Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The coming fall of the house of ISIS

The chinks in ISIS’s armor are already starting to appear and it is only a matter of time before ISIS is defeated.

Mideast Iraq
Mideast Iraq
Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north. (AP Photo)

By Jim Sisco

Best Defense guest columnist

The chinks in ISIS’s armor are already starting to appear and it is only a matter of time before ISIS is defeated.

By Jim Sisco

Best Defense guest columnist

The chinks in ISIS’s armor are already starting to appear and it is only a matter of time before ISIS is defeated.

ISIS’s initial popularity and ability to defeat its adversaries and acquire territory are attributed to several factors. The most important of which was a lack of governance in the region and the Syrian and Iraqi governments’ inability to deliver basic services. When ISIS initially took over territories in Syria and Iraq they delivered basic services, governance, and justice—although extreme—to many ungoverned regions. ISIS was able to immediately fill a void created by the ongoing civil war in Syria and a Shiite dominated Iraq Government that neglected the Sunni tribes. ISIS was able to play upon the population’s sympathies and desires and win the “hearts and minds” of the populations in territories they concurred.

Unlike al-Qaeda, whose philosophy is to create a global movement without acquiring vast territories, ISIS’s philosophy is to create an Islamic Caliphate. In order to achieve its objective, ISIS will need to maintain captured territory within existing states, provide basic goods and services and administer governance and justice to the populations in these controlled areas. ISIS lacks the capacity and ability to do so and is increasingly relying on fear and violence to maintain control of the areas they currently occupy. As opposition to ISIS increases, so does the level of brutality that ISIS imposes on the population, which will eventually be the cause of its demise. We are already seeing parts of the controlled areas push back in Syria and Iraq.

The Egyptian born leader of the ISIS’s police force known as the deputy “emir” of the al-Hesbah force in Syria was recently found beheaded with a cigarette in his mouth. It is not know who committed the act, but residents stated the commander of the group was responsible for numerous beheadings and banned smoking in public. In Iraq, ISIS prohibited Sunnis from participating in the annual celebration of the birth of the prophet Muhammad. Examples of ISIS’s increasing violence against Sunnis in Iraq include the execution of 15 men of the al-Jumaila tribe and a public execution of men, women and children of the Albu Nimr tribe. The executions in Iraq were in response to the burning of ISIS flags and Sunni opposition to ISIS oppression. As ISIS increases its brutality, opposition will grow and eventually lead to its demise.

With this understanding, the U.S. and coalition partners should design a population-centric strategy and implement a strategic communications plan that counters ISIS activities and propaganda. By delivering basic goods and services to the populations and communicating more effectively to those directly or indirectly controlled by ISIS, the U.S. and countries opposing ISIS’s advance can accelerate the shrinking of ISIS’s influence and ultimately the demise of ISIS.

Jim Sisco is a former recon Marine and naval intelligence officer and is currently the president of ENODO Global, a business intelligence firm that focuses on population-centric analysis to solve complex social problems in dynamic cultural environments.

AP Photo

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan
Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan

Beijing’s Taiwan Aggression Has Backfired in Tokyo

Military exercises have stiffened Japanese resolve.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

How to Take Down a Tyrant

Three steps for exerting maximum economic pressure on Putin.

A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.
A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.

Why Doesn’t China Invade Taiwan?

Despite Beijing’s rhetoric, a full-scale invasion remains a risky endeavor—and officials think the island can be coerced into reunification.

Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.
Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.

Russia’s Brutal Honesty Has Destroyed the West’s Appeasers

Yet plenty of Western intellectuals and politicians still ignore what Moscow is saying loud and clear.