ISIS After Mosul
As ISIS's dreams of a caliphate slip away, its hold over the hearts and minds of frustrated young potential fighters may be weakening. But, unless a concerted effort is made to discredit jihadists and strengthen political systems, the cycle of terror and violence in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East will remain unbroken.
RAMALLAH – Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the Islamic State (ISIS) had been driven out of Mosul, the city where the group first announced its self-styled caliphate three years ago. Before long, ISIS is expected also to lose Raqqa, its last stronghold, on which its grip is already slipping. But it would be a mistake to assume that these defeats will spell the demise of ISIS or similar violent extremist groups.
A group like ISIS relies on its ability to attract young people to join its ranks, by offering frustrated individuals an ideologically charged sense of purpose. And ISIS has proven adept at doing just that, drawing fighters from all over the world who are willing to die for its cause – to create an expansive caliphate – and inspiring many more to carry out attacks in their home countries.
Recapturing territory from ISIS – particularly the cities that have served as “capitals” of their self-proclaimed caliphate – goes a long way toward weakening it, by sending the message that the group cannot, in fact, translate its religious ideology into a real geopolitical force. And, indeed, US intelligence estimates indicate that, by last September, the flow of foreign recruits crossing from Turkey into Syria to join groups like ISIS had dropped from a high of 2,000 per month to as few as 50.