there is one cause common to the governments of the U.S., Turkey, Iraq and
Iran, it’s the continued suppression of Islamic State, the most destructive
Islamist militant organization the world has seen. Working together and
separately, those nations and their allies by early 2019 managed to subdue the
group in Iraq and Syria, where it once controlled a chunk of territory as big
as Iceland. Now, tensions among the countries that dismantled Islamic State
threaten to subvert efforts to combat its resurgence.
What Condition Is Islamic State In?
self-declared caliphate -- a state that claims dominion over all Muslims -- has
been in ruins since March 2019 when U.S.-assisted Syrian Kurdish forces,
Russian-backed Syrian government troops and Iranian-supported fighters from
Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan took the group’s last remaining
strongholds in Syria. It had lost its territorial foothold in neighbouring Iraq
in 2017 to government forces backed by a U.S.-led multinational coalition. The
group’s enigmatic leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. strike in
northern Syria in October. His death is widely believed to have been a blow to
the group, but not a fatal one. U.S. intelligence concluded that it would have
little impact on the group’s ability to rebuild.
What’s The Group Up To In Iraq And Syria?
fighters have turned from open, semi-conventional combat to insurgency tactics
such as sniper attacks, kidnappings and targeted killings. These are the same
measures the group used, in an earlier incarnation, to undermine faith in
government and foment divisions following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
In the third quarter of 2019, it carried out at least 154 mostly small-scale
attacks in Iraq, according to a U.S. government report. Fighters are said to
have taken refuge in some of Iraq’s harshest terrain, including mountains and
desert. In Syria, clandestine cells have been reconstituting networks and
attacking forces on both sides of the country’s civil war, particularly in Deir
Ezzour province, home to oil fields. The tactics indicate Islamic State has no
intention of giving up on either country and sees an opportunity to regain
What’s The Opportunity In Iraq?
U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in early January
outraged many Iraqi leaders with close ties to Iran, prompting the government
to push for the removal of 5,000 American troops in the country to combat
Islamic State. The U.S. rebuffed the effort, and it’s unclear whether Iraq will
insist. A U.S. exit would raise questions about Iraq’s ability to hold the line
against Islamic State without American support. The history is worrisome. After
their 2003 invasion, U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011 only to return again in
2014, at the invitation of the government, when Iraq’s army collapsed under the
advance of the extremist group. Since then, the U.S. has trained Iraqi forces
and supported their operations against the militants, notably with air strikes.
According to a U.S. government appraisal in October, Iraqi troops still lack
“key capabilities required” to fight Islamic State, such as the ability to
identify targets of operations. The report said most of Iraq’s military units
won’t conduct raids against the jihadists in mountains and deserts where
they’ve taken refuge, in the absence of coalition support.
What’s The Opportunity In Syria?
realignment of forces in north-eastern Syria has created an opening for Islamic
State to make gains. In late 2019, Turkish troops crossed the border into Syria
aiming to push back the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that had helped quash
Islamic State there and have been holding some 10,000 captured jihadist
fighters in detention facilities. Turkish authorities view the Syrian Kurds as
a security threat due to their links to separatist Kurds in Turkey. In the
turmoil following Turkey’s incursion, approximately 200 Islamic State prisoners
escaped. To avoid Turkish-Kurdish clashes, the U.S. reduced its troops in Syria
from 1,000 to about 500 and reassigned them to guard oil and gas fields from
plundering by Islamic State. Areas evacuated by the Americans and Kurds were
taken over by Turkish forces or Russian-backed Syrian government troops.
According to U.S. intelligence, the latter are unlikely to prioritize fighting
Islamic State over consolidating their positions.
How Many Islamic State Fighters Are Left In Iraq And Syria?
impossible to say. Estimates of the group’s strength have varied widely over
the years. One estimate, contained in a 2019 report by the Rand Corporation, is
that it had 5,000 combatants on its payroll in March 2019. United Nations
officials estimated the group had as many as 30,000 members in Iraq and Syria
in July 2018. Islamic State is not thought to be winning new recruits in either
country, and replenishing the ranks from outside the region would be difficult.
Roughly 40,000 foreigners went to Iraq or Syria to join the caliphate, but an
August 2018 report by the United Nations secretary-general concluded that the
flow of fighters from overseas had essentially stopped as countries made it
harder for would-be sadists to cross borders.
What’s Happened To Islamic State’s Finances?
group’s residual wealth is estimated at $300 million. In losing its turf in
Iraq and Syria, it lost its major sources of income: oil assets and taxation.
At the same time, it no longer faces the financial demands of administering
territory. Also, since it shifted from a proto-state to an underground network,
the group has been better able to shield its funding flows from detection.
Still, authorities monitoring Islamic State say it has infiltrated legitimate
businesses such as construction, money exchange and fisheries; that it has
invested laundered funds; and that it’s still able to channel money across
What About it’s Capacity for Terrorist Attacks?
in the fight against it presents Islamic State with an opportunity to
reconstitute itself and strengthens its ability to plan attacks abroad. Even
without holding territory, Islamic State will probably have enough money in its
war chest to support an insurgency in Iraq and Syria as well as sporadic
terrorist attacks abroad for years, an earlier report by the RAND Corporation
concluded. The group also continues to animate strikes by so-called lone-wolf
terrorists, who are inspired by but have no formal ties to terrorist groups.
How Worrisome Are Islamic State’s Affiliates and Allies?
around the world associated with Islamic State include some that were
established directly as franchises, some that existed previously and have
rebranded themselves as affiliates, others that operate separately but have
sworn allegiance to Islamic State and still others that just share its goals.
Headline: How Islamic State Gains from Strife Among Its Enemies
Source: The Washington Post