The self-declared Islamic State (IS) group appears to be nearing collapse.
IS fighters have lost control of Raqqa – the city the group has called its capital. They are now fighting to keep control of small areas of Iraq and Syria. Local forces are said to be attacking them from all sides. But almost no one believes the group will disappear or that the fighting will end soon.
The Associated Press notes that the Islamic State was created from what was left of another group: al-Qaida in Iraq. That group battled United States forces after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In early 2014, the Islamic State began to spread across the Middle East. Its supporters quickly captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah and parts of nearby Ramadi. In Syria, IS militants forced competing Syrian rebel groups to flee Raqqa and took control of the city, naming it as the capital of its caliphate.
In June 2014, IS fighters captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. It was there that the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared creation of the caliphate.
IS promised justice, equality, and an Islamic religious system. But over the next few years, it terrorized people living under its control. The group killed members of Iraq’s small Yazidi community. It executed Western reporters and aid workers. And it destroyed some of the area’s most important archaeological and cultural treasures.
Some foreigners traveled to the Middle East to support IS. Many of them were young men from Europe.
However, IS angered many Sunni Muslims. They worried as they saw the group’s version of Islam spread to areas far from Syria and Iraq.
When IS declared a caliphate, it created a target. Soon, an international anti-IS coalition was formed.
The United States launched its campaign of airstrikes on Islamic State forces in Iraq in August 2014, and a month later on IS targets in Syria. In Iraq, the U.S. military partnered with government forces working with state-approved Shiite-led militias and with Iraqi Kurdish fighters.
In Syria, the U.S. partnered with Syrian Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Supported by tens of thousands of U.S.-led airstrikes, these fighters ousted IS militants from the territories they controlled. The worst defeat for IS took place in July, when they were forced out of Mosul.
IS also appears to be heading for collapse in Syria. The SDF and Syrian government forces supported by Russia are attacking IS forces in separate offensives.
This week, a top SDF commander announced his forces had taken Raqqa from IS militants. Over the weekend, Syrian troops captured Mayadeen, a town in the Euphrates River Valley near the border with Iraq. The militants had been expected to fight to the death in the town.
In northern Iraq, IS forces no longer hold any cities or towns. They lost control of Hawija earlier this month. Iraq’s army is now preparing to fight IS in the last place the terrorists control -- Anbar province, which stretches to the Syrian border. In Syria, IS still controls the town of Boukamal, near the Iraqi border, and small areas in the East.
Syria and Iraq have paid a high price to destroy IS. And many people suffered in areas controlled by the militants. The fighting and airstrikes have destroyed cities and towns that had been economically strong. Many apartment buildings, homes, roads and bridges have been destroyed.
Two weeks ago, the U.S.-led coalition said it had returned more than 83 percent of IS-held land to local populations since 2014. It said more than 6 million Syrians and Iraqis had been freed from IS control. At least 735 civilians are reported to have been accidentally killed in coalition airstrikes, but activists believe the number is much higher.
The rise of the Islamic State group -- and the wars and alliances that defeated it -- have worsened tensions in Syria and Iraq. Kurdish populations in the two countries gained power, worrying the central governments. Iran and Turkey are also fighting Kurdish separatist movements within their countries.
In 2014, during the fight against IS, Iraq’s Kurds seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Iraq has now regained control of the city, seizing oil fields and other infrastructure to try to stop the Kurdish independence movement.
More violence may result from the Syrian civil war, tensions between Kurds and ethnic Arabs, and the presence of Shiite militias and government troops in the Sunni towns and cities.
In many ways, the fight over former IS territories has just begun. All of the forces fighting IS will have to watch their territories closely even after they recapture the last militant-held areas. Experts say in some ways they face a more difficult fight.
Groups linked to the Islamic State continue to carry out attacks in Egypt and Libya. Experts fear IS could re-form and gain strength in the years ahead.
Words in This Story
caliphate – n. the office of an important Muslim leader or the land he governs
archeological – adj. of or related to the study of past human life and activities
valley – n. a stretch of land between hills or mountains
apartment – n. a room or set of rooms that is used as a place to live
infrastructure – n. public services, such as roads, bridges and water treatment centers