With Turkey now militarily joining the fray against the Isis, the latter is now in a precarious position. The Isis has carried out attacks against Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey in the past few months, bringing these countries into the coalition of regional powers arraigned against it.
These three are particularly significant because they, along with other Sunni Arab states like Qatar, have long been suspected of soft-pedalling any attempt to counter the Isis because they found the terrorist outfit useful for their narrow regional interests. Turkey was among the worst offenders, tolerating a flow of recruits and oil across its borders that helped the Isis because it saw the group as a weapon against its ‘main’ opponent, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A similar sense that the Isis could be used against the Shia regimes of Iraq and Iran motivated sentiments in the Sunni Arab states of the Persian Gulf. And it was in this geopolitical space created by Iranian-Arab rivalry which allowed the Isis to flourish — combined with the reluctance of an isolationist-leaning Barack Obama administration to do more than carry out airstrikes.
The Isis is now in conflict with almost every single regional power stretching from Egypt to Iran, Turkey to Jordan, as well as the United States. The US and Iraq are preparing for an offensive later this year to recapture Ramadi and push the Isis out of western Iraq.
Reports that its oil- and pillage-based economy in the areas of Syria and Iraq it controls is collapsing only strengthen the view that this violent, medieval terrorist organisation is now entering its twilight.
But the Isis’ rollback will never be quite complete until the larger regional faultlines of West Asia are resolved. The Isis is a symptom of what ails the region, it is not the cause. At the heart of this is the need for a means to resolve the Iranian-Arab rivalry — thinly disguised as a Shia-Sunni conflict — that continues to fuel the Syrian civil war and ensure that Iraq is unable to cohere as a stable state.
The Isis spreads its tentacles in exactly those areas where State structures do not function: Thus the disparate declarations of loyalty to the Isis that still come from militant groups in Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria and other areas of chaos. The US-Iran nuclear agreement is helping clarify the trajectory of Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s success in welding Qatar and Turkey to its existing Sunni alliance also reduces the number of variables in the region. But the future of Syria, in particular, and Iraq to a lesser extent will need to be determined before West Asia can begin to even contemplate return of peace. As long as both these countries remain battlefields, the Isis may be contained but never fully defeated.