RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Baghdad is still reeling from a devastating truck bomb on a busy commercial street, the worst single attack in years. The Interior Ministry says to NPR at least 172 people died, and other estimates are even higher. The attack was claimed by ISIS, and it came as the extremists are suffering on the battlefield and losing ground.
NPR's Alice Fordham joins us from Beirut, Lebanon, where she's been monitoring the developments. Good morning.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So we saw pictures of Iraqi security forces celebrating victories against ISIS in recent weeks and even an entire convoy of ISIS fighters destroyed in air strikes. So how are they able to do such a huge and damaging attack like this?
FORDHAM: You're right. ISIS just lost the city of Fallujah which was a huge blow to them. I'm not saying that there's a direct connection between the loss of Fallujah and this truck bombing because, as I understand it, such attacks take weeks or months of planning. But as ISIS loses the territory that they were administering as their self-declared state, we have seen a rise in insurgent tactics. They are taking some of that energy that they were putting into running these areas and putting it into bombings often in Baghdad, also in other parts of the country.
And so while from some - one perspective driving ISIS out of towns and cities is a victory for the Iraqi security forces and for the U.S.-led coalition, for many Iraqis, actually, it doesn't necessarily have an immediately positive impact, which kind of indicates maybe a difference in priorities or perspectives depending on whether you're in - on the ground in Iraq or not.
MONTAGNE: Well, what kind of difference actually in priorities?
FORDHAM: Well, so the coalition is focused on destroying ISIS, and they're using air power and they're backing local forces in Iraq and Syria to drive ISIS out of its strongholds like Fallujah. And that's in large part because that group is more of a threat to the West than all the other groups operating in Iraq and Syria.
But if you were actually in Iraq, if you're an Iraqi person, there's a lot of people who are frightened of the chaos that comes after ISIS is kicked out of their areas because, as I said, the militants turn to insurgency and also because there are civilians that stream out of these ISIS-held areas during the battles. They often can't go back to their houses quickly because large parts of their city are destroyed or rigged with explosives. Millions of people already like this in Iraq and as there are more battles against ISIS, aid agents predict we're going to see hundreds of thousands more.
And there's a security dimension to this which is that ISIS operatives can hide among these civilians and equally in a country with a strained economy, it's really hard to look after these people and politically it's proved very difficult to run these host ISIS areas. So it's chaotic.
MONTAGNE: What, though, about the city of Mosul - it's been held by ISIS for two years. Iraq's army has been talking about taking it back. Is it getting anywhere near ready to do that?
FORDHAM: Yeah. They think so. The prime minister said in Fallujah that the assault on Mosul would come soon, and it's begun to a limited degree already, but there's likely to be a lot more supports now. There's hundreds of thousands of people living in Mosul. There's concerns that the problems of civilians fleeing Fallujah and there not really being a plan to house them and to water them in the desert. It will be repeated on a bigger scale in Fallujah, so the defeat of ISIS in Iraq is getting closer, although stability isn't necessarily.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Alice Fordham speaking to us from Beirut. Thanks very much.
FORDHAM: Thanks for having me, Renee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.