Plotting for the morning after: ISIS’ future after the fall of Mosul and Raqqa

“Only when Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria fall, can we begin to talk about the beginning of the end of the physical territorial state. We already have plenty of evidence, that ISIS’ leaders are planning and plotting for the morning after, after the dismantling of the so called Islamic State or the khalifat, by reverting to its original form – guerilla warfare, terrorism and global attacks.”


Roughly two weeks after the launch of the Iraqi-led military campaign to retake Mosul as ISIS’ last significant bastion in Iraq, we talked to Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and expert on the Islamic State. In early January, twelve weeks into the campaign, the Iraqi army has for the first time reached the Tigris river, which marks the eastern boundary of the two banks the river splits the city into. The west bank, however, continues to be controlled by ISIS.

On the second major front in the war against ISIS, Raqqa, US-backed Kurdish militias move much more slowly. While they are approaching the so-called capital of the Islamic State from the north, peace talks between the governments of Syria, Russia and Turkey are underway to buttress the cease-fire agreement closed on December 30th.

But the crucial question is: What is the future of ISIS in case of its military defeat? Can a war of ideologies be won with airstrikes and attrition?

Professor Gerges contends that the root causes of ISIS’ rise, if not addressed sufficiently, will continue to fuel ISIS’ dogmatic foundation despite the destruction of its physical presence:

“ISIS is a product of broken politics in Iraq and Syria, is a product of creeping sectarianism, the fragility of institutions, the lack of transparent government, the lack of a national unity government. […] [That’s why ISIS] finds a social base of support. Even if  ISIS is dismantled as a state, without addressing the social and political questions that have given rise to ISIS, as a terrorist organisation, ISIS will be with us for many years.”


The interview was recorded in Amsterdam on November 4th, 2016.