Iraqi and Syrian security forces, backed by the US-led coalition, are continuing to battle to reclaim cities held by Islamic State (Isis/Daesh). Progress, although slow, is being made in areas such as Fallujah in Iraq and Manbji in Syria, as troops continue close in on the militant group.
On 9 June, Isis claimed responsibility for two separate bombings in and around the Iraqi capital, resulting in the deaths of more than 22 people and wounding 70. The first attack saw a car, packed with explosives, blow up on a street in Baghdad al-Jadeeda (New Baghdad), an eastern district of the capital. It killed at least 15 people and wounded over 50. The second attack, also a car bomb, targeted a main army checkpoint in Taji, north of the capital, and killed seven soldiers and wounded more than 20 others.
The Baghdad bombings come as Iraqi forces advance into Fallujah, one of Islamic State's strongholds. The campaign is proving to be one of the biggest battles ever fought against Daesh. Iraqi officials said the two bombings may be an attempt to distract Iraqi security forces' attention from the front lines.
The structure of the Iraqi troops are complicated. Comprising of Shiite units, Iraqi National Police, police from Al Anbar Province and Iraqi counterterrorism forces, analysts have added that there is a lack of trust among them, and their different motivations. "They (The extremist fighters) have the will to die as the martyrs. And joint Iraqi forces, they don't have a military doctrine, especially in the war of Arabian areas," said Musa Qallab, a political analyst from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) told Reuters.
It will be difficult to retake Fallujah because the extremists have put up a last-ditch resistance, laying mines and digging tunnels to prevent the Iraqi troops from progressing. Isis captured Fallujah in January 2014, before taking over much of Iraq's north and west, declaring a caliphate several months later from Mosul.
In Syria, cities such as Manbij and Al-Raqqa remain under Daesh rule, but US-backed forces fighting near the Syrian-Turkey border have said they have reached the militants' final main route, leading in and out of their stronghold area, the city of Manbij. This comes just one week into the campaign to push the militants out of their foothold along the frontier.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) were in firing range of the main road, leading west and that they were effectively in control of all highways into Manbij. "We have reached the road that links Manbij and Aleppo, from the west," Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) allied Manbij Military Council, told Reuters.
Manbij Military Council said that its forces have already cut Islamic State supply lines which lead north, east and south from the city. They say they are now close enough to Manbij itself to be able to fire on Islamic State militants. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the SDF were in firing range of the main road, leading west and that they were effectively in control of all highways into Manbij.
The Manbij Military Council confirmed this also, saying that they had already cut Isis supply lines leading north, east and south from the city, and were now close enough to Manbij itself to be able to fire on Islamic State militants.
Experts say even if Iraq and Syria recapture Fallujah and al-Raqqa, Sunnis living the areas will not trust the governments led by Shia and Alawites, respectively. The United States, Russia and other countries are trying to expand their reach in the Middle East in a post-extremist era, while Saudi Arabia and Iran wish their religious sects could play a greater influence in the two countries. Therefore, even if the extremists are defeated, turmoil in the Middle East will continue in the future, according to the analysts.