Thursday 7 August 2014 3:04 pm

As sectarian violence in Iraq intensifies, does the West have a responsibility to intervene?

Robin Simcox, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, says Yes.

The mess in Iraq is partially of the West’s making – both in terms of the botched post-invasion planning in 2003 and the US’s disastrously premature withdrawal in 2011.

The al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State (IS) now controls significant amounts of territory and is treating its enemies brutally, including those minorities unfortunate enough to live under its rule.

The West must respond. In the short term, the United Nations can push for an increase in food drops to the Yazidis stranded on a mountaintop and being starved out of existence by IS.

Yet the West also needs greater intelligence on the ground in order to begin considering its military operations – in all likelihood, the use of drone strikes against IS’s leaders.

This is an organisation that poses a threat that reaches far beyond Iraq’s borders. It is time that our leaders began to formulate an appropriate response.

Hugh Lovatt, Middle East Peace Process project officer for the European Council on Foreign Relations’s Middle East and North Africa programme, says No.

The situation is undoubtedly dire. IS’s wave of violence continues to displace thousands.

Faced with human suffering, the temptation to intervene is great.

But while the need to ramp-up humanitarian assistance is obvious, military intervention would tackle the symptoms rather than the causes, and do very little to improve Iraq’s long-term prospects.

IS owes much of its success to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose drift towards authoritarianism and sectarian discourse has alienated Iraqi Sunnis.

Meanwhile, Shiite monopolisation of power is turning the Iraqi army into a well-armed Shiite militia.

Until the government is able to reach out to disaffected Sunni tribes, any external intervention that privileges counter-terrorism over institutional reform and political inclusivity risks supporting one community against the other, sowing the seeds for continued conflict.


City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.