There can be no more grotesque and poignant visual example of how complex the situation in Iraq has now become than the video that emerged on Tuesday night. A man with what sounds like an unmistakably British accent, under the auspices of Isis (or Islamic State), appears to brutally behead an American journalist – now identified as the photographer and reporter James Foley. The backdrop is a vast swathe of barren desert.
The murder is abhorrent and an act of unforgivable and senseless violence masquerading as religious righteousness.
Yet, consider the irony: 11 years ago, Britain and America joined forces, united in an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein and “liberate” Iraq from the tyranny of his regime. Now, it appears a Brit has just killed an American on Iraqi soil.
The horrific pictures have added to the pressure being placed on US President Barack Obama to intervene more wholeheartedly in Iraq to combat the threat of Isis. When Obama announced he would again be committing military forces in Iraq, three years after the last American troops withdrew from the country, he was keen to stress the limited scope of the mission.
He is facing a similar obstacle to the one David Cameron faces in the UK: a public and a political class unwilling to see national troops intervene yet again in the Middle East. The time has come, however, for the populations of both the US and Britain to recognise that this is no longer a crisis we can skirt around.
For the UK, particularly, the shock of this latest video is immense. Only last year, remember, Parliament voted against joining America in an air raid on Syria for its flagrant use of chemical weapons. The most horrific pictures that have come out of the region since then now appear to implicate a British citizen.
Short of throwing more troops into the country, the US and UK governments should send out a message that they are prepared to continue with air raids for as long as it takes to quash Isis. It would be ludicrous to keep up the pretence that the mission is still only to protect diplomatic personnel in the country. The scope of this goes far beyond that already.
Matt Alagiah is a writer and researcher for Monocle magazine.