The UN has issued a fresh warning on the still lingering threat posed by ISIS. In its latest report, it estimates that the number of the terrorist organization members left in Iraq and Syria is between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters, spread almost equally between the two countries.
The report issued by UN sanctions monitors indicates that most of the present ISIS members are nationals of Iraq and Syria, and only few of them are from other countries. The latter point is what’s really dangerous. Foreigners can be exposed but this does not apply to local citizens. The report highlights that the terrorist militia is still capable of launching attacks inside Syria. Although it does not have completely control over any Iraqi territory, it remains active via sleeper cells that consist of hiding agents in the desert and other areas.
These 10,000-15,000 members and their strength cannot be underestimated as four years ago, ISIS has managed to invade Mosul and seize control of it with fewer fighters than at present. From its base in Mosul, it expanded to over the third of the country, committing horrific massacres and causing an ordeal to millions of the Iraqi people, an ordeal which chapters have not yet ended.
What’s also dangerous is that these ISIS members in Iraq and Syria can with time find supporters who provide them with a safe haven and support. Truth is the conducive environment is still present since Iraqi cities and villages destroyed in the war against the terror group have not been rebuilt yet and even basic amenities of life are not available to most of their inhabitants. The problems faced by residents are still not being addressed by the civilian, military and security authorities in a way that might prevent the resurgence of a terrorist ideology and of terrorist members among them. The frequent incidents that recently forced the commander in chief of armed forces to withdraw some of the troops from areas in Nineveh Governorate and others confirm this.
The final victory over ISIS has not been achieved yet, and it will not be achieved as long as the problems facing the inhabitants of the areas freed from ISIS’ control are not addressed and as long as the authorities are not interested in restoring life to normal. This requires fighting administrative and financial corruption in state institutions dealing with these areas and their citizens as just like plenty of the money allocated for the displaced in camps was stolen, the return of the displaced and reconstruction of their areas have now been hindered also due to administrative and financial corruption.
The UN report comes as a strong and timely warning for us. The influential political parties are now completely preoccupied in their struggle and conflict over power, influence and money at the onset of the new parliament and government formation, and it’s unlikely that they will abandon these conflicts and competitions to consider the still extant threat posed by ISIS.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein