Exclusive: ISIL loses 45% of territory in Iraq, 20% in Syria – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON âÂ The Islamic State has lost 45% of the territory it once held in Iraq and 20% of areas itÂ controlled in Syria, according toÂ newÂ estimates by a U.S.-led coalition combating the extremistÂ group.
Those slow but steady battlefield losses in Iraq areÂ promptingÂ the Islamic State to strike back against civilians with terrorist bombings, the latest killing dozens in Baghdad on Tuesday.
The territory seized by IraqiÂ forces, aided by coalition airstrikes and advisers, is up from 40% announced earlier this year, according to the latest estimates, which had not been made public before. The percentages are based on areas the militants controlled at their peak strength after they swept into Iraq in 2014.
In Syria, the Islamic State’s losses areÂ up fromÂ the coalition’s estimates of 10% to 15% of areas it controlledÂ earlier this year. The group’s de facto capital is in Syria, where the Islamic State, other rebel groups and the Syrian government have waged a five-year-long civil war.
In recent weeks, U.S.-aided Iraqi forces pushed militants out of towns in western Iraqâs Euphrates River valleyÂ as they consolidated gains made last December, when Iraqâs army retook the city of Ramadi.
Iraqi forces haveÂ begun operations around Mosul, Iraqâs second largest city, in preparation for a major offensive to drive the militants out.
Progress has been slower in Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition cobbled together rebel groups to build a ground force capable of taking on the Islamic State. TheÂ size of that force is growing and the Pentagon reported a string of recent successes in northeastern Syria.
The Iraqi military’s gains coincide withÂ a string of terror bombings in and around Baghdad this year. In just the past week, 200 people were killed, including at least 69 Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for mostÂ of thoseÂ attacks.
âThese bombings are a reaction to the increasing territorial pressure the Islamic State is coming under,â said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
The terror bombings in Baghdad are a return to the groupâs roots, said Ismael Alsodani, a retired Iraqi brigadier general who served as a military attache in Washington. The Islamic State grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group of Sunnis that battled U.S. forces after the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Some of the recent bombings targetedÂ Shiite neighborhoods, an echo of al-Qaedaâs strategy to stir sectarian tensions, Alsodani said. In 2006, terror strikes against Shiites helped trigger a larger conflictÂ between Shiites and Sunnis throughoutÂ Iraq.
The Islamic State distinguished itself from al-Qaeda by fielding troops, capturing cities and creating a government as part of a plan toÂ establish a caliphate throughout the region. When it swept into Iraq from Syria in 2014, it resembled a conventional military forceÂ that operatedÂ in large formations and employedÂ heavy weapons.
But nearly two years of relentless airstrikes and pressure from Iraqi ground forces haveÂ forced the militantsÂ to move in smaller groups and retreat from some of theÂ territory they controlled.Â âTheir ability to conduct large-scale offensive operations has primarily stopped,â said Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, a top commander in Iraq.
It is not clear yet whether the militants will survive by continuing to launchÂ terror attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere, Henman said.Â âIt may be that this is the group adapting and accepting that it is no longer able to expand and seize more territory,â he said.