A massive terror attack in Syria has killed 204 people and injured 180 others. The jihadist group known as ISIS or the Islamic State claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack on a city and surrounding villages in the southern part of the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group called the attack the single deadliest day for Sweida province since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.
For more than three years, the Muslim terror group controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
On December 9, 2017, after a fierce battle involving Iraqi troops backed by the US and coalition forces, Iraq's top leader took a victory lap, declaring the end of the group's brutal and deadly reign.
"Our battle was with the enemy that wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won with our unity and determination," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said.
Yet months later, there are worrying signs of an ISIS return as terrorists launch multiple attacks in remote parts of northern Iraq, Afghanistan and as they did today in Syria. Experts say this could signal the next phase of this war.
"The early signs of resurgence that we're seeing in Iraq and the continued presence we're seeing in Syria is, in some ways, a sign of what's to come," warned Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War. "It's an indication that ISIS is not only committed to continuing to fight but has prepared to do so and has actually launched the next phase."
Determining what exactly that next phase looks like is anyone's guess, but experts who study the terror group and their tactics, believe ISIS has "returned to its roots as an underground terrorist network, employing insurgent tactics, including assassinations, bombings, and ambushes."
"Although it has been dealt a string of setbacks in Iraq and Syria, it continues to attract supporters drawn to its Islamist extremist ideology," wrote James Phillips, a senior research fellow with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. "ISIS remains a tough and resilient foe that quickly adapts to battlefield conditions."
Seven months after routing ISIS from large swaths of Iraq and Syria, the Department of Defense says a coalition of 77 nations and numerous international organizations remains determined to keep the terror group from resurfacing.
Our mission is very clear: It is focusing on the defeat of #ISIS and then helping our partners in both #Iraq and #Syria stabilize the situation and in Iraq to help create a platform that can lead to a long-term political solution – GEN Votel @CJTFOIR https://t.co/nkW6dy5EXQ
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) July 20, 2018
"We must work with our Iraqi partners to set the conditions that will prevent their resurgence," Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command said recently.
In the last few days, coalition forces struck several ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, destroying tactical units, communication and logistic hubs and terror vehicles.
“The coalition of 77 nations and international organizations remains committed to achieving the lasting defeat of #ISIS and its pervasive and negative ideology” – GEN Votel @CJTFOIR #Syria #Iraqhttps://t.co/8aRKJ40mMe
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) July 21, 2018
"The destruction of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria also further limits the group's ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world," an official with the Combined Joint Task Force Operation said.
Father Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest, told CBN News National Security Correspondent Erik Rosales that it would be a deadly mistake to write off ISIS. His group has been documenting ISIS atrocities against Iraq's Yazidi community, a religious minority that has been ruthlessly attacked and targeted for genocide by the terror group.
Watch as Father Patrick Desbois shares how ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq are still operating, using Nazi genocide tactics to murder Yazidis, a religious minority.
"Everyone says ISIS is dead. But with my team, when we go to Iraq, we still meet Yazidis who just escaped from them," Desbois told CBN News.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq remains among the largest and most volatile in the world.
"Of the more than 5.8 million Iraqis who fled their homes since 2014, more than two million remain displaced," said the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a non-governmental organization that's helping rebuild Iraq.
Last month, the group released shocking drone video of Mosul that showed the widespread destruction of Iraq's second-largest city, a year after it was retaken by Iraqi forces.
Drone footage obtained by Norwegian Refugee Council shows the dramatic extent of damage a year after Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, was liberated from ISIS.
Since December, more than three million Iraqis have returned to cities and towns once controlled by ISIS. But aid groups believe that many of these returns have been "premature, unsafe or involuntary."
"Many Iraqis have returned to areas that lack basic infrastructure, utility services, and livelihood opportunities, or where explosive devices have not adequately been cleared," NRC said in a statement.
As Iraq struggles to form a viable government following parliamentary elections in May, frustrated citizens are growing increasingly pessimistic about future economic prospects.
— Hayder Hamzoz (@Hamzoz) July 20, 2018
Thousands have taken to the streets of Baghdad as well as cities across southern Iraq in recent days, demanding better jobs and services.
#IraqProtests expand in Baghdad and southern Iraq today over lack of basics services including electricity and clean water.
The video below is of Baghdad, security forces block protesters as they try to cross al-Jumhuriyah (republic) bridge toward Green Zone, seat of government: pic.twitter.com/weFKjhyIbB
— Abdulla Hawez (@abdullahawez) July 20, 2018
Government figures show 10 percent of the population is not working. That number is much higher among youth. The constant lack of electricity, clean water, widespread corruption and poor security conditions, are only adding to Iraq's woes.