The physical downfall of the group, and the elimination of the features of its “caliphate” from the cities and towns that were under its control in Iraq and Syria, are inexorable. Iraqi forces liberated Mosul from Daesh in early July this year. Raqqa, the de facto capital of the “caliphate,” is now under the control of Assad regime troops and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). There has been bloody fighting, with heavy losses on both sides and many civilian casualties. The physical infrastructure in Syria and Iraq has been badly damaged, and historical and cultural sites have been demolished. These countries need to be rebuilt.
Daesh has now lost more than 80 percent of its income from selling oil and gas to other countries. The danger is that Daesh fighters now have nothing to lose because no country will accept them as members of the community as they are a safety and security risk.
There are a number of reasons for the collapse of Daesh in Syria and Iraq. For one, the functional task of their fighters is over, since they have weakened the regular armies of both Iraq and Syria for more than six years. A second reason is the Russian intervention in Syria, which has limited the expansion of Daesh. A third is the military and economic sanctions imposed on the group, especially after Moscow monitored Daesh fighters selling oil. The steadfastness of the armed forces in Iraq and Syria has also helped to weaken the terrorist fighters in both countries. However, there are still incubators of these terrorists in both Iraq and Syria and this could eventually lead to a regrouping of the fighters in a worse form in the future.
When the United States mobilized 60 countries to fight Daesh, it effectively returned to Iraq and Syria in particular and to the Middle East in general using Daesh as a pretext, sending more than 5,000 soldiers to help the Iraqi army uproot terrorism and more than 1,500 troops to Syria to help the SDF.
What will happen to Daesh in the coming few months?
The terrorist ‘caliphate’ is no more, but its poisonous ideology lives on and there are many ways for an even worse version to reappear.
There are many possibilities. A significant one would be if Daesh leaders announced that they were dissolving the group, admitting their defeat and the demise of their state. Another is that Daesh fighters would go underground in Syria and Iraq and start their secret work against Iraqi and Syrian governments with the aim of destabilizing both countries. If that happened, it would cause trouble for many years to come. A third consideration is that the commanders of Daesh and their fighters would pull out from Syria and Iraq and move to work in other countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria and Libya. In other words, Daesh would establish “alternative command areas” in countries where it can thrive.
The defeat of Daesh in Mosul and Raqqa does not mean the end of it. It may even be the start of a new and more dangerous stage, because it has sown the seeds of its radical ideology in a short period of time.
To sum up, the fight against terrorism will not end as long as bloodthirsty countries continue to cause trouble in certain countries, and continue to sell weapons with no regard to the number of people who would be killed and the amount of physical destruction that this would lead to.
The war against Daesh will not end with the fall of Mosul and Raqqa. Rather, this might lead to the birth of a clone of Daesh in an even worse form, surviving in the incubators of Syria and Iraq to expand in other communities in the region.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme