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Has Isis’s caliphate fallen, and does that mean the terror group is finished؟

The Independent

Bethan McKernan

13 July 2017
Isis has been driven from its de facto Iraqi capital of Mosul, leading Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to declare that one half of Isis’ so-called caliphate has fallen.

The organisation now holds on to just nine per cent of the territory it controlled at the height of its powers in 2015.

US-backed forces are also making gains on the militants’ last stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, and rumours persist – from reputable sources – that leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed. 

There is no doubt that Isis is facing several military and ideological setbacks – but what does that mean for the group’s future?

So has Isis lost control of its territory?

In Iraq, for the most part, yes – although it still hangs on to significant pockets in the north.

Retaking Mosul was hailed as such a big victory because it was the largest city Isis ever managed to overrun – it was only when they crossed the border from Syria to seize it in the summer of 2014 the rest of the world woke up to what a huge threat the group posed.

Before the occupation, Mosul was home to 1.5 million people and Iraq’s most multicultural and intellectual city. Now, thousands are dead and the city lies in ruins. Driving Isis out has come at a huge cost.

But it’s just a matter of time before it is defeated, surely?

Militarily, yes. But Isis’ fighters – foreign recruits especially – are willing to fight to the death, making ground progress against Isis’s urban positions slow and difficult.

The US-backed Operation Inherent Resolve for Mosul began in October 2016 and was supposed to be over before Barack Obama left office in January 2017. Instead, Iraqi coalition forces faced booby trapped roads and houses as well as suicide car bombs and the problem of how to deal with a large civilian population used as human shield. The fight took more than nine months, and sleeper cells are though to still exist all over the city.

In Syria, a US-backed Arab-Kurdish forces assault on Isis’ last urban stronghold of Raqqa began in earnest last month. The battle there is also expected to be long and bloody.

Will Isis survive as an ideology?

The Islamic State project may fail, but Isis has already proved it is a resilient organisation. Once US-led, Syrian and Russian bombing campaigns began against it in earnest, it shifted focus to a more al-Qaeda style approach of targeting the far-off enemy through global terror attacks.

“The collapse of Islamic State as a proto-state or governing body, will not signal its overall demise as a group,” Dr Shiraz Maher, deputy director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, recently told The Independent.

“It will continue to linger as both an insurgency and terrorist movement. Defeating it in those terms is an altogether more complicated and longer-term ambition which will still take many years.“

So what comes next?

Isis itself grew out of al-Qaeda’s operations in Syria. As long as the war there persists, and the long-standing sectarian grievances in Iraq are not addressed, so does the chaos and fear Isis has to date exploited so well.

“That place, it was absolute death,” one man told an AP reporter as he fled Mosul’s Old City. “We will never be the same. Once the fear has been planted in your heart, you can’t get rid of it.”

It is very possible the group could evolve again into another organisation – “Isis 2.0“, as one US commander put it – or for a new jihadist movement to emerge in its place.

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