After Iraqi forces recaptured the al-Nuri mosque, declarations of ISIS’s defeat have been made; but do they come too soon?
The al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq was for many a symbol of ISIS’s occupation of the region. The Mosque famous for its leaning minaret “Al-Hadba” was the sight of the Islamic State’s announcement for the establishment of their caliphate in 2014; and in many ways, came to define the dominance of the group in the province of Mosul. But at 9:50 PM on June 29th, the al-Nuri Mosque erected in the late 12th century was brought down amongst clouds of dust and rubble. Blown up and destroyed by assailants in the Islamic State. But unlike their previous destruction of antiquities and buildings such as the tomb of the prophet Jonah; the bombing of the al-Nuri Mosque was not in act of extremist conviction.
Instead, it was a symbol of the terrorist group acknowledging their defeat. This defeat being their eradication from the Mosul province in Iraq, their main stronghold in the country since their 2014 caliphate announcement. As efforts by Iraqi forces and minority militia groups to retake the province have grown fruitful over the past couple of months; the Islamic State has been losing its hegemonic control over the region and its citizenry.
Indeed, with Thursday’s capture of al-Nuri Mosque by Iraqi forces, many believe that the Islamic State is in a state of decline. In fact, for the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood”. Undeniably, the Islamic State may have been finally overcome in Mosul, but to mark this defeat as the destruction of the whole caliphate may be too ambitious a statement.
Has ISIS been defeated?
With Iraqi forces retaking Mosul and with the Syrian stronghold of Raqqa also weakening; the Islamic State’s entire regional influence is threatened. These two areas mark a large extent of ISIS’s hegemonic land control; being in many ways the capitals of the Islamic State’s caliphate. But it is not just the loss of land that ISIS is coming to face. In addition, it seems the group’s finances are also waning; with the organizations reported earnings decreasing by 80% since 2015. If the Islamic State continues to decline in this way, with others in the region directly combatting them at the same time; their chance of maintaining influence in the region is low.
With ISIS’s physical assets disappearing and with their military defeat at the hands of regional actors, it may be tempting to say that the group is dead. But with that said, has the Islamic State really ended? Not really. Although a great deal of ISIS’s dominion is in the province of Mosul, and with Iraqi forces now controlling the area, a likelihood of strong reprisal by the group is low; ISIS is not going anywhere. At least, the idea of ISIS is not going anywhere. The reality is that the strength of ISIS rests not only in its militaristic and political power but also in its enticing jihadist narrative and alluring ideology. As more and more efforts are made to overthrow ISIS in their stronghold and target their insurgencies to destroy the organization; careful attention must be made to counter their narratives too.
After all the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t the only organization using its ideology to sway the region. Concrete steps need to be made to refute extremist propaganda and pay careful attention to those most likely to join the terrorist group. Efforts to disprove and repudiate ISIS ideology and extremist dogma will ultimately be the only definite means to end the organization; as their reprisal after physical attacks is likely — but a reprisal from the destruction of their ideological pillars is doubtful.
What the Islamic State has left
Indeed, although ISIS may have left Mosul; they have still left their mark. Iraqi forces have managed to push back ISIS forces from the province, but they have not yet come to counter the challenges faced with what is left behind by the group. Immense destruction, population displacement, and cases of definite genocide are what has greeted the Iraqi and minority forces. As the country and other states in the region come to terms with the devastation left from the Islamic State; it will dawn on them the realization that ISIS has left much more than a couple of destroyed artifacts. They have destroyed families, eliminated minorities from their native country, and destroyed the roots of a civilization that go back 10,000 years. So, for now, the case of ISIS is still opened, but with the efforts of regional states and the international community; the end of the Islamic State may be rapidly approaching.