointing. The operation was spurred by the conquest of Mosul, in June 2014, by ISIS fighters. A year later, ISIS controls not only Mosul, but Ramadi and Fallujah too. Despite official insistence that ISIS is losing ground, it is not inconceivable that its fighters could take Baghdad before long. Yet they are not irresistible.

In the north-east, where it is fighting the Kurdish Peshmerga, ISIS is in retreat, despite the Kurds having insufficient military equipment. What the Kurds do not have in hardware, they make up in ingenuity and resolve. They are defending their homes and land and are determined not to lose. Western equipment is slow in coming because of fears that a sweeping Kurdish victory would create the conditions for the establishment of a Kurdish state. Turkey might be destabilised as a result. Western governments, all Nato partners of Ankara, thus prefer to prop up an increasingly authoritarian Turkish president, despite his support for Islamists in Syria, rather than give political and military backing to the stridently pro-Western Kurds, who, among other merits, are open-minded, tolerant of minorities, and respectful of women.

Western leaders increasingly believe that Iran can fix the problem for them. After eight years of fighting in Iraq, Americans are understandably weary of military adventures in Mesopotamia. Europeans were never enthusiastic to begin with. It is tempting to see Iran, given its commitment to Baghdad’s Shia-led government, fighting ISIS with more vigour and resolve than the Iraqis themselves. What Western policymakers do not see is that Iran is not fighting ISIS over some theological dispute. After all, in Syria, Iran’s proxy Bashar al-Assad has prudently avoided clashing with ISIS while ISIS has mostly battled Assad’s other Sunni foes, rather than the regime, since it came to the fore. Iran only fights those who interfere with its ambitions — and ISIS’s Iraqi operations threaten Tehran’s clients. Otherwise, Iran is perfectly content to find a modus vivendi with ISIS.

The West should thus see Iranian proxies as no less implacable a foe than ISIS. They serve Iran’s goal of dominating the region, not its nonexistent generosity toward those threatened by Sunni radicals. After all, Iran has funded and armed the Taliban in Afghanistan against the West, and Hamas in Gaza against Israel. What drives Iran is a desire not to deepen the Sunni-Shia divide.

It is tempting to pretend that the mayhem unleashed by the Arab Spring will somehow not affect us. It will. It already does. Unless suitable resources are committed and there is more direct involvement in solving these conflicts to the advantage of more moderate forces, the region’s chaos will spill over into areas that are vital to our own interests. When that happens, the cost of reversing the consequences of this tragedy will be much more significant.

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