Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

Analysis

ISIS reverting to insurgency tactics after losing caliphate

By Associated Press 12/10/2018
US soldiers conduct a routine patrol along the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq on September 29, 2018. The US-led coalition is backing Iraqi and SDF forces in Iraq and Syria battling ISIS in its last holdout in the river valley. Photo: Capt. Jason Welch/US army
US soldiers conduct a routine patrol along the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq on September 29, 2018. The US-led coalition is backing Iraqi and SDF forces in Iraq and Syria battling ISIS in its last holdout in the river valley. Photo: Capt. Jason Welch/US army
By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT — After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, the Islamic State group has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say — a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham al-Hashimi, an ISIS expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring an Islamic caliphate across large areas of both countries.

Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

There are concerns, however, that while ISIS may never be able to recreate the kind of territorial hold it once had, it is trying to latch on to new territory.

One of the group’s deadliest attacks since the collapse of the supposed caliphate came in late July, when dozens of masked ISIS fighters stormed the southern city of Sweida and nearby villages inhabited by members of Syria’s Druze minority, gunning down more than 200 people and kidnapping about 30, mostly women and children.

The ambush shook the community, which had stayed on the sidelines of Syria’s seven-year civil war and took many by surprise, raising fears that as the militants are on the retreat, they will try to regroup in remote pockets of territory like this once quiet corner of the country.

Last month, ISIS fighters stormed the northern Iraqi village of Gharib, killing three villagers and wounding nine after residents refused to collaborate with them and give them supplies such as food and ammunition. Last week, ISIS attacked the village of Saadiyeh, south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing three and abducting one.

The group regularly stages attacks in villages in the provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Kirkuk and elsewhere, targeting local officials or police because they work for the state.

Iraqi military spokesman Big. Gen. Yahya Rasoul said this week that security forces have begun a broad operation in the western province of Anbar that borders Syria to take out ISIS sleeper cells.

Analysts warn that this could be the beginning of a new resurgence of the group similar to the one that preceded their rise in 2010, after many thought the group’s predecessor, the Islamic State in Iraq, had been defeated during the US surge there in 2007.

Hassan Hassan, senior research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, wrote in a recent article that ISIS has been able to undergo an orderly transition from caliphate to insurgency without fracturing.

Last month, US-backed Syrian fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces began a final push to retake Hajin, the last pocket held by ISIS on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River near the Iraq border. They have had to advance slowly as the extremists rely on mines, snipers fire and suicide attacks in defending their positions.

Clashes this week in the Syrian village of Sousah left more than two dozen fighters on both sides dead as ISIS fighters took advantage of a sandstorm and bad visibility to attack SDF positions.

Related: ISIS continues killing, abducting Iraqis in guerrilla attacks

It’s not clear how many militants are still fighting with ISIS. A United Nations report released in August said ISIS has up to 30,000 members distributed roughly equally between Syria and Iraq, and said its global network increasingly poses a threat.

The UN report said that despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the militant group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

“Make no mistake about it, as (ISIS) has collapsed inward, in their own way, they have reinforced a center as they’ve been forced into what is now less than 2 percent of their original territory,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Paris earlier this month.

Many are concerned that while the United States, working with local allies, was able to destroy the physical caliphate relatively quickly, it did not fix governing problems that originally created the opportunity for ISIS to emerge, including frustrations among the Sunni populations of both countries.

“ISIS is waging an effective campaign to re-establish durable support zones while raising funds and rebuilding command-and-control over its remnant forces,” said a recent report by the Institute for the Study of War. “ISIS could regain sufficient strength to mount a renewed insurgency that once again threatens to overmatch local security forces in both Iraq and Syria.”

In August, following months of conflicting reports on whether he was alive, ISIS released a new audio message, purportedly of its shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the first such recording to emerge in almost a year. The speaker urged followers to “persevere” and continue fighting the group’s enemies.

He also urged supporters in the West to carry out more attacks, adding that each “operation in your land equals a thousand” in the Middle East.

The group appears overly eager to claim responsibility for attacks in the West and regularly claims responsibility through its Aamaq news agency for attacks in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt and countries as far as Nigeria and France.

In August, shortly after news broke out of a man killing two people in France, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. It later became clear that the man was mentally disturbed and had family disputes.

Last month, ISIS claimed responsibility an attack in Iran’s Ahvaz region, but initially made factually incorrect claims about it. Later, ISIS released footage of several men that Iran ultimately identified as attackers, though the men in the footage are not known to have pledged allegiance to the extremist group.

___

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.


Tags : ISIS, post-ISIS
2599 Views

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

Luigi Palermo | 1/14/2019 2:28:55 PM
The Turks are now behaving like the Nazis of the years 1935-1945. The Turks want to exterminate all Kurds just like what the Nazis did to the...
Joe Vito | 1/20/2019 3:22:31 PM
The Kurds are God's war heroes, they are the only foot soldiers on the ground fighting Isis in Syria. They saved countless Christians and Yezidi's...
Trump warns Turkey of economic devastation if it hits Kurds
| 14/1/2019 | (7)
Bakir Lashkari | 1/20/2019 12:43:54 PM
Quite interesting demands from The Turkemenen in Kirkuk, which they might be representing less than 5% from the total population, where as more than...
Hansi Oemerian | 1/20/2019 3:11:15 PM
So despite the Kurds being an overwhelming majority they should be giving only the same amount of power as the rest of the minorities in Kirkuk. Has...
Turkmen propose 2 year rotating governorship for Kirkuk
| yesterday at 01:55 | (5)
Joe | 1/19/2019 11:35:03 PM
Erdogan is the most evil man on the planet. The world turned a blind eye when he bombed Kurdish towns in Turkey, killing many Kurds. He got away...
Joe Vito | 1/20/2019 3:10:39 PM
Erdogan has one goal, to genocide the Kurds in Northern Syria and to oppress the Kurds living in Turkey. He bombed the towns of his own people in...
Masrour Barzani discusses protection of Syrian Kurds with US general
| 16/1/2019 | (11)
Arjun. | 1/20/2019 1:29:22 PM
Please no. Don’t bring that feminist crap to kurdistan. Feminism is man hating. Look at what’s happening in the west. Feminism is cancer.
Kikan | 1/20/2019 2:49:48 PM
The west have been pushing this agenda for decades and look at the results . Low birth rate , women are more lonely than ever , single motherhood and...
Women key to achieving gender equality in Kurdistan
| yesterday at 11:50 | (3)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

Germany bans Iranian Mahan Air's flights for ties to IRGC 45 minutes ago |

Germany bans Iranian Mahan Air's flights for ties to IRGC

Mahan Air has four weekly flights to-and-from more
1 hour ago |

Anti-ISIS coalition convoy attacked in Syria, no US casualties

no casualties among US forces more
Iraqi Airways to include Kurdish language for in-flight instructions 1 hour ago |

Iraqi Airways to include Kurdish language for in-flight instructions

Reading regulations and offering services aboard more
0.469 seconds