BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have at times been as close as six miles to Baghdad, according to Iraqi and Kurdish commanders interviewed by The Daily Beast. But the Iraqi capital may well be “a city too far” for this ferocious al-Qaeda offshoot that is determined, as its name says, to establish a state of its own.
While there’s no solid consensus among intelligence analysts in the region about ISIS’s precise strategy, several interviewed in recent days say the jihadists are likely to launch demoralizing commando raids and a suicide bombing blitz in Baghdad, probably timed to coincide with the arrival of the main contingent of US military advisers. (An advance guard arrived Tuesday.)
The Americans presumably will make the defense of the capital a priority, but that may be precisely what ISIS hopes they will do, because it has other interests. “The priority, I think, for ISIS is to build their Islamic State straddling the Syria-Iraq border – that is their ultimate objective–and trying to capture Baghdad would be too big for them to accomplish; it could also sidetrack them,” says a US intelligence official based in the Middle East who is closely monitoring ISIS.
ISIS has not picked difficult battles. It has calculated carefully where it could move with the biggest impact and the least resistance. Mosul was not Stalingrad, holding out against a powerful siege; it was more like Copenhagen in World War II, folding without a fight.