Summary

With the fall of Mosul looking increasingly imminent as Iraqi government forces reach the city’s limits, an important moment in Baghdad’s struggle with Daesh (Islamic State) has been reached. Mosul is the last major urban stronghold of Daesh in Iraq and the city’s fall will drive the group’s surviving members across a restored national border entirely into Syria, where the organization also faces a host of hostile actors.

It is too soon yet to declare Iraq free from the threat of Daesh’s violence – it has numerous sympathizers and sleeper cells scattered across the country – but the group’s state-building project is in ruins and its status as the vanguard of Sunni revivalism in Iraq has taken a pounding. However, even the defeat of Daesh in Iraq is unlikely to end Iraq’s involvement in the region’s conflicts, with both the Syrian civil war and the militarization of tensions between Arabs, Turks, and Kurds having a high probability of drawing Iraqi armed factions into future conflicts.

 

Background

Daesh down, not out. Prior to exploding across Sunni parts of Iraq in 2014, Daesh took advantage of the Syrian civil war to gobble up parts of the country’s largely empty east. Now with it rapidly being driven out of Iraqi territory, Daesh is essentially confined there for the moment. But having used the area as a springboard once, its enemies are determined to deny it the chance again.

Influential Shi’a militias in Iraq want to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Shi’a militia groups belonging to Iraqi government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) have spearheaded much of the fight against Daesh and have lately threatened to pursue the militant group into Syria. Many units are Iran-backed and only partially under control by either Tehran or Baghdad. These Iraqi Shi’a militias have long played a part in propping up the government of Bashar al-Assad and there are real fears that with Iranian backing, Iraqi intervention in the Syrian civil war might actually increase following the fall of Mosul.