Tag Archives: Islamic State

Questions Remain With ISIS Leaders Down but Not yet Out

The Islamic State (ISIS) is on the back foot after its defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and smaller losses in Syria, but questions re­main over eradicating the group’s leadership.

There have been persistent ru­mours that ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed. These, however, have not been confirmed and should be treated sceptically.

What is certain is that ISIS’s lead­ership structure has been declining following the death of leading fig­ures who have not been replaced due to a sustained campaign of US-led air strikes.

The anti-ISIS military campaign has led to the decline in ISIS prop­aganda, which can be measured qualitatively. Charlie Winter, an academic who follows ISIS’s output, tweeted that ‘[ISIS] media notice­ably dropped off in early June’. He attributed the fall to international coalition and Iraqi government op­erations ‘having [a] serious impact on its ability to get propaganda from A to B.’

Nevertheless, ISIS has demon­strated that it is resourceful and has a history of coping with military defeats. The line of succession of Baghdadi is unclear and although his death may mean the end of the self-proclaimed caliphate, it does not spell the end of ISIS in opera­tional terms.

As al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS sur­vived long periods of mounting in­surgent campaigns in the very ter­ritory to which it is soon expected to be reduced. Its leaders have been killed before and it has endured.

Analysts said that ISIS militants have retreated to what the group calls Wilayat al-Furat (Euphrates province), which covers several Iraqi and Syrian towns. Hassan Has­san, an analyst with the Tahrir In­stitute for Middle East Policy, said Baghdadi was there.

Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society’s Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism, said: ‘Wilayat al-Fu­rat is and will be the final redoubt of the Islamic State, a base in difficult terrain that it will be difficult for any outside force to clear [ISIS fighters] from’.

He explained that ‘It was in this zone, on the Iraqi side of the border, that [their predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq] rode out defeat and from which they spread back across Iraq in 2008’.

Orton said that, in addition to Iraqi territory, ISIS has ‘the Syrian side of the border, too, and a much more hospitable political and mili­tary environment’. The survival of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, a cause of great instability and in­ternecine hatred, is a boon to ISIS, both now and in the future, argued Orton.

As well as these ungoverned spaces, ISIS can count on favourable conditions in other parts of Iraq and Syria. ISIS appears to have planned for its defeat in Mosul for months. Defending those cities was merely one stage of a multiphase plan.

Michael Pregent, a former intelli­gence officer and fellow at the Hud­son Institute, said that in Iraq ‘ISIS cells will continue to operate in cit­ies where Iraqi Shia militias and Ira­qi Security Forces have relaxed their security postures’.

In the same way, forces fighting ISIS must be prepared to operate a similarly staged strategy. ‘Phase I: Take away territory. Phase II: Fight ISIS as it moves to the al-Qaeda model’, Pregent said. The third phase, he said, may include a ‘se­curity backslide in liberated areas’.

Pregent noted that the future of ISIS rested on Sunni communities, many of which were distrustful of what they perceived to be Shia domination of Iraq’s government.

There was a real fear that, among government circles and worldwide, ‘there is no interest in protecting the population, let alone empow­ering the Sunni population to fight back against the next iteration of ISIS’, said Pregent.

Iraqi Sunnis are both the basis of ISIS’s support and the most impor­tant opponents of its worldview. They have fought back against its predecessor organisations but need support – moral and military – to do so.

Pregent said the manner in which cities have been captured from ISIS would provide propaganda mate­rial for a wide range of rejectionist groups in opposition to the Iraqi government.

Conditions exist in both Iraq and Syria for the survival ISIS, which can be expected to exploit political weakness and sectarian division and make use of ungoverned space in the region. This presents numer­ous options for the group, even af­ter the certain loss of major urban areas. Some form of ISIS will exist for years.

Sustaining ISIS’s defeat and alter­ing the conditions that would allow it to grow once more remain a chal­lenge that faces policymakers and leaders, in Iraq, Syria and across the world.

This piece was originally published in The Arab Weekly.

Iraq’s Great Victory in Mosul Is Being Undermined

The Mosul offensive has come to an end. The Islamic State has been militarily defeated and its remnants destroyed within the city.

This is a victory for the state of Iraq. A new nation, remade after the evil of Ba’athism was removed from power, it has faced down a grave threat, and given much in a struggle against an existential enemy of the free world. Continue reading

Why Defeating ISIS in Mosul Took So Long

Last October, the Iraqi government and the international coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) declared confidently that the battle to recapture Mosul would soon be over but it wasn’t until July that they managed to defeat the militants in the city. Continue reading

White Phosphorus and the Judgement of History

White phosphorus is an easily produced compound that has numerous military applications. It burns brightly and persistently. In battle, it can create a smokescreen that can hide troop movements.

These uses are not objection­able but the status of white phosphorus is complex. It is not normally used offensively, though it sometimes is employed as a makeshift weapon. When this happens, it can be dangerous. Continue reading

Living in an Age of Extremity

We used to live in uninteresting times, as much as that can ever be said.

Things did not seem to happen. And if they did happen, they happened to other people. The rest of life and the business of living passed easily, dreamily, and the world was always at arm’s length. Continue reading

The Moderation of Muqtada al-Sadr

The name Muqtada al-Sadr used to inspire fear. His brand of Shia sectarianism contributed greatly to the turmoil following the deposition of Saddam Hussein in 2003. His militia, the Mahdi Army, fought against the United States and the forces of the reconstituted Iraqi state. It also engaged in street violence and intimidation. Continue reading

Talking Turkey

Turkey’s recent referendum was contentious, its process fraught with problems. Many have suggested that it was illegitimate, but this is less important than the result. That result is significant. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey claimed victory in a constitutional referendum on the question of awarding him sweeping new powers. Continue reading