Hassan Hassan writes: Islamic State’s doctrine of survival is based on a simple notion: defeat on the battlefield must always leave behind the seeds for a comeback. Whether the operation to retake Mosul will be the beginning of the end for Isis or the beginning of a new cycle hinges largely on understanding this basic fact.
The security and political vacuum in Mosul will be the likely seed that could enable an Isis regeneration. Unless the government in Iraq allows a situation in which local Sunnis fill the void, a new cycle is almost certain. That much seems to be accepted by Iraqi and American planners directly involved in the effort to dislodge Isis from its most populous and prestigious stronghold. The current strategy stipulates that Shia and Kurdish militias will not fight inside the city, a way to reduce local concerns about political ambitions.
The question, though, is who will fill the void? Can the government in Baghdad empower a Sunni alternative to isolate Isis? Even if Baghdad has the desire and the ability to do so, who is this alternative?
The northern parts of Iraq stretching from Anbar to Nineveh are a microcosm of the problems that plagued the country for a decade. Isis was able to emerge out of the ashes in 2014 but the country is significantly more fractured today than when the group was driven out of the urban centres in 2007. Deeper wounds have opened over the past two years and many sectarian, ethnic and political stakeholders are vying for influence in this particular region of Iraq.
Yet there is cause for guarded optimism amid today’s bleak landscape. [Continue reading…]