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ISIL under pressure in the Middle East – consequences for the West

Mosul’s reconquest lasts for more than a year by now and while the Iraqi army controls the eastern parts of the megapolis, fights in the western parts continue brutally.

An estimated number of 150,000 civilians is still trapped in the city. Many who try to flee the ISIL-controlled areas are targeted by snipers while others are abused as human shields. Despite the brutality of the fights in Iraq and Syria they reveal how much ISIL is under pressure in the Middle East.

The former organizational structures ISIL established in order to enforce its cruel medieval interpretation of Islam appear to be inexistent. Back in 2013 in and the following years ISIL managed to provide for its supporters and loyalists in a way no other Islamist organization did before. Besides its radical, fundamental interpretation of Islam and hatred against alleged dissenters, ISIL offered state-like structures including public administration, relative security and provision of basic supplies. This enabled ISIL to something no other terrorist organization achieved before; thousands of Islamists from all around the word joined the militia and fought in its name.

ISIL, however, lost this advantage in recent months. Leading members of the organization were killed in combat, the controlled geographic areas are shrinking and consequently the conveniences of its followers. Public administration, as it worked just months ago, is inoperative as ISIL is forced to deploy all fit for combat in order to fight its opponents.

Instead of its former structured and meticulous operation ISIL now uses different, less complex approaches to spread its ideology and maintain the appearance of a powerful caliphate. That becomes particularly apparent outside the Middle East.

While the early attacks in Europe e.g. in November 2015 in Paris or in March 2016 in Brussels were quite well-organized and complex ISIL called upon its followers in the West to use more random and simple ways to conduct attacks.

Similar to Palestinian extremists ISIL called for the use of cars, knives, stones and other easily available items to kill “infidels” since 2016. This pattern is also observable in the most recent attacks ISIL claimed in Europe e. g. the incident on London Bridge, in Stockholm or Berlin.

Besides these recent, hardly controllable or predictable forms of demonstration of power, an expansion towards Asia is recognizable. Several Islamist groups and militias in the conflict areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh or even the Philippines pledged allegiance to ISIL.  Nothing seems to indicate an overall demise of the radical fraction. In fact ISIL is evolving and restructuring its modus operandi.

In this regard it is only in ISIL's interest to maintain its brand by spreading propaganda and violence. Its attraction may decrease in the sense that less and less individual travel to the Middle East in order to support the group, its simple radical message, however, continues to inspire radicals across the world.

Sources: Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Independent, The Guardian, UNHCR
Bild: SFS trains IqAF security forces [Image 5 of 9] von DVIDSHUB (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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