Raqqa’s fall: The end of ISIS?
“History will record that the Islamic State caliphate survived for three years, three months, and some eighteen days,” said Robin Wright in NewYorker.com. At its height, the barbaric terrorist group controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Indiana, with 8 million people living under its rule of “perverted viciousness.” But four months after retaking Mosul in Iraq, U.S.-backed militias last week captured the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital. This isn’t the end of the war. ISIS fighters still have outposts in lawless parts of eastern Syria, Libya, Sinai, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. “T heir zealotry will endure.” But the fall of Raqqa clearly marks “the symbolic demise” of ISIS rule. Fears that thousands of Westerners who joined the group will now flood home to wage jihad may not come to pass, said Graeme Wood in TheAtlantic.com. Many of them died in the ferocious U.S. bombing; meanwhile, the U.S.-allied coalition isn’t taking many prisoners, preferring that “no one makes it back alive.”
Rather than declaring ISIS defeated, “counterterrorism officials are bracing for a new, lethal incarnation of the jihadist group,” said Margaret Coker in The New York Times. Its leaders have already signaled that they plan to “revert to their roots as a guerrilla force.” The group can also continue using its “powerful social media network” to inspire and coordinate terrorist attacks across the globe. That may be true, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com, but the “claim to be an authentic Islamic state” was critical to ISIS’s “international appeal.” Without that “distinctive brand,” the group will probably be “reduced to a shadowy terrorist network,” as marginal as al Qaida after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Still, it would be foolish to throw any victory parades, said Joshua Keating in Slate.com. Remember how “the surge” seemed to defeat al Qaida in Iraq a decade ago, before the group reemerged as ISIS? Today, Iraq remains on the brink of civil war, with Iraqi government troops last week seizing the city of Kirkuk from Iraqi Kurds, and Shiite militias persecuting Sunnis. Syria is also fractured among myriad militias and rebel groups, some friendly to U.S. interests, some not. The region remains utterly chaotic—and the U.S. will have to keep troops there indefinitely. That’s why the fall of Raqqa “feels so anticlimactic.” ■