With another bombing in Europe, two questions come to mind. First, is this there a direct connection between the attack and the way the war in Syria is unfolding? Second, how much longer is this going to last?
The answer to the first question is: maybe. Attacks of the type we saw in Brussels and Paris earlier are consistent with a “globalist approach” being advocated by one faction within ISIS to compensate for losses in Syria and Iraq.
- The main fissure is between those advocating spreading the struggle globally to overcome the pressures IS is under in Iraq and Syria, and those preferring a localist approach of standing firm in Syria and Iraq. This fissure is bound to widen as IS comes under heavier pressure in Iraq and Syria. The IS attack Jan. 12 against German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet and the March 19 suicide attack against Israeli tourists at Istanbul’s Taksim could well be interpreted as a move toward the globalist approach, to spill the clashes over to Turkey. By telling Turkey, “If you get tough against us, you will pay the price,” IS is also trying to divert attention from Iraq and Syria.
The answer to the second question is complicated. On one hand, ISIS is losing ground in Syria:
- In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year,
However, the article argues we should not overemphasize the importance of territorial losses at this point:
- The approach to IS should be a population-centric strategy that aims to slowly erode its popular support, which may take years. The endgame of this struggle should be reintegration of Sunni bodies to political processes in Iraq and Syria, first at local and then at national levels. This is what the current situation in the field, Iraq’s experience of the past 10 years and Syria’s crisis of the past five years tell us.