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Iraq

Al-Qaeda To ISIS And Beyond, The Battle Is Not About To End

Still image from a propaganda ISIS video
Still image from a propaganda ISIS video
Stuart Richardson

-Analysis-

The Islamic State is now on the run in Syria and Iraq. Following the terror group's defeat this summer in its self-declared Iraqi capital of Mosul, ISIS has now been driven from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. This comes more than four years after ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his "Caliphate" from the pulpit of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul.

ISIS's aim was a break from the more amorphous strategy of al-Qaeda, with the Caliphate meant to be a reestablishment of the Prophet Muhammad's theocratic state that would now extend out from the territory it was rapidly conquering in the war-torn areas of Iraq and Syria.

Now, the territory is being ceded just as quickly, a major blow to al-Baghdadi's ambitions. But ISIS was always more than just a land grab. The movement has simultaneously been invading the minds of Muslims around the world, inspiring unflagging devotion to the Salafist cause. Through social media and the Internet, al-Baghdadi's message has given rise to ISIS offshoots in all corners of the globe, where local military forces have had varying success in defeating jihadist insurgents.

In the Philippines, where for decades Muslim insurgency groups based predominantly in the southern islands have challenged Manila's authority, government forces have been battling ISIS rebels in the city of Marawi since May. Last Tuesday, the military declared victory.

Even when fighting together, Afghan and American forces are "not enough" to defeat the rebels.

The win came at a high cost. According to the Indonesia-based media outlet KBR, the violence in Marawi displaced some 400,000 residents, approximately 90% of the city's population. The displaced will have difficulty returning to their homes, as the city now lays in ruin. Moreover, the long-term battle against Islamic insurgency is bound to return to the region.

A similar story repeats around the world. It's the result of the franchise model that the Islamic State adopted and expanded from al-Qaeda. It surprised many Americans, in the midst of the media circus surrounding the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, that ISIS had taken up residence in the West African nation.

To bring it full circle, the French daily Le Figaro features a reportage on the fortunes of ISIS In Afghanistan, the former home base of al-Qaeda. There, a branch of the group is gaining ground in the mountainous zone of Tora Bora, where Osama Bin Laden had sought refuge after orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

"We're dealing with an ideological force that wants to expand at any cost," a Western diplomat told Le Figaro, adding that even when fighting together, Afghan and American forces are "not enough" to defeat the rebels.

Indeed, beyond what we call it or how it looks on a map, it is the idea of the Islamic State that is the hardest to defeat.

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