The number of attacks in Iraq has fallen to its lowest since the Islamic State (ISIS) declared a “caliphate” in 2014, a study said Wednesday (November 22), with the militants reduced to scraps of territory.
“Non-state armed group attacks and resulting fatalities represented the lowest monthly totals since the formation of ISIS and the declaration of the caliphate in June 2014, highlighting the extent of the decrease in operational activity by the group in Iraq,” the Britain-based Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC) said.
“The 126 attacks in October represented almost half the peak recorded in January 2017, while the 102 fatalities represented an 80.0 percent decrease from November 2016.”
In 2106, Iraq accounted for 46% of suicide attacks across the globe in 2016. JTIC data shows that 354 of the 764 suicide attacks recorded in 2016 is more than all suicides combined for Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan combined.
The drop in violence came as Iraqi troops forced ISIS from the last few towns it held along the border with Syria, reducing its territory to just a few pockets of sparsely populated desert.
The defeats are the latest in a punishing campaign by government forces backed up by air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition that has seen ISIS ousted from its major strongholds, including Iraq’s second city Mosul.
Air strikes by coalition forces in Iraq and Syria are also down. The number of airstrikes the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) is carrying out against ISIS militants dropped by about 60–70% in October compared with the average for the previous nine months, according to Brigadier General Andrew Croft (on Jane’s JITC), the deputy air commander of the coalition’s land component.
“That’s indicative of the fact that ISIS is collapsing, not only as a physical caliphate, but also in ownership of land,” he told journalists on November 7. “They only now control about 4 or 5% of the original area they covered. So the number of targets has dropped dramatically, particularly in the last month.”
As the group has lost ground it has increasingly turned to “asymmetric operations, typified by low-level attacks targeting the security forces and higher profile attacks against civilian sectarian targets,” the JTIC said.
In October, the militants carried out 15 suicide attacks that claimed seven lives, with the security forces succeeding in disrupting the vast majority of the attempts, the study said.
In a sign of how perilous the situation remains in Iraq, a suicide car bomber on Tuesday killed 24 people in an attack on a busy market in a town north of Baghdad. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
While ISIS has lost territory in Iraq, it has also been ceding ground across the border in Syria, where it was forced from its last urban stronghold by regime forces last week.