Islamic State Focuses on the Rival “Religion of Democracy” as its Insurgency Escalates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 25 May 2018

Al-Naba 132

The Islamic State released the 132nd edition of Al-Naba, its newsletter, on 18 May.

The first page of Al-Naba 132 is devoted to the battle in southern Damascus, which concluded on 21 May, between IS and the pro-regime coalition, and secondarily to the 27 Shaban (13 May) bombing attack on the Finance Department in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The Damascus battle continues on to page four and has been covered in greater detail elsewhere. The Jalalabad attack, coverage of which continues on page eight, was a suicide atrocity, IS explains, with 150 people killed or wounded. (Independent reports put the toll at ten dead and forty wounded). “The media office of Wilayat al-Khorasan [the Afghan province] said that martyred brother Talha al-Khorasani—may God accept him—blew up his car bomb in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance”, according to Al-Naba, and this allowed “the brothers Usama al-Kashmiri, Abu Bakr al-Afridi, and Abdullah al-Khorasani—may God accept them—to get inside the headquarters of the ministry, where they engaged in violent clashes with police and the army and intelligence service”. This lasted over four hours, Al-Naba reports.

The second page consists of infographics about recent IS attacks.

Khamzat Azimov (AFP/Getty Images)

Page three reiterates IS’s claim of the 12 May knife attack near the Garnier opera house in Paris that killed one person and wounded four, though interestingly Al-Naba says that Azimov killed two and wounded eight. As Al-Naba notes, the sourcing comes from Amaq, and the suspect was named as Khamzat Azimov, a young man of Chechen origins. Azimov was “a soldier of the caliphate” (jund al-khilafat), who “carried out the attack in response to calls [by the Islamic State] for targeting the countries of al-tahaluf al-salibi [the crusader alliance]”. Azimov is counted among IS’s “martyrs”, Al-Naba concludes.

Next on page three is an item on IS’s IED attacks, ambushes, and sticky bomb assassinations against the federal police, security forces, and al-Hashd al-Shabi, the Iranian-controlled Shi’a militias that are now integrated into the state. The attacks described, and the concurrent capture of ghanima (war booty), occurred between 14 and 16 May in Ninawa province in Iraq, among the areas where IS has documented the escalation of its insurgent operations.

Finally on page three, as so often, is what one might call the feature essay of the issue. In this case it is a diatribe against democracy, which IS considers a separate religion, a deviance that elevates man-made laws into areas that are God’s exclusive realm and in doing so sets up partners in worship to the Almighty, a grave sin, a form of shirk (idolatry, polytheism), which in IS’s interpretation of the shari’a takes the offender beyond the bounds of the faith. This is a repetition to some degree of an essay in Al-Naba 130 earlier this month, though IS slightly broadens the aperture from Iraq to set itself in historical terms and to include Saudi Arabia and Yemen in its indictment of impious rule. Al-Naba also gloats about the low turnout in the Iraqi election on 12 May, something IS naturally takes credit for.

Page five is a combination of the preceding two themes: an extended catalogue of guerrilla and terrorist attacks against the Iraqi state framed in terms of disrupting a democratic process that in IS’s rendering tramples the strictures of the faith.

Page six continues from page five, with particular reference to Diyala, the confessionally-mixed province that was once—and is showing signs again—of being a centre of IS’s insurgency, assisted at the present time by the sectarian domination of the area by Iran’s agents. The other item on page six is a celebration of attacks on the “Rafida”, a bigoted term for Shi’is, referring in this case to the Hashd. IS is especially proud of a 9 May car bomb in Taji, north of Baghdad, which it says killed fifty-one Hashd militiamen. IS also claims a smaller attack near Tarmiya that killed four members of the Hashd on 11 May and an assassination near Taji of a colonel working for the Interior Ministry, an institution dominated by the Badr Corps, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ oldest instrument in Iraqi affairs.

Page seven is about IS attacks on the Hashd in the Busayd area east of Tikrit and al-Mutassem east of Samarra in the Saladin province on 11 and 12 May, which allegedly killed dozens, plus raids around Bayji. Attacks on the Hashd near Tal Afar are reported by Al-Naba between 10 and 13 May.

In addition to the Jalalabad attack, page eight contains a celebration of the attacks in Surabaya in Indonesia, where three churches and a police station were struck on consecutive days a fortnight ago by families of suicide bombers loyal to IS.

Page nine records IS attacks in Anbar province and Baghdad against polling stations, supposedly on election day itself. “The mujahideen set out to thwart this election by all means in Mesopotamia in general, and the areas of the Sunnis in particular”, Al-Naba says. Farms belonging to anti-IS tribes near Falluja are reported to have been destroyed, and IS records continuing harassing attacks against the pro-Asad forces in al-Bukamal, with mortars and RPGs, as well as snipers, killing or wounding half-a-dozen members of “the Nusayri army” between 13 and 16 May. Foreign attacks are reported in Arish, Egypt, where IEDs were detonated against security forces on 14 and 15 May. IS also claimed to have assassinated an employee of Somalia’s intelligence service in Mogadishu on 14 May, a claim that appears to be separate from the 7 May assassination at Bakara market, for which IS provided footage.

Page ten provides theological guidance on matters such as eating, drinking, and donating blood during Ramadan

Page eleven is the “Events of the Week” section, where Al-Naba has four items.

The first is on Russia’s continued involvement in Syria and the ever-weakening rebellion. IS noted that Russian ruler, Vladimir Putin, had said his military vessels remain on alert in the Mediterranean, and that the Sahwat (Awakening), as IS refers to the Syrian opposition, had been defeated in areas of Homs and Hama, and now deported from Homs. Al-Naba even notes that this makes a total of 110,000 people who have been forcibly displaced in the last two months, as reported by the United Nations. IS is further displeased with Turkey for setting up observation points under the Astana process and trying to disband Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former al-Qaeda group. Whether Turkey is able to integrate reconcilable elements of HTS into a National Army or the pro-Asad coalition launches an offensive into “Greater Idlib”, the zone will fall as part of the Turkey-Iran-Russia conspiracy and “the Nusayri regime will achieve its strategic objectives”. The section then somewhat jaggedly concludes with two items that were in the news just as Al-Naba went to print: the confirmation that the regime used chemical weapons in Saraqib and the Asad regime’s ongoing struggle for manpower.

The second item is on the violence in Gaza. It might be expected that IS would unmask a polemical broadside at Israel, but in fact IS has three short paragraphs in which it says jaysh al-yahudi (the Jewish army) “killed 58 Palestinians and wounded dozens during protests in the Gaza Strip as the crusader United States opened its Embassy to the Jews in occupied Jerusalem”. Al-Naba then quotes the Gaza health ministry on the scale of the casualties, and noted that the U.S. view was that HAMAS was responsible for the deaths, while Israel had been engaged in self-defence. IS offers no judgement of its own on the matter. This is rather in-keeping with IS’s approach. Back in December, in Al-Naba 109, IS used the announcement of the U.S. Embassy moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to launch a fierce assault on the legitimacy of other Islamists, principally HAMAS.

The third and fourth items in Al-Naba’s weekly news section are wholly unpolitical—deaths caused by storms in India and New York—and there is no attempt to make them political by, for instance, claiming this is God’s punishment on disbelieving Hindus and Christians.

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