US Report: ISIS is Regrouping in Iraq

US Report: ISIS is Regrouping in Iraq

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018 - 13:15
Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services in West Mosul during last year’s offensive to retake the area from ISIS. (AFP file photo)
Washington - Heba El Koudsy
Despite hard-fought victories to retake ISIS territory, there are three major signs that the terrorist militants are regrouping, taking advantage of ongoing instability and refocusing their campaign against the Iraqi government, said a recent report.

The report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) stated that although victory over ISIS was declared in 2017, there are several indicators that suggest the group remains a persistent threat and is refocusing its tactics and attacks against government targets.

The terrorist organization lost 99 percent of its territorial control, however, it was still carrying out an average of 75 attacks per month in 2018, including a doubling of attacks year over year in Kirkuk province.

Based on the report’s statistics, fatalities from attacks were down significantly from 6,217 in 2016, to 5,339 in 2017 and 1,656 in 2018 through October.

Data showed that attacks in Kirkuk and Salaheddine are at all-time highs through October 2018.

CSIS said that the number of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria peaked in 2016, with an estimate of 10,000 to 15,000 in Iraq.

The report stated Iranian-backed Shiite militias continue to exacerbate Shiite-Sunni tensions in Iraq, and their connection to Iran poses a useful recruiting tool for a sectarian-fueled ISIS insurgency.

It pointed out that ISIS propaganda published online continues to be the most important source for the terrorist organization to widely share statements promoting its extremist narrative.

ISIS is regrouping due to many risk factors that contributed to instability in Iraq, including rampant corruption and political turmoil, tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The report explained also that lack of an official military presence throughout ungoverned space and disputed territories in the Kirkuk and Salaheddine provinces have enabled ISIS militants to operate freely.

The World Bank expects Iraqi GDP growth to accelerate to 6.2 percent in 2019, however, questions remain about how this growth will be distributed. Corruption remains a big challenge in both Baghdad and Erbil.

The report estimated the cost for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq range from as little as $20 billion for reconstruction to $88 billion for broader stabilization efforts.

International partners and donors pledged $30 billion in donations during a February 2018 conference. But the international community has already spent billions on Iraq; the United States alone spent nearly $60 billion in Iraq prior to the rise of ISIS.

Figures indicate that the Iraqi government is moving slowly to start reconstruction, especially in former ISIS strongholds like Mosul and Fallujah.

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