US-led coalition forces claim to have taken back 25-30 percent of the land the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized in Iraq since last June. A Pentagon map was released Wednesday, April 15 to illustrate this contention. (It is attached to this article.) At first glance, the gains made by the Iraqi army backed by coalition air power may look impressive, although US defense officials acknowledge that territory often changes hands rapidly in the heat of battle. For the full-size map click HERE.
Along with the map, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who was visiting Washington, declined to confirm to reporters that the Islamic State’s defeat was in sight. He commented warily that the terrorist group was heading that way, but still “showed some resilience and was proving very mobile.”
He added: “They are ideologized … and their backs are against a wall. So they are putting up a very fierce fight.”
According to DEBKA Weekly’s counter-terror and intelligence sources, the picture presented by the Pentagon and the Iraqi premier’s comments about ISIS having its back to the wall – which dovetailed neatly – were wide of the real situation in the field. A close scrutiny of the Pentagon’s own map clearly indicates that ISIS is still in control of most of the major cities it captured in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS doesn’t need wide, uninhabited spaces to retain war initiative
The Islamists are entrenched in 10 Iraqi cities, from which the Iraqi army and its allies have failed to dislodge them: Those cities are: Sinjar, Tal Afar, Mosul, Kirkuk (which was not conquered but besieged on three sides with a view to ISIS control of its oil fields rather than the city), Bayji (whose oil refineries were retaken this week by Iraqi forces in a battle that is still ongoing), Tikrit (whose northern districts the pro-Iranian Shiite militias have failed to capture), Rawah, Hit, Ramadi (which Western military sources expect to fall to a fresh ISIS assault within days) and Falujjah.
The Islamists still occupy four Syrian towns: Ayn al-Arab, Raqqah, Deir ez-Zour and Al Qaim.
The large tracts marked “liberated” on the Pentagon map are mostly uninhabited areas between the towns. ISIS never went after those wide spaces. It lacks the military strength to hold them and, as matters stand, can manage to move its fighting strength between strongholds, unhindered by US air strikes.
This week, the jihadis were able to transfer fighting personnel for a fresh offensive to capture Ramadi. And as things stand today, the war initiative remains in Islamist hands, rather than coalition and Iraqi forces.