Europe

US commander: Islamic State may be reverting to its 'roots'

  • Security forces and citizens inspect the scene after a suicide car bomb hit a crowded outdoor market in Baghdad's eastern Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, Iraq, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, officials said, the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country's north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

    Security forces and citizens inspect the scene after a suicide car bomb hit a crowded outdoor market in Baghdad's eastern Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, Iraq, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, officials said, the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country's north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Saturday, May 14, 2016 photo, family members of truck bomb victims grieve at the bombing site in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq. This sprawling district in northeast Baghdad has witnessed some of the worst violence to hit Baghdad this year as Islamic State group fighters have increasingly tuned to insurgent style terrorist attacks in the face of mounting battlefield losses in Iraq. Along Sadr City's main thoroughfares, fresh black posters bare the names and pictures of the more than 80 killed in the past week. The single deadliest attack this year was also in Sadr City in late February when a double car bombing killed more than 70 and wounded more than 100.  (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

    In this Saturday, May 14, 2016 photo, family members of truck bomb victims grieve at the bombing site in Baghdad's Sadr City, Iraq. This sprawling district in northeast Baghdad has witnessed some of the worst violence to hit Baghdad this year as Islamic State group fighters have increasingly tuned to insurgent style terrorist attacks in the face of mounting battlefield losses in Iraq. Along Sadr City's main thoroughfares, fresh black posters bare the names and pictures of the more than 80 killed in the past week. The single deadliest attack this year was also in Sadr City in late February when a double car bombing killed more than 70 and wounded more than 100. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)  (The Associated Press)

  • Mourners grieve by coffins of bomb victims, Saad Samed, 28, and his wife Mariam Aqeel, 22, and his sons Mohammed Saad, 7, and Ahmed Saad, 5, who killed at an open-air market in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Shaab, during their funeral procession at the holy shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, officials said, the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country's north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

    Mourners grieve by coffins of bomb victims, Saad Samed, 28, and his wife Mariam Aqeel, 22, and his sons Mohammed Saad, 7, and Ahmed Saad, 5, who killed at an open-air market in Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Shaab, during their funeral procession at the holy shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, officials said, the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country's north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)  (The Associated Press)

A series of deadly attacks by Islamic State operatives in and around Baghdad may be a sign that the militants are "reverting to their roots" as a terrorist organization, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East said Wednesday.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said this does not mean IS has given up its ambition to create a so-called caliphate. But he said it marks a new turn in tactics aimed at diverting attention from the group's recent battlefield losses.

Speaking to reporters while traveling to the Middle East, Votel said the attacks that have rocked Baghdad over the past week, killing upward of 200 civilians, are an illustration of the dynamic nature of the war.

"We have to respect our enemies and respect their ability to adapt and adjust on the battlefield," he said.

"In this regard, some of the attacks we're seeing in Baghdad — I think we are seeing a manifestation of that. We are seeing them see opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities," he added. "I think they believe it will cause the Iraqi government to divert forces, divert effort, divert intellectual horsepower to solving those problems" as opposed to priorities like recapturing the IS stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Now that IS has lost 40 percent or more of the terrain it once controlled in Iraq, "they may be reverting in some regards back to their terrorist roots," he said.

Votel, who served in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, took over as head of Central Command two months ago after serving as commander of Special Operations Command. In his new post he oversees not only U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria but across the greater Middle East, including in Afghanistan.

His visit this week to the Middle East comes amid concern about political unrest in Baghdad and the slow pace of Iraqi military operations to recapture Mosul.

Votel said he sees reason for "a little concern" about political paralysis that has gripped the Iraq government in recent weeks.