By Keerthana Chavaly
On 8th September, Russia announced via a Facebook post that multiple members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, popularly known as ISIS) were killed in an airstrike. The strike was carried out on an unspecified date and resulted in the deaths of at least forty fighters, including Abu Mohammed al-Shimali, the leader of fighters in the city of Deir Az Zor. In addition to this, the group’s ‘minister of war’ Gulmurod al-Shimali was injured fatally. The post announced, “As a result of a precision air strike of the Russian air forces in the vicinity of Deir Az Zor city, a command post, communication centre and some 40 ISIS fighters have been killed”.
War against terror
This victory against ISIL comes on the heels of a victory by Syria—on 5th September, Syria defeated a siege imposed by ISIL on citizens of Deir Az Zor. With Russia’s support, the three-year long siege was ended after fighting between Syrian armed forces and ISIL fighters. These two victories are important steps in the fight against ISIL. It is representative of the declining strength of the terrorist outfit and could signify the impending end of their power. The group previously used to control a very large area of Syria and around one-third of Iraq, but now is left with about 10%. The reasons for this drastic decline in power is due to efficient attacks carried out by various foreign powers such as the U.S, Russia, Syria as well as the Iraqi government. According to Al Jazeera, “US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) penetrated the groups de-facto capital of Raqqa in June and have expelled ISIL from 60 percent of the city which they seized in 2014”.
Terror not eradicated fully yet
In spite of the numerous devastating attacks on the terrorist organisation, ISIL continues to be a deadly force. It has carried out a number of attacks in Iraq and Syria through sleeper cells targeting Shia Muslims. ISIL is intolerant of the Shia sect as it differs from the ways the Sunni sect practices Islam. The Shia ideology doesn’t conform to the narrow, exclusionist view of ISIL. Another important factor to consider is that Sunnis ruled Iraq for a very long time until Saddam Hussein was overthrown. After elections, a Shia government came to power leading to resentment by some of the Sunni Muslims.
Sectarian violence the root cause
This Shia-Sunni divide, being violently perpetrated by ISIL, will not end when ISIL is defeated. The divide will continue as there exists a huge amount of hate and resentment between the two sects. It appears, as of now, that there will be a power vacuum in Iraq as soon as ISIL surrenders. The Iraqi government will be tasked to prevent sectarian violence and promote harmony and peace among citizens – a task that currently appears close to impossible. Sectarian violence is bound to continue due to the deep-rooted history of hatred between the two groups. In 2016, there was an uproar by Sunni politicians and citizens after the Iraq government legalised Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that was to fight ISIL members. Sunni citizens claim that the group, made up of a number of different militia fighters, have committed civil rights abuses against civilians.
The road ahead
In addition to this, the foreign powers involved in the fight against ISIL will only worsen the situation. According to Atwood of International Crisis Group, “One of the dangers now in Mosul is that the groups fighting ISIL, some of which are backed by Iran, some by Turkey, and some by the US and all of which have their own competing interests, will contest violently for turf afterwards”. With the numerous external and internal forces acting on both ISIL and Iraq alike, peace in Iraq is anything but certain. Though the prospect of harmony in the Middle-East may seem impossible, the eradication of ISIL, fortunately, seems achievable.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt