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Exclusive - ISIS Slogans in Baghouz Say Group ‘Here to Stay’

Exclusive - ISIS Slogans in Baghouz Say Group ‘Here to Stay’

Wednesday, 20 March, 2019 - 07:45
SDF members ride in a truck in the town of Baghouz, Syria. (Reuters)

ISIS may be on the verge of defeat in its last enclave in eastern Syria, but the walls of the town of al-Baghouz are covered in slogans that attest to the group’s past and lingering presence. ISIS is “here to stay and is expanding,” reads one slogan. Another defies the international coalition’s campaign against it.

Asharq Al-Awsat toured the destruction in Baghouz and noted the slogans that have been written on the walls of houses and storefronts. Store names give away the nationality of their owners. In the town center lies the “Fallujah Store,” meaning the owner was likely Iraqi. Next to it lies the “Al-Zeituna” currency exchange shop, indicating that the owner came from the Arab Maghreb region. The owner of the “Maakoulat al-Sham” restaurant was likely from Damascus.

At the “Al-Kawthar” internet cafe, male and female customers are segregated into their own separate areas. A destroyed truck that used to belong to an Afghan tailor advertised traditional Afghan clothes that became popular after ISIS’ takeover of the region. The entrance of a nearby clinic showed the sign “Dr. Abou Mohammed al-Sudani,” meaning the owner hailed from Sudan.

Destruction has spared very little in Baghouz. Stores and houses in the center of the town have been turned to rubble where fierce clashes took place between ISIS and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Baghouz has come under the control of various forces since the 2011 uprising. The area was captured from the regime by Free Syrian Army factions in 2013. It then fell to the al-Nusra Front-Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. In mid-2014, it was captured by ISIS, which is now facing an SDF campaign that has so far seized 99 percent of territory held by the group. ISIS now only holds a few hundred meters of agricultural land that extends to the border with Iraq.

Despite the group’s imminent defeat, the slogans in Baghouz serve as a reminder to the people of ISIS’ former years in control. Slogans addressed to teenagers offer them false promises, while others directed at women warn them of the need to respect the correct dress code. Slogans that encourage people to fight in ISIS ranks are also prominent.

On Tuesday, the SDF said it was close to defeating ISIS in its final scrap of territory in Baghouz after seizing an encampment from the terrorists, though the battle was not over yet.

“This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against ISIS,” said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the SDF on Twitter.

Bali said late on Tuesday clashes were ongoing and that fighters remain “in several pockets and their presence is not limited to a defined geography”.

The SDF captured hundreds of wounded militants when it overran the camp on Tuesday, Bali said. It also captured 157 mostly foreign fighters.

ISIS fighters and followers have been steadily forced back to Baghouz after years of retreats in the face of military campaigns by an array of foreign and local forces.

The group’s defeat at Baghouz will mark a milestone in the struggle against the terrorists, although adherents are still widely seen as a big security threat with a presence in remote territory and capable of mounting guerrilla attacks.

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