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    A general view of the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor during an operation by Syrian government forces against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists on November 2, 2017

    Daesh Defeat 'Very Close,' But Ideological Threat Lingers, Syria Analyst Warns

    © AFP 2019 / STRINGER
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    The Syrian army's victory over Daesh at Deir ez-Zor represents the liberation of the terrorist group's final urban stronghold in the Middle East, but the terror group will find it easier to maintain a presence in rural areas, Dr. Lorenzo Trombetta, a Beirut-based scholar and journalist specialized in Syria and Lebanon, told Radio Sputnik.

    On Friday, the Syrian army announced it had retaken Deir ez-Zor from the Daesh terrorist group, depriving it of its last urban stronghold in Syria. Beirut-based scholar and journalist Dr. Lorenzo Trombetta, an independent consultant for The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Radio Sputnik that the group will persist in "rural" and "deprived" areas unless there is a sustained effort to support local communities.

    What is the significance of this particular victory for Syria?

    We should remind ourselves that Deir ez-Zor is not only the last urban stronghold of the Islamic State (Daesh) organization in Syria but is also the last urban stronghold of the entire Islamic State organization in the Middle East. So, after the fall of Raqqa, Mosul and now Deir ez-Zor, we can say that the Islamic State organization does not have any more presence in an urban context while the Islamic State perhaps would remain present in the rural, suburban peripherical areas.

    Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) advance towards the city of al-Qaim, in western Anbar province, on the Syrian border as they fight against remnant pockets of Islamic State group jihadists on November 2, 2017
    © AFP 2019 / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
    Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) advance towards the city of al-Qaim, in western Anbar province, on the Syrian border as they fight against remnant pockets of Islamic State group jihadists on November 2, 2017
    Iraqi forces have launched a final push on Daesh's last stronghold in Iraq, how close are we to complete defeat of Daesh?

    Lorenzo Trombetta: The most recent news was saying that Iraqi forces and the pro-Iranian Shiite militia were entering Al Qaim, the last city between Syria and Iraq.

    Seen from a military point of view, we are very close to a military defeat of the Islamic State organization in Syria and Iraq, but the Islamic State is not based only on its military power, its physical presence or geography. It's also a very powerful ideological and political actor that will continue to have its consensus among populations, especially the deprived population of the Euphrates River between Syria and Iraq. 

    Now that Daesh has largely been driven from urban areas, has its ideological threat really abated?

    Lorenzo Trombetta: It's important to remind [ourselves] of the linkage between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization. After 2003 and the fall of [Saddam] Hussein in Iraq, there emerged a new kind of jihadist, al-Qaedist insurgency. We saw that the US attempt to destroy and defeat this insurgency, these terrorist actions, didn't really succeed.

    Iraqi soldiers celebrate 15 October 2002 on their way to vote in the presidential referendum in the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, some 170 kms north of the capital Baghdad
    © AFP 2019 / LAURA BOUSHNAK
    Iraqi soldiers celebrate 15 October 2002 on their way to vote in the presidential referendum in the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, some 170 kms north of the capital Baghdad
    At that time, the al-Qaeda organization that was the beginning of the Islamic State reorganized itself behind the lines in a 'hostile environment' to launch terrorist attacks against civilians in Baghdad and other cities mainly inhabited by Shia populations in order to trigger polarization and division again among communities. We can imagine today that the Islamic State organization will again rely on the same tactics as it is already doing in Tikrit, in the Saladin governorate which are officially liberated by the government forces but are still a stronghold, ideologically and politically, of the Islamic State.

    It's a very difficult and broad question, but what does postwar Syria now need to do to recover from years of fighting? What do you foresee is going to happen in the coming weeks and months?

    Lorenzo Trombetta: As analysts we are always looking at the military and political facts. Sometimes we are looking at the social and economic developments of a situation. Nowadays, at least for the next few weeks, we will witness two, let's say peace conferences in Sochi, Russia and in Geneva at the end of November. Perhaps we will see some positive results from a military and political point of view but in the long term the main question that the international community and regional actors should address is trying to support local communities on a social-economic level in order to re-establish a link among Syrian people, re-establish trust among local governments, institutions and the social community scattered on the ground.

    Not only to let the millions of Syrians who escaped abroad to go back to their country, but also to find another social contract between communities and local authorities. So, I would like to stress that the international layers of the analysis are not sufficient enough to understand the next challenge for, let's say, finding a solution to the Syrian conflict.

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    Deir ez-Zor, Daesh, Syrian Army, Syria, Iraq
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