By losing Mosul, IS hit in the heart, end not in sight
Disputes over who will lead the reconstruction of Iraq and Syria are escalating
14 July, 2017
Iraqis celebrate the liberation of Mosul in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on 9 July.
Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi (R) visits a market in western Mosul on 9 July, greeting the citizens.
An undated file image from an IS video shows Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving a speech in an unknown location.
Shall we remember 2017 as the year of the collapse of the Islamic State? The recent developments in Iraq and Syria inspire moderate optimism, but observers note that it is very early for fanfare.
Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi declared victory over Islamic State in Mosul last Monday, marking the biggest defeat for the hardline Sunni group since its lightning sweep through northern Iraq three years ago. The campaign to retake Mosul from the militants was launched last October by a 100,000-strong alliance of Iraqi government units, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shi'ite militias, with a US-led coalition providing key air and ground support.
In neighbouring Syria, Islamic State also faces pressure in its operational base in Raqqa, where US-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces have seized territory on three sides of the city.
Meanwhile last Tuesday, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it had information from top IS group leaders confirming the death of the jihadist organisation's chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The US-led coalition said it could not verify the Observatory's report.
There have been persistent rumours of Baghdadi's death in recent months, and Russia's military said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed the IS chief in an air strike in Syria in May. His death, if confirmed, would be another heavy blow to the militant group.
The US-led coalition warned that victory in Mosul did not mark the end of the group's global threat. "Now it is time for all Iraqis to unite to ensure ISIS (Islamic State) is defeated across the rest of Iraq and that the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq are not allowed to return again," Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend said in a statement.
Losing control of its Iraqi stronghold, Islamic State has captured most of a village south of Mosul, deploying guerrilla-style tactics.
With Islamic State all but ejected from one if its former capitals and surrounded in the other, members of a 72-nation coalition meet in Washington last week. The question of who will lead a long-term campaign of physical and political reconstruction in Iraq and Syria strongly emerged amid concern that Iran could fill the vacuum left by Islamic State to expand its clout in both countries.
Another issue is that the region's Sunni Muslims, if not given a share of political and economic power, could be vulnerable to Islamic State recruitment as the group reverts from one that holds territory to a shadowy, violent insurgency.
Trump's budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on 1 October, would allocate $13bn for the military fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, news wires recall. The US is expected to support a robust Iraqi- and UN-led effort to stabilise liberated areas in Iraq, where Washington has reliable partner in PM Haider al-Abadi. But amid Syria's ongoing civil war, Washington is pursuing a more cautious, localised stabilisation plan. US and other Western officials argue that Russia, which intervened to help Syrian President Bashar Assad, should contribute.