The ISIS Threat
For companies doing business in the Middle East, one of the most critical issues right now is the strength of ISIS and the threat it poses to other nations in the region. In an effort to supply up to date information on this topic, GlobalPolicyWatch has reached out to Ezra Steinhardt in Covington’s London office. Ezra has been following ISIS aggression in this area. Set forth below is Ezra’s report on the current situation.
Some progress has been made in the last couple of weeks. This is due to co-operation between the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga forces. It is also due to US air strikes which in the course of August increased in intensity and area coverage. As a result, ISIS was forced to surrender control over Iraq’s largest dam near Mosul. However, ISIS is still attempting to retake the dam and air strikes are continuing in the area.
Further progress was made elsewhere in Iraq. By August 31, the ISIS siege against the town of Amerli in the Diyala region was lifted after a joint assault by Kurdish peshmerga, Shia militia, and Iraqi Army forces. This effort shows how the Iraqi government’s efforts to enhance internal cooperation are paying dividends. Joint forces are now pushing against ISIS in Tikrit in an attempt to seize back control of that city and other key areas of the Tigris river valley.
These signs of progress should not be overstated. Throughout the month of August, ISIS carried out near daily attacks on key areas in Iraq, including bombing campaigns in Baghdad itself. Conflict in southern Baghdad, in particular, is intensifying. Intra-Iraqi sectarian tensions also grew, particularly as a result of an attack on a Sunni mosque by Shia militia in Baquba, a city in Diyala province, on August 22. Events such as this may yet convince Sunnis in Iraq to continue supporting ISIS rather than turning against them. ISIS forces within Iraq remain capable and highly armed despite the increased intensity of U.S. air strikes, and ISIS has so far ceded little territory.
ISIS strength also continues to grow outside Iraq. ISIS has consolidated its hold over the Deir-ez-Zor city and region in eastern Syria. Significantly, by the end of August, ISIS had also conquered Tabqa, which had been the last Syrian regime military airbase in the region surrounding the key ISIS-controlled and “capital” city of Raqqa. ISIS also attacked and took other smaller bases and population centers located elsewhere in Syria. These victories have strengthened ISIS not only militarily by providing new regions of control and equipment, but also in public perception. They showed rebels and opponents of Assad’s government that ISIS is a force which may be capable of defeating the Syrian regime.
If ISIS remains free to operate without disruption in Syria, Iraqi forces may not be able to defeat ISIS even with air support from the U.S. The next big strategic question will be whether the U.S. and its allies such as the United Kingdom will move to strike targets in Syria as well as Iraq in the coming days.