Isis’s statelet is faltering. But unfortunately, the way Isis is losing its urban strongholds is legitimising it, laying the groundwork for a military recovery.
Isis is waging a revolutionary war that prioritises politics and focuses on the long term, exhausting its enemies’ will. It can take military set-backs, provided they are useful ideologically. And the current losses are.
The Coalition is largely working with radically sectarian Iranian-controlled Shia militias in Iraq and an authoritarian Marxist-nationalist Kurdish group in Syria. Isis survived defeat in 2008, its ideologues retreating to the desert, plotting, killing off enemies, and waiting for an opportunity. Political change that brought persecution to Sunnis provided the hook and Isis polarised the situation still further.
With these Shia and Kurdish groups in occupation of Sunni cities – and Western willingness to engage decreasing over time – the opportunity to re-attempt the caliphate will arrive more quickly this time.
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