In late June the ancient Grand al-Nuri Mosque, an enormous 850 year old landmark in the center of Mosul, was blown to pieces by the Islamic State. The fiery demise of this priceless historical treasure did not come as a shock to those who are accustomed to the terror group’s war on history.
However, the mosque’s desecration was not enacted out of the same zealous barbarism that inspired the destruction of the city of Palmyra. This was not an act borne out of the same sectarian dogmatism which has caused the Islamic State to annihilate countless Shia monuments throughout Mesopotamia.
This was a signal of defeat. Licking its wounds as Iraqi security forces pushed the death cult out of the Mosul suburbs, the Islamic State destroyed the very site in which it had declared its caliphate in 2014.
This symbolic act of destruction is eerily reminiscent of the demolition of the Tannenberg Memorial by the German Army in 1945. As the Wehrmacht retreated from East Prussia under relentless pursuit from the Red Army, Hitler ordered that the extravagant memorial, erected to commemorate victory over the Russian Empire in the first world war be obliterated, lest the monument be used as a propaganda tool by the Soviets. The Islamic State determined that allowing the Iraqi army to celebrate its victory in the very building where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had announced the dawn of an everlasting Islamic empire would be an intolerable humiliation.
However, at this stage such symbols are meaningless. Iraqi security forces have retaken Mosul. An offensive on Hawija has just been launched with the objective of purging the last bastions of the Islamic State from Iraqi soil. Meanwhile in Syria, US backed forces have their eyes on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, while United Nations officials conceded last week that Bashar Al Assad has essentially won the Syrian Civil War. The defeat of the Islamic State is imminent.
The Western World, though, would be unwise to assume that the battle for the Middle East is over. In fact it has only begun. The civilised world’s focus must shift from the fight against ISIS to confronting an older, more dangerous enemy; Iran.
The United State’s hapless and irresolute hand in Iraq’s transformation from a Baathist autocracy to an Iranian satellite state must not be allowed to be repeated in Syria. Iran’s designs on Syria are part of its long term objective to establish a Shia sphere of influence from Baghdad to the Golan Heights. Allowing Assad and Rouhani to exert control over the entire region unopposed would hand Tehran an essential corridor to the Mediterranean. Already the United States’ emphasis in Syria is now focused on targeting Iranian-backed militias and pro-Assad forces rather than the deteriorating Islamic State. This is not unwelcome news. Iran may not display the ostentatious barbarism of the Islamic State or other like-minded Islamist groups. It may not demonstrate the tyrannical and despotic rhetoric of a certain Mr Kim in Pyongyang.
However, that is not to say that it is less dangerous than its brasher counterparts. Iran remains the greatest exporter of terrorism on earth. Its support and funding of Hezbollah has produced sustained instability and misery throughout not only Lebanon, but the whole Middle East. It has provocatively waged cyber warfare on the US and its allies since 2012, and its potential acquisition of a nuclear weapon would present an unprecedented threat to global security.
Therefore, the warm welcome received by US President Donald Trump at the Riyadh Summit by Sunni leaders was a welcome sight. Although portrayed by the media as a demonstration of apathy by President Trump towards Saudi brutality in Yemen, it was in fact a harsh rebuke of Obama’s failed rapprochement with Iran. Saudi Arabia is certainly not an ideal ally. However, the fight against Iranian aggression in the Middle East can only be won with help from the Sunni World. Winston Churchill defended his alliance with the Soviet Union in their fight against Nazi Germany in the following terms – “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
Iran, just like any terrorist organisation, cannot and should not be reasoned or negotiated with. The Iranian mullahs are ideologically disparate from the Islamic State or Boko Haram in Islamic denomination only. They are just as zealous, just as ideologically backward and hate us just as much. Let us not think that the defeat of the Islamic State is the defeat of radical Islam. Its worst manifestation has been under our noses for almost 40 years.