The campaign against ISIS isn't producing big victories

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. It’s not easy figuring out how to report on the war against the militants who call themselves the Islamic State. The news is confusing, with many moving parts. Just this afternoon, a new video from ISIS, purporting to show another beheading. On the ground too, it’s difficult to assess whether ISIS is on the defensive or growing more powerful. On the battlefield, ISIS is attacking Kobane, an ethnically Kurdish city in Syria on the border with Turkey. They’re also on the offensive in Iraq. Meanwhile, America continues its airstrike campaign against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times is in Baghdad. He says, overall, it’s not clear how ISIS is doing.

 

Borzou Daragahi: There are multiple fronts at this point, especially if you look at both Syria and Iraq and it seems that, for example, in some places they’re gaining, like in Kobane and in Anbar Province. In some places they’re losing ground, and in some places they’ve been held in check by a combination of Iraqi ground forces, militias of various types and the allied airstrikes. It’s not exactly clear, it seems to be a little bit of an ebb and flow, a back and forth, in terms of whether or not they’re growing.

 

Werman: So, what does that mean about the airstrikes? What are they achieving? Does that have anything to do with the success at this point? Or even the failures?

 

Daragahi: At this point, the airstrikes are not overwhelming. If you talk to US officials, like for example, former General John Allen, who was here in Baghdad today and spoke to some of the reporters, he says they are having an effect and they are helping Iraqis win battles on the ground. But in an overall sense, they’re not decisive at this point.

 

Werman: In Baghdad, at the political level, the new government of Haider al-Abadi, is it making a difference? It’s supposed to be more inclusive. Are there any signs that Sunnis are willing to back the government now, instead of backing ISIS?

 

Daragahi: I think there are signs. I don’t think it’s a choice between just backing the government or backing ISIS. There’s also the choice of just sitting it out, which is what most people do. I think there are some signs of rapprochement between Iraq’s various ethno-sectarian communities. But nothing concrete, nothing big, nothing dramatic on the ground.

 

Werman: What’s the mood in Baghdad right now? Because earlier this week, I saw some reports of suicide bombs, coordinated attacks in Baghdad, it seemed like there were scores of people dead. Was that just an isolated day? What’s happening in the city?

 

Daragahi: This is a constant in Iraq and it has been a constant for some time; it goes up and down, these suicide bombings. It does affect the mood, but I’ve got to say, it’s been like 11 years of war here and people are very much used to it. I was just out on the streets, coming home from a meeting in the green zone and it was celebration in the streets. It’s Eid al-Adha, people are off for a week, there was wedding celebrations, there was live music playing drums, etc. Life goes on, it’s quite remarkable actually, in the face of the warfare that’s going on just outside of the city.

 

Werman: Yeah, those are pretty amazing details. The iraq story though is one I would guess that you thought you were mostly done with a few years ago and there you are, back again. What is it like for you?

 

Daragahi: For me personally, it’s a little bit, I’ve got to say, depressing - that after all of this effort, after all of this expenditure, all of this time devoted to this project of rebuilding Iraq, or at least stabilizing it, we’re sort of back to square one and again, I’m doing stories about the failures of the Iraqi security forces, just a few years after we thought this whole issue had been put to rest.

 

Werman: Our old friend, Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times, speaking with us from Baghdad. Great to speak with you again, thank you.

 

Daragahi: It’s always a pleasure.