‘Caliphate’ loses its place on the map
The announcement of victory over the Islamic State group in Syria marks the end of the extremists’ self-styled caliphate, a proto-state in which they held millions hostage to their dark and brutal vision.
But Islamic State, which traces its roots back to the bloody emergence of al-Qaida in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, has survived past defeats and is already waging a low-level insurgency in areas it was driven from months or even years ago.
The grueling 4 1⁄2-year campaign to drive IS from the territories it once held has left entire towns in ruins, in both war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Q: What’s ended exactly?
A: What is over is the Islamic State group’s physical “caliphate,” after the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group supported by the United States, declared on Saturday the capture of the last tiny patch of territory controlled by the militants, in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
That domain once stretched over large parts of Syria and Iraq, which the group conquered in a blitz in the summer of 2014, capturing towns and cities, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest.
The extremists governed under a harsh and violent interpretation of Islam. They massacred those who resisted their rule and beheaded hostages, including Western journalists and foreign aid workers, in gruesome videos circulated online. Alleged adulterers were stoned to death, those believed to be gay were thrown from the tops of buildings, and children were made to watch the atrocities as part of their brainwashing. The group captured thousands of women from Iraq’s Yazidi minority, forcing them into sexual slavery.
IS also carried out the more mundane actions of a state – collecting taxes, printing school textbooks, minting its own currency and restoring public infrastructure. It was an experiment in statehood that not even al-Qaida ever tried on a significant scale.
From its de facto capital of Raqqa, in northern Syria, its leaders plotted spectacular attacks abroad, including the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people. As IS began to hemorrhage territory, it began opportunistically claiming attacks without any evidence of its involvement.
The self-proclaimed caliphate attracted tens of thousands of people from around the world, lured by the group’s online activism and slickly produced propaganda videos.
Q: Where is al-Baghdadi?
A: The Islamic State’s leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” is at large.
With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents and directing terror across continents and in the heart of Europe.
Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain a mystery. He appeared in public only once, in 2014. Since then, many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. So far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds.
Q: What is the cost of liberation?
A: The grueling fouryear air and ground campaign against IS has killed or wounded tens of thousands of people, driven hundreds of thousands from their homes and left a swath of destruction stretching from the suburbs of Damascus to Iraq.