The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is fraying as the jihadist group fails to fulfill its promise of unifying Muslims of all origins under the caliphate and infighting between rival groups grows, The Washington Post reports.
According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS has publicly executed more than 120 of its own members in Syria.
“Some were accused of spying and one of smoking, but suspicions are widespread that most were simply fighters caught trying to flee,” explains The Post.
Just in the last few days, nine ISIS fighters were killed during clashes between foreigners and locals fighting on behalf of ISIS, reports the Syrian monitor group.
“The Islamic State appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group’s strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule,” proclaims WaPo.
“Reports of rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state,” adds the article.
ISIS has imposed travel restrictions around the areas it has conquered.
“The key challenge facing ISIS right now is more internal than external,” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Post. “We’re seeing basically a failure of the central tenet of ISIS ideology, which is to unify people of different origins under the caliphate. This is not working on the ground. It is making them less effective in governing and less effective in military operations.”
Shootouts have broken out between Syrian and Kuwaiti-led ISIS factions. Foreign Chechen fighters and Iraqis fighting alongside ISIS have also battled one another.
Last week, the Pentagon claimed the U.S.-led coalition has killed 8,500 ISIS fighters in Iraq. An estimated 20,000 foreigners are believed to be fighting alongside the jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.
“The anecdotal reports [of dissension, defections and setbacks on the battlefield], drawn from activists and residents of areas under Islamic State control, don’t offer any indication that the group faces an immediate challenge to its stranglehold over the mostly Sunni provinces of eastern Syria and western Iraq that form the backbone of its self-proclaimed caliphate,” notes The Washington Post. “Battlefield reversals have come mostly on the fringes of its territory, while organized opposition remains unlikely as long as viable alternatives are lacking and the fear of vicious retribution remains high, Syrians, Iraqis and analysts say.”
Despite offering a salary of $800 per month, ISIS is struggling to recruit local Arab fighters.
Nevertheless, the jihadist group is still able to draw in teenagers prone to its propaganda.
ISIS “was never popular, but people supported them because they were scared or they needed money,” Ahmed Mhidi, who left Syria for Turkey to set up an opposition group, told The Post. “Now people want nothing to do with them, and if the Islamic State puts pressure on them, they just flee.”
Although foreigners are still streaming across Turkey into areas controlled by ISIS, few are willing to travel to the front lines, according to one of the founders of the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently group identified by the pseudonym Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi.
“They just want to live in the Islamic State,” he told The Post. “They didn’t come to fight.”
“Ultimately, they are only attracting people on the margins of society, without much education or useful skills,” the Carnegie Middle East Center’s Khatib told WaPo. “It’s not exactly bolstering their military capability.”
ISIS is fighting a war on at least three fronts, notes The Post.
The terrorist group is battling Kurds in northern Syria, Kurds in northern Iraq, and the combined Iraqi and Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters fighting to retake the central Iraqi city of Tikrit.