Top Six Signs ISIL/ Daesh is Doomed

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

It has been over a year since Mosul fell to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). In some ways the organization has continued to make advances since then, taking Ramadi and Palmyra in the past few months. It isn’t as important as FBI director James Comey says it is, though. People in government security agencies feel they have to hype threats so as to ensure next year’s budget.

I maintain that the Daesh menace has been exaggerated from day one. I doubt four million people live under its rule, not the 9 million often alleged. Most of its territory is barren desert and lightly populated. It has no obvious purchase in the United States. And, it has lost key assets in the past year in the Middle East.

Here are some signs that we won’t be talking about Daesh in just a few years:

1. Daesh has been excluded from Diyala Province in eastern Iraq, and was chased out of the major Sunni city of Tikrit. It carried out a horrific bombing in Diyala recently, but that is like a ghost haunting someone because it was defeated.

2. The Iraqi military and Shiite militia auxiliaries chased Daesh from the oil refinery at Baiji north of Tikrit in late June. Without income from gasoline and kerosene smuggling, Daesh will suffer a crisis in finances.

2. Kurdish forces, including the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, successfully launched a campaign to take Mt. Sinjar away from Daesh and to establish Kurdish control of northern Ninevah Province. The Peshmerga and the Syrian YPG or Peoples’ Protection Units cooperated to rescue the Yazidi Kurds. This operation also hurt Daesh’s logistics, cutting it off from some of Syria.

4. The Iraqi military and Shiite militias are massed around Fallujah and Ramadi and sometime within the next month or they are likely to launch a campaign to retake Iraq’s Western al-Anbar Province. A side effect of that will be to cut Daesh in Mosul off from provisioning.

5. After having been repelled from Kobane, the Kurdish enclave in the north of Raqqa Province, Daesh has lost the Tel al-Abyad border crossing to Syria’s Kurds. This loss makes it more difficult for it to smuggle in men and arms via the border checkpoint. In fact, it has lost control of the northern part of Raqqa Province, its seat of power.

6. Turkey has finally relented and given permission to the US to bomb Daesh targets in Syria from the Incirlik air base in Turkey. US planes are now 400 miles from the faux caliphate’s capital, Raqqa– much closer than they were. Turkey also seems to be closing off the part of the Syrian border stretching from Kobane west, further hurting Daesh ability to bring in men and supplies.

Daesh is gradually being surrounded in preparation for it being cut off. It lost Diyala, it lost Tikrit, it lost Sinjar, it lost Kobane, it lost Tel al-Abyad, and now it is facing being cut off from smuggling routes in Turkey and it is facing losing major cities in al-Anbar.

There is a lot of hard fighting ahead, and defeating Daesh won’t be easy, since they mine their towns and set booby traps. But all the pieces are gradually being put in place that would allow a coup de grace over the next year or two.

Related video:

CNN: “Turkey launches airstrikes against ISIS in Syria”

23 Responses

  1. Prof. Cole–I like what you have to say, but this is the most overly optimistic pollyanna-ish think I’ve ever read from you. Yes, it could all work out if all the disparate, antagonistic temporary allies somehow continue to function together. Sunnis and Shias in Iraq–sure; Kurds and Iraqis–sure; Turks and Kurds–sure; Turks and Syrians–sure; Syrians and Kurds–sure. And all of them with the US–sure; and everybody with Israel–sure. Nope. This temporary fortuitous coalition is not gonna defeat DAESH. What could? I don’t know.

    • I think what Prof. Cole is saying/showing is that ISIS is being systematically picked apart and isolated. You can see what the strategy is. Looks like ISIS is being allowed to expand and over extend itself and then will collapse from within. A swamp sucking in jihadists from all over the world (like a trap) and then the swamp will be drained. ISIS has no future. They are up against too much and have no strategic assets or real advantages other than die-hard religious believes, but that will only take you so far.

