IS shows signs of crumbling, as Iraq launches offensive

IS shows signs of crumbling, as Iraq launches offensive
IS have changed their slogan from 'remaining and expanding' to 'staying despite all circumstances', as Iraqi forces capture territories in Anbar, while military commander Shishani is 'clinically dead'.
4 min read
14 March, 2016

Islamic State group militants are fighting a desperate defensive battle against Iraqi government forces, as the militants' come under a new assault in the west of the country.

The Iraqi army's offensive aims at winning back key cities and towns of Hit, Rutba and Kusayba from IS in Iraq's western Anbar province, which has been a stronghold for the group.

Rolling back losses

Initial indications of major army advances appear to be good for Baghdad. Iraqi forces have already entered some districts of Hit, one of the largest in Anbar province, and reportedly surrounded the city.

"Iraqi forces made rapid advances into the city of Hit. Our forces managed to breach IS' defensive lines, killing a large number of militants and liberating the districts of Banan and al-Rawda," Hami al-Dulaimi, chief of the security committee for Anbar Governorate Council told The New Arab.

The attack was backed by tribal fighters and international coalition jets, and forced IS militants to retreat from its positions, Dulaimi said.

The city has now been surrounded and local police have been deployed close to Hit, ready to restore law and order when troops and allied tribesmen liberate the city.

Dulaimi predicts this to happen in the next day or two, although such optimistic claims by Iraqi officials have been proven premature before.

Taking a hit

Suhaib al-Rawi, the governor of Anbar province, also remains hopeful of a quick victory over the militant group in Hit.

"The security forces are a few kilometres away from the centre of Hit. The people of Anbar and the western areas of the governorate will start returning to the liberated areas today," he said.

He also predicts that a battle for Fallujah will be launched simultaneously.

However, the capture of the Rutba desert outpost from IS proved shortlived.

Iraqi forces made rapid advances into the city of Hit. Our forces managed to breach IS' defensive lines.
- Hami al-Dulaimi, Iraqi military commander

Hours after IS group retreated from the town - which lies close to the Jordanian border and on the highway to Baghdad - militants began to trickle back into the town.

"[IS] has re-established its control on the city of Rutba... which it had left the previous day," a senior officer told AFP.

"[They] came back from al-Qaim with armoured vehicles and artillery," the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"They deployed them on the outskirts of the town and at the main entrances, as if to defend it from any attack by the security forces," he said.

He confirmed that the militant group's contingent of foreign fighters - including its local leaders - did not return to the town.

Testing loyalties

Rutba's mayor believes that this was a deliberate tactic by the militants to test the loyalty of the population as it faces attacks on its territories from several directions.

Imad Ahmed, the town's mayor, said "it was like a trick played by IS on the locals".

He told AFP that the militants could be trying to lure out sympathisers in Rutba for the government, and see which of the townsfolk secretly cooperate with security forces.

Despite this, IS appear to be on a back foot in Syria and Iraq. It faces assaults from a medley of forces from several points in its Iraqi and Syrian territories.

Meanwhile, the international coalition's air war against IS is also beginning to show results, as another of IS' experienced leaders is picked off.

Omar Abu al-Shishani, IS' military commander, was reportedly hit in air strikes by international war planes last week but survived.

Activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have now said that the Georgian militant is "clinically dead", with a foreign surgeon called in to save Shishani's life.

Remaining, not expanding

This would be a major blow for the group, which has relied on its foreign commanders and fighters for many of its offensives.

Another sign that IS might be taking serious debilitating losses is a change in rhetoric from the group's propaganda wing.

IS' slogan "remaining and expanding" has now changed with a more defensive tone.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the slogan now appears to be "staying despite all circumstances", purging the "expansionist" element from its earlier rhetorical slogan.

IS preachers have been mobilised to mobilise people behind this call to fight to the death. Talk in Friday sermons have been about IS facing attack from foreign and non-Islamist forces with a sprinkling of 'End Times' imagery thrown in.

"Islam did not end by the death of the Prophet, but remained and continued, and so the Islamic State [group] and the state of caliphate [IS], will keep on continuing no matter what calamities may come... whoever [is] killed," IS clerics told congregations in Raqqa.

They also said that even if the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ended up dead or seriously injured like Shishani then "thousands" would continue the fight.

However, the rhetoric would hint that there are serious concerns in the IS command centre, as its leaders get picked off one-by-one in air strikes.

The group's loss of territories captured during its 2014 lightening offensive are also showing signs that the Islamic State group project could be on the verge of imploding, even if its ultimate defeat will take months or years to come.