The U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS in Syria is in jeopardy as Turkey threatens an offensive against the U.S.’s primary partner force on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey has stated its intent to shift its focus from ISIS to the Syrian Kurds after the seizure of the ISIS-held town of al Bab in Northern Aleppo Province, which ISW forecasts is likely in the coming weeks.
Security conditions have decreased in Mosul and Salah al-Din and in the southern provinces due to revived militant attacks and election-related violence, respectively, from February 2 to 10.
Early indicators suggest that a post-ISIS Sunni insurgency may be forming in Iraq and al Qaeda (AQ) is trying to gain traction within it.
Iranian military cooperation with Russia in Syria is dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations.
Iran is transforming its military to be able to conduct quasi-conventional warfare hundreds of miles from its borders. This capability, which very few states in the world have, will fundamentally alter the strategic calculus and balance of power within the Middle East. It is not a transitory phenomenon. Iranian military leaders have rotated troops from across the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Artesh, and Basij into Syria in order to expose a significant portion of its force to this kind of operation and warfare. Iran intends to continue along the path of developing a conventional force-projection capability.
U.S. President Donald Trump held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 28 that included talks on “mutual cooperation” against ISIS in Syria. President Trump later solicited the support of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for an unspecified initiative to establish ‘safe zones’ in Syria.
ISIS continued to reestablish its presence in its historic support zones; other Sunni insurgent groups may form in Iraq as ISIS focuses on shifting from a governing to guerilla style terrorist organization.
Operations in Mosul paused since the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recaptured eastern Mosul on January 24. The ISF is now preparing to retake the western side. Political conditions have changed, however. Increased pressure on Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to keep his premiership and uncertain relations between the U.S. and Iraq may allow pro-Iranian groups to extract concessions from PM Abadi that run contrary to U.S. interests in Iraq.
Russia shifted the focus of its air campaign to Eastern Syria from January 14 – 25 in order to counter a major offensive by ISIS in Deir ez-Zour City. Nonetheless, the dramatic surge in strikes against ISIS in Syria represents an attempt by Russia to maintain its strategic interest in bolstering the claim of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to all of Syria rather than an opportunity to serve as a reliable counter-terrorism partner.
The recapture of Mosul can reset the balance of power between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq and the region.