Territory controlled by the Islamic State shrunk by almost a quarter in 2016, according to new analysis released today by IHS Markit (INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.
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In 2016, the Islamic State’s caliphate shrunk by 23 percent from 78,000 km2 in early January to 60,400 km2 by the end of the year-- an area roughly half the size of North Korea. This compares to a loss of 14 percent in 2015, when the caliphate shrunk from 90,800 km2 to 78,000 km2.
“The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” said Columb Strack, senior analyst and head of the IHS Conflict Monitor. “This is despite the opportunistic recapture of Palmyra in December from a Syrian government preoccupied at the time with Aleppo.”
Loss of territory threatening Islamic State internal cohesion
Internal Islamic State publications and scholarly discourse among jihadist theorists reveal increasing disagreement within the Islamic State over its strategy in the face of territorial losses and, more significantly, its authority on theological grounds.
“The Islamic State is internally divided into two opposing doctrinal trends: the mainstream view drawn from Turki al-Bin’ali, and the more extreme interpretation following the ideas of Ahmed al-Hazimi,” said Ludovico Carlino, senior analyst with IHS Conflict Monitor.
The theological dispute initiated by the proponents of al-Hazimi’s doctrine has led to the most significant doctrinal challenge inside the Islamic State since its emergence as a movement, and represents the biggest threat to the Islamic State’s internal cohesion, the latest IHS Conflict Monitor report said. “This raises the risk of defections from the Islamic State to rival jihadist groups in Syria, or even potential internal break-up,” Carlino said.
Re-capture of Mosul likely by mid-year
Iraqi government forces have made steady progress in the eastern districts of Mosul, while Hashd al-Shaabi advances to the west of the city are preventing resupply for the Islamic State. “We expect Iraqi government forces to recapture Mosul before the second half of the year,” Strack said. “After Mosul, the Iraqi government will probably focus its attention on the remaining pocket of resistance around Hawija, which the jihadists are using as a base for their campaign of sustained terrorist attacks in Baghdad.”
Capturing Raqqa far more problematic
The eviction of the Islamic State from Raqqa in 2017 is much more problematic than its loss of Mosul, given the complex political and military considerations involved, the latest IHS Conflict Monitor report said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) ‘Euphrates Wrath’ operation against the Islamic State has achieved significant advances in north-western Raqqa province along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, with the support of US coalition airstrikes and Special Forces advisers. However, progress has stalled in the triangle of more densely populated agricultural land, between the Euphrates and the Balikh River, which runs north-south joining the Euphrates in Raqqa.
“Raqqa represents the core of the Islamic State and they are unlikely to leave without a fight,” Strack said. “It would probably take a major ground intervention by one of the main external players, the US, Turkey, or Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government forces, to expel the Islamic State from Raqqa in 2017.”
Intelligence cut-off date: 9 January 2017.
About the IHS Conflict Monitor
The IHS Conflict Monitor is an open-source intelligence collection and analysis service, which includes unrivalled data coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, weekly control maps, as well as in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis by IHS Jane’s security experts.
About IHS Markit (www.ihsmarkit.com)
IHS Markit (INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 key business and government customers, including 85 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.
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