Has The Tide Turned Against ISIS?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 29 2014 @ 8:31pm

Clashes between ISIL and Peshmerga forces in Sinjar

Taking stock of the conflagration in Iraq and Syria at year’s end, Wayne White sees the jihadist group on the defensive:

Despite the jitters many have concerning the sweep of Islamic State forces, the view from the IS capital of Raqqa is hardly rosy. Still stalled in front of embattled Kobani, IS could not stop a sweeping Iraqi Kurdish, Yazidi, and Iraqi Army drive across northern Iraq to take Sinjar Mountain (again rescuing Yazidi refugees) and wrest from IS much of the town of Sinjar by December 21. Back in mid-December, the Pentagon also confirmed that an air strike killed Haji Mutazz, a deputy to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as the IS military operations chief for Iraq, and the IS “governor” of Mosul. Meanwhile, daily coalition air strikes grind away at various targets within IS’s “caliphate” (now increasingly wracked by shortages).

The implications of ISIS’s retreat from Sinjar are significant; Khales Joumah reports that the group’s grip on Mosul may be weakening as a result:

In the city of Mosul itself it seems as though ISIS is at a loss. Members of ISIS are still on the city’s streets but most of the foreign fighters appear to have gone.

The ones left on the streets tend to be younger, local fighters some of whom don’t even seem to be 25 yet. Some of the fighters on the streets admit that they’ve been forced to withdraw from Sinjar but only very quietly.

“For the first time you can sense the feelings of fear and frustration in ISIS’s fighters,” one Mosul doctor, who had been seeing ISIS casualties come in, told NIQASH; he had to remain anonymous for security reasons. “As the number of dead and wounded from among their ranks increases, they look more and more like they’ve lost confidence in their leadership.”

Juan Cole also stresses the importance of Sinjar’s liberation:

Historians refer to polities that exist on both sides of a mountain range, united by passes, as a “saddlebag empire.” These were common in South Asia, where southern Afghanistan and Punjab were often part of the same kingdom despite the barrier of the Hindu Kush mountains. What I have called the ‘neo-Zangid’ state of the Daesh unites the area from Aleppo to Damascus, across Mt. Shinjar , just as had the medieval ruler `Imad al-Din Zangi. It is a sort of contemporary saddlebag empire.

But now not only have the Peshmerga taken the Mt. Shinjar area away from Daesh, helping rescue the besieged Yezidis but they have at the same time cut the supply routes between the terrorist group’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, and its Iraqi power base, Mosul. If you take shears to a saddlebag, it can’t straddle the horse’s back any more and will fall down.

Still, hold off on the celebrations for now. As Loveday Morris reports, the humanitarian situation in Iraq remains grim:

U.N. officials acknowledge that the assistance is insufficient. The U.N. response plan for displaced Iraqis remains only 31 percent funded, while the World Food Program has stopped procuring supplies for the displaced because of a lack of money. That means the distribution of boxes of food to families, the only assistance many get, will end by February unless emergency funding is found.

“It’s not that we can do more with less; it’s that we don’t have anything and the needs on the ground are immense,” said Barbara Manzi, the outgoing Iraq representative for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is overseeing the organization’s response to the displacement crisis.

(Photo: Smoke rises as Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) fighters burn tires to obstruct the sight of warcraft during clashes with Peshmerga forces in Sinjar district of Mosul, Iraq on December 22, 2014. Peshmerga forces stage attacks against ISIL to liberate ISIL occupied Sinjar. By Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)