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THE NEW ISIS CRISIS

THE SO-CALLEDTHE SO-CALLED CALIPHATE MAY BE LOSING GROUND IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, BUT HARDCORE JIHADIS WILL KEEP FIGHTING— THERE AND IN THE WEST

ON JUNE 10, 2014, the day the black flag of the Islamic State militant group went up over the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, life for an ISIS fighter was good. The seizure of a city of nearly 2 million showed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was making good on his claim to set up a “caliphate” across a vast swath of the Middle East. Foreign fighters flocked to a group once famously mocked by President Barack Obama as the “JV team.” And why not? After taking Mosul, ISIS fighters were paid $500 a month and given a cellphone and a car. Amid the deepening chaos in the Middle East, Daesh, as the group is called in Arabic, had emerged as the strong horse.

Today, the battle of Mosul, Round Two, looms. The United States, the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga fighters are preparing an offensive to retake the city, likely to begin by the end of October. And ISIS, undeniably, is now weakened, its caliphate vastly reduced in size. The Iraqi government, backed by U.S. airpower and special operations forces, has methodically retaken cities in Iraq’s Sunni heartland that had fallen to ISIS: Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi and, soon, most analysts believe, Mosul. ISIS controls nearly 50 percent less territory in Iraq than it did two years ago. The flow of foreign fighters going there has dwindled, and ISIS now conscripts locals for $50 a month—but it has fallen three months behind, former fighters say, in paying even that amount.

DUST BOWL: A Kurdish peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells toward Zumar near Mosul, in September 2014. The Kurds have taken the lead in fighting ISIS in the past few years.
FROM LEFT; AHMED JADALLAH/REUTERS; AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS; PREVIOUS SPREAD: JACOB SIMKIN/NURPHOTO
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THE NEW ISIS CRISIS The so-called Caliphate may be losing ground in Iraq and Syria, but hardcore Jihadis will keep fighting, there and in the West.
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