The conundrum pertaining to ISIS reaches a new height the moment we replace the term ‘state’ with ‘ideology’, which in fact is true. The rise of the terror outfit stems deep into the ideology and less into the territory it captures across Iraq and Syria. Whether it was al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or any other militant group, it is the ideological battle that the world is fighting today.
Capturing and losing or territories in such a battle is just a minor boost or setback that will come along the way. Recently, the ousting of ISIS troops from Mosul by Iraq backed by America should not be mistaken as a victory against the terror organization which has shaken the world in recent times.
Though the ISIS militants have lost ground in Mosul, swathes of territories including the hilly terrains near Kirkuk is still under their control. This, in turn, stands by the fact that even if the territorial battle against ISIS is won by Iraqi forces it would be a tedious task for the Shia majoritarian Iraq government to win the trust of Sunni minorities in the state. Clearly, another ideological battle will follow in such case. This was one of the reasons that fueled the growth of ISIS and it might again provide some impetus to the ISIS.
The similar territorial battle is fought in Syria where the battle is actually triangular with the government fighting with the support of Russia, the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is backed by the USA and the third front Islamic State. This combined with the geopolitical fault lines in the west Asia is going to pose hard times even if the territorial win is conceded by a pro-Syrian party.
To understand the implication or the future of ISIS after the territorial defeat we can consider the al-Quaeda example. After bombing by the USA in Afghanistan the terror still persisted and took many ideological forms in many parts of the world – of which the ISIS is a part. Now that the ISIS and its leaders are under threat they have started spreading their ideology in various parts of the world. It is no longer a leader centric movement. The Islamic State of Khorasan in Afghanistan and the Boko-Haram of Africa have openly admitted conforming to the ideology of ISIS. We have similar examples in the Philippines and the small outfits of other parts of the world might also follow soon.
But apart from the battle against the ideology of ISIS, it is important for the nations to align their own ideology first. We can fight against an outsider if your own body is ailing. To step ahead for gaining the trust of the people, to resolve the conflict within peacefully will go a long way in giving a rest to Islamic Ideology of Iraq and Syria.