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5 principles for a post-ISIS plan in the Middle East

  • Chris Seiple
  • April 14, 2015

In the words of Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government-Iraq representative to the United States (as told to me last month), “We are all thinking of the ‘day-after’ ISIS … we are all going to have to live together again.” If she is right, then we each need to be thinking of what it practically takes to get to “Post-ISIS”, as Frank Wolf and I do in this World Economic Forum piece. Such a process also begs reflection of our own identity and the words we use — being accountable for both. Twelve years later these words regarding the fight against the terrorists are still applicable: “We are in fact engaged in a three-front global counterinsurgency against very specific people and organizations. The first front is the attack on the terrorists themselves and their infrastructure. The second front is the attack on the conditions that make terrorism a viable weapon for our adversaries. The third front is the public diplomacy that explains the first two in a way that builds American credibility and legitimacy, in part, through making this war everyone’s and not just America’s.”

— Chris Seiple

This article is published in collaboration with Ocean County Register. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

By Chris Seiple & Frank Wolf

The Islamic State is a global cancer that is metastasizing faster than we can master. An equal-opportunity hater, ISIS has particular hatred for Christians and Yazidis. We have both been to Iraq in recent months and seen firsthand their suffering – suffering which demands a comprehensive plan, now.

First, the coalition that destroys ISIS should be led from within the Muslim-majority world. The U.S. will have to provide key support, not least: logistics, intelligence, airstrikes and embedded special forces.

Further, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are already confronting ISIS directly in areas that Kurds see as their homeland, despite a lack of training and equipment.

The U.S. first must revisit existing policy, which insists on sending any military assistance to the Kurds through Baghdad. This approach is informed by diplomatic calculations, but it is not strategically sound.

Second, a regional “Marshall Plan” should be developed and largely funded by the above coalition. A serious, integrated, regional economic plan – with concrete global support – must be ready for the defeat of ISIS, bringing regional actors to the table. For its part, the U.S. should provide funding to substantively and symbolically contribute to this effort; as should other governments worldwide.

Third, protected, (semi-) autonomous provinces should be established, inviting return. These minorities need to have their own integrated protection units, trained in human rights and religious freedom, and supported by a rapid-reaction force most likely based in Erbil.

Fourth, the emergence of ISIS has exacerbated already deep divides among the region’s ethnic and/or religious groups, and frayed what little trust existed. One place to rebuild trust might be Iraqi Kurdistan, where a pre-existing “culture of co-existence” has already graciously received 1.6 million people of all faiths who have fled ISIS.

Fifth, a U.S. special envoy for religious minorities, a position created last year but not filled, could be charged, in part, with catalyzing a very specific, orderly process of return for displaced residents. This process would also help facilitate local councils, like those experienced in Kurdistan, building on the previously established trust.

Christians, Yazidis and Muslims have suffered terrible persecution under ISIS. A plan that rescues, restores and returns the persecuted to their homes – living with their deepest differences – is not only the right thing to do, it is, ultimately, the only cure to the cancer of ISIS – in the Middle East and beyond.

About Chris Seiple

Chris Seiple is Principal Advisor for Templeton Religion Trust’s Covenantal Pluralism Initiative, and President Emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement. He is widely known and sought after for his decades of experience and expertise regarding issues at the intersection of geopolitics, US foreign policy, Asia, conflict resolution, human rights, and religion. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University. His books include The Routledge Handbook of Religious Literacy, Pluralism, and Global Engagement (Routledge 2023), co-edited with Dennis R. Hoover.

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