Why and how we should oppose ISIS

Sarah Parker looks at how and why we should oppose ISIS. Sarah argues that we should also oppose US and British airstrikes because they are intended to increase imperialist control over the area, not to rescue people, and that it is best to support people who are defending themselves against ISIS, whether in Iraq or Syria.


It controls or is contesting major areas of Syria and Iraq, and some important parts of Kurdistan, it has made an incursion into Lebanon (Ersal).

It is running a reign of terror in Mosul and everywhere else it controls, executing people in its path who do not conform to its misogynist Wahhabi ideology and carrying out large scale massacres (Shias, Kurds).

It surrounds Baghdad with a ring of forces and allies. A fight for Baghdad would be horrendous.

It abducts young women and subjects them to a regime of extreme abuse, torture, sexual violence and slavery, including often forcing them to phone their families and describe what has happened to them, the point being to visit further humiliation, fear and grief on themselves and their families; some are sold as slaves.

It has been fighting to destroy parts of the Syrian opposition for example in the area of Deir a Zor and in and around Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria, which at the moment seems to be at risk of falling to ISIS

ISIS has been besieging the majority Kurdish area of Kobanê in Syria for two years.

Since 15 September, ISIS has been staging its heaviest attack so far on Kobanê, one of the Kurdish three autonomous regions in Syria from 3 sides; the fourth side is partly covered by Turkish army.

It massacred hundreds and perhaps thousands of Yezidi Kurds and drove the survivors out of their ancient homes round Sinjar; fighting in some of the villages is ongoing and at least 3,000 women are unaccounted for

It has driven all the Christians / Assyrians and Turkmen out of the towns of the plain of Nineveh (near Mosul). The alliance being formed by the US seems to be involved in Kurdish peshmergas’ plans to retake Mosul; so far some villages have been taken back.

It derives financial and political / religious support from at least Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, all members of the “coalition of the willing” now starting to bomb Iraq again and Syria as well.

It derives increasingly open military support from Turkey in Turkey’s attempts to crush the Kurds of Kobanê.

It has massacred unknown but substantial numbers of Shias from the Iraqi army.

It has a large arsenal of powerful American weaponry left behind by the retreating Iraqi army, possibly by the retreating KDP “peshmergas” round Mosul and Sinjar, and gained from Syrian opposition forces who have joined it and it must have captured plenty of Syrian army and airforce equipment, all of which is being used to attack people in many parts of Iraq and Syria.

It has executed an American, and American-Israeli and a Briton and posted videos of their executions.

It acts as a pole of attraction for naïve or angry and disturbed Muslim youth from Europe and elsewhere.

It is reputed to have experienced jihadis from Libya and Chechnya in its ranks

It has demolished parts of the FSA by incorporating FSA fighters into its ranks (numbers not clear but as a phenomenon this is reported frequently).

Its activity massively feeds Islamophobia, very useful as a tool of division for western leaders.


We should oppose ISIS by supporting people in the region who reject the rule of ISIS and are defending themselves against it, many of whom believe in democracy, self-determination and social justice. The more successful in self-defence the local people are, the more they can assert their independence from imperialism, resist subordination by imperialism, and generally cut across US/British/EU plans to exploit the presence of ISIS to reassert control over Iraq and Syria.

We would support organisations such as the FSA opposition groups still functioning in Syria (whom SR already supports via the Syria Solidarity Movement), YPG (Kurdish People’s Defence Forces), and anti-sectarian organisations in Iraq, including women’s organisations. Kurdish organisations all over Europe and the Middle East are holding mass demonstrations, occupations and hunger strikes constantly. A Europe-wide women’s organisation called Roj Women, based in London, is launching a campaign in solidarity with women in Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria which we should support.

If people want to help with medical aid, they can do so via Hand in Hand for Syria or Heyva Sor (Kurdish Red Crescent).

We should also do the maximum to expose the direct help that ISIS has been getting from outside states – Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and we should point to the US/British policy of fostering sectarianism in Iraq over the last 10 years including via the Maliki government, and their encouragement of the most right-wing forces in Syria, while failing to arm the popular masses, all of which have assisted the rise of ISIS. In the case of Turkey, which wants to have part of north Syria as a “buffer zone” which they control, where they can do what they like with ISIS, and which is empty of Kurds we don’t know exactly what the US view is of this, but it seems unlikely that the US will want to encourage the autonomous Kurdish areas, let alone the breaking down of the border with Turkey. If the US really wanted to assist people in Kobane they would put more pressure on Turkey and insist that some of the weapons allegedly going to the KRG in Iraq would be sent to Kobane – this is not happening and I doubt it will.


We oppose coalition air strikes. The US is using ISIS as an excuse for interfering again in the affairs of Iraq and Syria. It is more worried that a new regional power could get out of control than about deaths or human suffering. If this was not the case, then we would have heard more about the sectarian killings that the inhabitants of Baghdad and other places have had to live in fear of since the invasion in 2003.

The air strikes are unlikely to be very effective against generally mobile forces like ISIS, they are already killing civilians who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they are certainly not being used to deter ISIS forces from massing around Kobanê, for whatever reason.

Recent air strikes in Syria, such as those near Erbil a few weeks ago, are gnerally aimed at protecting perceived US interests – in other words at weakening ISIS, not at assisting the people of the region. We should also note that several non-ISIS opposition groups have had their leadership targeted in recent days, in some cases clearly by the Syrian regime. US sources claim to have killed 170 ISIS members in their overnight strikes of 22/23 September. They have probably done quite a lot of damage to the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, but there are still thousands of fighters active, with all their weaponry. Civilian casualties of course are also being reported. So their targets and the rest of the Syrian opposition, as well as Kobanê are still under heavy pressure.

We should support weapons for those in Iraq and Syria opposing ISIS, but we recognise that the imperialists are unlikely to arm progressive forces, which will have to rely on their own resources or on solidarity. Coalition propaganda says there is no alternative to bombing, but if it were willing to arm the resistance to ISIS, then that resistance would be much stronger as would have been the case with the Syrian opposition that arose 3 years ago. If the people of Iraq and Syria have the right to defend themselves against ISIS, then they should get the arms necessary to defend themselves.

After making a big announcement in August, the US led “coalition” seems to have been sending some equipment via the Iraqi government, much of which is probably being held up for political reasons, and has sent some limited amounts to the KDP forces. Recently PUK sources complained that they are not seeing any of the new heavy weaponry. It also appears that YPG in Syria are not getting any weapons – contrary to the hopes of the Danish Red-Greens who voted to allow the Danish government to send military equipment. Those defending themselves against ISIS and the brutal repression of Assad should obtain weapons. As Syria has shown, outside powers give significant weaponry to the most reactionary elements, while the more progressive and democratic forces have had to rely on their own resources.

We must oppose air strikes because they are intended to increase western imperialist control over the area, not to rescue people suffering at the hands of ISIS. Furthermore, air strikes always end up killing a lot of innocent bystanders. We should support the people in Iraq or Syria who are defending themselves against ISIS. Many in the West seeing the news will not be happy about airstrikes, but will also want assistance for those defending themselves against ISIS. That is why support for people in the region who are defending themselves will cut across the waves of Islamophobia we are seeing as the US and its allies go to war once again.


  1. The YPG-YPL resistance fighters are determined to defend Kobane, despite being heavily outgunned by ISIS.
    If they lose, they face a massacre and the exodus of 300,000 refugees.

    Turkey has been playing a double game, covertly colluding with ISIS and waiting for the right moment to intervene.
    The decision of the Turkish Parliament, meeting in secret yesterday, gives them the green light to do this.
    If Turkish forces are deployed in Rojava-West Kurdistan, using the pretext of creating a buffer-zone, it will be to control the Kurds just as much as ISIS.
    This blatant subterfuge should be rejected.
    Turkey should free Ocalan, legalise the PKK and open the border to YPG-L reinforcements.

    US airstrikes have largely been irrelevant to the course of the battle in Kobane.
    At most they’ve destroyed a few tanks and heavy guns.
    But heavily armed ISIS thugs continue to swarm through fields and orchards on foot, largely immune to air-attacks and have now taken the outlining villages.

    The situation in Kobane, as of October 2nd, is described here:-


    What the Kurds in Kobane need most of all is heavy weapons and ammunition.
    But the US and Britain has concentrated the military supplies they’ve sent on the Peshmerga in Irbil, who are protecting their oil investments in Northern Iraq.

    Where the YPG obtains its weapons from is up to them.
    If they can persuade the US to bomb some ISIS tanks – all well and good.
    Many liberation movements were armed by Britain and America in the past – the Viet-Minh, Tito’s Partisans and the Chinese Maoists.
    Whether such movements become the tools of imperialism, or used such support to their own advantage was down to their level of political maturity and organisation.

    This is a purely tactical question.
    The Strategic question of opposition to the Western-coalition is based on its overall war aim of controlling developments in Iraq and Syria.

    In that sense, there is no contradiction between the aims of “Stop the War” and the demands of the Kurds, put forward by PKK, PYD and YPG-L.

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