Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, Iraq Must Confront a Familiar Enemy

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prove its deadly unwavering control over the Middle East, the Islamic State has seen nothing but opportunity. Just a few days ago, members of the Islamic State killed four individuals, injuring many more, in Iraq’s Diyala province. Furthermore, last week, the Iraq military proclaimed the loss of two soldiers to a roadside bomb, allegedly planted by the Islamic State. Evidently, attacks like these have been commonplace in Iraq; unfortunately, they show no sign of slowing down.

While former Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s may have declared defeat over the terrorist organization in December 2017, reports of violence tell a completely different story. Since his address, the Islamic State has been responsible for numerous major attacks and hundreds of others which haven’t made news headlines. Although the current global pandemic has been a main driver in the recent rise in attacks, it is far from the sole cause. The Islamic State has utilized the security gap between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraq as a catalyst for carrying out attacks.  The current global pandemic has done nothing but exacerbate such carnage. But why?

The Islamic State’s sudden increase in domestic activity could be attributed to their explicit targeting of rural parts of Iraq. Since making its first appearance in Iraq in 2006, the Islamic State has constantly terrorized the Kirkuk, Diyala, and Saladin provincial regions. In targeting such rural areas, where Iraqi military forces are underrepresented, attacks — big and small — go unaddressed, leading to fewer losses for the Islamic State. Furthermore, the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani has only exacerbated tensions between the United States and the region, causing a withdrawal of aerial surveillance. This has ultimately left attacks unchecked and unpunished, and has subsequently led to the stark increase in such occurrences.

The global pandemic has also provided more opportunities for the radical organization to recruit members. Recent statements from ISIS have stressed the fact that COVID-19 came at the helm of global disobedience and have proposed that the only solution is piety to Islam. Rampant propaganda efforts to disperse recruitment content has led to the Islamic State being active on over a dozen social media platforms now according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group. Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi even admits to this view point stating in an online message, “What you are witnessing these days are only signs of big changes in the region that’ll offer greater opportunities than we had previously in the past decade.” This online recruitment message is translated by Hassan Hassan, the director of the Non-State Actors in Fragile Environments Program at the Center for Global Policy.

Furthermore, onslaughts of protestors have disrupted the Iraq government’s ability to deal with acts of terror. When people took to the streets of Baghdad on October 1st, 2019, they sought to convey their anger towards the seemingly perennial corruption and high unemployment that has plagued Iraq for decades. To contain the October Revolution, as it came to be known, the Iraqi government diverted its attention and resources. In doing so, the Islamic State was able to gain hegemony in the region, further disrupting the government’s ability to maintain control.

As the Iraqi government continues its fight against the coronavirus, it’s imperative that they do not look past the lurking presence of the Islamic State, a virus which has disrupted the government’s efforts and desires for stability for over a decade.

By Zaid Fattah

Photo Credits: The Financial Times

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