The issue of withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq, and in particular the US military, has been a hot topic for debate in recent months. This issue has been raised especially by some Shiite political and military groups and continues to be discussed in the media as one of the demands of these groups from the new government. Naturally, the issue of the withdrawal of the Americans from Iraq has caused concern and dissatisfaction in Washington. Because they do not want to abandon the field in favour of Iran and to further strengthen the Shiite military groups in Iraq. Meanwhile, focusing on reactivating ISIS in Iraq and creating insecurity by the group appears to be a serious burden on the United States’ insistence on continuing its presence in Iraq.
On the other hand, the political and social situation in Iraq has been unique since the beginning of the protests in October 2019. The resignation of the Prime Minister, the political crisis caused by political differences between the groups over a nominee and the resignation of two incumbent prime ministers, all show that Baghdad is seriously involved in a hasty and disturbing political process. Even if we leave out the scenario of Washington’s role in re-arming ISIS, naturally this political air and the transition process and absence of a fully established government will cause the government to pay less attention to security issues and followed by security gaps.
In the meantime, other factors may have played a role in the recent ISIS operation in Iraq; the ban in recent weeks in various Iraqi cities due to the outbreak of the coronavirus cannot be ignored. Since the beginning of April, 18 operations have been carried out by ISIS in Iraq, which is significant within this time interval.
Although corona has weakened some of the ISIS activities to purchase basic necessities such as food and mobile phone charging, etc., the presence of a significant number of police and military forces in the cities to enforce the ban on citizens’ traffic due to corona has created a vacuum in some regions and has provided the opportunity for the ISIS to conduct operations in the vacuum that has been created. In the meantime, of course, the weakness of the intelligence sector should not be overlooked. The available evidence and information show that the focus of the operational forces in dealing with ISIS is more on the operational dimension, and that attention to intelligence issues has been diminished for a number of reasons.
Meantime, the issue of engaging the Iraqi popular mobilization forces and resistance groups against ISIS could be a ploy to draw the attention of these groups to the confrontation with terrorists rather than to the United States.
At the same time, it should be noted that ISIS has suffered significant human and financial losses. The group has lost its charismatic and well-known leader, and its current leader is an unknown figure whose even true identity is in doubt. Significant funds and lands have been lost, and this plays an important role in reducing their absorption and assimilation.
In addition to the high level of unrest in Sunni populated areas, which were generally controlled by ISIS and harmed by its presence, public opinion has not welcomed the group as it did in Summer 2014 and the lack of funding is a challenge for ISIS. However, it has been reported that the group has recently been collecting taxes to cover some of the costs in some areas where security forces maintain a weaker presence.
Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the new ISIS leadership, which is also being criticized internally, will definitely have restoration of order on the agenda. Although the group is not in possession of the vast and renewable financial resources of the past, it still has some $400 million, which still enables them to take some action. The group’s social base has not been completely eradicated, and there is a risk of the presence of ISIS among Iraqi refugees and the emergence of a new generation of ISIS. It must be noted, however, that the operations conducted by ISIS so far has been largely ineffective and carried out as a direct and indirect operation against some small police and military bases in areas often uninhabited and sparsely populated. This shows that the recovery of the strength of ISIS is at this level for now and it seems to stay in the same way in the short term.