The geographical area occupied by Daesh is diminishing, according to the Pentagon, but the organisation itself will not disappear. The US Secretary of State has told his counterparts from 75 countries participating in the “international coalition” that the war on Daesh is not yet over.
This is the same conclusion that was reached regarding the war on Al-Qaeda. After being pursued for many years in the caves of Tora Bora and across Afghanistan, the group is emerging in Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Niger and elsewhere. The only refuge its leaders have found is in Iran.
Ever since Daesh was born of Al-Qaeda, it has exceeded the capabilities of its parent body in several areas, including external recruitment as well as in the inevitable “post-Daesh” phase. It has maintained weapon stores and sleeper cells, and searched for safe havens so that its members can regroup. Hence, we hear warnings about Daesh II on the horizon.
The major combat operations suggested that the “caliphate” had been eliminated and greatly weakened. While Daesh fighters believed that they were defending the “Islamic State”, they destroyed dozens of towns and cities of significance to the Muslims of Iraq and Syria on economic, scientific and infrastructure levels.
Far from promoting religion and Sharia Law, Daesh was actually running one of the largest criminal gangs in modern history. It killed or caused the killing of tens of thousands of Muslims and committed heinous massacres and crimes against followers of other faiths.
If the enemies of Islam had searched for an instrument of destruction to fight the faith and its followers, they could not have found one better than Daesh. While it became clear that the emergence of the group and its spread was a crime in itself, there were direct and indirect beneficiaries, as is the case with any crime.
The reality is that the war is not about to end because the reasons for it starting have not been altered or affected by the fighting. Indeed, they have been exacerbated. That is why we must examine the result in terms of the innocent victims and the beneficiaries fighting about “victory over Daesh”.
In Mosul and Anbar there was no destruction and almost normal daily life despite a bitter conflict between their residents and the central government in Baghdad. The President of Iraq has neither hidden his sectarianism nor dealt with the people’s declared and legitimate grievances. Daesh was able to infiltrate these areas, presenting itself as a solution and alternative to the issues with Baghdad; this was disastrous.
In Al-Raqqa and Deir al-Zour also, there has been no destruction; instead, the whole of Syria was in conflict with the Damascus regime, which classified the entire nation as “terrorists” and dragged the country into a civil war. This was followed by foreign intervention, which the regime considered to be a lesser evil than granting the people their rights, or some of them at least.
In both capitals, Iran was the decision-maker and driving force. From Tehran, Al-Qaeda leaders managed their own fighters in close collaboration with the so-called Nusra Front, which went by various names across Iraq and Syria. Its “experts” moved about in the cities and mixed with Daesh leaders, and managed their conflict and separation from the parent body.
It is reasonable to feel that the parties to the war on Daesh have benefited because it reintroduced the US into the war on terror, which Washington believed had ended with the killing of Osama Bin Laden. However, the US now intends to withdraw its troops from Syria.
Russia has claimed to be fighting terrorism to crush opposition factions, save the Damascus regime and use Syria as a platform for its international negotiations. The regime itself would not have survived without its involvement with the Iranians in engineering the phenomenon of “post-Al-Qaeda terrorism”. Turkey has also participated in the surge of fighters into Daesh and has finally begun to reap its rewards by coordinating with Russia.
However, the party benefiting the most is the regime in Tehran, which helped to create the Daesh monster, fattened it up and then fought and defeated it. It is now gathering the remnants together in order to re-launch the group in an even fiercer and more brutal form.
The next phase of the war on terror was the main focus of the meeting of coalition ministers attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Perhaps the new thing is that Washington has finally linked the assurances about Daesh not reappearing to the departure of Iran and its militias from Syria and the control of these militias in Iraq.
However, the most pressing problem now is reconstructing the areas from which Daesh has been expelled because leaving them neglected and unliveable has allowed the group to resume its recruitment of fighters, especially from rural Iraqi areas. This will have to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Translated from The New Khalij, 14 February 1029
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.