Published at The Arab Weekly
From May 26 to June 3, Iraq’s government sentenced to death 11 Islamic State operatives who had been captured in Syria. The novelty in the cases was that the Iraqis said the militants were French and ten of them were. The other was Tunisian.
The French government has made a pro forma protest against the death sentences but did nothing to impede the process. This is of a piece with the general approach European countries, including Britain, have taken to their citizens who joined jihadi groups in the Levant. Continue reading
The United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned ten targets today, targeting an “international network through which the Iranian regime, working with Russian companies, provides millions of barrels of oil to” Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and “[t]he Assad regime, in turn, facilitates the movement of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars (USD) to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF),” the expeditionary wing of Tehran’s spy-terrorist apparatus, “for onward transfer to HAMAS and Hizballah.” Continue reading
The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi, Abu Muhammad al-Iraqi, or Abd al-Ghani), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four individuals and five entities connected to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad on 6 September 2018. The most interesting was Muhammad al-Katerji, who has been involved in trade with the Islamic State (IS). A relative of his, Hussam al-Katerji, has previously been revealed as funding the jihadists on behalf of the regime, and the U.S. has previously sanctioned another Kremlin-linked Asad regime oligarch, George Haswani, for financing IS. “The United States will continue to target those who facilitate transactions with the murderous Asad regime and support ISIS”, said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Continue reading
Reuters reported on 11 October that Hussam al-Katerji, a member of Bashar al-Asad’s Syrian regime, has been engaged in trading wheat with the Islamic State (IS), helping supply the terrorists with resources to run their statelet and threaten the security of Syria’s neighbours and the wider world. This pattern of behaviour from the Asad regime—holding itself out as a counterterrorism partner, while it bolsters terrorist organizations—is well-established, and has its origins in the regime’s survival strategy: to destroy all acceptable opposition forces and make the Syrian war a binary contest between the dictatorship and terrorists. Continue reading
Watan FM, one of the free media outlets that sprang up in the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011 and which has since migrated to Turkey, reported on 17 March 2017 about the trade between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State. The article is reproduced below. Continue reading
Libya, which has been wracked by instability and violence since 2011, is re-emerging as a geopolitical hotspot. With opposing forces fighting for control of the war-torn country—the main two being the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA)—foreign powers have begun taking sides, internationalizing the conflict. For Western observers, the growing involvement of Russia, a major ally of LNA commander Khalifa Haftar, represents a particular concern.
Coming on the heels of the Russian military intervention in Syria, Moscow’s role in Libya’s civil war may seem, at first glance, like déjà vu. Once again, it appears that the Kremlin is working to consolidate the power of a pro-Russian regional strongman and establish a “crescent of Russian influence” across the Middle East. And given the similarities between Haftar and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some degree of anxiety is understandable. Like Assad, who has long appealed to foreign governments by referring to Syrian rebels as terrorists, Haftar often frames himself as a bulwark against violent extremism in Libya, where the Islamic State remains active and Islamists have formed powerful militias and entered mainstream politics. Continue reading
This morning, Russia ostensibly agreed to help the U.S. impose a ceasefire in Syria within a week—on the way to a negotiated settlement. This could not work right now, even if Russia intended it to. But Russia does not. Russia’s role since intervening in Syria in late September 2015 has been to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a primary tactic in that overarching strategic aim has been the attempt to destroy all opposition to Assad that the international community could possibly deal with, and to create a binary situation where there is only the regime and jihadi-Salafist terrorists, primarily the Islamic State (IS), and secondarily—in areas where they do not threaten key regime interests—Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda). Moscow will eventually turn on IS, but in the short-term Russia has engaged in indirect coordination with IS to weaken the rebels and push them out of key strategic areas, notably in eastern Aleppo where Russia bombed rebels out of the way who had been holding IS out for years. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported on another aspect of this Russia-IS collaboration that aims to empower the takfiris in the short-term as part of the long-term plan, also supported by Iran, to secure the Assad regime in power. Continue reading
Turkey concluded its biggest investigation to date into Islamic State (IS) operatives on its territory on Friday, and blacklisted sixty-seven people. This provides a good moment to review what Turkey’s role has been in the rise of IS, especially amid the escalating accusations from Russia that Turkey is significantly responsible for financing IS. The reality is that while Turkish policy has, by commission and omission, made IS stronger than it would otherwise have been, so has Russia’s policy—and Russia’s policy was far more cynical than Turkey’s, deliberately intended empower extremists to discredit the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s focus on bringing down Assad and Ankara’s fear of Kurdish autonomy led it into these policies and now—having seemingly found the will to act to uproot IS’s infrastructure on Turkish territory—there is the problem of actually doing so, when IS can (and has) struck inside Turkey. The concerns about these external funding mechanisms for IS, while doubtless important, obscure the larger problem: IS’s revenue is overwhelmingly drawn from the areas it controls and only removing those areas of control can deny IS its funds. Continue reading