The crumbling of ISIS

ISIS nears its end.

Officially, the Iraqi government is still dampening expectations of an early victory in Mosul. But the news on the ground tells a different story.

  • General Stephen Townsend, commanding the US “assistance” mission, last week: ISIS is down to 2,000 fighters in Mosul, including those now isolated in Tal Afar.
  • Iraqi Federal police, 28 February:  since the start of the offensive on the West bank of the Tigris in Mosul, 900 ISIS fighters have been killed.
  • Unconfirmed local Iraqi report: 20 ISIS checkpoints in the semi-desert West of Mosul have been abandoned.
  • The Iraqi Army recaptured the large airport and the adjoining military base in about two days. In the earlier offensive on the East bank, ISIS held out in smaller districts for a week, and then counter-attacked with infiltrators.

It’s speeding up. In the time since I started writing this, the Iraqi Army has captured the west end of a second bridge over the Tigris, at the SE corner of the old city, and claims to have recaptured 60% of the whole of the west bank of the city.

Allies for now : Shia militia
It’s just possible that the weak resistance is part of a cunning plan to lure the Iraqi army into a costly house-to-house battle in the narrow streets of the old city. I don’t buy this. Fanatics don’t do tactical retreats. They are surrounded, low on ammunition, taking very heavy casualties, in a hostile population controlled by terror that will betray them at the first safe opportunity, and facing certain defeat. For Syrian and Iraqi ISIS fighters, melting into the civilian population only offers a slim chance of survival. For the foreigners, even that is nonexistent. They are stuck, like the French and Belgian SS soldiers who fought to the last in the centre of Berlin in May 1945 (source: Beevor). My guess is that they will be overrun in the next ten days.

Over the Syrian border, the Kurdish YPG militia (associated with Ocalan’s PKK and vehemently opposed by Turkey) has surrounded Raqqa on three sides, and cut the last road east on the north bank to Deir ez-Zor. The south is open, but the bridges over the Euphrates have been cut by bombing and the only crossing is by boat. There are unconfirmed reports that ISIS leaders have been evacuating their families from Raqqa into the countryside. That leaves ISIS holding three centres, cut off from each other, two under close siege.

The self-proclaimed caliphate will be gone in a few months. It may survive as a non-territorial conspiracy, a low-budget and even more extreme rival to al-Qaeda. But they don’t have the latter’s funding, organization, or experience. The attraction of ISIS to alienated young radical Muslim men across the world depended crucially on the caliphate claim, not just to statehood but empire. This absolutely required control of territory. I would not put it past them to pull a Jonestown rather than submit to shameful surrender. Not many of their enemies will be ready to leave them alive.

The end of the fake caliphate will be a victory for Obama’s proxy strategy, though Trump will surely claim it. In retrospect, it was bound to fail. A claim to universal dominion exercised by forced conversion, enslavement, and massacre of everybody in its reach cannot possibly work. The original expansion of Islam depended on the new religion’s exceptional tolerance for non-Muslim peoples of the book. The large numbers of converts from their new subjects were actually a problem to the Arab conquerors, and led to the Abbasid revolution. This contemporary bunch of millenarian crazies will leave nothing but an execrated memory.
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Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

4 thoughts on “The crumbling of ISIS”

    1. The Houthi are a tribal/religious movement with local roots and ambitions, like the Taliban. The world is unlikely ever to be rid of that type of grievance and insurrection. In that sense, the GWOT can never end and is fundamentally misconceived. Violent millenarian movements are different and can be defeated or blow out completely. The Anabaptist Jan of Leyden (Münster 1534-5) has left no followers in contemporary Christianity; the Mennonites turned pacifist.

      1. I wasn't thinking of the Houthi, but rather the AQAP and ISIS folks there. As in Syria, it's not clear why we're on the side we're on in the Shia vs. Sunni stuff going on there.

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