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Islamic State Shifts Gears After Loss of Territory

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

July 23, 2017

Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Credible Reports That Leader  Al-Baghdadi Still Alive

The Islamic State magazine which was published in English as well as several other languages, used to be called Dabiq, after a town in southern Syria. According to a hadith, or Muslim tradition, Dabiq is the place where Muslim forces will face off against the infidel at the end of days.

But last year, Islamic State changed the name to Rumiya, or Rome. Analysts speculated that the change of name was because Turkish forces and Syrian rebels drove Islamic State out of the town of Dabiq. The new title refers to an Islamic prophecy about the fall of Rome.

But it is also symbolic of Islamic State’s shifting focus as they lose territory in both Iraq and Syria. A new study estimates that the US-backed Iraqi army has reclaimed almost three quarters of territory in Iraq that Islamic State took over in 2014. In Syria, Sunni rebels have retaken more than half of the territory once claimed as part of the caliphate.

“There is a shift from focusing on the Middle East to focusing on Europe,” Adma Hoffman, of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “This creates a sense of expansion beyond the Middle East and distracts attention from setbacks there.”

While Islamic State is losing territory Russian reports that leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who officially announced the caliphate from a mosque in Mosul, was killed in a Russian airstrike is apparently incorrect.

“It seems that it’s fake news,” Ronen Ziedel, an Iraq expert at the Moshe Dayan Center told The Media Line. “It seems that he is in Deir al-Zour (the south) and that he is still alive.”

Some analysts say that Islamic State will try to carry out more terror attacks in Europe to show the world that it is still relevant. British news reports said that Interpol had sent out a list of 173 Islamic State supporters who have the ability to travel and who are prepared for suicide attacks.

Islamic State seems to have anticipated the possibility that it will lose control over much of the territory it captured.

“Do you O America consider defeat to be the loss of a city or the loss of land?” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani asked in a speech in 2016, months before he was killed. “Were we defeated when we lost the cities in raqi and were in the desert without any city or land? And would we be defeated and you be victorious if you were to take Mosul or Sirte or Raqqah or even take all of the cities and we were to return to our initial condition? Certainly not.”

At the same time, Islamic State is struggling. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the group launched a fundraising campaign in areas that it still controls, but there were few donations. The defeat of Islamic State in Mosul has also hit the group hard. Estimates are that up to 25,000 fighters were killed in Iraq by Iraqi government fighters since October.

While Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the defeat of Islamic State in Mosul, experts say there are still pockets of fighters in the city. Hundreds of others are believed to have escaped the city into surrounding areas.

“They shaved their beards, changed their clothes and filtered out with the civilian refugees,” Ziedel, the Iraq expert said. “One of their biggest achievements is that they managed to smuggle all of their commanders out to the west and towards the border with Syria.”

It is likely that these Islamic State commanders will do whatever they can to carry out future attacks.

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