10 experts interviewed on the state of the Islamic State as of August 2015, courtesy of the always interesting blog, Musings on Iraq. Each of the 10 have something insightful to say. Overall, they seem to agree that ISIS has gained a little territory in some places, but lost it in others. They are on the defensive for the most part, but no where near defeated and still capable of taking new territory. In short, its a stalemate with no clear momentum going one way or the other.
One particularly interesting set of comments came from Michael Knights of WINEP, who suggested that the government in Baghdad is likely satisfied with its military accomplishments “..the defense of Samarra, Baghdad and Karbala as major successes. The liberation of Jurf as-Sakr (which overlooks Shia pilgrim routes), Tikrit and other areas will likewise be viewed with pride. There will be optimism about the unfolding battles in Ramadi and Haditha.” and are concerned about the growing influence of some Shi’a militias, which it sees in some cases as rivals.
This is exactly the opposite of the narrative one hears in the west, which is that the Iraqi military is a complete disaster and that they have given up control to Iran, who arms and trains the militias. Knights does not offer specific evidence to back up either of these claims but they should be considered seriously. Baghdad may have a very different understanding of success in the conflict than the West (or the Sunnis and Kurds for that matter) and it would be an oversimplification to treat the Shi’a as a homogenous group. There is likely a lot of jockeying for position between Tehran, the Abadi government in Baghdad, and the various Shi’a militias.