Islamic State after Baghdadi's death

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 31, 2019
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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement at the White House following reports that U.S. forces attacked Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northern Syria, in Washington, U.S., October 27, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the fugitive leader of the Islamic State (IS) group, has met his end in northwest Syria in a way typical of his brief violent career. 

Little is known about his early life except that he was imprisoned by the U.S. for supporting al-Qaeda after the fall of Saddam Hussein. That brief stint in jail helped him to graduate as a terrorist leader by building vital linkages with other extremists. 

Baghdadi became a brand name in violence after Islamic State burst onto the terrorist scene in 2014. He proved a ferocious man, but it did not hinder him gaining support of disgruntled young men and women who flocked from all around the globe to live under his self-proclaimed "Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria. 

Baghdadi's death was announced by President Donald Trump, who also provided graphic details how he was chased by dogs into a tunnel where he eventually committed suicide. 

His killing is as important as the elimination of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2011. Then, it was Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, broke the news. 

The parallels between the two killings are stark. Both terrorist leaders were killed almost a year before the American presidential election, where the White House incumbent looked forward to winning a second term. 

Trump faces elections next year. He is embroiled in controversies, including the Democratic opposition in Congress trying to build a case for his impeachment and criticism of his cynical for abandonment of his previous Kurdish allies in Syria. However, this one killing can perhaps wash away some of his failings to a certain degree.

As far as the fate of the Islamic State is concerned, the situation is pretty tight. The caliphate collapsed last year. His followers were killed and captured in thousands. It was reported that about 12,000 were in the custody of Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurds. 

Baghdadi had to move to the area near Idlib in order to regroup with IS remnants. Idlib was relatively a safe place for him after losing sanctuaries in the region along the Iraqi-Syrian border. However, he came under the U.S. radar and was eliminated after surveillance for a couple of weeks.

Islamic State now faces an uphill task to operate, especially due to the loss of the leader who was not just known as the public face of the group, but also an expert and ruthless battlefield tactician. Hence, it seems it will be difficult for another to emerge to fill in his shoes. 

The reemergence of IS in Syria depends on several factors. The key will be availability of space to establish a network and recruit new supporters. It will not be easily available due to the consensus among all stakeholders to squeeze IS out of the game. 

It means that the group may not be able to establish physical control over the vast swathe of land as it did after 2014. However, the threat will not be over as it will continue to carry out terrorist attacks at targeted places. 

Hence, IS may find it hard to gain a fresh foothold in Syria or Iraq but it will be active at places like Libya in the Middle East and as far away as Afghanistan. So, the task of completely ridding the region of terrorism is still far from over. 

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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