By recent reports, one could easily come away with the impression that war and instability across the Fertile Crescent are winding down. Predictions about what comes next, always a risky enterprise in the Middle East, are at a point of unique vulnerability. Chaos and violence for some considerable time to come look like a safe bet, though the timing and scale look more uncertain. Nonetheless, certain trendlines are visible, most clearly the emergence of a regional order, abetted by the international coalition’s campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Iraqi government declared Mosul, the Iraqi “capital” of ISIS’ caliphate, liberated from ISIS’ rule on 9 July. Fighting continued for around a week, and sporadic violence—assassinations, bombing—has never ceased. The concerns expressed before the Mosul operation began about the viability of the post-ISIS political order and the reserve strength of ISIS to wage a protracted underground war against the state remain, not least because in other areas of Iraq cleared of ISIS’ overt control, there are alarming signs already that the jihadists are recovering.
ISIS has generally exercised a very strict force-preservation as it loses cities: leaving behind only a skeleton crew of snipers and suicide bombers, behind layers of mines and barbed wire, to exact a heavy price for minimal cost on its enemies. In Mosul, this protocol was somewhat relaxed, seen notably in the use of suicide bombers on an unprecedented scale. Still, while the investment in the defence of Mosul was above that of any other city ISIS has held, it was no kind of “last stand;” the jihadists bloodied the incoming forces, and then they withdrew.
Read the rest at Al-Jumhuriya.