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.
By: Paul Bucala and Genevieve Casagrande
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.
Delegations from the regime and opposition held indirect negotiations on the Syrian Civil War at the Astana Talks brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran on January 23 - 24 but failed to reach an initial breakthrough on efforts to reinforce a faltering nationwide ceasefire. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda continued to consolidate control over Idlib and Western Aleppo Provinces in preparation for the next phase of its campaign against the regime.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) pushed ISIS out of eastern Mosul on January 24, but will need to continue efforts to expel ISIS from historic support zones in Diyala and Anbar.