ISIS did not die with Al Bagh­dadi

▶ Just as the ex­trem­ist group was born of Al Qaeda, its dy­ing em­bers will ig­nite an­other threat

The National - News - - OPINION -

“Ade­praved and dan­ger­ous man”: so said US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as the nine-year hunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi came to an end. The man who ter­rorised mil­lions died a coward’s death, driven into a dead end by US spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces and blow­ing him­self up with his sui­cide vest, to­gether with three of his chil­dren. The highly se­cre­tive mis­sion, car­ried out on Satur­day with the co-op­er­a­tion of Syr­ian Kurds as well as Iraq, Rus­sia and Tur­key, is a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment. It marks the end of a chap­ter that be­gan when Al Bagh­dadi es­tab­lished ISIS to ter­rorise Iraqis and Syr­i­ans, and cul­mi­nated in his an­nounc­ing a false caliphate from the pul­pit of Al Nuri mosque in Mo­sul, Iraq, in 2014. But while his death is an im­por­tant mo­ment for those who suf­fered at the hands of ISIS and for the se­cu­rity of the world at large, it does not mean the end of the global threat he rep­re­sented. Al Bagh­dadi was a murky fig­ure, liv­ing in the shad­ows and flit­ting be­tween lo­ca­tions to evade de­tec­tion. Even though he had only ap­peared a hand­ful of times in pub­lic after found­ing ISIS from the roots of Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010, he had the power to mag­ne­tise im­pres­sion­able fol­low­ers, who flocked in their thou­sands to join his so-called caliphate. De­spite the down­fall of ISIS, many still be­lieve in his ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy. Al Bagh­dadi might be gone but there will be an equally de­praved killer wait­ing to re­place him, so long as the un­der­ly­ing causes that led to ISIS’s rise are not ad­dressed.

In March, the US de­clared vic­tory as troops, helped by the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, drove ISIS out of its last bas­tion in Baghouz. But while the caliphate might have been all-but de­stroyed, ISIS still has a host of sleeper cells wait­ing to be re­ac­ti­vated. A re­port from Op­er­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve, the US-led op­er­a­tion fight­ing ISIS, found the group had “so­lid­i­fied its in­sur­gent ca­pa­bil­i­ties in Iraq and was resurg­ing in Syria”. De­spite this, the US has de­cided to with­draw most of its troops from Syria, leav­ing tens of thou­sands of ISIS mem­bers and sym­pa­this­ers in prisons and camps across north­ern Syria, an area that Tur­key wants cleared of Kur­dish fight­ers. ISIS is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the chaos to make a come­back and some mem­bers have al­ready es­caped.

Given these facts, while the killing of Al Bagh­dadi bur­nishes Mr Trump’s rep­u­ta­tion ahead of the 2020 elec­tion cam­paign, it serves as more of a badge of hon­our than an end to the bat­tle against ter­ror­ism. More im­por­tantly, Al Bagh­dadi’s death at the hands of a de­clin­ing US force in Syria sig­nals the end of an era in which coun­tries unite to fight ISIS. In 2014, the US led an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to fight ex­trem­ism with the likes of the UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Jor­dan, France, Ger­many, the UK and Tur­key. Such ef­forts must be kept alive be­cause the root causes of ISIS’s rise to power still thrive and flour­ish. With fight­ing on­go­ing in Syria and a febrile at­mos­phere in Iraq, the po­tency for ISIS to re-emerge is great. The global com­mu­nity needs to keep work­ing to­gether in the fight against an ide­ol­ogy that seeks to seed young, im­pres­sion­able minds and spread once again.

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