US President Donald Trump’s announcement that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a US military operation in Syria, later confirmed by ISIS itself, was welcome news.
This was followed by the death of their spokesperson and the arrest of his sister and wife by Turkey. After the decimation of IS caliphate, IS continues to exist in small modules in many parts of the world, mainly in West Asia, but the loss of its undisputed leader who inspired youth globally towards radicalisation as never before, during his peak performance days will not be easy to fulfil.
He revolutionised the art of extending terror network through the internet, made IS the richest terror group in the world, with a caliphate to govern through sharia laws and revived sex slavery.
It’s a major setback to IS and affiliated terror groups but long overdue good news for those suffered its brutality, like Yezidi women. The idea of IS does not end with the death of Baghdadi who stands replaced by Ibrahim al Hashimi al Quraishi from Prophet Mohammad lineage (qualified to become caliph) with a vow to avenge Baghdadi’s death. There being no change in the overall aim and ideology of IS, it will manage to regroup with lesser fund flow and area of influence and wait for the opportunity to reemerge; hence the global fight against IS has to continue.
What does it mean for regional terror groups?
The US has given a strong message to terrorists but its declared withdrawal from Syria is untimely; hence the Middle-East needs a fresh look from a strategic perspective. Turkey cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, whose fighters made up the bulk of the SDF controlling IS is a game spoiler in the fight against IS.
Turkeys double game with terrorists is marred with helping IS and treating Kurds as terrorists as they demand a homeland. Its desire to invade Syria and destroy Assad’s supporters made it an ally of US, but the US is not keen on the decimation of Kurds, who will be left with no choice but to commence terrorist activities against Turkey.
The temporary five days truce, sanctions against Turkey could buy some time, but is unlikely to change Erdogan’s intent who seems to have decided to go Wahhabi way. It does give some extra lifeline to IS, which is going to get dispersed to other areas, in addition to some existing ones like Afghanistan. US withdrawal also cedes this strategic space in Syria to the forces loyal to Assad and Russia, something which the US was not very keen to concede till a short while ago as it was not in the best interest of Israel. This strategic equation does not change the terror potential of Hamas appreciably.
The internal political disturbance Lebanon puts Hezbollah in a tight spot. The current internal political turbulence in Iraq is helpful for the reorganisation of IS as it dampens the Shia spirit which indirectly helps Sunni terror groups. The recent strategic clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia triggered by a drone attack on Saudi’s oil establishment followed by an attack on Iran oil tanker is also a recipe for refuelling of Shia – Sunni terror competition in West Asia. After US walked out of JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) renewed and clamped additional sanctions on Iran which European Union could not prevent, Iran has also climbed the escalation ladder by announcing to fill gas in over 1000 centrifuges to enrich uranium further, which it was holding out due to the deal.