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IU experts available to discuss U.S. policy in Iraq and Islamic State's military offensive

Aug. 13, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Airstrikes are continuing on Sunni militants known as the Islamic State to stop their advance on the Kurdish capital of Erbil as U.S. and other world leaders encourage change in Iraq's government. Faculty experts in the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies offer their comments on the following themes:

Haider al-Abadi's appointment as Iraq's new prime minister a good move

Newly elected Iraqi President Fuad Masum's decision to appoint Haider al-Abadi as the country's new prime minister, a move supported by the United States and its allies, was a bold move, said Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's ambassador and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in 2004-07.

"President Masum made a courageous and constitutionally correct decision in choosing Dr. Haider al-Abadi as prime minister-designate, despite threat of a coup by (Nouri) al-Maliki," said Istrabadi, professor of practice in international law and diplomacy in the IU Maurer School of Law and director of the IU Center for the Study of the Middle East.

"Al-Maliki's deployment of military forces around Baghdad are a clear threat of a coup against the constitution," Istrabadi added. "The United States and the international community are right to call upon Iraqis to form a unified government, one that has as its goals national unity, reconciliation and enfranchisement of all Iraqis, and unity to confront ISIS, which is a regional and international threat.

"Just as the Iraqi government needs to be more inclusive, U.S. diplomats must correct mistakes of the past, isolating themselves from a broad swath of Iraq's polity, talking to the same few insiders only.

"The U.S. and the international community are right to bomb ISIS to prevent the genocide of Yazidis and Christians and the fall of Erbil, and I hope to see the same effort in favor of a Baghdad government once it is formed."

Istrabadi is traveling in Australia but can be reached via email at fistraba@indiana.edu and by phone at +61 401 908 762. Arrangements for phone interviews also can be made through Joanna Davis at 812-855-7270 or joedavis@indiana.edu. Top

Islamic State's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a "pretend caliph"

The only way that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed religious leader of the Islamic State group, can be considered a caliph -- also known as "Commander of the Faithful" -- "is if the job description was written by a career Islamophobe," said Asma Afsaruddin, professor of Islamic studies and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University Bloomington.

"Most Muslims have received al-Baghdadi's proclamation -- when they are aware of it -- with supreme apathy," Afsaruddin said. "This should come as no surprise. Al-Baghdadi can keep touting himself as the new caliph, but most Muslims know enough history to recognize him for what he is -- a murderous tyrant using religion as a cheap armor to acquire rank political power."

Afsaruddin, author of the books "The First Muslims: History and Memory" and "Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought," points to Arabic sources and history in reaching her conclusions. Qualifications for the office of caliph include generosity, truthfulness, courage and superior knowledge, both religious and worldly. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first caliph after the death of Mohammed, was chosen as a result of a collective consultative process known as "shura" in Arabic.

"There is no doubt that al-Baghdadi did a bit of homework before anointing himself caliph," Afsaruddin said. "In a sermon he gave at the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq … he cited part of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq's speech. He repeated the section about asking the people to correct him if he should go astray but, significantly, left out the part about the caliph being 'a follower, not an innovator.'

"He also failed to mention that the people had a very important role in electing their caliph and that they had the right to be consulted in such matters before his appointment. Instead al-Baghdadi proclaimed thunderously that 'I have been appointed (caliph) over you, even though I am not the best and the most morally excellent among you.'

"When al-Baghdadi confessed that 'I have been appointed over you,' he spectacularly thumbed his nose at the principles of consultation and public allegiance that undergird the earliest legitimate caliphate."

In Islamic history, there have been two other kinds of leaders who have not depended on shura or "baya," two required processes that confer legitimacy on the leader. One would be as a king, who is regarded by Muslim scholars as an "illegitimate usurper of political power, for he rules his people without their consent."

"The second possibility is that al-Baghdadi considers himself appointed by God, a status that no Sunni caliph could ever openly entertain," Afsaruddin said. "In contrast to the Sunnis, the Shia did come to believe in the divine appointment of their leaders, which, by definition, was not subject to the processes of consultation and ratification by the people. … Given ISIS' loathing for the Shia, such an assertion is richly ironical and confirms the old adage that a little learning is always a dangerous thing."

Afsaruddin can be reached at 812- 856-7347 or aafsarud@indiana.edu. A more lengthy explanation of her view is available in an op-ed published at the Religion and Ethics website. Top

Airstrikes against Islamic State will have little real impact

"Airstrikes against the jihadists calling themselves the Islamic State may make Americans and Europeans feel good. The U.S. will project an image of protecting beleaguered Christians and other minorities while taking down a dangerous terrorist organization. But the reality is different," said Jamsheed Choksy, professor of Central Eurasian studies, Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and history at IU Bloomington.

"U.S. bombing of Islamic State strongholds inside Iraq, even if those strikes are extended into Syria, is unlikely to have lasting impact against that organization -- just as years of drone strikes against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere have failed to end those groups' territorial control and ideological appeal," Choksy added.
 
"Indeed, Islamic State spokesmen taunt the U.S. for not engaging their jihadists in man-to-man combat and pray for their flag to fly over the White House. Yet, while U.S. aerial attacks may not kill off the Islamic State, those militants now face yet another powerful opponent to their continued expansion and will certainly find their resources degraded.
 
"Their ability to strike beyond the Middle East may decline, but nonetheless their role in the Syrian civil war will drag on and certainly bolster jihadists in Iraq's civil war too. And, as witnessed elsewhere, such groups are able to ride out considerable military punishment and come back more virulent than ever."

Choksy can be reached at 317-989-4178 or jchoksy@indiana.edu. His recent opinion articles about the Islamic State include “How to Turn Off the ISIS Tap" in Yale Global and “ISIS: The Greatest Terror Threat Since Osama bin Laden” in Real Clear World.  Top