The current situation in the Middle East is really not all that different from before the Islamic State took control of huge swaths of land. Small pockets of Islamic State resistance are still in existence throughout the formerly occupied regions of Iraq and Syria. As such, it is inevitable that small attacks and minor combat operations will be occurring while the central powers of the region struggle on.
As the big players involved in the Islamic State’s demise finally come to a clashing point, the remnants of IS will use the time to counter attack as they dissipate back into the dark corners of the world. This is in-part possible because of the disputes seen between the neighboring nations. What remains of the Islamic State is a sliver of land wedged between the two countries and a pocket surrounded by the Syrian Army
In Syria, the Turkish, the Kurds and the Assad Regime all stand in dispute over the newly “liberated” country while Islamic State fighters retreat through their vast northern network. With the battle for Raqqa city finally over, nothing stands between the two largest forces in Syria. The Syrian Army has painted their line in the sand and the Kurds, to their front, while still upset about losing the city of Aleppo. Additionally, the Russian military is still very active in the region; on December 28, Russian Special Forces were spotted near the Syrian controlled border town of Deir al-Zor. It was unclear if they were there for training/advising purposes or not.
In the east, the Iraqi Government stands toe to toe with the autonomous Kurdish territories while using foreign and government-backed militias to do the heavy lifting in the form of land grabs. Hasdt Al-Shabi (Iraq backed militia) and Popular Mobilization Units (Iran-backed militia) have invaded and now occupy the formerly Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk. Because of this, the Kurds lost control of large oil deposits in the area and have suffered economically. The Kurds are participating in massive protests against their own government because of these events. The Iraqi Army is still cleaning up pockets of the Islamic State now that their campaign to retake the city of Mosul is complete and are moving at a slow but steady pace. Coalition forces are still on the ground and maintaining a solid presence but little is seen of them other than advisory roles.
Of course let’s not forget that the various militia of both regions that are still running around pursuing their personal interests. The Islamic State changed nothing and will eventually be lost to history like so many other extremist groups who have risen and fallen from power. The Middle East will continue on as a melting pot of cultures who refuse to coexist with each other.