IS Defeated in Raqqa
The Islamic State lost Raqqa, its de-facto capital, on Tuesday after being pushed out by American-backed forces. Residents celebrated the end of the Islamic State’s repressive rule, but fighting and instability in the region will persist despite this victory.
Although the Islamic State is losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it still controls nearly 4,000 square miles along the Euphrates River. Furthermore, the Islamic State derives significant power from its social media presence, which helps it promote terrorism outside the Middle East.
Aaron Zelin, who works for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy warned that “The Islamic State is not finished. I.S. has a plan, and that is to wait out their enemies locally in order to gain time to rebuild their networks, while at the same time provide inspiration to followers outside to keep fighting their enemies farther away.”
Rather than dying out, the Islamic State may shift back into the underground insurgency under which it began. After territorial losses, Islamic State leaders said that they may revert back into a guerrilla force to regain momentum. Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani said that “true defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight,” indicating that reclaiming territory will not be enough to stop the Islamic State.
As the Islamic State’s immediate threat seems to diminish, even just ever so slightly, because of the territorial losses, countries and various interest groups in the region will no longer be held together by the collective need to defeat the Islamic State.
In the immediate future, the Kurds and Arabs may feel tension as they decide who will govern Raqqa. And tensions in Iraq have been on the rise between the Kurds and other groups such as Turkmens and Arabs. This tension was on show on Monday when the Iraqi government forced Kurds out of Kirkuk.
Various countries, such as the United States, Iran, and Russia have all been fighting the Islamic State, often in attempts to try to gain influence in the region. This competition from foreign countries is contributing to the region’s instability and could complicate restabilization.
Rebuilding cities that have been retaken from the Islamic State could also contribute towards instability. A local councillor in Raqqa said that at least half of the city was destroyed during the offensive. In particular, the air strikes and shellings have wrecked Raqqa’s civilian infrastructure and homes. The conflict has also displaced nearly 270,000 civilians since April, indicating that it will be a massive effort to provide enough resources for all of these people and help them either move back to Raqqa or relocate.
There are many actions that must be taken in the future to mitigate the effects of the damage and to prevent the perpetuation of violence. The international community, particularly powerful countries such as the United States, must do a better job of promoting regional stability and not ignoring existing tensions as they fight the Islamic State.
Furthermore, strategies ought to be implemented to cut off the Islamic State’s social media influence and prevent it from rebuilding into a more powerful entity. Help must also be provided to people displaced by the conflict, as well as to places trying to rebuild following destruction.