Islamic State fighters surrendered en masse to Kurdish Iraqi forces in Hawija, shriveling the jihad army to perhaps a 10th of its size when it invaded Iraq in 2014, according to widespread news reports.
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About 1,000 jihadists surrendered over a span of three days as Iraq recaptured the Islamic State stronghold of Hawija Oct. 5, ending two weeks of fighting, the New York Times reported Oct. 8.
Today, a scant 3,000 Islamic State troops (also known as IS or ISIS) remain in Iraq, controlling a few towns and villages stretching along the Euphrates River in Iraq and Syria, USA Today reported after the Kurdish victory. ISIS troops were estimated to number 30,000 when the brutal terrorists first attempted in 2014 to establish caliphates or governments ruled by Sharia law in Iraq, killing and displacing Christians and other religious minorities.
The surrender came as the trials began in northern Nigeria for about 1,600 captured suspects of Boko Haram, the Associated Press reported Oct. 10. Boko Haram, which has fought to establish caliphates in the region of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad over the past decade or so, has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The defeated ISIS troops in Iraq are in sharp contrast to the reputation ISIS had built of suicide bombers and fighters proud to die for the cause of radical Islam, the Times reported. About a fourth of those who surrendered in Hawija were hardline jihadists, with the remaining composed of reluctant conscripts and men who described themselves as cooks or clerks, or said they had only fought a few months, the Times said.
During interrogations after their surrender, one ISIS member said the group’s terror in Iraq was coming to an end, wrote Times reporter Rod Nordland as an eyewitness to interrogations in Dibis, Iraq.
“This is the end of this state,” Nordland quoted a fighter identified as Maytham Muhammed Mohemin. “I believe if the [ISIS] governors are telling us to surrender, it really means that this is the end.”
But ISIS is not considered defeated. Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the U.S.-backed military coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, said terrorist groups such as ISIS typically regenerate leaders and recruit new waves of fighters.
Destroying the group that has recruited members internationally, including an estimated 250 from the U.S., “won’t be easy and won’t be quick,” USA Today quoted Funk Oct. 5.
The military victory was the latest in a string of successful Iraqi offenses against ISIS. Most recently, Iraqi forces aided by Shiite militia defeated ISIS in Tal Afar in late August. In July, coalition forces retook Mosul from ISIS.
ISIS had displaced as many as 600,000 to 1.2 million religious minorities including Christians from Iraq as of June, according to a study conducted jointly by non-governmental organizations Minority Rights Group International, the Institute for International Law and Human Rights, No Peace Without Justice and the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization. As many as 3 million people had been internally displaced in Iraq since June 2014, according to the study.
Of Iraq’s estimated 39 million people, about 250,000 are Christian, according to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors USA. As recently as the 1990s, Christians in Iraq numbered 1.5 million, according to Open Doors.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)