Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Local And Regional Implications From The Fall Of Idlib

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 31, 2015

Statue of Hafez al-Assad defaced after Idlib City falls, March 29, 2015

Statue of Hafez al-Assad defaced after Idlib City falls, March 29, 2015

After an insurgent offensive began on March 24, Idlib City fell on March 29, making it only the second—of Syria’s fourteen—provincial capitals to slip from the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the last one being Raqqa City on March 4, 2013. The regime has been on borrowed time in Idlib City since Wadi al-Deif to the south, near Maarat an-Numan, fell in mid-December.

In a scene reminiscent of Raqqa—and indeed the fall of Baghdad—a statue of Hafez al-Assad was destroyed. The insurgents broke open some secret prisons, while finding that in a final act of needless cruelty the regime had murdered other prisoners in the cells before retreating.

An operations room, Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), organised this offensive, and is composed of: Faylaq a-Sham (Sham Legion), Liwa al-Haq, Ajnad a-Sham, Jaysh al-Sunna, Ahrar a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa (JAA), and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat an-Nusra. Continue reading

A Red Line For Iran’s Imperialism In Yemen

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 27, 2015

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Late in the day on March 25, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen with airstrikes against the Houthis.

The Iranian-backed Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah) took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September, and forced the resignation of the Saudi-backed Yemeni ruler, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in January. Hadi escaped house arrested in Sanaa and retreated to Aden with the remnants of his regime. On March 21, the Houthis had called for a “general mobilisation” and by the next day had pushed south toward Aden. The Houthis said they were combatting “terrorist forces”. As in Syria, Iran’s allied forces cast a narrative where there were no Sunni moderates, nobody with whom a deal might be struck.

Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose resignation was compelled in early 2012 after the “Arab Spring,” stands accused not only by Hadi but by the United States of supporting the Houthis. Continue reading

Defeat Jihadists in Syria by Being a Better Ally to the Opposition

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 25, 2015

A still  from the video announcing the Ahrar a-Sham-Suqour a-Sham merger

A still from the video announcing the Ahrar a-Sham-Suqour a-Sham merger

Ahrar a-Sham “merged with“—in reality annexed—Suqour a-Sham on March 22. Ahrar’s leader, Hashem al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Jabbar), is the leader of the Ahrar-Suqour formation, and Suqour’s leader, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Issa) is his deputy. Ahrar is the largest and most hardline Syrian insurgent group in Syria, and Suqour has a fairly stern Salafi-nationalist ideology—at least at its leadership level—and was once the largest rebel group in Idlib Province.

The first thing this brought to mind was Sam Heller’s witticism late last year: “the most successful, lasting approach to rebel unification so far has basically been ‘Ahrar al-Sham absorbs you’.” Continue reading

Amerli Shows The Futility Of Aligning With Iran To Defeat The Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 18, 2015

Badr Corp commander Hadi al-Ameri

Badr Corp commander Hadi al-Ameri

This morning Human Rights Watch released a report, “After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli.”

Amerli is a town of about 25,000 people, mostly Shi’a Turcomen, in the east of Saladin Province, close to Diyala Province, sixty miles from the Iranian border.

The Islamic State (ISIS) invaded Iraq from Syria, conquering Mosul on June 10, 2014, then swept across central Iraq into Diyala. In a situation not dissimilar to the Assad regime’s terror-sieges and ISIS surrounding of the Yazidis on Sinjar Mountain, ISIS imposed a siege on the population of Amerli on June 14.

By the time the Iraqi government forces and Hashd al-Shabi (a.k.a. the Popular Mobilization Units, PMUs), the Shi’ite militias that are largely Iran proxies, broke the siege on August 31, with the help of airstrikes from the American-led Coalition, “at least 15 civilians in Amerli, including newborn infants, had died from lack of food, water or medical treatment, and more than 250 children were suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration,” HRW reports. On Sept. 1, the militias and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) entered Amerli. Continue reading

Allowing Iran To Conquer Iraq Will Not Help Defeat The Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 15, 2015

Qassem Suleimani

Qassem Suleimani

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

Mohammed Emwazi’s Path To The Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 13, 2015

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Having written two posts on the overwhelming evidence that the British video-beheader of the Islamic State (ISIS), Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”), was a longstanding member of an al-Qaeda network in London that funnelled fighters and other resources to al-Shabab in Somalia, refuting the claim that Emwazi’s radicalisation came about after contact with British security services, I now want to offer the remaining available evidence we have on how Emwazi moved from these associations—which he made in 2007—to fighting for ISIS. Continue reading

Further Evidence of Mohammed Emwazi’s Radical Ties—And CAGE’s Meltdown

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 7, 2015

Asim Qureshi; Mohammed Emwazi (

Asim Qureshi; Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”)

Earlier this week I wrote of the unmasking of “Jihadi John,” the Islamic State’s (ISIS) video-beheader, as 26-year-old British citizen Mohammed Emwazi. I had two purposes. One was to gloat over the implosion of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), an Islamist terrorist-advocacy group that had gotten itself called a “human rights organisation“. And the second was to point out that the narrative peddled by CAGE and other apologists, that Emwazi had been radicalised by heavy-handed British security methods, was plainly absurd.

Emwazi had been associating with al-Qaeda agents and sympathisers and was part of a London-based network that dispatched fighters to al-Qaeda’s Somali branch al-Shabab years before he came into contact with the security services—indeed the security services had only taken an interest in Emwazi because he was already radicalised. In the last few days both of these trends have continued: CAGE’s total collapse moves closer and Emwazi’s known nefarious associations are multiplying. Continue reading