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ISIS Strengthens in Iraq

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The loss of ISIS’ last stronghold in Baghuz (Syria) in March 2019 led politicians in the Muslim world as well as the west to eulogize the organization. Pres. Trump has even gone and said in February 2019 that the allied forces managed to drive ISIS’ operatives off all the territories previously under its control and fully eliminate it[1]. Yet, the increased volume of ISIS’ activity in the past six months, especially during the last Ramadan (April 23rd– May 23rd, 2020) and its operational successes in the field point to a trend of recovery strengthening in the Iraqi theater. Moreover, lately ISIS has been hinting that it intended to open a new stage in the war in Iraq without providing details as to the nature of said stage. Whether these are idle threats or real intentions, it is clear the social, political and economical crisis engulfing Iraq, the rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., COVID-19 pandemic that attracts significant national resources from every country as well as other factors contribute to the organization’s resurgence in the Iraqi theater.


The Increase of ISIS’ Offensive Activity in the Iraqi Theater

On May 15th, 2020, ISIS disseminated in Iraq a 50 minutes video titled “Beheading” that documented for the first time this year its activity in Iraq’s various regions. Assassinations, executions and attacks on posts and homes of Iraqi security forces personnel and Iraqi Shiite militias were documented[2]. The video projects a show of force and was meant to convey the message that ISIS’ might has not been hurt despite coalition forces activity. It is evident that ISIS regrouped, spread over wide area in Iraq and execute attacks deep inside its enemies’ territories. In its weekly infographics, posted on al-Naba and social media, Iraq and Syria as a close second, are shown as the regions where most of the organization’s attacks are being carried out. it was reported that during the last 10 days of Ramadan (May 13-21, 2020) ISIS carried out 133 attacks in Iraq and 51 attacks in Syria (see appendix)[3].  Terror researchers Michael Knights and Alex Almeida, of West Point have found that in 2018 ISIS carried out 1,470 attacks, 1,669 in 2019 and 566 attacks in the first quarter of 2020[4]. Per them, the number of regions where terrorist cells are on the offensive significantly grew from some 27 regions in December 2018 to approx. 47 regions in May 2020[5]. Majid al-Qaisi, a former Iraqi general and the director of the counterterrorism program in the “Center of Making Policies for



International and Strategic Studies in Iraq”, pointed out to a new areas of activity and operations for ISIS such as: south and west Mosul region, north west and south Salah al-Din region, west and south Kirkuk region, north and east Diyala, the Makhoul and Hamrin mountain ranges in north eastern Iraq, al-Anbar desert and the regions close to the Iraqi borders[6]. According to a U.N. report, ISIS is currently approx. 14,000-18,000 strong in Iraq[7].

[1] Katie Rogers and others, “Trump Declares ISIS ‘100%’ Defeated in Syria. ‘100% Not True,’ Ground Reports Say”, The New York Times, Feb 28, 2019.

[3] Al-Naba, Vol. 236 (May 28th, 2020), P. 16.

[4] Michael Knights & Alex Almeida.  “Remaining and Expanding: The Recovery of Islamic State Operations in Iraq in 2019-2020”, CTCSentinel, May 2020, Volume 13, Issue 5.

[5] Ibid

[6] Majid al-Qaisi, “The Military Steps Required for the Elimination of the Remainder of ISIS in Iraq”, Center of Making Policies for International and Strategic Studies in Iraq, May 7th 2020,

[7] Paul Cruickshank, “UN report warns ISIS is reasserting under new leader believed to be behind Yazidi genocide”, CNN, January 29, 2020.

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