At least 41
people were killed in the recent bombing of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
before, suicide bombers killed five people in Qaa, a small village in Lebanon.
And while the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed war in Yemen continues to rage, an ISIS
affiliate claimed responsibility for attacks in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla
that killed at least 12.
As of June
29, ISIS affiliates had claimed responsibility only for the Yemen attacks. But
just a few hours after the Istanbul airport attack, Turkish authorities were
already blaming ISIS. Since Ankara (unlike the U.S., where many officials blame
ISIS for every act of violence) has been eager to blame every attack against
Turkish targets on its Kurdish opponents — especially the Kurdish Workers
Party, or PKK — the government’s early willingness to blame ISIS implies the
likely existence of some convincing evidence.
all three attacks took place following a significant defeat of ISIS on the
military, backed by U.S. forces, had been moving against the extremist forces
in the symbolically and politically important city of Fallujah since early
February, when it imposed a full siege on the city. The closure, which denied
civilian residents access to food, medicine, and other life-saving supplies,
devastated living conditions for the ordinary Iraqis caught between ISIS
brutality and the extreme deprivation caused by the siege. On June 26 — just
days before the bombings in Istanbul, Lebanon, and Yemen — Baghdad proclaimed
the city “liberated” from ISIS. Two days later, the Istanbul airport was
was similar to other terrorist attacks that occurred as ISIS was losing ground.
In the fall of 2015, the U.S.-led coalition, including many European countries,
escalated its bombing attacks on the ISIS-held city of Ramadi. As ISIS faced
the likely loss of the Iraqi town, it pivoted away from its emphasis on holding
territory to return to its earlier focus on terror attacks against civilians.
The Paris bombing — apparently carried out by ISIS-affiliated terrorists —
shook the world on November 13. Two weeks later, on December 2, a California
couple allegedly inspired by ISIS carried out the mass shooting in San
Bernardino that killed 14 people and injured 22 more.
28, the Iraqi military would declare Ramadi “liberated” from ISIS. (This
celebratory announcement didn’t mention the inconvenient fact that U.S. bombing
had largely pulverized what was left of the town. The 350,000 residents who’d
fled ISIS brutality had no city to return to.)
correlation between ISIS losing territory in its so-called “caliphate” in Syria
and Iraq and the rise of terror attacks often much farther afield is one more
indication of the failure of the U.S. “war on terror.”
it demonstrates the futility of attempting to bomb or shoot terrorism out of
existence. When bombing and shooting are the methods of choice the targets are
not “terrorism,” but cities and people. Air strikes and drone attacks — on
people in a car, in the desert, in a hospital, or at a wedding party — may
sometimes kill individual terrorists (and always other people), but do nothing
to stop terrorism. Leaders are soon replaced, and the most adept bomb-makers
soon turn out to have trained a successor.
engagement may have worked in some areas to oust ISIS forces from territory
they controlled, but the cost of such campaigns is extraordinarily high for the
people and nations where they occur. People face, as in Ramadi, the absolute
destruction of their homes and city. They may become refugees or internally
displaced people for a generation or more. In Fallujah, thousands of desperate
civilians fleeing the fighting in mid-June found that no preparations had been
made to care for them — with clean water, food, shelter from the searing heat,
and medical care all lacking.
Iraqi forces and their U.S. backers face is the lack of support from some
residents for their “liberators.” In a recent poll in Mosul, the second-largest
city in Iraq, a full 74 percent of Sunni residents said they didn’t want to be
liberated by the Iraqi military. ISIS has held the city since June 2014.
harkens back to the original reason ISIS became so powerful in Iraq. It’s not
because ordinary Iraqis supported the group’s brutal, extremist definition of
Islam, but because the sectarian Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad — and
the often even more brutal and sectarian Shi’a militias allied to that
government — made ISIS appear a lesser evil. Of course not all Sunnis, or even
a majority, turned to ISIS. But a not-insignificant number did, and some
continue to accept the group, however reluctantly.
military campaigns “against terror” continue to set the stage for more terror
attacks, and to create more terrorists, as anger turns to rage — and rage, for
some, turns brutally violent. The military-first U.S. strategy is exacting a
huge price — especially for the people in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya,
Afghanistan, and beyond — but also on us here at home, and on civilians
throughout the world.
If we ‘re
serious about ending terror attacks, there are a host of non-military
approaches that hold far more promise than bomb-drone-kill. Diplomacy,
humanitarian support, arms embargos, economic assistance, more diplomacy — we
need to use them all instead of military action, not alongside it. Step one
means acknowledging that the current strategy is failing.
Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism
project at the Institute for Policy Studies.