Iraq and Syria Must Rebuild to Avoid Islamic State Resurgence
Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the Islamic State’s spokesman, called for violence against Arab nations in a statement on Sunday. This is the first statement in ten months, and indicates a renewed shift from promoting violence in European and North American nations back towards trying to regroup in the Middle East.
As of March, the US-led coalition reported that they had recaptured 98% of the Islamic State’s territory in Iraq and Syria, and Iraq has declared victory over the Islamic State. After the coalition lost the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to a battle with Turkey, the Islamic State began to take back some of their lost territory in Syria. However, Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the American-led coalition, said that “There really has been no...significant gain of territory since the departure of many of those fighters,” and that their main focus is on limiting the remaining Islamic State fighters’ ability “to stand up and work as networks and work as an organization.”
A visitor to Deir Ezzor province in Syria said that “local people talk of an ISIS comeback and you should not be on the roads after 3pm, because that is when the SDF [the mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces] abandon their checkpoints for the night.” Western diplomats have also expressed worry over the increasing number of smaller attacks, such as an ambush on an Iraqi intelligence unit, and a deadly car bomb in Qamishli, Syria, in February.
Now United States commanders are using new tactics to regain momentum, especially as they face President Trump’s threat to withdraw American troops. Under the new strategy, the coalition conducted 23 strikes in eastern Syria last week, up from three during the week of April 5, claiming to use a method that reduces the number of civilian deaths.
If successful at reclaiming all of the Islamic State’s territory, Middle Eastern countries, particularly Syria and Iraq, must begin to think about rebuilding infrastructure and culture. In Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the United Arab Emirates has donated $50 million to rebuild the Al Nuri Grand Mosque and its minaret. “This is a historic partnership, the largest and unprecedented cooperation to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq ever,” said Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO.
Especially in light of the call to foster more violence in Arab nations, Middle Eastern and Western countries alike must focus on ways to build stability into Middle Eastern countries as the Islamic State’s hold on territory continues to diminish. A Brookings article predicts that it is likely that the Islamic State will, similar to al Qaeda, “go underground, disrupt politics and foster sectarianism; wage an insurgency; and then come roaring back.” It is important that the campaign against the Islamic State recognizes the potency of a resurgence of Islamic State forces. The other regional conflicts, especially between the Kurds and Turkish and Iraqi governments, may continue to feed extremism, and make it impossible to stop the Islamic State from regrouping. As Iraq and Syria continue to rebuild, they must make it a primary objective to work towards political and economic stability.