The Islamic State (IS) released the 157th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 22 November. The content was fairly standard, underlining IS’s ideology, particularly its belief that the current hardships are merely bumps on the road to a victory that has been pre-ordained by God. The bulk of the newsletter is devoted to the fierce insurgent campaign IS is waging in northern Iraq and parts of eastern Syria.
The front page headline of Al-Naba 157 was about IS’s claim that its “West African Province” killed more than 100 Nigerian soldiers between 15 and 21 November. The full write-up of this offensive is on page seven. Page two, as ever, had stats from recent operations.
Page three contained the main editorial, which focused on a persistent theme of IS’s resilience, so long as it holds to its ideology, and the sureness of victory since God has ordained it:
Saha Wahida (One Field/Arena)
… In our time, the world has gotten smaller. Information and news are faster and more widespread. … The mujahideen worked with every means they possess after the invasion of Iraq; they won battles and lost others. … Within a few years, God opened (fatah) a patch of land on which his slaves could declare the Islamic State of Iraq. … After that, God afflicted the mujahideen and they returned to what they were before [i.e. an insurgent group based in the deserts], but with a broader distance and scope of security work (al-amal al-amni). … The opening of Mosul in just a few days by the mujahideen, facilitated by God, was a conquest permitted after long years of attritional warfare (nikaya) against the infidels. … The mujahideen’s arrival in Anbar and Al-Jazeera, and their attack in Samarra, filled the souls of the apostates with fear and horror, and they fled. …
Today the field of jihad is greater and the war with the infidels is more severe. If the work in the past was spread through Iraq and some cities of Syria (al-Sham), … today the field is the whole world. The war against the infidels is taking place at all levels, and the rule of the caliphate stretches from the mountains of Afghanistan (Khorasan) to the jungles of Somalia; its horsemen are in the forests of West Africa and on the islands of East Asia, in the deserts of the Sinai and the hills of Yemen. The faithful soldiers completed their march from the Land of Epics in Syria … and Iraq, and even struck at the infidels in their homes, far from the field of battle, chasing them into their own lands, which they built on the skulls of Muslims. They are today in fear and terror (khawf wa-raeb) that a car will run over them or a fire will destroy their possessions …
We believe that the next conquest [of territory] will be many-fold greater than in the past [i.e. 2014], while the people of infidelity will be more humiliated and less capable … Oh soldiers of the caliphate, know that each bullet you shoot or an operation you carry out anywhere is a building block in the State of Islam. So do not underestimate your work or [the value] of any battle. The mere fact of your steadfastness is weakening the nations of disbelief. Know that you and your brothers everywhere are in one arena, and the situation with our enemies is as the Almighty says: “So wait, [for] we too are waiting with you” [Tawba (Repentance) (9): 52].
The smaller article on page three celebrated IS’s recent operations in Afghanistan, where the group is, in tandem with Iran, inflaming sectarian tensions, as the Taliban-Qaeda insurgency continues to erode the security and political situation.
The top-half of page four is the full article related to the other thing mentioned on the first page: a series of raids by IS in Diyala in “Wilayat al-Iraq”. The headline refers to an attack on a patrol boat near Adhaim (or Al-Uzaym) Dam with a “barrage of bullets” that destroyed the boat and killed three members of “al-Hashd al-Rafidi”, a derogatory way of referring to the largely Iran-backed Shi’i militias that have been absorbed into the Iraqi state. The other two members of the security forces on board were wounded, according to Al-Naba. The attack is dated 12 Rabi al-Awwal (21 November).
On the same day as the boat attack in Diyala, IS struck Federal police stationed on the outskirts of Khanaqin with two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), killing a Lieutenant Colonel and wounding four others.
Al-Naba says that an IS sniper cut down a police officer in the village of Abu Karma, in the Waqf area, on 17 November. On the same day, a raid with small arms was carried out on al-Katun, west of Baquba, and Katyusha rockets were fired at Abu Sayda, north-east of Baquba towards Miqdadiya. IS also managed, says Al-Naba, to expel “the apostate al-Hashd al-Asha’iri” (the Tribal [Sunni] Hashd) from the village of Islah in Jalawla (a.k.a. Jalula) using five mortar shells.
The bottom-half of page four contains two shorter reports, indicative both of IS’s tactics and the progress of their guerrilla campaign.
First, there is a notice signed from IS’s Dijla (Tigris) area, about operations targeting IS’s Sunni opponents who have sided with the state, referred to as “al-Hashd al-Asha’iri”. A small-arms raid north of Shirqat and an IED attack on a convoy that killed three people in west Makhmur are reported for 16 November. The next day, two IEDs allegedly struck the Tribal Hashd in Tulul al-Baj, south-west of Shirqat, wounding five people. The village of Al-Shabali, near Shirqat, was raided on 19 November, and on 21 November there was an IED attack against Tribal Hashd forces in Hurriya al-Jadida, north of Shirqat.
Second, from Shamal Baghdad (North Baghdad) is a report on targeted assassinations of members of the security forces. On 18 November, Al-Naba reports that IS killed three members of the security forces in Al-Salman near Tarmiya (technically in the Saladin Governorate) with “silencer weapons”, and the day after IS demolished the home of a police officer in al-Mazari’a, a village in Saladin with the Yathrib district to the north-east, the Balad Airbase to the south-east, and Balad town to the west.
