FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
The Islamic State after Mosul
Posted:Jul 13, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Stanly Johny
 
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of the ‘Caliphate’late last month after his troops captured the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul from where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself the ‘Caliph’ of the world’s Muslims three years ago. The 12th century mosque, whose famed leaning minaret had been adorned with the black flag of the Islamic State (IS) since June 2014, was a symbol of power for the jihadists, so much so that theyblew it away and retreated as the Iraqi troops closed in. Within weeks, Mr. Abadi was in Mosul to formally announce the liberation of Iraq’s second largest city.
 
It’s no small achievement for an army which fled Mosul in droves when IS fighters marched in three years ago. The IS ruled the city with an iron fist ever since and expanded its influence beyond the city limits. The Iraqi army took months to recover from the humiliation it suffered and launched a counter-terror campaign with help from Iran-trained militias and the U.S. Air Force. They liberated small cities first, such as Ramadi and Fallujah, before finally moving towards Mosul in October last year. The Kurdish Peshmerga also joined in, while the U.S. carried out a massive air campaign. In nine months the IS lost Mosul, the jewel of its Caliphate.
 
This is in line with the military setbacks the group has suffered in recent months. It has lost more than half of the territories it once held. Its propaganda blitzkrieg has taken a hit and even its ability to recruit new jihadists is under strain in the wake of battlefield losses. Its leader Baghdadi is either dead or on the run. But do these setbacks mean the IS is defeated? Has the 21st century ‘Caliphate’ run its course? The ground realities and a historical analysis of the evolution of the IS suggest otherwise.
 
Down but not out
 
First, the IS’s proto-state is not completely destroyed yet and it will not be in the immediate future. Though it lost Mosul, the IS still controls swathes of strategic territories in Iraq. Hawijah, a city adjoining Kirkuk that has been with the IS since 2013, continues to pose challenges to the Iraqi troops. The city’s mountainous terrain makes it difficult for the counter-terror forces to move in.
 
Besides Hawijah, the group controls Tal Afar, Salahuddin province and pockets in Anbar and Diyala. In Syria, it still controls Raqqa, its de facto capital which has been with the group since 2013, and Deir Ezzor, the largest city in the east.The battle to recapture Raqqa has just begun by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and will take time like other anti-IS battles.
 
Second, there’s no guarantee that the IS won’t come back to the cities it lost. It had done so earlier. The geopolitical fault lines of West Asia, especially in Iraq and Syria, which helped the IS rise in the first place, remain unchanged. In Iraq, a greater challenge before the government is to win over the people in the north and west, mostly Sunnis, who distrust the Shia-dominated government. In Syria, the battle against the IS is more complicated than that in Iraq. In Iraq at least there is a consensus about what the legitimate force is against the IS. All players, from America and the Kurds to Iran and Shia militias, rallied behind the Iraqi government in the war. But in Syria, there’s no such consensus. Raqqa is being attacked by both the SDF and the government troops. The U.S. is supporting the SDF, while Russia is backing the regime. Turkey, another country that’s involved through its proxies in the civil war, is wary of the SDF because it’s led by the Kurdish rebels. So even if Raqqa is liberated, it is difficult to reach a consensus on who will eventually run the city. If chaos prevails, that would be good news for the jihadists.
 
Third, the IS is fundamentally an insurgency that transformed itself into a proto-state. Now the proto-state is under attack, but the group can retreat to insurgency for its survival. The history of insurgent groups suggests that it is difficult to defeat them outright. Take the more recent examples of jihadist insurgencies. The Taliban regime was toppled and its fighters were driven out of Kabul in 2001 following the American invasion. Their leader, Mullah Omar, died while he was hiding. But does it mean that the Taliban were defeated?
 
Al-Qaeda is another example. After the Taliban were toppled, al-Qaeda was also forced to flee to the mountains. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, was also killed when he was hiding in Pakistan. Still al-Qaeda made a comeback by mobilising jihadists in Africa, Syria and Yemen. A more specific example would be al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was almost defeated once, only to be morphed into today’s IS as a more vigorous, deadly force.
 
The IS has already given enough indications that it will move back into insurgency if its proto-state was destroyed. In May 2016, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who was the second-most powerful leader in the IS till his death in an air strike in August that year, said in a long audio message released on the Web: “Whoever thinks that we fight to protect some land or some authority, or that victory is measured thereby, has strayed far from the truth.”
 
In insurgency mode
 
In fact, the IS has changed its strategy after the ‘Caliphate’ came under attack. Instead of expanding its territories, the group became defensive at its core and unleashed a wave of terror attacks elsewhere in the world, from Paris to Brussels and Berlin to Dhaka. It has also established franchises in other countries. Boko Haram, Africa’s most dreaded terror outfit, has declared loyalty to the IS. In eastern Afghanistan, the IS has a branch — the Islamic State of Khorasan — which is directing the group’s operations in South Asia.
 
The recent outbreak of a war in the Philippines, where armed jihadist groups that have declared loyalty to the IS have been fighting government forces, suggests that the IS is expanding its asymmetric reach when its core is under attack.
 
All this suggests that the threat is far from over. The IS has already transformed itself into a globalised idea and outsourced its terror mission to groups and individuals who subscribe to its world view. So even if the IS core is destroyed, the IS insurgency, or an ‘al-Qaedafied’ Islamic State, will continue to pose security challenges.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Relations between India and Morocco go back a millennium with the first recorded links dating to the 14th century, when the famous traveller and writer from Tangier, Ibn Batuta, travelled to India.
 
read-more
Stepping up action against terrorists attacking India, President Donald Trump's Administration has declared Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HM) a “global terrorist organisation” in an attempt to choke off financial and other support to it.
 
read-more
On 14 August 1947 Pakistan, consisting of East and West Pakistan, celebrated its independence. The 14th was chosen for the ceremony because Lord Mountbatten who came to Karachi as the Chief Guest had to later leave for Delhi where ot the midnight stroke India was to declare its independence.
 
read-more
The Doklam stand-off and a variety recent opinion pieces in magazines and newspapers draws attention to the poor state of defence policy preparedness and the lack of meaningful higher defence control in India. 
 
read-more
The two ideologically divergent ruling partners - the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - in Jammu and Kashmir are headed for a showdown as the debate over the abrogation of Article 35A of the Constitution of India heats up.
 
read-more
At the root of the present Doklam crisis is China’s intrusion into Bhutanese territory for its road building projects. These connectivity projects are integral to President Xi Jinping’s dream project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India and Bhutan were the only two countries that did not participate in the first forum
 
read-more
It wasn’t so long ago that the whole world watched as Donald Trump sashayed on to the Riyadh red carpet and stole the show with his tough talk on Iranian-sponsored terrorism.
 
read-more
A vehicular attack to maximise casualties and spread panic is now a well-tested terrorist strategy in European cities.
 
read-more
It is a privilege to be invited to this most prestigious of law schools in the country, more so for someone not formally lettered in the discipline of law. I thank the Director and the faculty for this honour.
 
read-more
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Column-image

This is the continuing amazing spiritual journey of a Muslim man from Kerala who plunged into Vedic religion after a chance encounter with a Hindu mystic under a jackfruit tree in the backyard of his house when he was just nine. It is a story w...

 
Column-image

History is told by the victors but in our modern age, even contemporary events get - or are given - a slant, where some contributors soon get eclipsed from the narrative or their images tarnished.

 
Column-image

Humans have long had a fear of malignant supernatural beings but there may be times when even the latter cannot compare with the sheer evil and destructiveness mortals may be capable of. But then seeking to enable the end of the world due to it...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive