Fight against Islamic State demands a Syrian solution

ideas-2 Speaking in federal parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop lamented the sexual slavery and abuse facing the 'increasing number of young females' joining Islamic State (IS).
Bishop's warning about the cruel reality of becoming a so-called 'jihadi bride' followed news that three British schoolgirls had likely entered Syria to join IS.
As Prime Minister Tony Abbott emphasised last September, the threat of IS is 'reaching out to Australia' and the world-at-large.
A US-led international coalition is responding by slowly rolling back IS in northern Iraq.
Air strikes against IS targets along with military training and equipment for the Iraqi defence forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga could see IS expelled from Mosul–Iraq's third most populous city–in April or May this year.
Meanwhile, the government of new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi shows promising signs of implementing the necessary reforms to secure Sunni support for the campaign to beat back IS.
However, these Iraqi gains in the global fight against IS will be short-lived and unstable if the Syrian Civil War rages on.
For nearly four years, Syria has been ravaged by a bitter ethno-sectarian conflict involving the majority-Shia regime in Damascus, majority-Sunni secular and Islamist rebels, Sunni Islamist militants like IS, and various ethnic and religious groupings like the Kurds, Druze and Assyrian Christians.
It was in this crucible of bloodshed and chaos that IS metastasised into a quasi-state with up to 200,000 fighters and control over vast tranches of territory.
With Syria's civil war still sapping the fighting power of the Assad regime and moderate rebel groups alike, and thereby also leaving anti-IS forces fragmented, IS will continue to hold a Syrian home base from which it can attack Iraq, destabilise the Middle East and North Africa, and propagate its militant Islamist ideology.
Since US President Barack Obama was pilloried in August last year for conceding that his administration did not have a Syria strategy, the US-led international coalition has extended its anti-IS air strikes into Syria and pushed forward with a program to train a small moderate rebel force.
Although training a few thousand moderate Syrian rebels a year and launching air strikes is a strategy, it will likely fail: Outnumbered moderate rebels will be unable to defeat IS on the ground or usher in a peaceful and stable post-Assad Syria.
Syria's humanitarian catastrophe will therefore grind on, and hundreds more men, women and teenagers from Australia, the United Kingdom and around the globe will be enlisted into IS' brutal holy war.


Benjamin HerscovitchDr Benjamin Herscovitch is a Beijing-based Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.