By Matt Young
Mar 16, 2017
Coalition forces have Islamic State on the ropes and its leader in hiding, but if you thought the terror group's defeat might be a huge win for the west, think again.
Middle East watchers have painted a dark picture of a post-Isis world - in both the region itself and in countries like Australia.
With foreign Jihadis looking to flee back to their home countries and the likes of Russia, Iran and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad circling, US President Donald Trump's promised crushing of Isis may be a victory in name only.
"We're looking at a very grim future for the Middle East. If the government of Iraq can get its act together, they have half a chance of making things better, but we have every reason to worry that won't be the case," Professor Greg Barton, Chair In Global Islamic Politics at Deakin University, told news.com.au.
"We may well see Isis forces coming back as we've seen Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
"We've been constantly underestimating strength and capacity, I think we'll be repeating that error again and again."
Experts suggest that despite Coalition forces banding together to fight the common enemy, post-war rivalries are already beginning to show signs of returning.
"We face a new Iranian empire, an expansionist Russia, a treacherous Turkey, an Iraq lost to Iran and the prospect of years to come of ethnic cleansing, massacre and violent uprisings on which terrorists will again piggyback," Ralph Peters, a strategic analyst, wrote in the New York Post.
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US President Donald Trump has remained hard line about the stance to destroy Isis, but said very little of his vision for what happens after the fall of the caliphate. Will we see a repeat of the George W Bush era?
"When everyone is gone, all the military, and the country returns to start position, remnants that are left come back and take advantage of chaos and re-establish themselves, it's basically the story of the Taliban in Afghanistan," said Prof Barton.
"Al-Qaeda remains significant despite its strength being greatly reduced. Al-Qaeda has reinvigorated and are quite strong and robust. When you think about that, it's very likely they will be with us for decades to come in some form or another.
"In Afghanistan and Iraq, the recent experience is disastrous, it's as dire as its ever been. The Taliban is stronger in Afghanistan today since it was driven out of power.
"As with Afghanistan, once resources are taken away we'll see forces come back into power and a chaotic state run by power seekers inside the country.
"For there to be a lasting solution requires an stable government and there's every reason to believe that's going to fail."
It's this post-caliphate landscape that has analysts worried for the future of the Middle East.
Not only is Turkey's president showing signs of hard line Islamism, its relationship with Russia bounces between friend and foe.
The Kurds, who fought Islamic State on the frontline long before the Western Coalition moved in, continue to engage in land disputes with locals and enrage Turkey.
Meanwhile, Russia's relationship with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has global forces furious.
But while eastern Mosul flourishes, the west continues to flounder under Islamic State rule.
A few weeks ago, one family made the most terrifying decision of their lives; to risk death and flee their home.
For almost three years, the family - comprising of a mother, father, and two teenage sons - experienced the harshest of lives under the Islamic caliphate. Every aspect of their life was controlled. For example, the mother had been struck because she wasn't "covered" properly. They couldn't trust anyone, not even their neighbours.
Islamic State's rule has been a bloody one. And the battle to retake Mosul, Islamic State's golden goose and major urban stronghold, has been even bloodier. Here, life is not a guarantee, it's a game of chance.
Prior to the liberation of eastern Mosul, families could pay for the right to escape by paying 50,000 to 75,000 Iraqi dinars per person - approximately NZ$65. But not now.
"The situation on the west side is very desperate, with no drinking water, fuel, or even food," Ahmed, 25, whose sister remains stranded in her home across the river, told Middle East Eye.
"People there are literally on the verge of starving to death."
On that fateful night, the family made the decision to flee, weeks after the Iraqi army announced the liberation of east Mosul on the left bank of the Tigris River.
Their only option was to leave the city under the cover of darkness, hoping to escape detection while dodging a gauntlet of bullets from the enemy. But they were spotted - and the chase to freedom began.
They joined thousands of other desperate refugees attempting to cross the deadly divide, which separates east and west Mosul. Miraculously, they made it.
"They said it was terrifying every day because your neighbours could do you in for something - even if it's not true - they would come along and arrest you," said Shannon Sedgwick, who spent six years with Australia's elite paratrooper unit and now works as a private risk consultant in areas like the Middle East,
Last week US envoy Brett McGurk said what was left of Isis-held territory was surrounded by Coalition forces and the group had lost more than 60 per cent of the territory it once claimed in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still reported to be inside the city, despite reports of Islamic State fighters attempting to escape with their lives.
But this is exactly the Coalition's problem.
Prof Barton said the risk lies in factions of Islamic State breaking down into smaller cells, making them harder to spot and defeat.
Additionally, defeated fighters out of Syria and Iraq will return to their home country and potentially commit jihad in their home countries - Europe, North America, and Australia are all at risk.
Coalition forces fear Isis will revert to Al-Qaeda's strategy of guerilla or "asymmetric" warfare, including bomb attacks. Clever for the fact that attacks can occur anywhere at any time.
"Islamic State is a global insurgency. It may well be they will never be as powerful or enjoy the presence they currently have, but it will be a very long time before this group is completely irrelevant."