By Gabrielle Goldworm
While U.S. and Russian lead airstrikes alike continue to target major ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq, a significant blow against the militants has been struck. The Syrian city of Dabiq, prophesied in ISIS propaganda to be the site of an “apocalyptic final battle between Muslims and Christians,” was retaken by Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces on Sunday, marking a huge symbolic defeat for Islamic State forces.
Despite widespread belief among ISIS militants of the great “final battle” in Dabiq, the assault by the Syrian rebel force was reportedly relatively easy, with ISIS fighters putting up “relatively ‘minimal’ resistance” before retreating back to town of al-Bab. Although Dabiq holds little to no strategic value, ISIS forces in the town prior to the battle numbered over a thousand.
The operation to take Dabiq was part of the larger “Operation Euphrates Shield” campaign, a Turkish formulated campaign which began in August, and the goal of which is to “consolidate control of Syrian forces from the Euphrates river to the town of Azaz, just north of Aleppo,” according to reports from The Guardian.
ISIS has held Dabiq (whose prewar population hovered around 3000) since August 2014, and have named their propaganda magazine after the town. Indeed, much of the ISIS propaganda machine was based around Dabiq, prophesied 1,400 years ago, supposedly by the Prophet Muhammed to be the site of a battle between “Crusader Forces” and Muslims, in which the latter would emerge victorious and bring about the end of the old world.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stated as much in an audio recording last year, saying that death and destruction awaits ISIS’ enemies in Dabiq. He also prophesized that it would be the final battle between ISIS and “infidel crusaders”, and after ISIS would be able to conquer the rest of the world with radical Islam.
However, the prophecy has clearly proven inaccurate; the forces that wrestled Dabiq from ISIS control were primarily Muslim not “infidel crusaders,” and in their online publication al-Naba, ISIS has withdrawn a bit on its stance regarding Dabiq’s significance, saying that the battle of last Sunday was not the one prophesied. This is yet another in what has been a long line of losses by the Islamic State, in the past year alone, they have lost the cities of Palmyra and Manbij in northern Syria, and the major city of Fallujah in Iraq.
ISIS has lost around 14 percent of its territory in 2015, according to a report by the New York Times. With the attempt to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul already underway, and the terrorist organization rapidly losing money, ISIS seems to be losing strength. The lost of Dabiq, a city of moral significance, is yet another example of this.