IS was?: On Islamic State’s defeat
The Islamic State may have lost territory, but it still exists
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory over the Islamic State, signalling an end to more than three years of battle that saw Iraqi troops first fleeing without their weapons and then, with foreign assistance, regrouping to recover lost territory. At the peak of its influence, the IS controlled almost a third of Iraq, including Mosul, its second largest city. Mr. Abadi, who took over as Prime Minister in September 2014 when the country was in the middle of the civil war, adopted a cautious, gradualist approach with direct help from the United States and Iran to take on the IS. Iraqi troops first stopped the IS’s southward expansion in the suburbs of Baghdad and then started offensive operations in the group’s small pockets of influence. After capturing cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraqi troops moved to Mosul, the jewel in the IS crown. Iran-trained Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga troops joined the ground battle, as the U.S. provided air cover. When Mosul was liberated in July after nine months of fighting, it was arguable whether a final victory over the IS was just a matter of time. Mr. Abadi claims Iraqi soldiers have established control over the vast Iraq-Syria border after ousting IS fighters from small border towns where they had retreated after losing urban areas.
For Mr. Abadi and the Iraqi military, this is a moment of both relief and accomplishment. But it may be far too simplistic to conclude that Iraq is totally rid of the IS threat. Perhaps a greater challenge they face is healing the wounds of the civil war. Iraq is a divided country today. The resource-rich south, which is mostly Shia, supports the government and is relatively peaceful. In the war-stricken north and west, there is no doubting that people feel alienated from the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The Kurdish Autonomous Region has already held a referendum, against the wishes of Baghdad, in which a majority of voters supported independence. If the government fails to tackle these divisions and lets parts of the country drift into anarchy again, groups like the IS will find it an easy breeding ground and regain a footing. The IS may have lost territory, but it would be blind to deny that the group doesn’t exist anymore. It is not known, for instance, what happened to its self-declared Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In Syria it still controls territory, even if it is under growing pressure of Russian-American bombing and Kurdish attacks. In 2006-07, al-Qaeda in Iraq had faced similar military setbacks. But when Iraq’s sectarian rivalry took a turn for the worse and civil war broke out in Syria, it regrouped and reinvented itself as the IS. Mr. Abadi has to see that this doesn’t repeat itself. In order to do so, he must, besides keeping the military on alert, reach out to the country’s disaffected Sunnis and Kurds. Only a united Iraq can hold off the resurrection of the extremists.
- flee (verb) – run away, take flight, escape.
- take over (phrasal verb) – assume control of, take charge of, take command of.
- take on (phrasal verb) – compete against, oppose, confront/fight.
- militia (noun) – armed forces, military unit, soldiery (from the civil population to support main forces).
- it is only/just a matter of time (phrase) – certain/sure to happen; inevitable.
- oust (verb) – expel, throw out, remove.
- retreat (verb) – withdraw, retire, pull back.
- be rid of (verb) – be freed, be relieved of;
- alienate (verb) – estrange, set/drive apart, divide/separate.
- referendum (noun) – public vote; a direct vote in which people cast ballots to decide on a specific issue or policy (Courtesy: VOA Learning English).
- drift (verb) – develop towards an unwelcoming one; depart, diverge, deviate.
- anarchy (noun) – lawlessness, absence of government, disorder.
- breeding ground (noun) – a place/situation/condition for the development/rising of something.
- footing (noun) – foothold, grip/anchorage, secure position.
- Caliph (noun) – The chief Muslim ruler.
- sectarian (adjective) – denoting a sect (group of people).
- break out (phrasal verb) – flare up, begin suddenly, erupt.
- reach out (verb) – providing support/help to, outreach, extend.
- disaffected (adjective) – dissatisfied/discontented, restless, frustrated.
- hold off (phrasal verb) – delay, postpone, hold back.
- resurrection (noun) – revival/renewal, restoration, re-establishment.
- extremist (noun) – a person who is with extreme political or religious views and supports violent actions; fanatic, radical.