The assassination of Rahab Mahjub, the deputy commander of the 51st Brigade, in the centre of Tikrit on 20 November is claimed by IS on page five in a notice from “Wilayat Iraq – Saladin”. Another “apostate leader”, Khalaf Hamud, was reported killed in a bombing north of Bayji. IED attacks in the centre of Bayji and east of Tikrit on the road between Baghdad and Mosul were reported for 19 and 20 November, respectively. Separately, in the former “Wilayat al-Kirkuk”, IS laid claim to a series of bombings on 16, 17, and 20 November, against moving convoys of Tribal Hashd and Federal police south of Daquq and around Hawija, notably to the east, as well as an attack on a barracks in Kifah, al-Riyad.
Moving into “Wilayat al-Sham” (Syria), page six covers a series of sniper attacks in “Al-Baraka”, the zone that used to include parts of Hasaka and Deir Ezzor provinces, and now includes mostly the area around Hajin. Al-Naba says that IS cut down four soldiers from the Asad regime in and around Al-Bukamal between 16 and 19 November. In “Al-Khayr”, Deir Ezzor, IS’s security detachments (al-mafariz al-amniya) are said to have cut down four operatives of the PKK—the Coalition partner force that calls itself the “Syrian Democratic Forces” or SDF—and wounded two others in two separate small-arms attacks, one on a checkpoint. North of Shadadi, an SDF/PKK convoy was struck with an IED. The page finishes with a roundup of attacks on the regime in Suwayda and PKK in Raqqa; on a liquor store in Mosul; and killing seven Philippine soldiers in the “East Asia” province.
Page seven includes, as well as the write-up on Nigeria, a notice from Egypt about a series of small-arms attacks and IEDs, against bulldozers and soldiers near Al-Arish and Rafah in the Sinai.
A theological essay on the “Fruits Yielded for Those Who Do Good Works” takes up page eight, and page nine is a long screed on the need “[Not to] Abandon the Qur’an”, and the example of the prior faiths—Christianity and Judaism—given a revelation by God that they then corrupted.
An essay, entitled, “The Military Situation for the Prophetic State (al-Dawlat al-Nabawiya)”, fills out page ten. It opens with a quote from Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir) on conducting jihad, the path to paradise, and rooting out hypocrites (munafiqun). The article goes on, larded with Hadith and Qur’anic quotes, to suggest how IS might act in the tradition of the Quraysh, to combat the mushrikeen (idolaters or polytheists) and defend their state.
Al-Naba concludes, as always, with its “Events this Week” section on page eleven, mentioning:
- The clashes between Turkey’s rebel dependencies in Efrin;
- A joint notice about Russia’s claim that Turkey isn’t separating jihadists from rebels quickly enough in Idlib and the U.S. announcement of “observation points” along Turkey’s border to protect the SDF/PKK statelet in north-east Syria;
- The increased attacks by the pro-Asad coalition on the “de-escalation zone” worked out by Turkey and Russia on 17 September;
- The fires in California;
- Al-Naba acknowledged the 20 November stabbing in Belgium during French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit—including that the attacker “shout[ed] Allahu Akbar” and wounded one police officer—but did not claim it as an IS attack;
- The recent shootings in Chicago and Denver;
- The killing of forty people in an attack on at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the Central African Republic;
- And finally Al-Naba gloats over the study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which has gotten considerable play in the media, purporting to show that the War on Terror has failed, given that jihadists have now reached seventy countries and have up to 230,000 members, more than four times the numbers they had in 2001.
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 There are considerable questions over the study—not least that the 230,000 number is the high-end estimate; the low-end estimate is 100,000. Boiled down, however, there are two primary issues.
First, the study’s definition of jihadi-Salafism. The inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and the Taliban is part of an ongoing dispute that one could go either way on. The inclusion of other groups are deeply questionable, notably Jamaat Ansar al-Furqan fi Bilad al-Sham as a separate entity to Tandheem Hurras al-Deen. And, finally, there is the inclusion of other groups, notably Jaysh al-Islam, a Salafi rebel group, that are clearly in error.
Second, what is argued to be a “paradigmatic” shift of jihadists from small, clandestine international terrorist groups to insurgent armies and even statelets that harbour international terrorists. Because of this, the numbers alone are not a very useful indicator of the threat level, goes the argument, not without some disaggregation—Are we most worried about a strengthening trend that could topple friendly governments? Or the international terrorism?
In fact, allowing the jihadi trend to strengthen in the region—and potentially capture states—will lead to a greater, and more difficult to counter, international terrorism threat later. So, the distinction is somewhat academic. There is no doubt that the weight of the jihadi movement has shifted towards insurgency of late, but this is a matter of emphasis not category: during the 1990s, according to the 9/11 Commission Report (p. 67), between 10,000 and 20,000 jihadists were trained in guerrilla warfare at al-Qaeda’s camps in Taliban Afghanistan, going on to participate in local insurgencies in Algeria, Bosnia, and Chechnya, among other places.