An update on the fight against ISIS
By Adam Hamilton
Staff Foreign Correspondent
Since their rapid victory against Iraqi forces in 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become the main threat to democracy in the Middle East. Soon that may no longer be the case. The United States led coalition to oust ISIS from Iraq has contained the extremist movement to a final city in the country, Mosul. The city has been systematically besieged beginning in October of last year and so far more than half of it has been liberated in bloody street to street fighting. Victory by the Iraqi forces here stands in sharp contrast to the initial defeat they faced from the rapidly expanding ISIS forces who captured the city in June 2014.
ISIS has been put on the defensive in the near three-year effort by the United States to defeat the terrorist group. Under President Obama, the United States returned to Iraq in 2014 after leaving triumphantly nearly four years previously. America’s commitment to the conflict is purported to be supportive rather than direct, mostly focused on air power and logistics, but so far 25 American soldiers have died in the revived conflict. The mainstay of the fighting has been done by the Iraqi military, Shia militias and Kurdish forces, trained and supported by the US led coalition. These efforts have been aided by the involvement of 59 nations in collaboration ranging from Morocco to New Zeeland providing support ranging from the training of the national police by the Spanish and air power offered by the Dutch.
Their rapid seizure of the oil-rich territory and expansion into neighboring Syrian Civil War lead to ISIS becoming the main opposition to the Governments of Iraq and Syria. In response, the Obama administration formed a coalition of allies to help Iraqi’s liberate their country. Last fall, Fallujah, Iraq’s second city, was liberated, leaving ISIS solely in control of Mosul. Starting last December and into the Trump administration, Iraqi and coalition forces have been working to liberate Mosul.
ISIS rose to power in Iraq by becoming the main opposition to the new, US-backed regime. After Saddam Hussein was deposed, American administrators disbanded his Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi Army. As a result, the Sunni Arab minority, on which Saddam based his support, was largely disenfranchised. Many rallied to Al Qaeda in Iraq, the main insurgent group from 2005-2013, and its breakaway movement, ISIS, after 2013/2014. ISIS was able to turn from one of many Sunni rebel groups opposed to the American backed government of Iraq into the terrorist powerhouse that we all know by getting involved in the neighboring Syrian Civil War. ISIS took advantage of the power vacuum in Syria to claim territory in the country and build a base to recruit, train, and raise money. With this base, ISIS’ lightning offensive in early 2014 gave them control of large swaths of the Sunni population in Iraq. This gave us the name the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
Finally it looks like ISIS will be pushed out of Iraq. Over the last few years the United States has formed a coalition of dozens of countries to help the Iraqi army recapture lost territory. After several initial setbacks ISIS has been pushed to its final stronghold in Mosul.
After Mosul is liberated, Iraq will be at a crossroads. The leader of Iraqi Kurdistan has called for an independence referendum once the city is freed from ISIS control. Iraqi Kurds control an autonomous region in the north of the country and have been leading fighters in the war against ISIS. The potential splintering of Iraq could pose a problem for the Trump administration as the current Shia government in Bagdad wants to maintain control of the northern Oil fields. Regardless, the defeat of ISIS, which is expected to happen within the next few months, will be a major victory for the Trump administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said within the last year that ISIS’ capacity for foreign recruitment, a major source of the group’s manpower, has been cut by 90%- a sign of their waning power.
In Syria, the war against ISIS has taken a darker turn. In December, Aleppo fell to the forces of Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian government. Aleppo was the center of the non-ISIS resistance in Syria. After its fall, the civil war in the country has switched from being between ISIS, Assad, and several moderate factions to a showdown between ISIS and Assad.
The future of the Middle East is complicated, but the ending of this chapter of violence in Iraq will give the country an opportunity to rebuild after fourteen years of conflict.