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Cracks in the Islamic State

The Fighters Who Fell Away

An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires, January 19, 2016. Ali Hashisho / Reuters

The U.S.-led operation to reclaim Mosul has created a religious rift within the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Of course, the terrorist group has always had a complicated relationship with Islam—much of the Muslim world disavows the group. But now, faced with the pressures of impending defeat, some fighters have abandoned ISIS’ strictures, such as bans on alcohol and cigarettes, which has irked those who are more dogmatic about the enforcement of sharia law. This has created a deep split over the group’s doctrine. 

The ISIS members most affected by the impending collapse of Mosul are foreign fighters. As their forces crumble, they have few options. Unlike local members, they cannot remain in Iraq because they stand out among locals and do not speak the language. For the same reason, it is difficult for them to blend in with refugees. They understand that they will

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