Increased geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and beyond have taken the attention away from the fight against ISIS on the ground.
The recent vote in the Iraqi parliament regarding the presence of foreign troops in the country has sparked debate about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. The vote, which was held in parliament among a low turnout, turned out in favour of expelling foreign forces from Iraq, much to the dismay of the International Coalition that has been combating ISIS there over the past few years.
Since 2014, the International Coalition, in cooperation with its military allies in Iraq and Syria, has been engaged in anti-ISIS operations. It has managed to drastically reduce the terrorist group’s power, influence and capabilities on the ground in both countries, especially in the period 2016-2017, when the terrorist group lost its most of its land, in particular its focal points in Mosul and Raqqa.
In addition, 2019 saw the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a US-led operation in the Idlib Province of northern Syria. Indeed, the lost of the group’s influence in the region and the death of al-Baghdadi have not marked the end of the terrorist group. ISIS has continued to commit heinous attacks in both Syria and Iraq, targeting both military personnel and civilians.
The ideology of the group has persevered among its followers in Syria and Iraq, who have splintered into smaller units and have scattered into hard-to-reach areas, particularly in desert areas.
Anti-ISIS operations have been continuing in both countries. In Iraq they are mainly being conducted within the framework of the Will of Victory operations. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the regime’s forces are still clashing with ISIS elements.
However, in both countries, regional instability has somewhat taken the focus of the terrorist group and it is giving the terrorist group more time and space to regain its impetus. In Syria, the Turkish-backed Operation Peace Spring in the north of the country has negatively affected the capacities of the SDF and its affiliated military units. One significant consequence of this has been the outburst of chaos in al-Hol camp, where many of the detained ISIS-affiliated individuals are located.
In Iraq, the recent escalation of tensions between the US and Iran over Iraqi soil following the killing of Qassem Soleimani and the preceding exchange of missile fire between the US forces and elements of the Iran-backed PMU have been detrimental to the otherwise unified efforts to rid ISIS from the country.
Regional instability in the Middle East does not bode well for the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as it takes the attention away from the terrorist group as a load of external matters and dynamics come into play. Only through a continued unified effort can both country cleanse themselves of the remaining ISIS elements.