The so-called Arab spring has uncovered a deep crisis in the microstructure of many Arab countries' societies. The absence of modern education and the gravely rooted inequalities became a proper soil for dark thoughts and beliefs to grow and dominate thousands of poorly enabled populations.
The Dawn of ISIL and their Estimated Budget
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh and referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an abbreviation that I dislike for its possible mix-up with the famous Ancient Egyptian Goddess, is a militant phonetic group and unrecognised quasi-state that was founded in 1999 and gained global prominence in 2014 when it drove Iraqi security forces out of key cities during the Anbar campaign, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.
In Syria, ISIL conducted ground attacks against both Syrian government forces and Syrian opposition factions. By the end of 2015, it held an area that contained an estimated eight to twelve million people and stretched from western Iraq to eastern Syria, where it enforced its deviant interpretation of Islamic law.
ISIL was estimated at that time to have an annual budget of more than US$1 billion; it makes it one of the wealthiest quasi-states in history. By this year, ISIL has managed to recruit more than 30,000 fighters under its dominance. This number of troops exceeds some small states' entire armies!
The growing danger of ISIL's expansion in the region, especially in Africa, induced international fears to better understand the related gaps and challenges and identify ways in which States could improve their compliance with their counter-terrorism obligations. Extremely-securitised responses can leave communities struggling between the violence of terrorist groups and the heavy-handedness of government forces.
ISIL tends to form affiliations with local groups, exploiting structural issues like corruption, unemployment, and poor governance to recruit fighters and drive a wedge between authorities and communities.
ISIL's Defeat on the Ground, Does It Really Matter?
In 2017, ISIL was declared defeated in Iraq and Syria, ending what could be called the "caliphate state" that ISIS claimed to establish in both countries.
Defeating ISIL required an international coalition of more than 60 countries and another coalition led by Russia from the Syrian gate. The most crucial defeat came in Mosul, as the organisation's control over it constituted the pinnacle of its success in 2014 and in the city of Raqqa, the organisation's declared capital.
In 2020 ISIL claimed an average of 110, 45 and 16 attacks per month in Iraq, Syria and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. This average went down in 2021 to 87, 31 and 9 attacks in the same destinations.
The geographical defeat and weakness of "ISIL" do not necessarily mean its end, because the corrupted ideas and ideology did not vanish yet. Social and political conditions that contributed to its growth and expansion remain.
The defeat of "ISIL" in Iraq and Syria will not lead to the collapse of the organisation. It is more likely that it will change its strategy, return to its base roots, and potentially stick to old methods, but also move to other places or battlefields such as Yemen, Libya, Somalia and other countries. Moreover, there is the potential for this organisation to be used by regional or international intelligence powers to achieve limited interests.
Significant tactical and territorial losses in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic forced ISIL to explore other regions and emphasise its activities in Africa, including establishing branches across Africa and expanding into areas already troubled by conflict and other areas previously previously previously intact from terrorist violence.
A growing number of ISIL-affiliated groups in Africa have shown an ability to launch deadly and coordinated attacks, capture strategic territories, recruit followers using anti-Government propaganda, and enrol child soldiers. Except for attacks carried out by the Islamic State — Sinai Province and the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS), the frequency of ISIL attacks and the resulting casualties across the continent indicate that the African States are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat. This trend is buttressed by attacks claimed by ISIL affiliates, which reflect the growth in attacks on the African continent over the past three years.
The Role of Humanitarian and Reconstruction Efforts in Full Recovery
If global efforts are serious about getting rid of ISIL and its ideology for good, it is important to find solutions that guarantee the rights of all Iraqi and Syrian people, in addition to the reconstruction of the cities and regions that were destroyed in both countries. It is equally important to target the return of refugees, the provision of decent economic and living conditions, and their reintegration into their countries.
In February 2018, an international conference for the reconstruction of Iraq kicked off in Kuwait, two months after Baghdad declared the "end of the war" against the "ISIL" organisation. And the Iraqi Minister of Planning announced at the conference's opening that his country needs 88 billion dollars to rebuild what was destroyed by conflicts.
