The Washington Post reports: Just hours after his men helped recapture the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar from Islamic State militants last week, Maj. Gen. Ali Ahmed, an officer with Kurdish security forces, watched another battle unfold on his television, this one some 2,500 miles away in Paris.
What had seemed a winning day in the war against the Islamic State had taken a horrific turn with attacks in the French capital that left 129 people dead.
The victory by Kurdish forces in Sinjar was just one in a string of losses for the militant group as it faces attacks on multiple fronts — from Ramadi in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria.
But the squeeze on Islamic State territory has coincided with an uptick in the group’s operations overseas. That’s no coincidence, according to some analysts, who expect the Islamic State to lash out with more attacks abroad to divert attention from its territorial losses.
“Their recruiting appeal is based on the appearance of strength, and that informs a lot of their strategy,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror” and a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
From the outset, the Islamic State has been acutely aware of its international image, with its slickly produced videos of beheadings and massacres a key part of attracting recruits.
“The brothers launched the attack in Paris to prove that we are a strong state and we can fight our enemies anywhere,” said one Islamic State sympathizer in Turkey, who declined to be named because of links to the terrorist group. “Since they are fighting us in our land, we are going to fight them in their lands.”
At its peak last year, the Islamic State had seized about a third of Iraqi territory, but it has lost about a third of that. After more than a year of bloody battles, pro-government forces wrested control of the oil refinery of Baiji in October.
In Ramadi, Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and have encircled the city, according to Iraqi commanders.
“The city is besieged 360 degrees,” said Maj. Gen. Thamir Ismail, commander of SWAT forces in the province. “Daesh lost Baiji, and lost Sinjar, and now day by day they are losing Ramadi,” he said. He used an Arabic term for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“They attacked Paris in order to keep up the morale of their fighters and distract from their losses in Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I expect that when we liberate Ramadi, there will be more attacks in Europe.” [Continue reading…]