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Where have the Daesh fighters gone?

July 19, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Questions are being asked about the disappearance of Daesh and its fighters. Where have they gone? Why haven’t we seen their bodies? Where are the prisoners? Western security agencies and media spoke of the extremist group having tens of thousands of members in the past, so where are they? Did they vanish into thin air?

Such questions are often rooted in conspiracy theories among Arab intellectuals and the general public, who like to interpret everything as a mystery, external conspiracy or a ruse to achieve a certain goal. When their function is no longer required, the ruse comes to a close, and thousands of Daesh fighters can disappear overnight without any noise or fuss.

The answer, though, is not so complicated. If the Arab public followed the rate of suicide attacks carried out by the group in the past few months, they would find that we are talking about thousands. Daesh announced a few months ago that it had already carried out over 1,200 suicide attacks; videos showed dozens of them.

What’s more, US fighter aircraft and tanks have also killed many Daesh operatives, but there are still dozens out there facing the Iraqi forces in the old neighbourhoods of Mosul. The group has suffered severe attrition because most of its forces opted to fight to the bitter end. Others, however, decided to re-deploy to other Daesh-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria, such as Al-Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zor and desert areas in both countries.

Read: 25,000 Daesh fighters were killed in Mosul

If prisoners have been taken, why haven’t details of their interrogation and confessions been made public by the authorities? Some Iraqi and even Arab satellite channels have already conducted their own interviews of some who were arrested.

Those who ask such questions tend to ignore the hundreds of Jordanians, for example, who went and fought either with Daesh or Al-Nusra Front; many of them were killed. I have a list of dozens of young Jordanians killed in suicide attacks or clashes on behalf of these groups. We are not talking about aliens; we are talking about people we know, as well as thousands of Iraqis and Syrians who joined the extremists.

We need to have clarification about a real problem in the Arab world: “conspiracy logic”. Of course there are conspiracies, plots and agendas, but that is how politics works. Has anyone said otherwise? However, the real conspiracy is that which we are plotting ourselves, against ourselves.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces, Daesh, Al-Nusra Front, the Houthis and others are ultimately Arabs who have been drawn in by these militias and engaged in armed conflicts. They became involved with extremist groups, presumably more or less voluntarily.

Read: The end of Iraqi and Syrian woes and the disappearance of Daesh

Interestingly, the debate about the end of Daesh takes us back to the early days of its rise and spread in 2014, when politicians and intellectuals talked about a conspiracy theory. Iraqi officials, as well as Syrians, said that it was a foreign invasion. In the end, it is obvious that Daesh was, and still is, an invasion from within.

The group is the product of our failure and confusion. It is the offspring of dictatorships, proxy wars, counter-revolutions and the opposition to democratic change. If it vanishes into thin air and its members are scattered, the dynamics for creating a similar situation will still be with us because we insist on denying the reality.

This piece was first published in Arabic in The New Khaleej on 18 July 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.