‘If Sunni, Shia, world powers united, we wouldn’t be talking ISIS’

Rebel fighters sit on a pick-up truck in Tel Mastouma, after they said they took control of the area which overlooks the Mastouma military base, south of the city of Idlib, Syria. © Ammar Abdullah
If Islamic factions, Middle Eastern countries, and Western powers joined in coalition against Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL), they wouldn’t even be in the picture by now, Dr. Max Abrahms of Northeastern University told RT.

Though Islamic State’s extreme violence as it attacks new countries is creating more and more enemies and uniting the world’s rhetoric in condemnation against it, geo-political maneuvering is preventing the kind of coordinated decisive action that is the right approach to beating IS, according to Abrahms.

READ MORE: US planes begin bombing ISIS in Syria from bases in Turkey

RT: If Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL) does possess chemical weapons, which seems to be the case, how much of an international concern do you think this is?

Dr. Max Abrahms: You know, these kinds of weapons are really scary, but they’re actually scarier than they are effective. In this particular case, I’m not even sure that a single Kurd was killed by the presumed chemical weapons attack. During World War I, chemical weapons were widely used and the results were disappointing for those who used them. In areas where conventional weapons were used, more people were killed than where chemical weapons were used. People can be left with the impression that unconventional weapons are always the deadliest tactic. We make this binary distinction between conventional and unconventional weapons, but there’s a huge difference between, say, a nuclear weapon and, say, the use of chlorine or the use of mustard gas, so in no way is this attack a game changer.

RT: Russia has promised to continue its support for the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIL. Do you think that the pressure is mounting on them now, though? You say it’s not a game changer, but perhaps it will get a lot of negative press and maybe just make people think a bit more about this.

MA: I mean, if anything this kind of violence, I really think, is counterproductive for the perpetrators. Islamic state is really racking up a huge number of enemies as it attacks more countries; now Turkey has gotten into the fight; now it’s harder for jihadis to flow into Syria. I see this kind of violence as backfiring against the group by further building up the coalition, and basically scaring off the local population, and making them less likely to join up with Islamic State. So, I do not see this kind of violence as strategic.

RT: Russia’s been calling on that broader coalition to include, for example, the Syrian government forces. Do you think that all parties can come together on this.

MA: No, I do not think that that’s likely. It’s very unfortunate. We wouldn’t even be talking about Islamic State if, after the emergence of this group, the Sunnis, the Shia, the Americans, the Russians, the Brits, you know, we all got together and fought against this group, but it really hasn’t worked that way. Assad has been very divisive; the United States has vacillated: do we want to work with this guy; do we want to remove him. The Sunni world has been extraordinarily unhelpful in terms of providing ground forces against Islamic State. And so we’ve been left, essentially, with Shia fighters in Iraq doing most of the heavy work there, and the Shia militia coupled with the Syrian army doing most of the heavy lifting against Islamic State in Syria. This is very unfortunate because, yes, I mean, as Lavrov pointed out, if there were a broader coalition of Sunnis and Shia, you know, the West, etc., we wouldn’t even be talking about Islamic State anymore.

RT: You mention that Assad has been divisive. He’s split the different nations. Sergey Lavrov has been trying to sort of mend bridges. He’s met even with the main Western backed Syrian opposition group. I mean, that doesn’t happen very often. They still insist though that Assad has to go. Do you think that Assad is proving a distraction that’s, perhaps, harming the fight against Islamic State?

MA: No, I wouldn’t go so far. I think that the alternative to Assad is actually probably even worse. We saw what happened with regime change in Iraq and Libya. Those governments were deposed. And what happened? The terrorists took over. And so, you know, Assad is very very harsh on his own population, but doesn’t have designs internationally in the same way that groups like Islamic State, or even the Nusra group, have. And we’ve seen that as the Syrian army has receded in its power, these Islamist groups have gained momentum and gained strength, and I do not see that as a positive development.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.