In mid-January, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Davis announced that ISIS militants were surrounded by superior forces and, therefore, demoralized.
As if to confirm this statement, the Iraqi TV station Al Sumaria recently reported that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi allegedly pronounced a “farewell speech” before leaving his poistion. In it, he advised his supporters to admit defeat in Iraq, urging the jihadists to take refuge in remote mountainous areas or sacrifice their lives.
However, there’s little doubt that even after all these statements it’s too early to speak about a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorist groups in Iraq. A very similar situation could be observed in Iraq after 2007, when it was announced that the danger presented by AL-Qaeda militants became negligible as local tribal leaders denounced the terrorist group. But then the idea of a fight for radical beliefs was reincarnated by ISIS, which resulted in Al-Qaeda urging the Sunnis of Iraq to regroup and begin a long guerrilla war against government forces to “liberate” from them the cities that were abandoned by ISIS.
Therefore, the “farewell” statement pronounced by al-Baghdadi should be seen in the light of ISIS setting new strategic goals for itself under different conditions. It is clear that such tricks had already been used by extremists in an attempt to regroup only to reclaim the territories they’ve lost in Syria and Iraq. This feature is found in all groups that profess an ideology similar to that of ISIS, since they are focused exclusively on permanent struggle. And while they are not completely destroyed and all of their resources are not exhausted, it is way too early to talk about any sort of victory.
Therefore, one can only expect new terrorist attacks anywhere, both inside and outside of the Middle East. Not only in Europe but also in Asia. Since ISIS ideology doesn’t allow any possibility of peaceful coexistence, or search for a compromise, its militants are going to carry on their fight, and for them, “the theater of military operations” – is basically the whole world.
Politicians in any part of the world must not forget that ISIS remains one of the major threats to global security. For three years those terrorists were capturing vast strips of land in Iraq and Syria. Yet, there’s no united front against ISIS to be found anywhere, as the group is being opposed by Syrian government troops supported by Russia’s Air Forces, Iranian and Turkish troops, the Iraqi army, an international coalition led by the US, as well as Kurds, Lebanese and Iraqi Shia militias.
According to the Arab newspaper Al-Masdar, US armed forces have established four bases in the eastern districts of the Iraqi city of Mosul to coordinate efforts to recapture the city from ISIS. In turn, the Iraqi News would note that the US bases are so heavily fortified that even Iraqi force are denied from entering their territory. Those are guarded around the clock by the elite Iraqi battalion know as the “Golden Division”, which will be tasked with the further liberation of the city. One could have the impression that it is not the people of Iraq who are to be protected from terrorists, but the US military contingent deployed in Mosul.
It is noted that although Iraqi government officials declare that the international coalition forces are only being led by the representatives of the US army, some news reports suggest that US special forces are being increasingly involved in the fight against ISIS, which is evident by a growing death toll among American servicemen. For example, a total of 16 US soldiers was killed and some 27 more were injured in the assault of Mosul back in October 2016. In general, the US-led coalition is losing 100 per day in this operation.
However, despite some local victories over ISIS in Iraq, the situation in this country remains very complex, and the influence that the terrorist groups have on the local population remains unchallenged. Thus, the Institute for the Study of War has confirmed last February that local Sunnis are forming new insurgency groups like Tariqat Naqshbandi and 1920 Revolution Brigades. As for the Baathists in the Iraqi town of Hawija situated in the Kirkuk province, they have declared their intention to fight against the current Iraqi government even after the fall of ISIS. Moreover, those groups only benefit from the defeat of ISIS, as they will have their main competitor taken off the stage, and after the terror induced by ISIS, any other group would look much more attractive for local Sunnis.
Still, you can not write ISIS off easily. Since the beginning of the battle for Mosul, militants managed to stage a series of large-scale terrorist attacks in various parts of the country, including Kirkuk, Tikrit, Samarra and Baghdad. Should ISIS undergo the transition to a guerrilla war, we can expect an increasing number of such attacks to be launched.
As for the attempts of Iraqi security forces to neutralize ISIS collaborators in the territories liberated from the terrorists, it hasn’t resulted in any kind of success. The fact that the list of collaborators consists of thousands of names, means it’s not physically possibility to establish who can present a possible danger. In addition, due to the fact that Washington has been promoting “US values” in this country, the outbreak of widespread corruption resulted in a situation where a person will not just simply buy a pass to a city by paying 20-50 dollars, but also can buy off those detained for having links to ISIS.
ISIS supporters have been recently spreading rumors about the possible retaliation of government Shia forces against the representatives of the Sunni population. Moreover, the circulation of the lists of possible ISIS collaborators in local networks often results in the lynching of those suspected of terrorist connections, yet it remains unclear who created those lists. However, such incidents result in the loss of credibility of the sitting government of Iraq. And this, in turn, creates additional opportunities for ISIS and other radical group to expand their influence, even in the territories liberated from terrorists.
Therefore, unless there is a coordinated effort against the Islamic State in all the countries opposing it, especially close solidarity between the US and Russia, one can only wonder: how much time will it take ISIS to raise its head again?
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”