According to a defense consultancy, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has lost 12% of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria in the first half of this year.
IHS has found that the “caliphate,” which was proclaimed by IS two years ago, has shrunk to 68,300 sq km (26,370 sq miles). According to IHS, in January 2015, just six months after IS declared the creation of a caliphate, the terror group controlled some 90,800 sq km of Iraq and Syria, adding that by December, that had shrunk by 12,800 sq km to 78,000 sq km, a net loss of 14%. According to IHS, since then IS has lost a further 9,700 sq km and now controls 68,300 sq km, which is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland or the US state of West Virginia.
In Syria, IS has come under pressure from Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are supported by a US-led multinational collation. In February, the SDF captured the eastern town of Shaddadi, which was a major hub for IS, while in March, the ancient town of Palmyra was retaken by government forces. In neighbouring Iraq, troops and allied militiamen are preparing a long-awaited offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul, which is IS’s last remaining urban stronghold there.
IHS has reported that the losses of land in Iraq and Syria had led IS to set up its attacks on civilian targets elsewhere in the Middle East and in Europe, noting that such attacks are likely to intensify. Last week, almost 300 people died in an IS suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. The attck came just days after the Iraqi government declared that it had retaken full control of the city of Fallujah, which is located just west to the capital.
On Tuesday, officials in the US announced that they will speed up the supply of military equipment to Iraq in order to help the government their fight militant groups in western Anbar province. The White House also indicated that additional surveillance drones would be delivered within weeks while more Hellfire missiles would be sent in the next few months. The announcement comes just days after the Iraqi government lost control of key city of Fallujah to Islamic militants. Fighting in Anbar has led to some of the heaviest clashes in Iraq in past few years. While reports have indicated that on the ground troops are currently preparing to attack the city of Fallujah, a spokesman for Iraq’s defence ministry indicated on Tuesday that it was not “possible to assault it now” due to fears about civilian casualties.
As the violence has increased, White House spokesman Jay Carney has stated that the US is working closely with officials in Baghdad in order to develop a “holistic strategy” to isolate al-Qaeda affiliated groups. He further indicated that there had already been some success however the situation remains “fluid,” adding that “we’re accelerating our foreign military sales, deliveries, and are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.” US Secretary of State John Kerry has also indicated that no US forces will return to Iraq. Despite withdrawing from Iraq at the end of 2011, the US remains a key security partner, providing more than US $14 billion (£8 billion) worth of weapons to Baghdad since 2005.
Reports have indicated that much of Fallujah is under control by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS, with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging residents to drive them out. The nearby city of Ramadi is reported to be under the control of powerful Sunni tribes working with local police, opposing pockets of ISIS fighters there. Despite long-standing grievances against the central Shia-led government, the Ramadi tribes have renewed a pact with senior Iraqi army leaders to dislodge any presence of al-Qaeda. Since violence erupted, hundreds of residents in Fallujah have fled shelling and air strikes by government forces. At the same time, the militants have called on Sunni tribes in the area to support them and have urged families who have fled the city to return to their homes.