Scott Atran, Hoshang Waziri, and Richard Davis in the New York Review of Books:
Following the expulsion of the Islamic State, or ISIS, from Mosul in Iraq, and with the imminent fall of the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria, reports have suggested that ISIS fighters are defecting or surrendering en masse. But such bullish appraisals of the collapse of ISIS’s fighting spirit may be over-optimistic.
Most people who have fled from ISIS-controlled areas have done so because they were terrified of the invading Shia militias and Shia-dominated Iraqi government forces. Last month, when Iraqi forces liberated the area around the city of Hawija, north of Tikrit, it wasn’t only ISIS fighters who ran. Those from families who had a member in ISIS, even if dead, did also. Many internally displaced Sunni Arabs we interviewed told us that they left their homes and risked passing through Iraqi army and Shia militia lines to reach the Kurdish Peshmerga because “they are also Sunni” and “don’t want to kill us.”
Although there is some evidence of local ISIS forces in Iraq abandoning the fight, ISIS’s foreign volunteers are much more likely to fight to the death or melt away in the hope of fighting another day. A center run by the Kurdish intelligence service in Dibis, north of Hawija, to screen those fleeing ISIS territory had detected only one foreign fighter, an Egyptian, in recent weeks. The head of the center, Captain Ali Muhammad Syan, said that as many as eight thousand people were screened since the start of operations to retake Hawija in September. Nearly all of them, he said, had links to ISIS, mostly through family connections, but many were not actual combatants.