Gone are the days when the black flag fluttered over a third of Iraq and almost half of Syria. Crushed on the battlefield, Islamic State has lost roughly 98% of its self-proclaimed “caliphate”. Some 70,000 of its fighters (who numbered perhaps 100,000 at their peak) are thought to have been killed. But thousands have escaped. Some have remained in Iraq and Syria; others have slipped into Turkey or hooked up with IS affiliates in Egypt, Libya and South-East Asia. Around 10,000 of the group’s foreign fighters are thought to have left the Middle East.
Those intent on continuing to wage jihad will still have the means. IS has quietly stashed millions of dollars across the region. It has invested in businesses in Iraq, bought gold in Turkey and continued to transfer money to its affiliates. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of money that has gone out of IS’ territory,” says a former weapons-dealer involved in transferring the jihadists’ cash. An Iraqi legislator estimates that IS smuggled $400m out of Iraq and Syria during its retreat.