Has the Islamic State Been Defeated?

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, March 26

Everywhere we look, there are declarations of victory against ISIS. People are celebrating the defeat of the organization. But in my opinion, this is a temporary victory and it is only a matter of time until another ISIS-like organization emerges. ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, was born in 2011 as an offshoot of Al-Qai’da. In the past few months, some 30,000 individuals associated with the organization have been arrested, mostly in Syria and Iraq. The number of those who joined the organization during years of Syrian fighting is estimated at more than 60,000, according to estimates based on the number of detainees in Syria after the start of attacks by the international coalition forces last summer. But just like Al-Qai’da, the Islamic State does not simply die. In the current environment of our region – that of chaos and political vacuum – it is only a matter of time until a new actor emerges and assumes ISIS’ role. Al-Qai’da first appeared in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Afghan government and the takeover of the Taliban in the early 1990s. From there, it spread the ideas of armed extremism across the border to other countries in the region – through the media and through mosques. It then resurfaced in places like Iraq, following the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime and the installation of a temporary government under US auspices. When we finally thought we defeated it in Iraq, after thousands of soldiers were killed, this ideology remerged under a new name and banner. In 2011, after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established the “Organization of the Islamic State of Iraq” as a means to expand this ideology into Syria. He established a presence for Al-Qai’da in Syria, which soon broke with its leader and redefined itself as an independent organization known Al-Nusra. Therefore, the declarations of victory and the destruction of the Islamic State are nothing more than narrow-sighted proclamations that are limited in space and time. Accordingly, combating extremism is far more important than combating terrorism. Organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which are so-called peaceful groups, remain a great source of radical, dangerous, ideas. We have been fighting the wrong battle all this time. The time has come to re-asses our strategy. – Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

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