The Islamic State That Won’t
The world’s only territorial terror state, the Islamic State, has stopped expanding in Iraq and is battling to hold onto to the city of Tikrit from a combined Iraqi-Iranian army. It is holding its own in Syria where it is one of the three primary armed groups that have trifurcated the country.
It is too much to say that the writing on the wall for IS is now evident. Perhaps it can be said a mild scratching on the wall is visible.
The primary reason is that its own depredations have brought together a diverse and, until a year ago, unlikely coalition of enemies. Thus US airpower is providing support for Iranian militia on the ground. Saudi Arabia has reluctantly declared its opposition to the IS.
In Iraq the military consequences of this anti-IS coalition will be determined. If the coalition is successful, even the city of Mosul may be wrested from the self styled caliphate. At this point, the writing on the wall would be calligraphically certain.
A secondary reason would be finances. The IS has depended on the black market sale of crude oil from its Syrian and Iraqi fields for a large chunk of its funds. It used to sell this at a discount of about 40% off the then prevailing price of $ 100. Today, with oil prices at $ 50, a similar discount would mean it nets only about $ 30 a barrel. The withdrawal of Saudi Arabia and, notionally, Qatar from its list of sponsors hasn’t helped. It is also slowly running out of foreign hostages to auction off.
Finally, however, is that its extreme brutality has cost it much of the support it once attracted in large parts of the Arab Muslim world. For example, its burning alive of a captured Jordanian air force pilot curdled its once considerable support in that Arab country. Much of its violence doesn’t even make theological sense. The last American it executed was a Muslim convert who had even helped Al Qaeda fighters. Yet he was killed. Rightly, even Islamic fundamentalist mullahs complained. The point of jihad is to bring infidels into the fold of Islam. If one kills them even after they do so, then the basic tenet of jihad is undermined.
I foresee major setbacks for the IS in the coming year. Not enough to destroy it, but it will be reduced to Syria and the desert wastes of western Iraq. However, its ability to inspire lone wolf attacks in far-off places will not diminish. And many of its affiliates like Boko Haram in Nigeria, operationally independent of IS, will continue to ravage their corner of the world.