It’s a most convenient case of good timing: barely a week after the head of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security called for Australia to start bombing Islamic State militants in Syria, we have learnt via a report in the government’s favoured media outlet that the United States has asked Australia provide greater support to air operations in Iraq, including flying into Syria. Clearly the Abbott government is anxious to ramp up its military operations against Islamic State.

The air campaign against IS has been underway for 12 months and has had little effect: IS has expanded the territory it controls in both Iraq and Syria. US military figures say IS has been able to entirely replace the forces killed by airstrikes with foreign volunteers, who are allowed to cross into Syria from Turkey by the Turkish government.

The group continues its nauseating, theatrical brutality: its beheading this week of elderly Palmyra scholar Khaled al-Asaad is of a piece with its murder and rape campaigns across Syria and Iraq. But for every victim of IS’ savagery, the Assad regime kills a score or more. Just last Sunday, the regime launched airstrikes on the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Douma, slaughtering over 100 people. IS is capable of individual incidents of barbarism, but the Assad regime can inflict it with industrial efficiency. And it was that brutality that sparked the first wave of foreign fighters to travel from the West to join opposition forces, including radical Islamist groups, in 2012.

Extending the military campaign against IS while the Assad regime remains in power and engaged in a war with its own people will simply perpetuate the chaos and brutality that marks Syria and much of Iraq. The West can’t bomb and shoot its way to victory in the region: there must be a political solution that involves dealing with a regime hellbent on exterminating its own people.

Peter Fray

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