ISIS’ recent call for military support and expertise belies its wider decline in Iraq and Syria
In a recent edition of ISIS’ weekly magazine al-Naba, the group released an editorial entitled “Shooting is Power”, a reference to a hadith from the Prophet Mohammed, calling for help in building air-borne weaponry against its enemies. The article instructs followers to contribute expertise in making and assembling projectiles, saying that it will assist them in battle by “threatening the enemy by taking the war to their homes and military bases”. It ends by calling for followers with experience in such matters to make hijra (emigration) and join the group’s affiliates to help them in such endeavours.
The call alludes to 2014 when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urged Muslims to join the group after taking over Mosul and proclaiming its so-called caliphate. But when we compare these two situations, we can see that much has changed over the past five years. Whereas in 2014 ISIS was seeking to portray itself as strong, the call in al-Naba only further underlines the group’s weaknesses.
As a result of its heavy losses in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is now attempting to mount an insurgency, undertaking hit and run attacks, destroying livelihoods by burning agricultural land, and carrying out targeted assassinations. But despite these incidents, security is generally improving, especially in Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces have commenced anti-ISIS operations to remove sleeper cells from three provinces and the border area with Syria. More importantly, Iraq’s security is at its safest level in years thanks to the experience of defeating ISIS, sustained and effective counter-terrorism operations, and greater trust between citizens and the state services.
Whilst ISIS recognises that “engaging in clashes” weakens the group and puts “the lives of its fighters in danger”, it is a means of papering over militant shortages by becoming more reliant on longer range missile attacks that have greater “reach, accuracy and damage”.
Furthermore, the call for its followers to travel to its numerous wilayat (provinces) around the world belies the fact that many of these areas have little-to-no ISIS presence, except for a small number of cells operating with little support or territorial control. Many of these areas are loyal to ISIS provinces in name only.
But beyond this, it would seem that ISIS is attempting to explain its defeat in terms of technology, as opposed to the reality of its infighting and its alienation of local populations. It highlights how ISIS is trying to prolong conflict and incur maximum damage, which will only prolong the suffering of those living in the region.