'Islamic State': Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
Last Update: 09:55

Losing ground in its power base in the Middle East, the "Islamic State" militant group΄s future appears as open as ever. DW spoke to counter-terrorism experts and scholars to discuss the likelihood of its survival."I announce from here the end, the failure and the collapse of the state of falsehood and terrorism, which the ΄Islamic State΄ declared from Mosul," said Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi after a months-long campaign to drive the militant group from the strategic city.

While the devastating military campaign to liberate Mosul from the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group proved successful, it has yet to spell the end for a band of militants that rallied together in 2006 and, a decade later, transformed into a global phenomenon.

In the wake of the victory in Mosul, international efforts have shifted to uprooting the militant group from its Syrian bastion in Raqqa. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance of homegrown combatants, have made gains in the battle for Raqqa, but hundreds if not thousands of fighters have managed to flee towards the Syrian-Iraqi border and elsewhere outside the region.

The militant group rose to notoriety in June 2014, when it launched a vicious military campaign and captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the occupation of Mosul. By the end of the month, the group΄s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate from the historic Great Mosque of Mosul.

"In my view, IS is at heart an Iraqi organization, so its defeat in Iraq will break its back, even if remnants continue here and there, or if violent individuals or groups in non-Arab countries use its name," Yezid Sayigh, senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center told DW, referring to the group by an alternative acronym.

΄Decentralized jihad΄

Despite its losses, the militant group continues to hold ground in parts of Iraq and Syria, especially near the border region. Tomas Olivier, counterterrorism and intelligence manager at the Netherlands-based Twickelerveld Intelligence and Investigations, told DW that even in the face of open conflict in Iraq and Syria, the "Islamic State" has managed to export its operational branches outside of the region to places in North Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and Eastern and Western Africa.

"The most disturbing fact about the current IS organization is their flexibility in response, even after defeat, in which they apparently managed to establish a series of operational hubs throughout the Western hemisphere with the proven capability to - in military terms - strike ΄on demand΄ or based on ideological motivation," Olivier said.

The former senior officer at the Dutch defense ministry added that while monitoring the group΄s latest online activity, he witnessed an increase in disconcerting messaging to commit attacks against the "crusaders" by any means necessary.

"IS is promoting a decentralized jihad with specific attention to lone wolf attacks in the West and against coalition targets throughout the world, from the streets of Manchester to Marawi in the Philippines," Olivier said.

΄Islamic State΄: Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

Losing ground in its power base in the Middle East, the "Islamic State" militant group΄s future appears as open as ever. DW spoke to counter-terrorism experts and scholars to discuss the likelihood of its survival.

Islamic State militants celebrate after commandeering an Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah in 2014

"I announce from here the end, the failure and the collapse of the state of falsehood and terrorism, which the ΄Islamic State΄ declared from Mosul," said Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi after a months-long campaign to drive the militant group from the strategic city.

While the devastating military campaign to liberate Mosul from the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group proved successful, it has yet to spell the end for a band of militants that rallied together in 2006 and, a decade later, transformed into a global phenomenon.

In the wake of the victory in Mosul, international efforts have shifted to uprooting the militant group from its Syrian bastion in Raqqa. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance of homegrown combatants, have made gains in the battle for Raqqa, but hundreds if not thousands of fighters have managed to flee towards the Syrian-Iraqi border and elsewhere outside the region.

The militant group rose to notoriety in June 2014, when it launched a vicious military campaign and captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the occupation of Mosul. By the end of the month, the group΄s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate from the historic Great Mosque of Mosul.

"In my view, IS is at heart an Iraqi organization, so its defeat in Iraq will break its back, even if remnants continue here and there, or if violent individuals or groups in non-Arab countries use its name," Yezid Sayigh, senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center told DW, referring to the group by an alternative acronym.

Ideology without end

While the prospect of the "Islamic State΄s" military defeat in Iraq and Syria has raised hopes for the militant group΄s end, the ideas that propelled it to notoriety continue to be accessible via social networks, digital repositories and online archives.

Oxnevad noted that even if the group is "gone off a map," that doesn΄t mean the ideology that propagates such extremism will cease to exist, especially given the statehood declaration made by al-Baghdadi in Mosul.

"You see it with neo-Nazi groups and the Third Reich, certain people in the American South and the Confederacy. Presumably you see the same thing in Russia with the Soviet Union," Oxnevad said.

"You have the idea of recapturing something that was lost, or at least recreating it. That is something that the world will just have to safeguard against in anyway possible."

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