Hassan Hassan reports: The group, which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) after it broke away from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in April last year, had been driven out of most of Syria, and rebel factions and al-Qaida affiliates threatened to chase it out of Iraq. But the group has made a remarkable comeback, seizing stretches of at least seven provinces in the two countries, and marching steadily into other areas.
In the last two weeks alone, Isis has fought on five fronts: against the Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga, the Syrian regime, the Syrian opposition and the Lebanese army. In Syria the group has all but consolidated control of the eastern provinces of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, as it made advances against government forces in Raqqa and subdued most of the rebel forces in Deir Ezzor. It is also advancing into Aleppo, reaching the city’s eastern outskirts, and in Hasaka, and is battling the Kurdish militias in the north-east. In Iraq it has advanced to a point only half an hour’s drive from Irbil, the Kurdish capital.
Yet these advances appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. Away from the publicised gains, Isis is quietly making progress on other fronts. Perhaps the most worrying is the fact that armed groups backed by the US have been co-opted by Isis.
After its sweeping military success in Iraq in June, Isis moved to take over the strategic province in Deir Ezzor, where the rebels controlled lucrative oil and gas resources. To the surprise of many, the group quickly controlled towns and villages that were home to some of the group’s most powerful adversaries, including Jabhat al-Nusra and locally rooted tribal militias. [Continue reading…]