It would seem that the defeat of ISIS, at least in Syria and in Iraq, is coming near. Already in October 2016 security analysts predicted the defeat of ISIS, as reported in express. Since then, the noose has been drawn closer and tighter.
In Mosul, reports (like aljazeera) are corroborating that neighborhoods held by ISIS are completely surrounded by anti-ISIS coalition forces. According to theguardian, key Mosul sites have been seized from ISIS. cbsnews summarized “ISIS is cornered, desperate and leaving a trail of destruction in Mosul”. Reports have surfaced regarding the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, who has apparently abandoned Mosul and gone into hiding (see independent).
Losing Mosul has been projected to spell the end of ISIS’s ability to further control areas in Iraq. A bizarre coalition of Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Shia militias, Turkish forces, US airstrikes and others has brought about a change of tide.
The Syrian front is also nearing some kind of outcome. As reported on cbsnews, many areas in Syria are being liberated from ISIS strongholds. Although the battle still continues in Aleppo, it would seem that the Syrian army with the help of Russian military, have been able to re-conquer most of the city.
The Syrian front is no less complex than the Iraqi one. What began as a civil war around the legitimacy of the Assad regime has erupted into a full blown multi-state battle between ISIS and anti-ISIS coalitions. With Russia, Turkey, Iran, Afghan, Pakistani and other Shiite militias intertwined in the military efforts. As reported in bbc, it would seem that at least a quarter of ISIS territory has been already liberated.
With President Trump pledging to defeat ISIS and even signing an executive order to plan the defeat of ISIS in thirty days, it would seem that we are at a crucial stage. It always takes the US some time to make the move, but once it does, history has shown us that that is a decisive moment. During the second world war, it took Pearl Harbor to draw the US into the war, three years into the bloody battles, but once that happened it was decisive.
So, it is time to start asking the question about the day after – who will fill the vacuum?
After WWII, we witnessed the ally forces splitting the territories amongst themselves, laying the foundation for decades long “Cold War” between the US (NATO) and Russia (Warsaw pact).
In Iraq, it is quite clear that Iran will maintain tremendous influence over any future political settlement, thus expanding the Shiite arc of influence way beyond the Persian Gulf.
What about Syria?
Assad is too weak and shattered to control anything. Russia, with all its might and power, will not camp down in Syria, thousands of miles away from homeland. Turkey may want to stay, but it would not seem to be feasible long term.
The real danger is an Iranian direct or proxy takeover, like it has done in Lebanon (with Hezbollah), in Yemen (with the Houthis) and in Iraq. Moreover – they have flooded the area with proxy fighters. Already the washingtonpost has warned that “thousands of Shiite militiamen” have led the charge in Syria, all loyal to Iran. These militias have bolstered Iran’s influence in Syria, alarming even officials in Assad’s government. Philip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias is quoted stating “they are building a force on the ground that, long after the war, will stay there and wield a strong military and ideological influence over Syria for Iran.” Iran is there to stay. They will fill the vacuum, expanding Shiite influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, unless action is taken to avoid it.
Mistakes have been made in the past, like with the splitting of regions of influence following WWII. A bigger mistake would be to allow an entity like Iran to fill such a vacuum. It would seem that it is time for the powers to start planning the day after.