The influential parties in the Syrian file are preparing for the great battle of Deir ez-Zor against ISIS, especially after the announcement of the Iraqi government on 9 July the end of the “State of the Caliphate” in Mosul and its control over the city that represented the stronghold of the organization. Awaiting the declaration of the total control over Raqqa Governorate and the exclusion of ISIS, the great battle of Deir ez-Zor will be the most prominent title in the next stage.
While Mosul is fully and Raqqa is partially controlled, ISIS fighters are moving from these two cities to more secure areas, among which is Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Some other conflicting forces’ goal is to assemble the members of the organization in one area, corner them and then kill them.
Mosul’s Scenario in Deir ez-Zor
ISIS is preparing for the next battle in Deir ez-Zor through preventive measures in order to repel any military attack. The “Euphrates Post,” a widely spread agency in the governorate, stated that “the organization forced the owners of shops and restaurants in a number of villages and towns in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor to construct two meters high earthen berms in front of their shops.”
The agency reported on 12 July that the residents of the town of Mayadin, southeast of the governorate, were also forced to set barricades in front of their homes.
ISIS constructed earthen mounds, dug trenches, booby-trapped main roads and destroyed the high buildings (silos, schools, factories and water tanks), so as hostile forces will not take these buildings as bases in case of air landing or launching of any ground attack.
Military and strategic analyst from Deir ez-Zor, Colonel Hatem al-Rawi, explained that “digging trenches and setting up barricades by ISIS is called military science (passive defense) and refers to a state of readiness to repel any air or ground attack. This confirms that the organization is the next stage’s target .”
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Rawi stated that “the organization is preparing itself for a scenario similar to the one that happened in the cities of Mosul and Raqqa.” He explained the changes of strategies to digging trenches and setting up barricades in Deir ez-Zor as an attempt to mix up papers. According to al-Rawi, the organization is sheltering behind civilians and hiding among them in order to distract the attackers, so that they will not know their military targets, and to suggest that they are civilians in an attempt to avoid attacks.
ISIS and its leaders know that those who are fighting them are trying to corner them in the governorate, which stretches along the banks of the Euphrates River and which have a view over the Syrian Desert to the west and al-Anbar Desert to the east. Both of these will not be safe for the members of ISIS as al-Assad forces and the factions of the Free Army are fighting over the Syrian Desert in order to cut off the escape route of the ISIS members, while the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces control the Iraqi Desert for the same reason.
The battle of Deir ez-Zor against the organization will be the most violent, the fiercest and longest battle for several reasons, as researcher Faisal Dahmush expected. The most important of which is that it will be the organization’s last battle in metropolitan areas. Also Deir ez-Zor is important to the international and regional powers competing over it, because of its influential geopolitical location, in addition to the availability of the necessary resources, such as oil and gas fields, in the governorate to manage local conflicts after the expulsion of the organization.
Deir ez-Zor and the Countries’ Greed
Geographically, the governorate acts as a link between the areas of Sunni Arabs, starting from the Syrian Aleppo in the west to the Iraqi Nineveh and al-Anbar in the east, whereas socially, it connects the tribes’ dignitaries to the Arab Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. So the governorate currently represents the geopolitical balance of the Gulf States with neighboring regional states (Iran).
The military importance of Deir ez-Zor for the Syrian regime lies in the presence of its forces deep inside ISIS-held areas, in addition to promoting itself as a partner in the war against terrorism, which is sustained by the Russian air strikes that support al-Assad forces.
While its importance to Washington lies in its richness in oil, Iran wants this governorate to guarantee a safe passage for it and its allies in Damascus and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and its allies want also to cut this road and to block the completion of what is called the “Shia Crescent” in the region.
The battle of Mosul and Raqqa will result in new political equations, in accordance with the direction of the American administration as well as the nature of the relationship and agreement with Russia in Syria. These conditions will determine the military forces that will move towards Deir ez-Zor to liberate it from ISIS.