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
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
Published at The Telegraph
The “defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIL), signified by its eviction from Mosul in July, its impending loss of Raqqa, and an apparent resurgence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seemed to augur a new era of stability for the Middle East. The jihadists would be gone and Iranian-backed governments in Syria and Iraq consolidated.
True, Assad murdering those who resisted him with poison gas and concentration camps, and hiding the evidence by installing crematoria, would nag at our conscience. But foreign policy is a cold-blooded business and it has been decreed that ISIL is the greatest—really the only—threat emanating from the region.
It would not be justice, but it would be peace. Or something like that. Continue reading
For the second March in a row, the Islamic State (IS) was driven from control of Palmyra this week in an operation led by Iranian ground forces and supported by Russian airstrikes—the actual instruments of power that remain to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The primary interest this time is that the United States-led international anti-IS coalition and its Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR) provided crucial assistance to the regime. Continue reading
In September 2014, Kuwait undertook a series of raids against terrorists loyal to the Islamic State (IS). It was found by authorities that one of the “great influence[s]” over the jihadi-Salafists in Kuwait was Abdulmuhsin al-Taresh (Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti). Al-Taresh was an important propagandist-recruiter for IS at this time, and would later become a senior military official. He was killed near IS’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, by the U.S.-led Coalition at the end of December. Continue reading
Syria has broken down as a functioning entity. There were some who saw in the takeover of Aleppo City last month by the coalition of states and militias that supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime the beginning of the end of the war. The pro-Assad coalition will make further territorial gains in 2017, but peace—even the peace of the graveyard—is still a long way off, and unlikely to ever arrive while Assad remains in power. The West, unwilling and apparently unable to remove him, nonetheless has vital interests in Syria that cannot be outsourced and must be secured by navigating a fragmented state. Continue reading
Published at The New ArabContinue reading
Published at The International Business Times
The Islamic State (IS) is supposed to be on its way to defeat. IS is under assault in Mosul and the operation to evict it from Raqqa began a month ago. Just this morning, Turkish-backed rebel forces in Syria have reportedly pierced IS’s defences in al-Bab, IS’s most important city outside of its twin capitals. But on Sunday, after a four-day offensive, IS seized Palmyra. How to explain this? Continue reading
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society
The Islamic State (IS) is nominally under attack now in its twin capitals, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. This is necessary task, of course, but, as I’ve written repeatedly over the last few months, clearing IS from its urban centres is not sufficient. IS lost its overt urban holdings once before and nonetheless rebuilt in the deserts between 2008 and 2013, rising again to seize increasingly-large tracts of territory that were eventually declared a caliphate. IS was able to do this because of the success of its long-term method of war-making, and political changes in Baghdad—toward greater sectarianism and authoritarianism—that gave it more space to manoeuvre. The flaws in the strategy and partners the U.S.-led international Coalition have chosen to eliminate IS are creating a situation in which what will be called “victory” is really the resetting of the cycle. More evidence of this has recently come to the fore. Continue reading
The ancient city of Palmyra and the inhabited adjoining town of Tadmor was conquered by the armed forces of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and a consortium of foreign Shi’a jihadists, some of them designated terrorist organizations, and all of them led by the Quds Force, the external operations wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), itself a listed terrorist entity.
While the takeover of Palmyra by the Islamic State (IS) in May 2015 was considered by almost everybody a negative development, the pro-Assad coalition’s capture of the city under the cover of 900 indiscriminate Russian airstrikes has been called “a good thing” by no less an authority than the United States Department of Defence. It was little surprise among that Robert Fisk echoed this sentiment; it was more surprising that Boris Johnson did.
The basic case for regarding Palmyra’s fall to the pro-Assad coalition as a positive development is that, to quote Johnson, “no matter how repulsive the Assad regime may be … their opponents in [IS] are far, far worse,” and this defeat for IS moves Syria closer to peace.
There is nothing in this formulation that stands up to scrutiny. Continue reading