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Baghdadi’s wounding is good news, but it is no mortal blow to Isis


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Though the containment of Islamic State within Iraq is not impossible, it will require sound governance, strong institutions and an end to sectarian polarisation

 

 

Wednesday 22 April 2015 12.46 BST

 

 

 

The leader of so-called Islamic State (Isis), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has reportedly been seriously wounded and is no longer in control of the jihadi organisation following an air strike in western Iraq. The development, once confirmed, should be welcomed. But the international community’s efforts to defeat Isis still have some way to go.

 

Eliminating Baghdadi will, above all, undermine Isis’s aura of invincibility, something that has allowed it to recruit local and international jihadis, helping it bring down borders at will and seize control of large swaths of territory across eastern Syria and western Iraq.

 

 

In addition, the wounding of Baghdadi comes at a time when the momentum is turning against the group. Since launching its offensive in Iraq last year, Isis has not made any significant territorial gains. Baghdad and southern Iraq is secured, as is the Kurdistan region. Two weeks ago Iraqi forces liberated Tikrit and they are expected to retake additional towns and cities from Isis in due course.

 

In other words, the group’s battlefield prowess and discipline is being matched by local indigenous forces backed by the US, Iran and the broader international community. Isis’s efforts to mobilise local populations, its resources and its general capacity to repair and rebuild are taking a hit. In Iraq it is largely on the defensive, while in Syria Isis is facing increasing local resistance.

 

That said, the military campaign is only part of the solution, not least because Isis functions on the basis of a strong leadership hierarchy that, potentially, could render Baghdadi redundant. It also remains entrenched within local populations. There is some resistance but support for those actors taking a stand against the group has so far been insufficient.

 

The rise of Isis can be attributed to the lack of institutions, weak or failed states and a volatile and polarised region as much as to its own capability and ambition. Isis is a product of civil war in Syria and instability in Iraq. It is, essentially, a rebranded version of Iraq’s Sunni insurgency that was comprised of a range of disparate actors including al-Qaida in Iraq, remnants of the Ba’ath regime and local as well as international jihadis.

 

While this means Isis can be contained and forced to disintegrate in the way the insurgency was after 2007, as a result of the US troop surge and the co-opting of Sunni Arab tribes, it also means that long-term measures will be needed to defeat and prevent it from re-emerging.

 

This will require good governance, institution-building and remedying the sectarian polarisation that has provided Isis with an environment conducive to its brand of radical Islam. In Iraq, for example, Isis thrives on dissatisfaction within the Sunni Arab community, which resents the post-2003 political order and the empowerment of the country’s majority Shia.

 

Stabilising Iraq and containing Isis there might be a realistic prospect. But in Syria, where the civil war shows no sign of abating and where Isis’s main apparatus is located, it is less so. Lastly, tensions between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia are on the increase, exacerbating problems. Baghdadi’s wounding could mark a turning point – but it is far from being enough to deal Isis a fatal blow.

 

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/22/abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-wounding-isis-islamic-state-iraq

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