The Islamic State is currently in a transition phase. It has been defeated on the battlefield and is switching back to an insurgency while trying to rebuild its cadres. The U.S. led Coalition recently said that it only numbered around 1,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, a fraction of the amount it had just a year ago. In September and October the militant’s newsletter Al-Naba talked about no longer engaging in coventional battles as the group was suffering heavy losses and facing Coalition air strikes. It now has to not only get new followers, but set up networks, and find financing now that it no longer holds any territory in Iraq.
IS has always relied upon an array of criminal activities to raise money. Recently, a Hashd leader in Diyala for example, told the press that the organization had gotten around $500,000 from kidnappings in Diyala alone in 2017. Extortion and charging fees on things like trucking are other means of gathering revenues. There is a huge amount of rebuilding to be done and Iraq is notoriously corrupt, which opens up the opportunity for the militants to take advantage of contracts through kickbacks and protection money. To counter these moves the Iraqi forces need to use intelligence and police work. It has talked about the former, but is notoriously weak in the latter, especially because Baghdad made no post-IS security strategy and has not brought back the local police in many provinces that were liberated over the last three years. How effective the Islamists are and whether the Iraqi government can block their rebirth cannot be determined now. It will take at least a year to see who will win this second battle. It will be just as important as the last one because it will largely shape whether Iraq is able to reap the benefits of its victory over the Islamic State or slide back into terrorism and insurgency.
Hassan, Hassan, “Insurgents Again: The Islamic State’s Calculated Reversion To Attrition In The Syria-Iraq Border Region And Beyond,” CTC Sentinel, 12/21/17
Mostafa, Nehal, “Islamic State collected US$500,000 through abduction in Diyala: Official,” Iraqi News, 12/26/17
Reuters, “Less than 1,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, coalition says,” 12/27/17
Temple-Rason, Dina, “U.S. Moves To Lock Up ISIS’s Abundant War Chest,” NPR, 6/20/14