As Battle For Mosul Rages In Iraq, Observers Warn Of Risk Of 'ISIS 2.0'
Even as ISIS (aka Islamic State or Daesh) looks set to lose control over the Iraqi city of Mosul, observers are warning of the danger of more insurgencies springing up in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq which remain alienated from the Baghdad government – in effect, this suggests Iraq could repeat the disastrous train of events from 2007, which saw the US military ‘surge’ defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq only to pave the way for ISIS. Iraqi forces have effectively surrounded Mosul and isolated the ISIS-held city, according to a Pentagon spokesman speaking on December 8.
The battle is still far from won, but there is now talk among some senior political and military figures of delivering “a lasting defeat” of ISIS. That may prove to be a naïve hope. Others in Iraq and outside warn that a military defeat will only bring a pause in the phenomenon of Sunni protest and insurgency in Iraq, unless it is accompanied by meaningful political and economic change.
“ISIS did not fill a security vacuum in the country, it filled a political one, where Sunnis in Iraq felt so disenfranchised that they welcomed ISIS with open arms,” said Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), speaking at the Chatham House think-tank in London on December 7. “Iraqi forces will never be able to hold territory taken from ISIS unless the military track is quickly accompanied by a political track, one that addresses the core Sunni grievances… If, after a military victory is declared, Iraq goes back to business as usual and the world's attention to Iraq dissipates, you can be sure that another bloody insurgency will arise within the Sunni areas of Iraq. Yes, we expect ISIS 2.0 to rear its ugly head.”
Similar warnings have been set out in a new report – The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Beyond – published this month by the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Centre. “The military has made major headway against ISIS, but the government has not brokered a basic power-sharing agreement among the country’s diverse Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and other communities in the thirteen years since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The military campaign has repeatedly been out of sync with a political resolution,” it said.
But while the political and economic conditions that brought about ISIS in the first place are unlikely to change with the fall of Mosul or Raqqa (the group's self-proclaimed capital in Syria), the nature of the response from Sunni groups may differ next time around. According to Michael Weiss, author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, “What ISIS 2.0 could look like might not even be jihadist in nature. A lot of Sunni Arab actors are saying: this will come back but it may take a more nationalistic, secular cast, but make no mistake, there will be another Sunni insurgency because we do not trust Baghdad.” He was speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London in October.
The conflict with ISIS has caused significant economic damage to Iraq, which along with the impact of low oil prices means the country is struggling badly. In July, the IMF approved a three-year $5.34bn loan to the government to support economic stability, of which around $618m has been handed over so far. Any further insurgencies are bound to cause even greater economic pain for the government and Iraqis themselves.