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After Mosul

ISIS territory is shrinking fast as forces besiege its last strongholds.  "Hundreds of civilians fled Mosul's Old City on June 30 as Iraqi government forces slowly advanced against the last pockets of Islamic State (IS) resistance ... The IS extremists on June 30 were also cut off and encircled in Raqqa, their self-declared capital in neighboring Syria."

But the fighting is far from over.  Post-war restabilization will be needed not just in Syria, but over the whole region. Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) is probably trying to figure out who's going to win the peace. "McGurk said "we want to make sure that what comes after Daesh is stable.  'And if you look at the record to date, coalition-backed operations in Iraq and Syria have cleared out about 60,000 sq km of territory. We've liberated over four million people.'"

What those four million are going to do with their new freedom is the question. The last significant areas under ISIS control shown in gray on the linked map are mostly a string of towns along the Euphrates river which they will soon lose but the survivors will die hard.  In a West Point study titled The Fight Goes On, authors Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-`Ubaydi noted that ISIS continue to carry out attacks even in areas formally liberated by the coalition such as the liberated "left side of Mosul, Iraq".

Cities in Iraq appear to experience more post-liberation violence than do cities in Syria.  In the Iraqi cities in the dataset, the Islamic State predominately targets both Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias, with the peshmerga coming in at a distant third. In the Syrian cities, the Kurdish opposition is targeted in the large majority of Islamic State operations in liberated cities, with the Syrian regime a distant second.

Other belligerents besides ISIS are likely to emerge.  A possible flashpoint is a future Kurdistan.  US-backed forces control the yellow area in the linked map the along the Turkish border which is clearly co-extensive with the Kurdish autonomous region.  This potential breakaway area must worry Turkey -- and Iran and Iraq.  The possessors of former ISIS territory will have money in the form of oil resources.  These, located in a triangle bounded by Homs,  Deir ez-Zur and Raqqa are likely to become the bone of future contention.

Money buys arms.  And in the region arms are rarely left unused. Anne Barnard of the New York Times are the current conflict is only a curtain-raiser.

most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.

There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries.

Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.

With the stakes so high, the United States, Iran and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict.