With Mosul, Al Raqqa falling, IS set to regroup in desert

Istanbul: If the Amaq news service is to be believed, all is well in the territories controlled by IS. Photos and videos broadcast by Amaq show life going on as normal in Mosul, its main bastion in northern Iraq, despite a major offensive by Iraqi forces backed by US air power.
While the terrorist militia has clearly suffered setbacks in recent months, ceding Palmyra to Syrian government forces and coming under-siege in al-Raqqa, its Syrian “capital,” it is unlikely to be completely vanquished in the foreseeable future.
Hassan Hassan, an expert on the IS militia for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, believes IS has long made preparations for defeat.
In an analysis for the ‘New York Times’, he noted that attempts to stamp out a predecessor organisation to IS failed because the extremists merely cut their losses and faded away into the vast western deserts of Iraq.
Away from civilisation, its supporters waited for events to turn in their favour, simultaneously establishing cells in Mosul. By the summer of 2014 they were ready, seizing Mosul with a few hundred fighters.
Guido Steinberg of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs believes they may be in an even better position this time round, with areas to retreat to in both war-ravaged Syria and Iraq.
“There will be sufficient grey zones there for them to operate in,”he says. IS agents have long since found their way into Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where state control is limited.
Steinberg believes that Mosul, Iraq’s second city, will continue to be an IS battleground even after a major defeat.
The organisation will adopt guerrilla tactics, attacking military and police targets, as shown by recent attacks of this kind in areas of Iraq from which it had been expelled. The analysts agree that IS will not be destroyed militarily.
“The war against the IS is unwinnable without filling the political and security vacuum that now exists in too much of Iraq,”Hassan says.
In Hassan’s view, US policy has sown the seeds of renewed conflict in Syria by backing the Kurdish YPG militia.
The Kurds are moving on al-Raqqa along with other forces opposed to IS. The northern Syrian city’s population is largely people wary of the Kurdish advance. Turkey is also opposed to the YPG playing a major role. It sees the YPG as allied to the PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the Turkish army is battling in southern Turkey.
IS is set to profit from these conflicts and remain trenched in both countries, Hassan said.
Nevertheless there are hopes that 2016 could go down as the year the fight against the organisation turned. After all, IS has taken significant losses, with the loss of Palmyra and the region along Syria’s border with Turkey, not to mention the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
And military observers believe that Mosul will fall, even if it might take months. Al-Raqqa is the next target of the US-led coalition, although this may take longer, as Syrian government forces focus on their opponents in the west of the country. Nonetheless, the countries that have joined the fight against IS may be at increased risk of terrorist attack.
Jacob Olidort of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, points to the organisation’s carefully cultivated “brand,” with its distinctive “ability to inspire lone wolf attacks.” — dpa