The Islamic State (IS) released the 152nd edition of Al-Naba, its weekly newsletter, on 18 October.
The main editorial on page 3 of Al-Naba 152 was entitled, “Atheist Kurds” (Mulahadat al-Akrad). The article begins, “The nations of infidelity in Syria fought the mujahideen and their state, aiming to eliminate them and annihilate their project of establishing the law of God and upholding His word”. But the lessons of Iraq were fresh in mind, so the Americans and their allies did not dare come down to the ground to confront IS and instead used an old trick, as old as the Persians and the Romans, of working through local apostates, who were made to bear the sacrifices in exchange for promises of illusory projects (i.e. Kurdistan) or money.
The Americans chose “the Kurdish atheists in Syria and their PKK party”, the faction “most distant from the religion”, and preyed on their hopes for a secular Kurdish state. From the outset of the Syrian war, says Al-Naba, the Kurds had tended to fight with “the militias of the Nusayri regime or the Awakening groups”. Nusayris (also known as Alawis) are the esoteric sect that Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s dictator, comes from, and which has is disproportionately represented in the security forces, and thus among the regime casualties. Awakening (or Sahwa) refers to the Sunni militias that turned on IS in Iraq and seemingly defeated it in 2007-8; the name has been applied by IS to the revolutionary groups in Syria, overwhelmingly Sunni Arab in composition, that stood against them.
Al-Naba then offers an explanation of one of the most mysterious incidents in IS’s history, namely the battle of Kobani in late 2014. Contrary to IS’s entire history of withdrawal from urban zones in the face of an overwhelming opponent (for more on this see here, here, here, here, and here), IS stood and fought, throwing wave after wave of fighters into the PKK-held city as the International Coalition appeared in the skies. By some counts IS, led largely by Kurdish jihadists in the Kobani battle it should be noted, lost 1,000 fighters. Why did IS do this?
Certainly the spectacle has always seemed to be part of the explanation: over ten days in October 2014, the U.S. switched its position, making Kobani the first test of the international intervention against IS and as such the battle became an international media sensation. Another motive appeared to be enabling IS to put down a marker as the vanguard of traditionalism—for Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomen alike—against the radical project of the PKK. Yet still there was no formal answer to this great exception to IS’s force-preservation tactics. Until now.
IS had reduced the PKK to a small holding before the forty-nation Coalition intervened, says Al-Naba (which is true), and likely the PKK’s defences would have been overrun without the airstrikes (also true). “The lions of Islam fought on for months under the heaviest and most brutal Crusader bombing”, says Al-Naba, only calling it quits once the city was devastated and IS taught “the Crusader enemies of God and their lackeys (adhnab, lit. ‘tails’) that the mujahideen are not an easy morsel (liqima)”.
After many years of fighting on multiple fronts, large parts of the zones of tamkin (lit. “empowerment”), those areas governed by IS’s theocracy, were lost to the “alliance of the cross” (hilf al-saleeb), spearheaded by the PKK, says Al-Naba, with these areas returning to disbelief and tyranny after God decreed that his slaves should withdraw, having done their best. What the PKK did not reckon with, Al-Naba contends, was the unreliability of the Americans and the steadfastness of the jihadists.
The recent past has shown that “victory from God is not far away”, Al-Naba concludes, and the “atheists’ day of retribution” is also close. Those who have sided with the Crusaders are doomed.
REST OF AL-NABA
The front page of Al-Naba 152 celebrates the launching of “large-scale attacks” in Wilayat al-Baraka (the Hasaka province in north-eastern Syria) against the PKK, the Coalition’s anti-IS partner, which goes under the name of the “Syrian Democratic Forces”. The description continues, at great length, on page 4. IS claims that it has attacked twenty barracks in Rif Hasaka (the countryside of that province), burning down seven of the barracks, while killing and injuring forty-five PKK fighters and capturing nine. There is a smaller, separate article on page 4 advertising IS’s “achievement” of blowing up a truck with ten PKK fighters in Shadadi and assassinating two more PKK operatives with small arms west of Shadadi.
The other major item on the front page is celebrating the attacks in Suwayda in south-east Syria against the “apostate Alawi army” (jaysh al-nusayri al-murtadi). While it is not fair to call Asad’s army an Alawi force, it is true that he has used the sect to stack the army at the senior levels and keep it loyal. This narrative of IS operations in rural Suwayda is continued onto page 3, where it is claimed sixty-five regime soldiers were killed.
Elsewhere, Al-Naba documents the killing of “dozens” of Iraqi security forces and Shi’i militiamen from al-Hashd al-Shabi around Tikrit and Bayji in north-centre Iraq, and similar targeted killings against the PKK in eastern Syria, specifically in al-Shuhail. There is also a discourse on the significance of ribat, frontline duty for jihadists.
The news items Al-Naba chooses to focus on are: the build-up of American sanctions on Iran; the protests in Tehran; the Turkish government’s release of Pastor Andrew Bruson; the beginning of the withdrawal of the “apostate” rebel factions from Idlib as part of the Turkey-Russia de-escalation agreement; the accidental American bombing of PKK forces in Hajin on 17 October; and the U.S.’s refusal to fund reconstruction in Syria while Iran remains in the country.