The Doors of Hell Open in Iraq

by David Pryce-Jones

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham,  ISIS for short, is a scratch group of men who have found a cause that bands them together and offers them power. Arab history has scores of examples of it, from the days of the Prophet Mohammed down to the present. When victorious, the power-seeking group sets up a state that serves its cause until the next power-seeking group comes along. This method of state-formation has every disadvantage; it is inefficient, temporary, and unjust with in-built violence. The entirely predictable consequence has been that Ottomans, British, French, and Americans have done the state-building for Arabs.

The state ISIS aims to build is pure fantasy. A caliphate is supposed to unite the Arabs on the grounds that Islam is their one and only nationality, in itself a complete identity. There is no caliphate, and if ISIS were, successful a number of self-appointed caliphs would suddenly appear and settle the issue in bloodshed. But this group has already destroyed the old state-system that was a vestige of the past. There is no state now of Syria or Iraq and no prospect of any outcome except violence. The U.S. and the U.K. have armed and trained security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon, and yet they all run away at the first shot, not because they are cowards, but because they are asked to defend a state that is not a state to them. Now it is absurd to rush extra weaponry to security forces unable or unwilling to use them, because it is sure to be a bonus to ISIS.

A catastrophe is arising. The destruction of the former state structures and the fantasy of a caliphate open the space for Sunnis and Shias to test their mutual religious opposition to the very end. ISIS will most likely next plunge Lebanon into chaos. The Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and Turkey will have to take a position against the Shias of Iran. Further down that line is regional war involving Israel.

President George W. Bush is vindicated. The sole way Iraq could have continued was under a permanent American presence that gave and guaranteed state functions. President Obama’s withdrawal of American forces is already a historic error. They alone could have kept the peace. Arabs have a phrase to the effect that some mistake has opened the doors of Hell.

President Obama has opened those doors.