  2. Daesh is only a danger because the USA/Europe need to pretend that Islamic Extremism is the only real enemy. Iran can somehow even be included, despite its real fight against Daesh, by the ignorant and biased US Repugs such as the potential POTUS candidates while Saudi Arabia is our precious ally, like Israel.

    • Why would you comment on this article when you are so obviously ignorant on the topic. Troll

  3. Two articles worth considering:

    “The West likes to think that ‘civilisation’ will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise: We cling to our belief that barbarism will never outlast the power of the righteous” by Robert Fisk – link to


    “Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS” by Patrick Cockburn – link to

  4. A further reason might be if Iran becomes a source for a coordinated response to ISIL.

    The Iranian Foreign Minister is currently in Baghdad:

    We (regional countries) may have different opinions regarding developments in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but we stress that the security of each and every country in the region is like our own security and we will work to boost this collective security–Ibrahim-alJaafari-Baghdad
    That is a mature response and the ME is badly in need of a unifying purpose acting above conflicting differences.

    Also in the end there really isn’t anywhere for ISIL to go long-term. In that sense it’s a bit like Israel’s occupation of Palestine, an undertaking pursued in defiance of more or less everyone which will simply starve itself out of existence in time.

  5. True that ISIS may be rolled back, and maybe- a big maybe- driven out of Iraq; but there’s no prospect of anyone driving them out of Syria. The Kurds did most of the work in separating them from the Turkish border, but now, it seems, are going to pay for their efforts, because Turkey is even less willing to tolerate Kurdish success than they were to tolerate ISIS. The more the Kurds roll back ISIS, from now on, the more likely Turkey is to simply cross the border and crush not ISIS- but the Kurds.

    What if the Kurds can go no further? Who else is going to go into Syria on the ground to eject them from Raqqa, or Palmyra for that matter?

    They may be chased out of Iraq (still a long shot), but is there anyone who can even begin to think about dislodging them from Syria?

    • That’s because the Syrian civil war needs to finish. When Assad (who nobody at all likes) is tossed out, a clear preferred power will develop in Syria, and that power will finish the work of ejecting ISIL/Daesh.

      If Syria were one of the many countries in South America, Africa, and Asia where this sort of thing has happened, the sort of situation Assad is in would lead to an internal coup against Assad by some Ba’athist colonel whose hands were relatively clean, on a ‘openness’ platform. At which point the rebels would say “Good, Assad is gone”, and unite behind the government.

      Assad’s insistence on staying in power personally is actually odd, and indicates that there’s some personnel weakness within the Syrian administration. As such it will probably just collapse outright. At that point any warlord can fill the power vacuum, but a warlord who knows how to be popular can beat ISIL/Daesh any day.

  6. ISIS has always had enough enemies to defeat it, just as the Taliban has always had enough enemies to defeat it. The problem is the insistence of the USA that only it and its allies get to defeat these death cults and then dictate what replaces them. Before 9/11, the Taliban was in a struggle with the Northern Alliance, which was backed by India, Iran, and Russia. What a coalition! But Washington didn’t like that. Iran and Russia would surely send whatever was needed to finish off ISIS, but they would demand the salvation of the Assad regime as their price.

    Our larger problem is, we never even found out the true story of ISIS; who their leaders were, who was paying their bills, what they really intended to accomplish. This is important, because every defeat of an al-Qaeda or ISIS creates new movements led by opportunists preying on the unmet demand of some Moslems for a struggle against those who own the world.

    When ISIS first had success, and Saudi Arabia was being cagey about its relationship to it, I argued that this was a classic Machiavellian move by the Saudis. Machiavelli said that the Prince must send a governor to do all the dirty work of Occupation, and then after the killings have been done, rush in and blame the governor and execute him and restore civilized rule to a grateful populace. How do we know ISIS wasn’t a patsy all along, created to partition Iraq and then self-destruct, to be replaced by a very slightly less monstrous new movement that the Saudis could openly support as they built a new Iron Curtain across Iraq?

