The Current

Defeat of Mosul would shatter the narrative of ISIS, says author

Considered the jewel in the crown of ISIS, the retaking of Mosul holds strategic significance as the campaign to liberate Iraq's second-largest city is underway. But author Fawaz Gerges warns it's likely ISIS will lash out after the epic battle.

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The capture of Mosul more than two years ago was a key victory for ISIS — both strategically and symbolically. 

But with the self-proclaimed caliphate now giving up territory — and at risk of losing its last stronghold in Iraq with an epic battle underway — the time is ripe for a change of strategy.

Fawaz Gerges, the author of ISIS: A History, estimates ISIS has around 5,000 to 8,000 fighters. 

However, Gerges tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that ISIS has less skilled fighters than it used to two years ago.

"ISIS has been bleeding. It has been losing skilled fighters, field commanders, leaders."

Iraqi Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani (C) speaks at a news conference about the operations underway for the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, Oct. 17, 2016. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)

'"My take on it, [ISIS] no longer has the capacity to ... really carry out spectacular attacks as it has in the past two years and a half."

According to Gerges, the fall of Mosul would be significant as it would shatter the narrative of ISIS as winning — invincible and undefeatable.

"The reason why foreign fighters have been joining ISIS [is] because it was seen as winning, so the fall of Mosul would really basically be seen as a turning point in terms of both, that ISIS is losing, ISIS has lost."

Looking ahead, after the battle Gerges says it's uncertain how ISIS is going to respond in terms of terrorism worldwide.

Iraqi forces deploy, Oct. 17, 2016, in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State. Some 30,000 federal forces are leading the offensive, backed by air and ground support from a 60-nation U.S.-led coalition. (Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

"If I were ISIS, if I were Baghdad, I would have to re-assert my leadership and show the rank, the base that still exist in terms of really carrying out attacks — not only in Iraq and Syria but in neighbouring countries and worldwide." 

Gerges believes the loss of many ISIS fighters already killed and others escaping Syria to avoid this epic battle may make defeat very possible.

"The battle of Mosul would prove to be much easier than we feared because of the the lack of capacity."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced Karin Marley, Julian Uzielli and Sujata Berry.