Daesh/ISIL encouraging Loner attacks to Mask its Death Spiral

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The terrorist organization known as Daesh in the Middle East and Europe but as ISIS or ISIL in the US is in a death spiral.

Daesh hit its peak of territory in 2015 on taking Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s al-Anbar province.

Since then, it has virtually been rolled up in Iraq, having lost all of al-Anbar except a small town on the Syrian border, having lost all of Diayala and Salahuddin provinces, and having lost most of Ninewah, including 75% of Mosul, its last remaining metropolis.

(Its capital, of Raqqa in Syria, is a town of about 100,000, the capital of Raqqa Province, which had 900,000 people before the Syrian civil war broke out but about half of those fled to Turkey, especially the Kurds in the north).

Daesh still holds Hawija, a town of 100,000 before its occupation that is likely half that now; and Tel Afar, a largely Turkmen town that was likewise smallish before the Daesh onslaught. It is likely even smaller now, since all the Shiite Turkmen will have fled. I wonder if Daesh has as many as a million people living under its rule in Iraq any more. Some 400,000 of those are in West Mosul, which will likely fall to the Iraqi central government within a few months. At that point Daesh and its phony caliphate will fairly quickly be completely rolled up as a governmental entity. They will continue to be strong in some villages and city neighborhoods and will continue to carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, but they won’t be a government.

Once it has lost the small amount of territory it now has in northern Iraq and a slightly larger swathe of eastern Syria that is still under its authority, what will Daesh do?

Many adherents will defect and just go home in disappointment. Many have already been disappointed by the brutality and inhumanity of Daesh rule, and have fled. Daesh tries to stop such defections at present, but its ability to do so is rapidly declining. You often meet with a meme that once a young man has served in a radical organization he is thereafter always dangerous. In fact, many former radicals have abandoned their radicalism for a perfectly normal life back home.

Some former members of the caliphal mafia state will go underground, forming cells, and attempting to continue to run extortion rackets and carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and Damascus.

Yet others will try to haunt the West, which they will blame for their defeat. Daesh propaganda on the internet has already worked its way into the dreams and nightmares of a handful of petty criminals and ne’er-do-wells who have pulled off terrorist attacks in Europe.

It was such a loner and minor criminal, Khalid Masood, who drove his vehicle into people on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a policeman guarding parliament. He wounded some 40 people, some of them catastrophically, and killed 3, in addition to committing suicide by cop.

Although Daesh claimed to have been behind the plot, the diction of their message makes experts suspicious that Masood had little or nothing to do with the organization. He had been a misfit and deviant for some time.

Daesh, as it sinks into obscurity and loses the shooting war, will likely turn to terrorism and attempts to win the civilizational war (not between Christianity and Islam but between humaneness and ruthlessness). In some instances, it will plot out attacks, using its own command and control. In others, it will just try to get into the heads of rebellious adolescents or far right wing religious nuts and convince them to carry out attacks.

But the big play for Daesh is a long game in which the organization manages to herd Europe’s tens of millions of Muslims into radicalism, using the European far right such as Marine LePen. It will attack Christian Europeans and secular ones in an attempt to get them to mistreat European Muslims. Then it will offer itself to the latter as their protection, as their muscle in the face of white hostility. This strategy was the one Daesh pursued in Iraq, with a great deal of success over a decade, allowing it to grab 40% of Iraqi territory.

A lot of politicians will fall for this ploy, and give Daesh what it wants by enacting unfair and discriminatory policies toward Western Muslims. Our own Donald J. Trump is a dupe collaborating with this Daesh plot as we speak.

A lot of media fall for Daesh tricks, too. Giving them 24/7 coverage for a stupid technique like running down helpless pedestrians with a vehicle is unwise. The Masood attack in London had no military implications at all and never actually threatened British national security. Some 1700 pedestrians are run over and killed every year in the UK. The attack by a white nationalist youth on Quebec Muslims in a mosque, which killed more people though it wounded fewer, did not attract wall to wall coverage.

Daesh wants you to be afraid. Refuse fear. Daesh wants you to hate Muslims. Find a Muslim and show them some love. Keep doing this and after a while there won’t be any Daesh. Nonviolence, peace and love are the only way to defeat stochastic or random radicalism and terror, whether those diseases have taken hold in white supremacists or in stray Muslims.


Related video:

ABC News: “London attack | 8 arrested in deadly terror attack”

16 Responses

  1. Well said, Prof. Cole. Just one small correction – I believe that 1700 is the total of all people killed in road traffic accidents, not just pedestrians.

    I happened to be about half a mile from the attack scene on Wednesday, and I can confirm that London kept calm overall.

  2. The latest maps show the Daesh hold a long, thin swath of land under their control, with a bulge in about the middle. That bulge is Raqqa. If that bulge was taken from them the remains would be divided and cut-off.
    I’m not suggesting exactly how, but take that bulge and bring this mistake of history to a close.

