"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has lost the ability to directly lead his group, Iraqi analysts said, pointing out that he lacks the authority to maintain his position at the top of the group's hierarchy.
Al-Baghdadi, who is wanted on terrorism charges internationally and by the Iraqi state, is thought to be hiding in the border region of Syria.
It is possible that he has been severely wounded, and may even be paralysed, as the result of an airstrike, the Iraqi interior ministry's Falcons Intelligence Cell said on February 12th.
Intelligence reports indicate the ISIS leader is still alive and might have been wounded in an airstrike that was intended to kill him, security expert Saeed al-Jayashi told Diyaruna.
Further intelligence reports reveal the possibility that al-Baghdadi is hiding in Syria's eastern Badiya (desert) region near the Iraqi border, he said.
Weak, but still a threat
"We are certain this criminal is suffering and weak, since he has lost a significant number of his field commanders, territory and funding," al-Jayashi said.
However, "he still has people around him who are helping him hide and allowing him to communicate with members of other terrorist groups that have supported him", he added.
These include Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS affiliates Wilayat Sinai in Egypt and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, he said.
ISIS has been less active on the ground, but its ideology and proselytizing is still influential in countries where the group and its affiliates are based.
In spite of the group's losses and disruptions, al-Jayashi said, some of its websites and online publications are still active. These include its al-Naba newsletter and its propaganda agency, Amaq, which have both gone through some publication interruption periods.
Al-Jayashi warned that the ISIS leader is banking on media influence to bring life back to his group, and called for increased vigilance and continued efforts to eliminate al-Baghdadi and his top command.
Most wanted terrorist
On February 6th, Iraqi authorities released a list of "internationally wanted terrorist leaders". Al-Baghdadi topped the list.
It now appears al-Baghdadi is no longer directly responsible for managing or leading ISIS, said researcher Hashim al-Hashimi, who specialises in the study of extremist movements.
"It is certain that he is alive and is moving around in the Syrian Badiya region under heavy protection that helps him remain undetected," he told Diyaruna. "As for his role in the group, he only supervises via a high committee."
This committee, known as the delegate commission, "is now responsible for all 35 global subsidiaries of the group and manages military, financial, legal and media affairs", al-Hashimi said.
This denotes the end of al-Baghdadi’s direct leadership, he said, noting that the subsidiary leaders "consider al-Baghdadi to be a token and spiritual leader".
'Unable to lead'
"The ambiguity surrounding al-Baghdadi’s fate does not allow us to rule out certain assumptions about him, personally," said Iraqi MP Iskandar Witwit, who serves on the parliamentary security and defence committee.
These include the possibility that he might have been "bypassed or removed from power" due to the group’s defeat, he told Diyaruna, or that due to serious wounds, he is "unable to operationally lead his followers".
According to Witwit, it is entirely possible that al-Baghdadi is hiding in Syria.
"In the end, we hope this criminal’s life comes to an end soon," he said.