An Analytic Approach to Possible Scenarios for ISIS in Iraq

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hassan Ahmadian
Senior Researcher; IRI Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research (CSR)

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, which consists of Baathist and Takfiri forces, has conquered many cities, towns and villages as well as large swaths of land in the northern provinces of Iraq. This ominous turn of events has, on the one hand, raised many doubts about the ability and strength of the Iraqi army and security forces to protect the country. On the other hand, it has given rise to multiple questions about how and why the ISIS forces have been able to outdo and outmaneuver government armies and security forces in a number of Middle Eastern countries.

After it managed to capture the city of Mosul and a number of smaller towns in Iraq, the combination of Baathist and Takfiri forces known as ISIS was at first able to continue with its advances and as such gained a considerable amount of power and influence in three major provinces located north and west of Iraq. However, as time went by, certain developments took place in the Iraqi war theater. One reason behind these developments was the waning effect of early shocks on the Iraqi forces. On the other hand, mobilization of volunteer forces, especially military forces affiliated with the Badr Brigade and Jaish Al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army), to help the weakened Iraqi army, was another factor which acted as a catalyst to speed up these positive developments. Taking command of the operation by the head of the Badr Brigade, Hadi Al-Amiri, was a major reason for the rapid advance of government forces in the face of Baathist and Takfiri militants in Diyala Province and was also a reason that led to their extensive faceoff with terrorists in Salahuddin Province as well. In addition, another factor which should not be ignored here is the mobilization of Sunni Iraqi nomads and tribes who joined the fight against Baathist and Takfiri terrorists. For example, nomadic tribes in the east of Tikrit are still fighting terrorists and have managed to block their entry into other areas of this province despite the fact that the city of Tikrit had fallen into the hands of militants three weeks earlier.

Another development was an effort to revive the Islamic caliphate by the ISIS and the change of the group’s name from the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” to the “Islamic State.” Following this development, which took place on June 30, 2014, the leader of the ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared himself as the self-proclaimed caliph of Muslims and invited all Muslims worldwide to swear allegiance to his Islamic state. The ISIS and its “Islamic State” have declared two goals as their most urgent objectives in Iraq: 1. to “do away with the colonialistic frontiers in the region,” and 2. to “fight the Shia government of the incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. This development can be considered as a turning point, not only in the activities of this terrorist group in Iraq, but also in the overall balance of national and regional powers, which has made it possible for them to make rapid inroads into various parts of Iraq. Three points can be mentioned here.

Firstly, the ISIS or what is currently called the Islamic State is just a group, which is made up of a combination of political and military currents whose unity has become possible through conquering new lands and continuation of their intense fighting against regional governments. The announcement of caliphate has two goals: first, to maintain their control over the lands they have already conquered, and second, to pave the way for capturing new lands, which is almost certain to add fuel to differences that already exist among Baathist and Takfiri terrorist and other groups that are currently their allies.

Secondly, the declaration of caliphate has shed more light on the true colors of the ISIS and its leader and has revealed their true purpose for those political currents that are more moderate than the ISIS and have become its allies on the basis of more political objectives. From now on, we must be on the lookout for the emergence of new differences and outset of internal clashes between the ISIS and these political currents.

Thirdly, the declaration of caliphate has shown beyond any doubt that the existing geographical borders mean nothing to Baathist and Takfiri forces of the ISIS and its leader. As a result, neighboring countries of Iraq and Syria will become more fearful of this group and will make any effort to suppress further advances of the ISIS toward their territories. This is especially true about Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which will most probably find themselves in a situation when they will have to engage in direct or indirect cooperation with the central government in Baghdad.

Another point is the flow of financial aid toward the ISIS, which seen many ups and downs. However, following the developments in Iraq, this Baathist and Takfiri group is actually moving toward financial self-sufficiency. Private financiers of terrorist groups in the Persian Gulf states, who have been the biggest supporters of terrorist groups in Syria in the past years, have gradually reduced their financial backing for the ISIS after this group engaged in armed conflicts with other terrorist groups such as Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham Al Islami (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) and Al-Nusra Front. The infighting among terrorist groups in Syria claimed around 7,000 lives last year. However, following the powerful entry of the Baathist and Takfiri forces into Iraq, it seems that the support for the militants will continue to rise. On the other hand, and due to understandable concerns that they have about the ISIS, governments in the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] are sure to appear more proactive in this regard and do something about the support offered to this group.

This Baathist and Takfiri group, however, has been, and still is, earning only part of its needed funds through foreign assistance. A large part of the assets at the disposal of this terrorist group comes through the support it has received in regions that have fallen under its control as well as through levying tax on the conquered areas. In addition, as a result of plundering the reserves of the Iraqi banks, the financial resources of this group currently matches military budget of certain small European countries. Therefore, it does not seem possible that even in case of a halt on the flow of foreign financial aid – an option which is almost improbable to happen – the ISIS will face acute financial problems, at least, over short run.

When it comes to predicting future outlook of the ISIS, there are three possible scenarios which are worth mentioning. Firstly, as terrorist acts of the ISIS intensify in territories it has already captured and in parallel to worsening of conflicts between this group and its former allies, the gaps among allied groups will gradually widen and finally lead to outright confrontation. The possibility of this scenario has increased following the apprehension of high-ranking members of the Iraqi Baath party by the ISIS in the city of Mosul and the pressure that the group has put on Iraqis to forcefully make them swear allegiance to its leader. Secondly, as more dimensions of the inhuman and un-Islamic actions of the ISIS come into the light in Iraq and Syria, a possible conflict of ideas and interests will break out between other Islamist currents, especially moderate Islamist figures among Sunni Muslims, and the ISIS. Recent announcement by the prominent Sunni cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who declared the ISIS caliphate as unrightful, can be analyzed along this line. The third possible scenario is that internal tensions between the government of Maliki and Iraqi Kurds can cause problems for his government when he tries to rally international support against Baathist and Takfiri terrorists. Such internal rifts can even prompt international powers, which are willing to support the Iraqi government against the ISIS, to give priority to political solutions for the settlement of the crisis. In case such a solution is put on top of the political agenda, Maliki will not be necessarily able to form a new government in Iraq.

At any rate, regardless of what scenarios may unravel in future Iraq, if the country actually moves toward disintegration along ethnic and religious lines, the prospect of peace and stability for the restive region of Middle East will become even more unachievable than any time in the past. Such a situation will finally have very destructive effects on all regional countries and even other countries that have political and economic interactions with them.

Key Words: Analytic Approach, Possible Scenarios, Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Middle Eastern Countries, Baathist and Takfiri Forces, Declaration of Caliphate, Ahmadian

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*Photo Credit: RT

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