Hudayfa al-Batawi was among the Iraqis who joined the Islamic State (IS) movement early after the fall of Saddam Husayn, having been a long-time Salafist extremist. Al-Batawi rose through the ranks and became the emir of Baghdad, involved in some of the worst attacks in that city in 2009 and 2010. Arrested in late 2010, al-Batawi was killed in a prison riot in 2011. Continue reading →
From the beginning of the uprising in Syria in 2011, there have been accusations that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was in a de facto partnership with the Islamic State (IS) against the mainstream opposition. These accusations have a considerable basis in fact: during the entirety of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq, Assad collaborated with IS jihadists in the destabilization of Iraq, killing thousands of Iraqi civilians and hundreds of American and British troops. Once the Syrian uprising was underway, the regime undertook various measures to bolster extremists in the insurgency. Assad and IS worked in tandem to leave Syria as a binary choice between themselves: Assad was sure this would rehabilitate him in the eyes of the world and transform his criminal regime into a partner of the international community in suppressing a terrorist insurgency, and IS wanted to rally Sunnis to its banner. The Secretary of the Syrian Parliament has now come forward to underline this. Continue reading →
The “Victory Arch,” which Saddam built after the war with Iran. (January 2012)
About three weeks ago I wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the evolution of Saddam Hussein’s regime away from the hard-secularism of its Ba’athist origins, and how this had prepared the ground for the Islamic State (IS). I received much positive feedback, but the social media reaction was inevitable: little thought and much anger, particularly from people who view Iraqi history through a political prism and felt I was trying to exculpate George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, the critique could hardly be called thoughtful. So it is nice to finally have such a critique to deal with, from Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in today’s Foreign Affairs. Continue reading →
By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 5, 2015 In the Guardian this morning, Jonathan Steele has written an article defending President Barack Obama’s Iran policy. Steele allows others to make his points for him, but he contributes to a narrative in which rapprochement with Iran is a worthy policy—even as the President formally denies that the Iran negotiations are about anything other than the nuclear-weapons program. Steele writes:
In Iraq, [Iranian officials] insist, Iran is a force for stability, helping [Iraqi prime minister] Haider al-Abadi’s government militarily while urging it to be more attentive to Sunni concerns—just as Washington is.
This is nonsense. In 2008, after the US ‘surge’, violence in Iraq was down 90 per cent, and the political process had begun to work. This was achieved by separating the Sunni Arab tribes of western Iraq from al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM), the forerunner to the Islamic State (ISIS).
To hear President Obama tell it, his announced program to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), which began with airstrikes into Iraq last August that were extended into Syria in September, is working, albeit with some tactical setbacks. The implication is that the setbacks of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign are not strategic.
In the Washington vernacular, the act of Being Strategic implies a near mystical quality of superior thinking possessed by some, and clearly lacking amongst the vulgarians of the world—heedless brutes such as ISIL. Tactics are short-term ploys, easy to dismiss. Strategy is for winners.
Unfortunately, this soothing view is almost exactly wrong: it is the United States that is relying on various short-term methods—commando raids into the Syrian desert, for example—while ISIS has a long-term goal fixed in mind and is working assiduously to achieve it. The U.S.-led Coalition is losing, in short, and ISIS is winning. Continue reading →
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of an offensive on March 1 to dislodge the Islamic State (ISIS) from Salah ad-Din Province. Abadi announced that this would be led by the Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shabi, known in English as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), the militias composed overwhelmingly of Shi’ites and directed by Iran.
While the offensive seems to be winding down, it is not over. ISIS is out of ad-Dawr/Dour and al-Awja, south of Tikrit, and Albu Ajeel to the east. Al-Alam to the north seems to still be contested. On March 10, ISIS was driven out of al-Qadissiya, a northern district of Tikrit City. On March 11, the anti-ISIS forces entered Tikrit City, “inched closer to the city center … and took up positions in a military hospital, the police academy and the traffic police headquarters … Forces in southern districts took over three palaces erected by former dictator Saddam Hussein”. Continue reading →
This is the fourth of a four-part series looking at the United States’ increasingly-evident de facto alliance with Iran in the region. The first part looked at the way this policy has developed since President Obama took office and how it has been applied in Iraq; the second part looked at the policy’s application in Syria; the third part looked at its application in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Yemen; and this part is a conclusion.Continue reading →
Book Review: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (2015) Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan
ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, is brilliantly easy to read. Concise yet thorough the book charts the history of a group, “[a]t once sensationalized and underestimated,” that is simultaneously a terrorist organisation, mafia, conventional army, sophisticated intelligence-gathering apparatus, propaganda machine and the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime which controls an area the size of Britain in the heart of the Middle East. Continue reading →
When the next—and supposedly final—round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program end next month, there are three possible outcomes:
The “interim” deal, the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), will be rolled over for another six months after it was rolled over in July, and will, like so much else in the Middle East billed as temporary, begin to look permanent.
A final deal is signed that is an Iranian victory in all-but name, putting them on the threshold of a nuclear weapon with only the regime’s goodwill stopping them crossing the finishing line to a bomb.
Iran’s dictator, Ali Khamenei, refuses President Obama both of the above fig leaves and breaks off negotiations.
An opposition poster showing Assad and the Islamic State as two sides of the same coin
On August 25, Bashar al-Assad’s Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem, said: “Syria is ready for co-operation … to fight terrorism.” The week before Assad’s PR guru, Bouthaina Shaaban, told CNN that an “international coalition,” including Russia, China, America, and Europe, should intervene to defeat the “terrorists,” whom she says make up the rebellion in Syria.
Back in March I wrote a long post laying out the evidence that the Assad regime was deliberately empowering then-ISIS, now the Islamic State (IS), helping it destroy moderate rebels and even Salafist and Salafi-jihadist forces, with the intention of making-good on its propaganda line that the only opposition to the regime came from takfiris, which would frighten the population into taking shelter behind the State, seeing this madness as the only alternative, and would at the very least keep the West from intervening to support the uprising and might even draw the West in to help defeat the insurgency. These statements represent the culmination of that strategy. Continue reading →