On April 22, 2015, IPI’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) office hosted Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, a former UN representative in Syria, former Arab League official, and the former permanent observer of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation at the UN, who discussed the origins and evolution of extremist organizations across the Middle East.
At the event—attended by government officials, diplomats, religious leaders, and representatives from think tanks and civil society—Mr. Lamani delved into the complex origins of religious political organizations and their metamorphoses into groups like al-Qaeda and its offshoots, including ISIS.
“Although ISIS is the same organization in both countries, there are similarities and differences between Syria and Iraq,” he said. “In Iraq, ISIS Iraqi fighters amount to two thirds [of the group, while] in Syria, national fighters constitute less than one third. The rest comprises operatives from different parts of the world.“
During the debate moderated by IPI MENA Director Nejib Friji, Mr. Lamani underlined the troubled situation in the six provinces of Iraq that have turned into key incubators for ISIS operatives. Mr. Lamani said sectarian policies are the main culprit behind the emergence of these incubators in the country.
Mr. Lamani said that when the group began its campaign in the summer of 2014 managing to gain control of a territory as large as Jordan, it took the entire international community by surprise. This pushed the international community to “a reactive attitude instead of a proactive approach,“ he said. In that regard, the group now seems to have the edge over the international community, he continued.
Mr. Lamani also discussed possible solutions to the group’s advance, highlighting the need for a multifaceted response. “A military approach will not lead to a solution unless a multidisciplinary strategy covering the political, social, cultural, and educational needs is implemented,” he said.
The discussion also noted that in order to preserve, reinforce, and protect human rights in the region, international legal standards need to be supported by constitutional guarantees at the national level.
The event was also attended by the ambassadors of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, who called for immediate action to tackle the acute humanitarian and refugee crises created by ISIS. The refugee crisis, they said, has had a strong impact on their countries‘ economic and social equilibrium.