Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’

Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’
In this undated file image posted by the Raqqa Media Center in Islamic State group-held territory on June 30, 2014, fighters from the Daesh group ride tanks during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center, File)
Updated 13 October 2018

Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’

Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’
  • The world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, it still has long arms to strike
  • Clashes this week in the Syrian village of Sousah left more than two dozen fighters on both sides dead

BEIRUT: After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, Daesh has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say — a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham Al-Hashimi, a Daesh expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring a “caliphate” across large areas of both countries.

Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

There are concerns, however, that while Daesh may never be able to recreate the kind of territorial hold it once had, it is trying to latch on to new territory.

One of the group’s deadliest attacks since the collapse of the supposed caliphate came in late July, when dozens of masked Daesh fighters stormed the southern city of Sweida and nearby villages inhabited by members of Syria’s Druze minority, gunning down more than 200 people and kidnapping about 30, mostly women and children.

The ambush shook the community, which had stayed on the sidelines of Syria’s seven-year civil war and took many by surprise, raising fears that as the militants are on the retreat, they will try to regroup in remote pockets of territory like this once quiet corner of the country.

Last month, Daesh fighters stormed the northern Iraqi village of Gharib, killing three villagers and wounding nine after residents refused to collaborate with them and give them supplies such as food and ammunition. Last week, Daesh attacked the village of Saadiyeh, south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing three and abducting one.

The group regularly stages attacks in villages in the provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Kirkuk and elsewhere, targeting local officials or police because they work for the state.

Iraqi military spokesman Big. Gen. Yahya Rasoul said this week that security forces have begun a broad operation in the western province of Anbar that borders Syria to take out Daesh sleeper cells.

Analysts warn that this could be the beginning of a new resurgence of the group similar to the one that preceded their rise in 2010, after many thought the group’s predecessor had been defeated during the US surge there in 2007.

Hassan Hassan, senior research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, wrote in a recent article that Daesh has been able to undergo an orderly transition from caliphate to insurgency without fracturing.

Last month, US-backed Syrian fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces began a final push to retake Hajjin, the last pocket held by Daesh on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River near the Iraq border. They have had to advance slowly as the extremists rely on mines, snipers fire and suicide attacks in defending their positions.

Clashes this week in the Syrian village of Sousah left more than two dozen fighters on both sides dead as Daesh fighters took advantage of a sandstorm and bad visibility to attack SDF positions.

It’s not clear how many militants are still fighting with Daesh. A UN report released in August said Daesh has up to 30,000 members distributed roughly equally between Syria and Iraq, and said its global network increasingly poses a threat.

The UN report said that despite the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the militant group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”