There had been rumours that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been wounded during the coalition attacks on Mosul in Iraq on Sunday. From the way statements are firming up from various sources, it is uncertain whether Baghdadi succumbed to these injuries or was tracked and killed in an air raid in Syria by the US-led coalition.
This 'death' comes as a major reversal for the Islamic State as the US-led coalition in Iraq ups the ante. The statement by the Islamic State voice and affiliated radio station al-Amaq pretty much confirms that Baghdadi is dead.
But the coalition is saying nothing can be formally announced until a body is seen or there is enough evidence. Till then it has to be assumed that one of the scenarios could entail sending out an announcement to this effect to disarm the coalition and slow its offensive while taking advantage of the situation and smuggling Baghdadi out to safety especially if he is in a critical state.
There is not much more information coming out at present regarding coalition forces seeking confirmation of the statements.
"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed by coalition airstrikes on Raqqa on the fifth day of Ramadan," was the only announcement made by al-Amaq. It is likely that the assault on Mosul was done using satellite flyovers and by airdropping on Baghdadi’s location.
With the US-led coalition making inroads into Mosul and the incapacitation of their rallying point and 'icon' if not his death, the Islamic State is on the back foot.
While the US will see this as a bonus, the putsch comes as no surprise. The not-so-veiled threat by US President Barack Obama, in his address following the Orlando massacre, will certainly be interpreted as an upscale in the offensive. When Obama said he would go where he had to go, as things became clearer, it would not take much to see that the Islamic State strongholds are going to be further targeted with the specific intent of targeting the front-line leadership. Intensifying the campaign is the first step in the reprisal and the nations in the coalition seemed up for it.
With Mosul now being the major city to be rescued from the Islamic State, the coalition forces have made tremendous inroads in this past week. The taking of the village of Haj Ali will certainly increase pressure on the Islamic State inside the confines of Mosul and the loss of much of the occupied territory in Iraq is pushing them further away.
Indeed, there is a price to pay but all the restraint the coalition has shown seems to have been misunderstood as an encouragement by the Islamic State to take inhuman liberties with civilian life.
But what they interpreted as weakness is now manifesting itself as strong resolve to break through the ranks of the Islamic State and weaken it from within. Having lost even Tikrit, without a semi-urban base the militants will find both funding and logistics for supplies much more difficult to maintain.
The idea clearly is to isolate the last pockets of resistance and then clear the region and perhaps even push towards Syria and repeat the strategic maneouvers. As it is coalition forces have begun their offensive in that country and made concerted moves towards the town of Manij, all these concerted steps indicate that an all-out offensive is becoming a reality.
While there is deep regret for the casualties – both military and civilian – that itself is the price to pay not just for freedom but for saving two major nations from the grip of extremism.