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Who can defeat ISIS?

ISIS can only be defeated through a combination of economic sanctions and collaborative military efforts.

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The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have swathed large territorial gains in Iraq, as well as Syria in the past months. They have declared an Islamic Caliphate of their own, urging Muslims internationally to join their newly established “state”. Since their advancement into Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, they have killed thousands of Shiites and minority groups such as Yezidis.

The Kurdistan Regional Government recently declared war against ISIS, and Kurdish military forces (Peshmerga) have been fighting ISIS advancements for over a month.

How can ISIS be defeated?

ISIS can only be defeated through a combination of economic sanctions and collaborative military efforts. Middle eastern countries, particularly regional neighbours to Iraq must be included in the fight against ISIS. In order to defeat ISIS, the initial steps necessary involves stopping their territorial advancement and expansion.

In the long run, Sunni fighters in Iraq must be included, as they are key to eradicating ISIS throughout the country, but that can only be possible if Sunni grievances are acknowledged, as pointed out earlier here.

The threat of ISIS should not be underestimated because unlike terrorist organisations in the past, ISIS holds nearly 13,000 square miles of lands, which is approximately the size of Jordan. The current number of ISIS militants are estimated to be around 50,000. ISIS has two main military units in Syria and Iraq that are actively recruiting youth.

ISIS has managed to grow at a rapid pace because of multiple sources of income. ISIS income accounts for $2 billion in cash and assets, with a staggering $3 million daily income from oil sales. The strategy employed to tackle ISIS is similar to weakening a state — weakening income resources.

Necessity of regional and international coalition

ISIS will continue to expand its territorial sovereignty, unless a strong regional and international coalition stops them. The ISIS territory does not have internationally defined borders with its neighbours, ISIS militants exploit this to smuggle oil and import supplies.

Neighbouring countries do not have a legal basis to fight ISIS because the areas controlled by ISIS are still considered as Syrian and Iraqi territory, despite the fact that the central governments do not have any sovereignty over areas overtaken by ISIS. Iraq and Kurdistan region are not able to stop ISIS advancement without the collaborative efforts from regional neighbours, including Ankara and Jordan.

Turkey has benefited from Kurdistan region’s stability, and can not risk ISIS expansionism threats. Turkey’s exports to Iraq amounts to $12 billion, and has sustainable energy deals with Kurdistan region, which will secure Turkey’s energy need for the next 50 years according to Kurdish officials.

Jordan has a strong ongoing trade partnership with Iraq, with the added bonus of cheaper oil. None of these benefits will remain for Turkey or Jordan if ISIS continues to expand, and further deepen the crisis in Iraq.

How to defeat ISIS as a state?

The international community and regional countries should work towards establishing a legal framework that will allow the proposed coalition to enforce effective sanctions on ISIS territories as a state. The Kurdistan Regional Government and Parliament can take the lead in this initiative by setting up an international conference to invite military experts and governmental representatives from Turkey, Baghdad, Jordan, US, and EU.


  • Countries willing to assist Iraq and Kurdistan region’s war against ISIS should officially close their borders with ISIS, limiting civilian movements between ISIS territories and theirs, excluding humanitarian travel.
  • Limit resource supplies — ISIS does not have sufficient means to feed its people in Iraq and Syria because it receives supplies through its borders currently. The sanctions from the willing coalition will include shortage of food, water, electricity and fuel. This will decrease their expansionist capabilities.
  • All telecommunication services should be banned within ISIS territories. ISIS exploit their ability to use telecommunications and disseminate ISIS media propaganda.
  • The legal framework proposed will allow joint military operations within bordering areas that ISIS has controlled. Military operations could target demolishing ISIS source of income e.g. oil fields and refineries.
  • The legal framework could also be inclusive with military organisations that exist, and have waged war against ISIS such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Units (YPG).
About Sarkawt Shamulddin (61 Articles)
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst on Middle East Affairs and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation

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