Attacks claimed by, linked to or with the hallmarks of the so-called Islamic State during the final week of Ramadan set a new standard for terrorism. Each day, ISIS members or affiliated supporters struck targets of nearly every ethnicity and religion. No group — Shia, Sunni, Christian, Western, Arab — was spared from their deadly campaign. They even closed the week by striking at the heart of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad’s burial site in Medina.
Why would ISIS suddenly and so aggressively change its tactics and course? Because it needs success, and it needs it now. ISIS’ unprecedented foreign fighter ranks ballooned as the group audaciously seized large swaths of Iraq and trumped all jihadi competitors by declaring a caliphate. Success brought manpower and money to ISIS’ ranks, helping it eclipse al Qaeda.
But this façade of victory has crumbled over the last year. ISIS has lost ground to Kurds in the north and the Iraqi army in the east. ISIS leaders have fallen in quick secession from targeted airstrikes. The cascading violence last week masked major setbacks — losses in Fallujah and an embarrassing slaughter of a retreating convoy. Meanwhile, rising numbers of foreign fighter defectors point to dysfunction as the group’s internal hunt for spies leads to rampant internal killings. Once known for unparalleled wealth, today ISIS faces a cash crunch and struggles to pay wages that once made the group more attractive than other Syrian resistance brigades.