23:50 GMT31 May 2020
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    The spread of COVID-19, coupled with the dissatisfaction of the masses over the Iraqi government's inability to tackle the nation's economic woes and the poor training of the security forces have made it easier for Daesh to make a comeback, believes a senior foreign policy advisor to the Iraqi parliament.

    Iraq's security forces said Wednesday they had nabbed Abdul Nasser Qardash, the man who allegedly replaced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The self-styled first 'Caliph' of Daesh* (ISIS/ISIL) was reportedly killed as a result of a US raid on his hideout, where he supposedly blew himself up after being chased into a dead-end tunnel in northwestern Syria last October.

    Although in 2017 Iraq declared that it had managed to eradicate the presence of Daesh in the country, recent months saw a surge in the terrorists' activity. Several days ago, the terrorist group, which became infamous for its public executions, beheadings, slavery, and torture techniques – had killed at least three people in two separate attacks in the country's eastern Diyala province. Authorities said two security officers had been killed and two others wounded amid clashes with the militants, who also kidnapped and murdered a civilian.

    Using Every Opportunity

    Ahmed Rushdi, senior foreign policy advisor to the Iraqi Parliament, says their 'resurgence' was triggered by the spread of the coronavirus, that had forced the authorities to consolidate all their efforts into the fight against the diseases that has already claimed the lives of more than 130 people.

    "The country's security forces were sent into cities to supervise and manage the lockdown imposed on them by the government; and that gave Daesh the ability to manoeuvre."

    But the pandemic hasn't been the only factor that contributed to their comeback. Before the approval of the new government in the beginning of May, Iraq has been mired in a political crisis that led to the resignation of former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has been accused by the masses of driving the country into an economic abyss.

    The World Bank has already warned that Iraq's fiscal situation didn't show any signs of improvement, whereas the country's unemployment rate is expected to climb in 2020, reaching 8 percent, a 0.2 increase from the previous year.

    In addition, Iraq has failed to tackle the growing problem of its one and a half million internally displaced persons and the amount of those living below the poverty line, with a United Nations report suggesting that by the end of the year the number of those who are in need of assistance would reach 40 percent.

    Daesh, which has been observing the developments closely, knew to use Iraq's economic woes and its political turbulence to promote their own agenda, namely driving the Iraqi forces out and re-establishing control over the areas it had lost, said Rushdi.

    "They are careful not to target Sunni areas. Quite the opposite is true: they come to Sunni-dominated neighbourhoods and promise to support and protect them from the Iraqi government's corruption and instability. While not many people are taken by their promises, a lot of people are frustrated at the government's inability to tackle the nation's economic problems."

    Similar tactics have been used by Daesh in the past, when the group capitalised on the frustration of the Sunni minority, with the government dominated by Shiites, prompting some to cooperate with the terrorists.

    Divided We Stand?

    Back then, it was the joint efforts of the US-led coalition, coupled with the assistance of Iran, the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Perhmarga and the country's Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) that eventually brought Daesh to its knees. Now, however, that might be a difficult target to reach.

    "Unlike Daesh, our security forces are not that well trained. Nor do they have the necessary equipment to withstand the militants," explained Rushdi.

    To make matters worse, the Iraqi security forces have also been largely divided, taking orders from different high-ranking officials within the Iraqi government. The army, for example, that boasts some 300 thousand military personnel, is answering to the Minister of Defence, whereas the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) that comprise some 200 thousand members are reporting directly to the prime minister.

    "The fact that the previous government has soured relations with the US hasn't helped us either," said Rushdi, referring to the demands made by the former PM calling on Washington to pull out its troops from the country, following the assassination of one of Iran's top military commanders, Qasem Soleimani, in early January.

    "The result was that we have lost the assistance of the coalition as well as their air support and that inevitably led to losses on the ground," he explained.

    That, however, is set to change, believes Rushdi. "The new premier [Mustafa Al Kadhimi] is said to be supported by the US and chances are high that he will be able to appease the Americans and that will eventually help Iraq to curb the spread of Daesh".

    *Daesh, also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State, is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, government, Terrorism, terrorist, extremism, Daesh, Iraq
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