    • I think it could be longer and more difficult than both Juan Cole and you suggest.

      I’m guessing the long thin swath of land on the map you looked at is the populous Euphrates valley. On one hand, Daesh’s area of control is of course much wider, in particular to the south of the Euphrates; on the other hand, the Euphrates valley is what matters and it is where Daesh forces and fortifications are massed.

      Over the past three months, the Kurds have slowly conquered the villages and deserts to the north of the Euphrates, and in the last week or two, finally the north bank of the river to the east of Raqqa. But Raqqa itself, which is surrounded by a more densely populated area in which the Kurds think Daesh built rings of defenses (that bulge you saw on the map), will mean less easy advance.

      Furthermore, Juan Cole didn’t mention another major city to the east: Deir Ezzor, which is partly government-controlled but government forces are besieged and keep losing area. The Kurds are still more than 50 km from Deir Ezzor and don’t move for it, while Assad’s forces and Russian ground forces are still over 150 km away near Palmyra (and needed two months to regain Palmyra after losing it to a surprise Daesh assault in a few days).

      All in all, I wouldn’t be surprised if crushing Daesh as a state will take another 12 months.

  3. The Masood attack in London had no military implications at all and never actually threatened [British] national security. Neither did 9/11. Die Geister, die ich rief .

  4. You make the obvious point of their inevitable decline, but then you seque into their Long Game…..

    It may the end of Daesh as we know it, but the conditions that bred them are not receding, and as certainly as those like Trump persist so shall they. This is the Human Condition.

    Into small ineffective cells; perhaps being rebranded. But also consider how very much a bete noire is needed in this world. If they totally disappeared tomorrow a casting call would immediately go out for the next arch villain, to focus the peoples fears and empower ambitious politicians. I’m just wondering whether it will be The Joker, or perhaps a reinvented, ‘existential’ Iranian threat.

  5. ISIS is just a cancerous tumor of Islam. When it has been excised, it will never grow back again. Because Islam is the religion of peace.

  6. As more information is provided about the deranged man who carried out the carnage in London on Wednesday it becomes clear that he was just a common criminal with a violent past before he allegedly converted to Islam and changed his name from Adrian Russell to Khalid Masood. It is tempting to shout “Islamic terrorism” anytime an outrageous act is carried out by anyone with some connection with Islam. As a friend of mine Simon Jenkins pointed out in an interview with the BBC Newsnight, giving so much publicity to such atrocities only aids the terrorists. He says such actions should be treated as crimes, which is what they are, and not to dignify them by calling them something else:
    link to mirror.co.uk
    Here is all we know about him so far:
    link to telegraph.co.uk

  7. Regarding Daesh’s potential longevity, would you please address the question of support, if any, they receive from ME elites, particularly the Saudis, and whether that will continue?

    • the Saudi royal family is not supporting Daesh! Daesh talks dirty about them and pledges to overthrow them.

      • Yet, they’ve financed the some of most extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. That they continue to flood Syria with armaments gives rise to the environment where Daesh is able to take over large swaths of Syria, and terrorize the local population.

        Saudi Arabia has pursued policies that are inimical Syrians, itself, and the world at large.

  8. The use of terrorism by a political movement is a sign of weakness, not power. And lack of success inevitably leads to adherents falling away. Because Daesh/ISIS/ISIL is led by delusional radical ideologues, they have made fatal mistakes. Grabbing large swaths of territory without popular support was one of them. As you say, their best hope is foolish policies by their opponents. Unfortunately, many are ready to provide those foolish policies. In a way, it comes down to who is stupider and who is stupid more often.

    • Lots of truth in your post. If war is politics by other means then ‘terrorism’ is a tactic of desperation, occasionally effective in the past, but by nature and circumstances more often used counterproductively.

      People like this being empowered as lone-wolves are totally counterproductive in terms of Daesh’s cause, except perhaps in the longer term, for the overreaction they predictably provoke.

      Hence, Daesh eventually dies. But the underlying problems persist, and the contradictions that pervade society become even sharper through establishment overreaction. Daesh may be finished, but this game only ends with a legitimate organic peace or a negotiated equilibrium (for as long as it holds).

  9. If I got shot by a terrorist, I wouldn’t be angry. I would just say to myself, “it’s like being hit by a truck. Had to happen sometime!” And if I got hit by a terrorist with a truck, then what’s the difference.

    • The intention of these acts, at least when nominally controlled and not the byproduct of some Loser acting-out, is to provoke over-reaction. Not recognizing this particular instance, for example, for what it actually was: hardly even an act of criminality, much less one of genuine ‘terrorism’.

      Where such provocations to The System ultimately lead, however, is to the people being constantly on edge, fearful of a guy who uses one too many plastic spoons down at the Burger King. And that’s about where we now find ourselves.

Comments are closed.