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ISIS in One Year … between Expansion, Collapse - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Rabat- On December 28, 2016, the Iraqi Forces kicked off the second phase of Mosul’s liberation after it was postponed many times for logistic and climate reasons. This extended operation came in coincidence with the joining of the Sultanate of Oman to the Saudi-led Arab-Islamic Coalition to combat terrorism. Regional and international efforts to eradicate extremist terrorist organizations in many countries including Iraq and Syria have come along remarkable divisions amid different evaluations on the movement of terrorist organizations mainly ISIS.

Researchers and research centers have agreed on the remarkable progress in the war on terrorism and the severity of ISIS’ defeats, which have weakened it till it lost its alleged Caliphate. However, opinions of researchers and experts have differed about the quality and the impact of these defeats and the future of the organization led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This difference led to the emergence of two contradicting point of views in explaining the events that took place in 2016, including regression, collapse, and redeployment.

*Theory of adaptation and redeployment
This theory is based on the capability of ISIS’s ideology to resist and recreate. It warns against the organization’s high capacity on adapting, which means that the military defeats put the group in a defensive position, especially that ISIS has sought to expand in Africa and other regions. This expansion will not be remarkably affected by the organization’s defeat in Iraq and Syria, because its recreation strategy has exposed the region to serious threats.

French Political Expert Olivier Roy defends this theory and warns against the dreadful ideological expansion of ISIS; this ideology led the organization to recruit many members and to form non-secure areas in Europe. Roy considers that ISIS has shown progress in attracting people despite the so-called Caliphate’s geographic regression. He also warns from the organization’s role in spreading religious fundamentalism.

According to a U.S. study, this proliferation has succeeded in recruiting 27-31 thousand militants from 86 Asian, African, and European countries, which led ISIS’ redeployment out of Syria and Iraq with the “lone wolves” strategy in the West.

*Theory of collapse
The recession and collapse theory sees that ISIS is not only retreating, but it is also approaching eradication. The organization is no more capable of controlling territories it captured in the few past years, its financial and natural resources have been reduced, and its most influential leaders were killed. On another hand, ISIS has lost its positive image among Arab and Western youth because of its draconian practices. The international coalition has also maximized its military procedures and adopted the policy of security coordination, which obstructed ISIS’ members from reaching recruited members in Syria and Iraq through social media.

This theory considers that the liberation of Kobani – Ayn al-Arab on 26/1/2015 – has broken the image of the unbeatable organization and proved that local popular efforts in cooperation with the international coalition can confront and beat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In this context, the collapse theory believes that the developments of 2016 – like ISIS’ loss of its capital Dabiq and its stronghold in Mosul – prove that its eradication is close.

Generally, both theories have found indices to validate their ideas. However, based on the cumulated expertise of the researchers in this field, we can say that ISIS’ expansion cannot be separated from the ideological path of the organization; this means that these temporary defeats do not necessarily lead to the defeat of the ideological spirit of the group and may pave the road to its return.