In Iraq, initial post-conflict stabilisation was relatively successful. The UN, led by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), directed the efforts in tight coordination with the anti-ISIS coalition. The coalition's military efforts in Mosul were adjusted to identify how many internally displaced persons (IDPs) could be accommodated in a day, typically no more than 10,000. Another way of measuring UNAMI's stabilisation accomplishment is in the rate of return of displaced persons, which has been relatively high, with over 3.2 million by the start of 2018. At the request of the Government of Iraq, UNDP established the Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) in June 2015 to facilitate the return of displaced Iraqis, lay the groundwork for reconstruction and recovery, and safeguard against the resurgence of violence. To date, UNDP's Funding Facility has completed more than 2,200 projects in key critical areas of Anbar, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Ninewa, with another 386 currently underway. Approximately 895 projects are in the planning stages.
Over the period 2015-2023, the FFS raised a sum of 1.4 billion USD in contributions, funded by 30 donors (including the government of Iraq). The four windows of work focused on infrastructure projects (water, electricity, housing, education, and health), livelihoods, capacity support and social cohesion. These projects should be developed in the areas rescued from the fist of ISIL: Ninewah; Kirkuk (Hawija); Anbar; Diyala; northern Salahaddin.
Although there was insufficient funding, the FFS benefited 15.8 million Iraqi citizens. More than 3000 projects have been completed, more than 65000 temporary jobs have been created, 580 schools and 28500 homes re-habilitated, and 28 local peace committees have been supported.
According to Erwin Van Veen (Senior research fellow bij de Conflict Research Unit), the Iraqi experience of the FFS suggests that solid operating procedures against corruption, nesting physical reconstruction in a broader socio-economic recovery strategy and upgrading the quality of local administration are essential components, for an international trust fund to support the rebuilding of post-conflict centres effectively. "Post-conflict recovery worldwide has seen its fair share of trust funds over the past decades and many other examples can be mentioned. These include the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, the Syria Reconstruction Trust Fund and the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for South Sudan".
In Syria, ISIL has occasionally targeted big infrastructure projects or essential services and, more frequently, bakeries run by the Autonomous Administration; it also tried and failed to attack a Raqqa water station. But it has claimed only one of the few attacks on infrastructure projects since mid-2020. The Syrian Democratic (SDF) commanders say ISIL realised it would be unable to fill the vacuum if local institutions were to collapse entirely. Others believe that ISIL wants to avoid causing an institutional breakdown that would draw the US-led coalition back in, or that it cannot simply conduct complex attacks and chooses easier targets like checkpoints instead.
Post-conflict stabilisation in Syria has been political and distressed from its inception since the US and its anti-ISIL coalition partners do not want to engage and work with Assad's regime. SDF is closely tied to the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a group Turkey perceives as a direct extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organisation. For the US and other Western allies, military and stabilisation collaboration with the SDF in Raqqa has complicated relations with Turkey. The dynamic has also contributed to Turkey's incursion into Afrin, as it claims to establish stabilisation in these areas.
The international community has also supported counter-terrorism efforts in the subregion. In 2021, the United States designated the ISIL-affiliated group in Mozambique as a terrorist organisation, resulting in asset freezes and the criminalisation, under United States law, of the provision of any material support or resources to the group or its members. The US has also begun to provide military training to the subregion. At the same time, the SADC and Rwanda deployed military forces in 2021, helping to regain control of territory held by the ISIL-affiliated group.
Military gains have reportedly facilitated humanitarian access to affected areas in need of aid, although the humanitarian aspects of the response were described as inadequate because there is reportedly no policy in place for displaced persons fleeing attacks across communities.
These kinds of internationally funded projects perform better when supported by private-sector investors. The main barrier against attracting foreign investors to play a vital role in developing the post-ISIL era in Iraq and other countries in the region is the increasing uncertainties surrounding the scene, caused partially by the western media framing the area as a battlefield. The counter-media channels also needed to eliminate the propaganda style and defensive mechanisms that give an even worse impression of the current situation. The persisting high-risk profile of such areas raises the cost of finance to uncompetitive levels.