ISIS is now facing many successive defeats and a shrinking area of influence in Syria and Iraq.
In this report, we review the reasons for the decline of the organization and whether it can be completely eliminated.
One of the main reasons that led to the decline of ISIS is the military pressure exerted by the international coalition forces led by the United States, government forces in Iraq and Syria, and the armed factions loyal to them on the sites and strongholds of the terrorist organization.
Since 2015, coalition aircraft have launched thousands of airstrikes against ISIS targets in the two countries, destroying its infrastructure and supply lines and killing its leaders and fighters.
Special forces from the coalition countries also participated in intelligence, training and combat operations to support their allies on the ground.
Following a nine-month military campaign In Iraq, the security forces were able – with the support of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the Peshmerga – to recapture Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which was the capital of ISIS in Iraq.
Other important cities such as Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi and Hawija were also liberated.
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish-Arab coalition, supported by the international coalition, succeeded in expelling ISIS from the city of Raqqa, which was considered the capital of the alleged ISIS state. These forces also took control of the city of Deir Ezzor, the last major city occupied by the terrorist organization in Syria.
In addition to external pressure, ISIS has suffered from internal crises affecting its ability to maintain its authority and attract more members. The organization has witnessed splits and disagreements between its leaders and members due to ideological, material or tribal differences.
The terrorist organization was also affected by the decrease in its sources of funding due to its loss of control over the oil and gas fields, as well as the drop in the prices of these resources in the markets, and it was forced to reduce the salaries of its fighters and cancel some of the benefits it provided to them.
ISIS also faces difficulties in managing the areas it controls due to a lack of qualifications and experience, as the organization was unable to provide basic services to the population, such as water, electricity, health, and education.
ISIS was not able to win the hearts and minds of the local population in the areas it occupied. On the contrary, it faced rejection and resistance from various sects, religions and ethnicities.
The terrorist organization has angered the world with its heinous crimes against civilians, its violations of human rights, and its destruction of cultural and civilizational heritage.
ISIS has also shown extremism and strictness in applying its erroneous interpretation of Islamic law, which has led to the displacement and killing of thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
In this context, an Arab public opinion poll on the international coalition against ISIS, conducted by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in 2014, indicated that 85% of respondents in seven Arab countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq) oppose ISIS, while only 11% support it.
The poll also showed that 73% of the respondents believed that the reason for the emergence of ISIS was due to “external interference in the affairs of the region,” while 17% of them held “the political and economic conditions in some countries of the region” responsible for the emergence of the terrorist organization.
In light of these reasons, Iraqi political analyst Idris Ali said that “ISIS has lost its strength and momentum in Syria, Iraq and the region in general, but this does not mean that the danger it poses has completely ended.”
He pointed out to the Reference that ISIS still maintains some cells and individuals loyal to it in some areas, and it is also exploiting tensions and conflicts in local communities to sow the seeds of extremism and terrorism.
He added that the organization uses visual media tools to terrify the public and show its strength.
“Therefore, confronting the organization requires a comprehensive strategy that combines the security aspect, the political aspect, and the cultural aspect. All local, regional, and international parties must join efforts to remove the roots of extremism and terrorism, and to establish security and stability in Syria and Iraq,” he explained.
Challenges facing the fight against ISIS
Ali stressed that sleeper cells and fleeing militants must be confronted. Despite ISIS losing the lands it controlled, it is still able to launch sporadic attacks in some areas, especially in Iraq and Syria, as well as in some European and Asian countries.
“ISIS uses a variety of methods, such as suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, and attacks with knives or cars, and it targets civilians, security forces, and religious and media figures, with the aim of spreading terror and chaos and proving its ability to survive,” he continued.
Ali added that it is necessary to deal with ISIS returnees from Syria and Iraq, as there are thousands of foreign fighters and their families who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq and who are currently being held in camps or prisons under the supervision of the Syrian Democratic Forces or the Iraqi government, especially since the forces are facing difficulties in securing these detainees and holding them accountable for their crimes, as well as requesting their return to their countries of origin.
Ali also discussed the need to confront ISIS-affiliated propaganda and solicitation, as the terrorist organization is still using social networks and visual media to show its strength and attract more supporters and followers, especially as it focuses on spreading messages highlighting the injustice of Muslims in some areas, justifying its actions with religious arguments, or inciting its followers to launch attacks in their own countries.