UK Rhetoric Against ISIS Escalates Following Briton's Beheading

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UK Rhetoric Against ISIS Escalates Following Briton's Beheading

Voices warn reprisal will only play into ISIL's hand while further embroiling the region in violence and militarization

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, speaks during the 'Special Address' at the Annual Meeting 2011 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Photo: World Economic Forum/Moritz Hager/Public Domain)

As British Prime Minister David Cameron escalates his rhetoric following the release on Saturday of a video that appears to show an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) fighter beheading British aid worker David Haines, critics warn that military reprisal would only bring more violence and militarization to the region while playing into the hands of ISIL.

Speaking after a meeting of the government's emergency response committee in London, Cameron declared on Sunday, "We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes."

While the Prime Minister said that the UK will "support" the "direct military action" the U.S. is taking against ISIL, it is not clear if this signals an intention to launch direct bombings or other military attacks. The UK is already deploying military aircraft to aid the ever-expanding U.S. war: "British Tornadoes and surveillance aircraft have been helping with intelligence gathering and logistics," said the Prime Minister. Cameron did not indicate any immediate plans to reconvene parliament, currently at recess, to authorize strikes.

Cameron also announced that the UK will give backing to the Iraqi government; funnel arms to the Kurdish regional government; "work at the UN to mobilize the broadest possible support to bear down on ISIL;" and support humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing ISIL. He claimed, "This is not about combat groups on the ground."

According to Rowena Mason, writing for the Guardian, Cameron's "remarks did not appear to represent a change of strategy, but he appeared to have increased his rhetoric against [ISIL], keeping open the option of joining air strikes."

But critics warn that the UK's escalated rhetoric is exactly what ISIL wants.

"In the UK, the killing of the aid worker David Haines by ISIL comes at a time when the government is divided," Middle East scholar Juan Cole wrote in an article published Sunday. "Foreign Minister Philip Hammond had said last week that the UK army military would not be aerially bombing ISIL. The PM David Cameron heard about this and contradicted it publicly. This show of disunity on the part of a prominent America ally is the sort of thing the 'Islamic State' group is going for. Syria could actually be bombed in part because of ISIL’s barbarous action."

According to Cole, ISIL has a direct interest in military reprisal, which "can be used by the radical group as proof to its followers that it really is being unjustly targeted by the big bad superpower" and helps boost recruitment numbers.

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In a recent statement against military intervention, the War Resisters League points out that the violence and oppression unleashed by ISIL "goes well beyond the headline-catching executions and massacres to affecting millions of Iraqis and Syrians through fear, exploitation and gender-based violence." 

According to WRL, "[I]t is the sectarian lens through which U.S. administrations have viewed Iraq, and increasingly Syria, that contributes to the suppression of emancipatory social movements while establishing the conditions for the rise of reactionary groups. By playing a major role in institutionalizing sectarianism in Iraq, and continuing to arm some the most repressive and sectarian regimes in the region - such as Saudi Arabia – the U.S. is deeply implicated in the dynamics at play."

Meanwhile, the U.S. war on ISIL appears to be expanding. In a speech on Wednesday, Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIL; White House and Pentagon spokespeaple declared Friday that the U.S. is at war; and Secretary of State John Kerry is currently traveling in the Middle East on a mission to build a coalition against ISIL. In the past month the U.S. has launched 158 air strikes on alleged ISIL targets in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command, although details of the bombings, including civilian and combatant casualties, are not being publicly disclosed. Furthermore, at least 1,600 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Iraq.

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