BEIRUT — U.S.- and Iran-backed forces are locked in a race to take Islamic State strongholds in southeastern Syria and seize a stretch of land that will either cement Tehran’s regional ambitions or stifle them.
The scramble for pole position in Deir al-Zour province is likely to be one of the most consequential fights against the extremist group in Syria, posing a regional test for President Trump as his administration turns up the rhetoric against Iran.
On Wednesday, the Islamic State asserted responsibility for twin attacks in Tehran that left at least a dozen people dead, a clear reminder of the group’s reach as it faces off against Iranian and U.S. forces and the proxies they support in Syria and Iraq. If confirmed, they would be the group’s first major strikes in Iran.
U.S.-backed forces launched an offensive this week to push the Islamic State out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. But there are signs that the battle that follows, in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, will be tougher still, and have greater consequences for the group’s long-term survival as a force holding significant territory.
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