Consideration to geostrategic pulse 234 - What follows after Daesh in Iraq and Syria

What follows after Daesh in Iraq and Syria
Corneliu PIVARIU

The fightings around Mosul and Raqqa continue as expected with Daesh (IS) losing gradually the positions it held, such as was the case with Tabka Dam, on Lake Assad, near Raqqa, where Daesh has set up previously a rather strong base. In Mosul, fighting started in the old town – a densely populated area where Daesh’s military elements were concentrated, and  very intense fighting  of urban type was taking place and bitter battles were waged for each building. The Iraqi government forces regained, at the middle of March, the Mosul police headquarters and the Court premises in spite of jihadists’ defending each square meter they were helding. Yet, it is quite obvious that Daesh is coming closer to an end it did not anticipate two years ago – at least – that of becoming an organisation void of control of an important territory and that of a period it searchs for new strongholds for its disciples, outside important towns or localities.

Daesh lost so far several thousands of its fighters and the inflow of new adherents it enjoyed in 2013-2014 decreased substantially. The ennemies the organisation is confronted with enjoy air supremacy, an obvious superiority in quality and quantity of military equipment and in personnel as well. The tactics Daesh may apply to are likely to delay the end of its domination in Mosul and Raqqa but in no case to reverse the situation in its favour. The recent actions launched in Southern Syria, in Dara’a and Ghouta areas, on Damascus outskirts, may be construed as such tactics.

In spite of some diverging interests in Syria, especially, the Iranian, Russian and American forces, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists continue to advance in fighting Daesh. The Kurdish factions of different orientations, pro-Turkish, pro-American, anti-Assad, are in a more delicate position, which we are not tackling here.

An increase of the number of American troops is noticed both in Iraq and in Syria. Presently, there are around 5 200 American military in Iraq and around 1 000 in Syria. According to latest data, around 2 500 American military are expected to arrive in Kuwait and 1 000 of them are to engage in fightings for liberating Raqqa, in Syria. The Pentagon has roughly two more weeks at its disposal for presenting to President Trump the plan of military actions in Syria. The USA’s increased involvment in Iraq and Syria might represent a strengthening of USA’s and of its allies’ negotiation positions concerning  Syria’s future, although the Iranian lead alliance seems to have the upper hand, both in Iraq and Syria. Yet, this is not, of course, for certain or an impossibility so that Washington’s strategists, their allies and even Israel will have to find a solution to prevent such a situation or to diminish its impact.

As far as Daesh is concerned, it should radically revise its strategy and its conception of actions under the new circumstances. After losing their positions in Deir el-Zor, Albukamal and the abovementioned Tabka stronghold in Syria, Daesh’s jihadists assessed that a resistance for controlling the connections between Syria and Irak is no longer possible and are looking for a modality of redirecting their presumable available forces towards another areas on the Syrian, Iraqi and even Lebanese  territories. The Lebanese destination is mentioned by Israeli sources as a last resort identified by Daesh’s leadership. The possibility that Daesh is trying to set up strongholds in Tripoli, the second biggest Lebanese town with Suni majority , very close to the Syrian-Lebanese border and with a Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional presence and actions is mentioned. A second destination, according to the same Israeli sources, could be Sidon, adjacent to Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp  (more than 100 000 refugees, 10 000 of them coming from Syria during the last five years), where Daesh would already have some active or dormant cells.

If, in Tripoli’s case, Daesh could succeede in transfering some disciples, in Sidon’s case the situation seems less auspicious, not only due to its geographical position but also due to the control exerted by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah in the area. Baalbek could be a Daesh’s favourite target, as after it destroyed Palmyra, the organisation would like to list this vestige of universal history on its panoply of “achievements”. Yet Hezbollah is there, too, even stronger. Actually, both the density of the population and the number of refugees in Lebanon are elements preventing, among others, that the cedars’ country become a stronghold Daesh is so envious of.

We have to see, both in Syria and in Iraq, what the developments on the ground will look like. Yet, Turkey’s hesitations and the USA’s abstaining, during president Obama’s mandates to act, especially after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, are elements favouring Iran and Russia.

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back Published in 2017-04-05 Print Download up