Many who would like to see the permanent end of ISIS rejoiced or at least felt cheered by the news last weekend: The long-awaited battle to dislodge ISIS from Mosul began, with the urgency of the start date driven at least in part by the political needs of the presidents of Iraq and the United States. They both need a decisive major battle but for different reasons: for US President Barack Obama it would validate his much-criticized approach to the ISIS crisis and a piece of the legacy he is trying to leave behind as he departs from the Oval Office. For Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi it provides a rare opportunity to shore up his government’s credibility which has taken a huge beating in the crisis.
Outside of grand political interests, the Mosul campaign amounts to the most significant battle within Iraq other reasons, including the very significance of Mosul, the fact that Mosul is the jihadists’ last major holding in Iraq and perhaps sin the minds of some, the chance to cover off its embarrassing loss in 2014.
However, speaking as someone who has researched ISIS for nearly two years while writing What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion War and the Caliphate, I share the opinion about the battle’s significance but I’m not ready to declare ISIS mortally defeated just yet, even if they lose Mosul.
For some similar reasons, many individuals in Indonesia have not declared the war over just yet. The attacks in Jakarta in January, in the Philippines in April, the recent kidnappings, also in the Philippines, the July attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh and other incidents in Asia leave no doubt of ISIS’s intentions, power and the threat it poses in the region. Jihadists in these countries pledged their allegiance in 2014, following the declaration of the Islamic State by Abu Bakr a-Baghdadi.
Up to the time of writing, the battle at Mosul, after almost a week, has had no perceivable effect on ISIS franchises in Asia, although one can reasonably believe that whatever active direction these franchises normally received from ISIS has become limited or even completely cut off.
Mosul represents ISIS’s last major stronghold within Iraq and an extremely important piece of the ISIS crisis. When ISIS took over Mosul in June 2014 it made its intentions absolutely clear to the world. It is also Iraq’s second largest city and it served as a launch pad for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s proclamation of the Islamic State with himself as leader of Muslims everywhere.
Mosul also symbolizes one of the worst episodes for Iraqi armed forces, In June 2014, they fled from the onslaught of ISIS, which had a much smaller force, essentially handing the city over to ISIS. That triumph contributed to ISIS’s attraction for foreign fighters who came to fight with the group.
Still, while the battle of Mosul makes eminent sense as a chapter in the war against ISIS, and in a sense had to take place, other complications mean that any celebrations in any country will be a while in coming. I expect the Mosul operation to take longer than the battle for Ramadi, due to its larger size and the complexity of the operation. If Ramadi provides nay guideline the Mosul operation could take weeks or even months.
The fall of Mosul would definitely not mean the end of ISIS. Many of the fighters will escape and fight as insurgents. Some will return to their home countries and possibly create havoc there as lone wolves. Also, there are ISIS groups and affiliates in over a dozen countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh. We also have to remember that ISIS has called for its sympathizers everywhere to do as much damage as possible.
The fall of Mosul and what happens to ISIS will not materially damage one of its largest affiliates, Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the Asian franchise. I would submit that even if the coalition forces win the battle for Mosul, it does not mean the end of ISIS. There are many more battles to be found.
Following nearly two years of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate is being released this month. It goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. It is available at all major online book sites including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.