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Is IS finished?


Under fire from Russian, Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces, as well as US air power, so-called Islamic State has lost large swathes of land, as well as fighters and money.

What does this mean for the Islamist militant group? Is it finished?

On 13 August this year,the town of Manbij in northern Syria was liberated from IS.

After the last fighter left, the town erupted: men sat on street corners, cutting off each other’s beards; women tore off their face veils and set fire to them; an old woman lit a cigarette and laughed through the smoke.

Previously, all of this was banned by IS.

IS has lost other towns too, such as Kobane, al-Qaryatain, TikritandFallujah.

But how much land has it lost in total?

The risk consultancy group IHS produces maps to show which areas IS currently controls. It says that the amount of territory that IS has lost depends on how you are measuring.

“If you include the desert,”

says senior principal analyst Firas Abi Ali,

“then it’s lost around half of what it controlled a few years ago.”

But it is perhaps more instructive to look at which cities it has lost. In losing towns such as Manbij, it has lost access to the Turkish border,which means the supply of foreign fighters, weapons and ammunition is drying up.

Many experts think it is now just a matter of time before IS loses its most important cities: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. If that happens, what then?

“Even if the territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria is dismantled, this doesn’t mean the end of the movement,”

says Fawaz Gerges, author of ISIS: A history.

Although IS shares some of its ideology with other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda, it differs in one key respect: it did not just talk about a caliphate; it conquered cities, erased borders and declared one. And in doing so, says Fawaz Gerges, it has energised global jihadism.

“The caliphate model will likely haunt the imagination of jihadists for many years to come,”

he says.

A year ago, no-one predicted IS would lose so much so quickly. And as it loses more land in the coming months, it is likely to lose more fighters.

After all, what is Islamic State without a state?

So is Islamic State finished? Yes, it will lose its caliphate.

But then the insurgency will begin.

BBC: The Inquiry: Is Islamic State finished? is broadcast on the BBC World Service. Listen online or download the programme podcast.

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