Coalition Analysis Warns of Potential Islamic State Resurgence
With the liberation last November of Rawa and Qaim, two towns near the Syrian border, the Islamic State in Iraq appeared on the brink of defeat. The militant group had lost the last urban strongholds taken during its dramatic drive through Iraq in 2014, and with them the last slivers of territory it controlled in the country.
But an unreleased analysis presented at recent coalition meetings by the United Nations speaks to a much more complicated and fluid situation on the ground — one characterized by delicate humanitarian considerations and the real possibility of an Islamic State resurgence.
According to the U.N., five of the areas newly liberated from the group urgently require stabilization. “There is a risk that if we don’t stabilize these areas quickly, violent extremism might emerge again. The military gains that have been made against [the Islamic State] could be lost,” Lise Grande, head of the United Nations Development Program in Iraq, told Foreign Policy.
The areas, centered around the group’s former strongholds in northern Iraq, demonstrate the wide array of issues facing the Iraqi government and its international allies as they attempt to channel stabilization funds to sensitive areas and clamp down on a rapidly evolving threat.
“While they don’t hold any territory, there are still pockets of Islamic State fighters that are looking to launch attacks and cause disruption. They’re still hiding,” said a U.S. State Department official involved in consultations on the analysis.
According to both U.N. and U.S. officials who worked on crafting the document, the designated areas at risk were based on a number of metrics including tallies of security incidents, known Islamic State sleeper cells, the presence of political groups supportive of the group, and religious figures known to echo the group’s messages. “These are the areas that need specific attention,” said the American official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.
Two of the areas, one centered on the city of Tal Afar and the other on Qaim, were also included for their proximity to the Syrian border. “There are still pockets of ISIS in Syria,” said the State Department official. “Adjacent to those pockets are areas that have been most recently liberated, and they are areas that have traditionally been politically volatile.”
The other areas highlighted on the map, including clusters near the towns of Hawija, Tuz Khurmatu, and Shirqat, were selected because of long-standing political and security concerns. “These have always been critical — even before ISIS. Hawija and Tuz Khurmatu [a disputed city near Kirkuk] have always been political flashpoints,” said the U.S. official.