Although the Islamic State (ISIS) was territorially defeated in March 2019, the group has survived and remained relevant by reverting from a large proto-state to an insurgent entity with a localized approach, although it will retain the ability to conduct transcontinental terrorist attacks. In the past few months, ISIS’s actions in Iraq have demonstrated its resilience and dynamism. It retains significant freedom of operability in both rural and urban areas. It has also shown that it understands its environment and is deftly exploiting Iraq’s political infighting, economic weakness, and fragile security environment.
ISIS has been able to use recent developments in Iraq as substantial operational opportunities: widespread public protests since October, the government’s resignation and the ensuing political stagnation, the infighting over the U.S. killing of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. ISIS has seized the opportunity to launch attacks in Diyala, Salah al-Din, Ninewa, Kirkuk, and northern Baghdad. Significantly, rather small groups of nine to 11 men carried out the attacks as security forces redeployed to central and southern Iraq to contain anti-government protests.