By Iran Review
By Sajad Mohseni*
Political instability in Iraq and Syria can be considered as one of the most important reasons behind the rise of Daesh (Islamic State) as the most powerful terrorist group in the world, so that, the possibility of Daesh getting active in other countries can be surmised on the basis of the political stability in those countries. In addition to political instability of governments, economic insufficiency is another factor that has further worsened the situation, helping Daesh to bring under its control vast parts in the eastern side of Syria as well as large swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq.
As a result, the group has been able to consolidate its grip on oil reserves in those regions, and in addition to foreign financial aid that it receives, take advantage of economic spoils it has collected in areas under its control in order to recruit more people and boost its military power.
Nonetheless, recent developments indicate that the group has relatively lost its ability to expand territories that are under its control. Advances made by the Iraqi army in the western province of al-Anbar and the movement of Peshmerga forces toward full liberation of the northern Kurdish town of Sinjar, on the one hand, and domination of the Syrian army over Damascus’ suburbs in addition to efforts made by the Syrian army to totally capture the northern city of Aleppo on top of the rising strategic and logistical losses of Daesh, on the other hand, have dealt heavy economic and psychological blows to this group.
The beginning of air strikes by Russia on September 30, 2015, in addition to the military advisory service provided by Iran to Syrian government, and further strengthening of Syria’s ground forces have changed the course of the war of attrition between Daesh and the central government in Syria in favor of President Bashar Assad’s administration, enabling the country’s army to further advance in areas previously controlled by Daesh. In Iraq, advances made by the Iraqi army in al-Anbar Province in the western front, and further advances in northern front with support from the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the United States aerial attacks have also put mounting psychological pressure on Daesh. As a result, the terrorist group has lost a large part of territories it had previously under control, with the northern Iraqi Kurdish town of Sinjar being a major example to the point.
Sinjar is important in that after Peshmerga forces consolidate their grip on this northern town, they will be able to cut the strategic road that connects the Syrian city of Raqqa to northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which is one of the most vital routes for Daesh forces in the Iraqi front and one of the most strategic routes along which oil consignments from Mosul are taken to black market in Turkey. As a result, the development can lead to escalation of economic pressure on the terrorist group, which will further increase after Daesh has lost Baiji refinery, which is one of the most important oil refineries in the Arab country.
Despite all these facts, it seems that one of the most effective ways to fight Daesh is to cut financial lifeline of the group. The noteworthy point in this regard, however, is that as pressure on Daesh increases, it is possible for the group to opt for “indirect war” as a major option, especially if the group fails to form a powerful coalition with other opposition groups in Syria to bolster its position there. Therefore, one may say that piling up pressure on Daesh in military front can make the group go for other options as its next priorities, which can be enumerated as follows:
- Increasing terrorist attacks in other countries that are fighting Daesh: Due to increasing pressure on Daesh, this option can be considered as the most important option available to this group. In this case, Daesh terrorists will try to create insecurity in countries that are opposed to them, thus, making them end their strikes against the group in Iraq and Syria. One of the most important tools that Daesh may use in this regard is to instigate the public opinion in those countries against governments as a result of terrorist attacks, so that, those governments would have to end their war with Daesh. The recent bomb blasts in the Lebanese capital city, Beirut, and the French capital, Paris, as well as the downing of Russia’s Airbus A321 passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula may be related to this scenario. More importantly, these cases may not be the end of terrorist attacks by this group as its terrorist members are possible to conduct more bomb attacks in other countries.
- Attacking the interests of countries that are fighting Daesh in other countries and beyond their borders: This option will seek to mount pressure on any state actor that has engaged Daesh and may include identification of the interests or nationals of those states in other countries in order to be attacked.
- Hostage taking operations by Daesh as a source of acquiring money: What makes this option seem more possible is the escalation of economic pressure on this group, especially in Iraq, because selling hostages has been one of the most important sources of money for this group.
Despite all the above facts, it seems that following recent debacles faced by Daesh, the wars in Syria and Iraq will gradually start to have international consequences. At the end of the day, the pressure of the public opinion will either make foreign governments withdraw from war in these countries, or domestic atmosphere in those countries will become more insecure so that the governments will have to pay more attention to what is going on inside their countries, as a result of which they will lose some of their latitude to act at international level.
Doctoral Student of International Relations; Tarbiat Modarres University