Abu Hasan, an activist from Deir-ez-Zor, claims "ISIS is suffering from a state of anxiety after being expelled from Ain al-Arab and Diyala governorate. In an attempt to cover up for the loss, and to raise the morale of their fighters, ISIS have tried to achieve a victory by sending 600 fighters of the Albattar brigade to attack Kirkuk. Of course, they have also failed there not only because of the diverse ethnic structure of Kirkuk but also because it contains large oil reserves.”
According to observers, ISIS is going through a regression phase. ”There are indications and reasons for that”, says Abu Ahmed, a previous member of the Ahrar Alsham brigade. “The organization does not have the same old effect. The Kurds were able to expel them from [Kobani] with simple weapons and insignificant air cover provided by the alliance", he added.
The Kobani battle broke the myth of the "undefeatable soldier" ISIS has tried to construct. Bombs and suicide bombers were unable to help ISIS control the city, and thus the organization’s followers started doubting its power and survival. Abu Ahmed added, "a few daily air strikes were able to defeat ISIS and, killing many of them. So what if there were a hundred air strikes a day? What if there were trained ground forces to attack it?"
The shortage of fighters was the clearest indication of ISIS regression – only thousands. Abu Mohammed, one of the leaders of the FSA said: "The large geographical area controlled by ISIS adversely affected it. It became hard for it to control the whole area and to fight on many fronts at the same time, which explains why it uses ambushes and guerrilla techniques".
The regression was not only quantitative, but also qualitative. Abu Mohammed said: "losing the elite forces was perhaps the biggest loss for ISIS. It had lost many of its best fighters and followers in those battles. It encouraged many of its fighters to escape, not long after they had rushed to join it.”
News from Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, reported that strict security rules are being enforced, especially upon emigrants. Abu Hasan, a school teacher from Raqqa said: "at the beginning, retreating was limited to the locals, but now even emigrants have started retreating, and this means that the split has reached the inner core of the organization". Fearing an increase in future retreats, ISIS was forced to relocate a number of the emigrants.
The ethnic structure of the organization is no longer a strengthening factor, in fact it has now become a weakness, where differences between locals and the emigrants of Raqqa and in Deir-ez-Zor have started escalating.
Abu Abdullah, a lawyer from Aleppo countryside said: "The organization will reach a point where it can no longer cover up these differences". We can't forget the ideological conflicts inside the organization itself, where ISIS started a campaign against what they called "takfiris".
Muhammed Ali, a religious law (sharia) graduate from Aleppo countryside said that, "Some might find it strange that ISIS is attacking the takfiris. They have even executed those who accuse al-Baghdadi of infidelity, because he refused to accuse all Muslims of Syria and Iraq of infidelity".
Abu Muhammed, a citizen from Al-Bab area, recalled an incident where "one of the emigrants – a Qatari citizen – asked a Syrian citizen about the rules of "There is only one God", and when he failed to answer, the emigrant was later executed". ISIS has routinely executed many of its activists, like Abu Abdul Rahman Almasri, and many other leaders from the Al-Bab area, who objected to the declaration of the establishment of the Caliphate state at this time.
Executions have escalated recently to cover up for psychological defeats and to frighten citizens. Hasan Abu Abdul Karim, a 40-year-old man from Aleppo countryside said: "ISIS executed tens of people during and after their retreat in order to cover up for their defeat in [Kobani]". In a similar way, the two Japanese hostages and Mouaz Alkasasbeh were also executed.
Perhaps the main reason for this regression was the way ISIS ruled, where citizens living under ISIS rule have witnessed its extremism, and thus, the Islamic State's fraudulent mask was removed. Sheikh Abu Omar from Aleppo countryside said: "the citizens who lived under ISIS rule discovered that ISIS distorted Islam, they applied unorthodox rules and fatwas and considered them to be the real Islam, and refused to follow the opinion of the Islamic scholars, which caused people to reject it".
The organization’s strength is receding; its slogan "everlasting and growing" has lost its glow. The international community has given up on Syria, accepting that extremism is a natural result of bloody repression, which was the initial catalyst for the expansion of ISIS.