Over the past week, two members of the Islamic State (IS) have been arrested—a rarity in itself during the Coalition campaign against the group—and both in different ways give a glimpse of archetypes that have made up the organisation, from its inception to its expansion into Syria. Continue reading
Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcotics trafficking entity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.
This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading
Book Review: Carter Malkasian, ‘Illusions of Victory’, Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 280.
Carter Malkasian sets out in Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State to upend the conventional understanding of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) movement, known at the time as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in Anbar province of western Iraq. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading
The Iraqi Kurdish authorities arrested Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan (Hassan Ghul) on 23 January 2004. Khan had been dispatched to Iraq by Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), one of the key military officials of al-Qaeda “central” (AQC), to function as AQC’s intermediary with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State movement. Khan replaced Abdallah al-Kurdi, the first envoy sent by Abdulbaqi. Al-Kurdi had failed to establish any footing to do his job effectively, but Khan, a battle-hardened jihadist from Baluchistan, earned a measure of respect from al-Khalayleh and facilitated a productive conversation between AQC and al-Khalayleh. Al-Khalayleh, possessed of a pathological anti-Shi’ism, wrote a seventeen-page memo to Usama bin Ladin explaining his strategy to defeat the Americans by starting a total war between the sects in Iraq. That memo, in digital form, was given to Khan, and Khan had it in his possession when he was captured. The letter was translated and publicized by the State Department, and is reproduced below with minor editions for clarity and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on 25 September, and voted overwhelmingly—with nearly 93% in favour—for independence. The comparison with Brexit might have been overworked by all sides, but there was a familiarity: while the result itself was not a shock, the fact of the referendum itself came as a surprise to many in what one might call the global elite, which lectured in that endearing way that had such success in deterring Brits a year ago. Then as now, the effect was, if anything, to stoke the bloody-mindedness of a population that had considerable qualms but had enough pride to repudiate being harangued in those accents. Still, as with Brexit, it wasn’t as if the naysayers didn’t have a case, and now comes the really difficult work. Continue reading
By recent reports, one could easily come away with the impression that war and instability across the Fertile Crescent are winding down. Predictions about what comes next, always a risky enterprise in the Middle East, are at a point of unique vulnerability. Chaos and violence for some considerable time to come look like a safe bet, though the timing and scale look more uncertain. Nonetheless, certain trendlines are visible, most clearly the emergence of a regional order, abetted by the international coalition’s campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) has escalated a campaign of global terrorism over the past few years, exactly as it was losing overt control of territory. In 2016, IS consolidated a model of guiding and claiming attacks in the West and elsewhere via is media channel, Amaq. The outlines of this have long been known. Now there is significant new detail thanks to a four part reporting series in the German newspaper BILD by Björn Stritzel, who contacted Amaq and posed over many months—in consultation with Germany security agencies—as a potential terrorist. Continue reading
Within the next month, the Islamic State (IS) will likely lose its grip on its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and the operation to drive it from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, will begin. The destruction of IS’s caliphate, however, is not even close to the end of the road for the movement, not least because of the manner in which it is being accomplished.
At its core the IS movement is waging a revolutionary war, and as Craig Whiteside, a fellow with The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has explained, this means that the focus is on legitimacy. Military victories come and go but if IS is, over the long-term, gaining acceptance—whether from support, resignation, or fear—among the population it hopes to govern (the Sunni Arabs), then it is winning. It is for this reason that IS tries to embed political victories within its military defeats. Continue reading