Obama’s failed strategy to degrade and destroy the most brutal group in the Middle East is in dire need of a fundamental rethink and retired four-star general David Petraeus appears to be offering a bold but extremely controversial solution: use al-Qaeda to defeat the Islamic State.

Petraeus is indeed referring to the group responsible for the most tragic episode of the recent America history but the initiative has logic to it and does not come out of the blue.The former CIA Director was praised for tackling a bloody and seemingly unstoppable wave of Islamic extremism in Iraq in 2007. Essentially, that approach involved convincing moderate Sunnis that Nouri al-Maliki’s government was not the enemy and encouraging them to fight against radical Sunnis.

It worked. The subsequent movement known as Sahwa or the Awakening became key to the US “surge” strategy. Sahwa militias were credited with reducing violence in the country which remained relatively calm until 2014.

Petraeus wants to replicate this strategy in Syria, the Daily Beast reported, citing four anonymous sources familiar with the situation. He has been “quietly urging” US officials to reach out to moderate fighters in al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, and press them to focus on defeating the Islamic State.

The two radical groups engaged in a months-long fight against government forces in Syria were once affiliated. Although both organizations seek to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and establish an Islamist regime in the war-torn country, al-Nusra Front opposes brutal tactics the Islamic State has become notorious for. Both groups are currently at odds with each other.

No official confirmation or details of the plan have been provided so far but the idea has reportedly fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

The American leadership seems to consider the distinction between moderate al-Qaeda fighters helping in Syria and radical al-Qaeda followers who masterminded 9/11 too subtle to work. It would likely be a tough sell to the public and the administration has other initiatives to champion.


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