Is time running out for the Islamic State group?

Is time running out for the Islamic State group?
Comment: The brutality of the IS group could undermine its support base, and erode its claims of religious legitimacy, says Ibrahim Gharaibeh.
4 min read
09 Feb, 2015
The IS group appears to be under attack from all sides [AFP]

Will the murders of the Japanese journalists and Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh mobilise the military forces arrayed against the Islamic State group, and rally popular support to pick up the pace of war? Will Kassasbeh's murder be the catalyst for a land war?

It seems likely that Jordan would now agree to such a war, which currently enjoys Jordanian popular support.

It seems the IS group has gradually brought itself into a new period, in which various groups will band together against it. Maybe the IS desire - to terrify states - will turn out to be the beginning of its disintegration and the act that finally provokes widespread and universal hostility against it.

Analysis: The Islamic State group: the renier caliphate with no new ideas. Read more.

The IS group has taken control of large areas of Iraq and Syria, an indicator of its strength and influence. It captured the world's attention when it took Iraq's second biggest city, Mosul, last June - but in reality the group's antecedents were in control of parts of Iraq soon after the US invasion in 2003.

The IS makes a lot of its money from oil and taxing other economic activities in the areas under its control. This funding enables it to obtain weapons and fund its operations, institutions and members.

The IS' annual revenues are thought to stand at around $2bn from oil fields and agriculture.

It is also clear that the political, social and ideological base of support for the IS is Arab Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, particularly the Iraqi Baathists and former members of the Iraqi military and intelligence services.

They are largely responsible for the group's military success. The IS also has Syrian military defectors, and fighters from around the world.

Abundant funding

The IS' annual revenue from oil and agriculture is estimated at around $2bn, some of which reportedly comes from trade with the Assad regime.

According to CNN, the IS group also extorts millions and reportedly takes $8m a month from expropriations and taxes in Mosul. The Daily Beast's senior reporter, Josh Rogin, suggested it makes money from drug trafficking.

Reports at the time of Mosul's fall said the IS took $430m from the city's central bank, although this figure has never been confirmed.

French television released a map of the areas under IS control that included most of northern Syria, from the Turkish border until Manbej in the south and al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border. In Iraq, IS controls large parts of the west - from Mosul in the north and through Kirkuk, Baiji, Tikrit, Samarra and Fallujah. Its control stops just north of Baghdad.

There are indicators that the group's military strength and popularity are in decline.

However, there are indicators that the group's military strength and popularity are in decline.

It might break up into new, smaller alliances, say analysts. It is likely that its apparent releuctance to invade Baghdad - or its sheer inability to do so - demonstrates the limits of its capabilities and is an indication of its future.

There was a major rift in the Iraqi franchise of al-Qaeda and it split into the IS group, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the Nusra Front, led by Mohammed al-Joulani.

Most of the former al-Qaeda militants are thought to have joined IS. According to a study published in the Journal of Foreign Affairs by Barak Mendelsohn, a professor of political science at Haverford College, the condemnation of IS by al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, significantly weakened the offshoot group and continues to affect recruitment.

IS in decline?

The IS group has lost the legitimacy it took from its parent al-Qaeda and from influential Islamic figures in the Salafi movement - which may be a step toward its self-destruction. Armed groups in Algeria, for example, lost popular and religious support they once enjoyed, because of their savage actions.

In losing supporters, the IS is also losing control of its territory. Where once it was supported by the overly zealous, now its members are simply poorly educated irreligious mercenaries, who join the IS seeking revenge or financial reward.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.