    • Attempting to prop up the Assad regime was an insane and unsound move.

      The *correct* move was to salvage the Baathist regime while removing Assad, the ‘Butcher of Aleppo’, personally. Frankly, the Iranian government understands politics well enough to support this sort of move, and I’m sure the Indian government does too. I am not sure about Russia, since Putin appears to be stupid.

      The US apparently was unwilling to make this distinction, which is the distinction which allows for the classic “quiet coup” by a colonel.

  7. …and the Number 1 reason why Daesh may be around for a long time to come is: All the publicity they get from western leaders and the western media about how rich, savage, successful and scary that Daesh is.

      • Ouch!. I have wondered how much publicity they get in Arab media. Maybe that is top reason Number 0, as to why Daesh may be around for a long time to come?

  8. This view — “all the pieces are gradually being put in place that would allow a coup de grace over the next year or two” — is extremely optimistic, even if the U.S. massively occupied this huge area. Only after Syria and Iraq get it together and can effectively police their own territories will Daesh be truly gone.

  9. The speedy destruction of ISIS would be the best thing for the entire world. But the survival of the Assad regime, the Iraqi government is not what some Sunni countries want. My guess is when ISIS is cowed, hanging by a thread, the northern and southern borders will quietly open up with aid.

  10. missing from this analysis is the role of the Sunni minority in Iraq.

    They are not represented by the current Iraqi government.
    They cannot participate in the “Iraqi Security Forces” sham, which is 95% Shi’a.

    As long as their best hope is with ISIL, they will support
    and military superiority and hegemony only strengthens that support. that group. That’s why ISIL will be around for a long time.

    • what I meant to say in that last bit:

      “As long as their best hope is with ISIL, they will support that group.
      That’s why ISIL will be around for a long time.

      US and other foreign military interference, superiority and hegemony only strengthens that support.”

  11. The Iran agreement is a disaster for Isis

    The Vienna accord I negotiated on behalf of the EU strikes a blow to the terrorists’ ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative

    Cooperation between Iran, its neighbours and the whole international community could open unprecedented possibilities of peace for the region, starting from Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

    Federica Mogherini

    link to

  12. Prof. Cole,
    I’ve been following you for several years, and this is the first time I’ve been uncomfortable with your view.

    I can believe that Daesh will be driven out of Iraq. But out of Syria?

    How does the Turkey -Kurd thing resolve so that the Kurds continue?
    What happens to Assad? What fills in if/when he is defeated?
    What does Iran really want in Syria, how will this influence their interaction with the Baghdad government’s military effectiveness (if any)??

  13. Everything Professor Cole writes is immaterial, as is most of the comments here. Looking at this from a political science perspective, ISIS may not be doomed to failure, but its success is highly unlikely. Their success to date has not been a result of their strength, but of the abject failure and utter weakness of the regimes it has fought. Meanwhile, ISIS has been doing a great job of alienating much of the population it does control. To be successful, a regime must be seen as legitimate and effective. I don’t think ISIS has been, nor likely to be seen in those ways. I was opposed to Obama’s extension of the war against ISIS into Syria because I believe that Syria is such a can of worms we should stay out. The best bet is to contain ISIS and support the nation states in the area until ISIS collapses. Militarily, an armor regiment of US forces would probably be enough to defeat ISIS in open combat, but it is best that we not send combat troops. Thus, once local forces are properly equipped and, most importantly, well led, they can take care of the military threat ISIS poses.

    • Gary is correct.

      This is also the problem with Assad: he is seen as illegitimate and ineffective.

      A replacement Baathist who was not involved in the massacres would not have Assad’s *record*, which would be sufficient to be seen as legitimate. This sort of coup happens all the time in South America and Africa when the leader is seen to be weak. I am actually surprised that such has not happened in Syria.

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