Following the inevitable collapse of ISIS’ caliphate in Iraq and Syria, ISIS will morph into an insurgency that will resemble “al-Qaeda on steroids,” the senior-most anti-terrorism official in Iraqi Kurdistan has said, Reuters reports.
In an interview with the outlet, Lahur Talabany said the battle against the militants could take another three or four years in total even though ISIS’ territory in Iraq has almost all but been dismantled. The reference to al-Qaeda appears to draw a comparison to the United States’ years-long battle with the dispersed insurgent group, which has plagued American foreign policy for nearly two decades.
ISIS’ transformation from a state entity into an insurgent group similar to al-Qaeda (only more deadly) is something previously warned about; ISIS’ cells still exist in Iraq and have been documented as more than capable of launching attacks. This will only make the terror group harder to defeat now that its adversaries don’t have a specific territory to target – regardless of how many militants the Iraqi Armed Forces throw off cliffs and rooftops.
While many entities are fighting at great lengths to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is also present in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Libya and is capable of inspiring attacks in Europe (and even in Iran). Depending on the group’s resolve, the world may be about to witness a global phenomenon of lone terror attacks that may ultimately be just as devastating as what ISIS hoped to have achieved with its self-proclaimed caliphate.
Further, Talabany also said he believes reportedly deceased ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive.
“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead…We believe 99 percent he is alive. Don’t forget his roots go back to al-Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing,” Talabany said.
Multiple reports of Baghdadi’s death have emerged over the years, but his death is still yet to be fully confirmed. Some officials have even expressed doubt as to Baghdadi’s existence altogether. Last week, a war monitor claimed ISIS sources had confirmed his death, as had Turkish officials. That being said, ISIS’ media has yet to confirm his death, according to the Independent.
Even if Baghdadi had been killed (whether by Russia or the U.S.-led coalition), the Independent notes that there are several senior members of ISIS who are ready to take up the reigns of ISIS’ leadership in the event of his death. According to Reuters, the majority of these up and coming terrorist leaders are intelligence officers who once served under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
This is important because it was America’s decision to dismantle Iraq’s police and military in 2003 – putting approximately 400,000 servicemen out of work – that fueled ISIS’ rise in the first place. If the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2003 and created a power vacuum filled with hundreds of thousands of disgruntled secular Baathists who no longer had jobs, ISIS arguably wouldn’t even exist.
The pending collapse of ISIS as a state and its transformation into a dangerously dispersed group of violent radicals will make headline news for years to come (especially if the Russia-gate debacle ever dries up). The saddest part of this conundrum is not just the fact that it could have been prevented, but that through countless air strikes, mounting civilian deaths, and years of American-led occupation, the U.S. will continue creating the conditions that gave rise to this barbaric terror group in the first place.