The 170th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State (IS) newsletter, was produced on 21 February 2019. Its main editorial on page 3 focused on the organisation’s apparent “inability to surrender”.
The first paragraph of the piece is striking:
Whoever follows the Crusader media these days finds a strange unanimity from their leaders and experts that the Islamic State remains (baqiya).
Al-Naba 170 points to the “pessimistic expectations” of the Pentagon, specifically the 4 February Defence Department Inspector General Report, which said that within six to twelve months IS could “regain limited territory”.
Al-Naba gloats over the Western “failure to defeat the Islamic State on the doctrinal aspect (al-janb al-aqaidi)”, or ideological war. IS has something of a point about this, as it does when claiming that the U.S.-led coalition had been unable to “defeat the souls of the mujahideen”. IS’s will to fight clearly has not been broken.
Despite the wounds suffered, says Al-Naba, the jihadists will continue their long war of attrition or exhaustion (inhak) and in doing so will attract new recruits to their banner that permit recovery within a short period of time. Al-Naba adds:
The other thing that the polytheists (or idolaters; al-mushrikun) recognise as a major weak point of their war plan [against] the Islamic State is the inability of any of the apostate armies in the region to stand up in the face of [a challenge from] the caliphate soldiers if the crusader armies discontinued providing significant air support, which means that the crusader armies have to continue in an endless war against the monotheists (fi harb la mutahiya dudd al-muwahideen), or expect the collapse of the apostate armies in just months if they decide to leave the battlefield.
This is not mere propaganda.
The governing apparatuses in eastern Syria, the Asad/Iran system on the west bank of the Euphrates and the (for now) U.S.-underwritten PKK regime on the other side, are each remarkably brittle, with minimal local legitimacy. Whenever IS has chosen to publicly challenge them—whether, for example, it was the pro-Asad coalition in late 2017 or the SDF/PKK a year later—it has succeeded alarmingly well. Moreover, at the point of contact between these two structures, in the Syria-Iraq border area, IS is finding spaces to move, despite efforts from Baghdad (and Iran) to bridge the gap.
In Iraq, a raging insurgency is challenging the state across vast swathes of the centre of the country, though for now the larger urban centres are proving generally resistant to the jihadists—a trend that can be glimpsed in the increased use of women to carry messages and perform other logistical tasks. The major exception is probably Kirkuk, another instance, as in eastern Syria, where IS found room between competing political entities. Kirkuk has been nominally under the control of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) since October 2017, when an Iranian-led operation expelled the armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the transition of authority has been anything-but smooth.
Al-Naba says that “the crusaders exaggerate [IS’s] strength and numbers to justify their failure in the war against them”. This is presumably a reference to the extraordinary claims of IS’s remaining size.
In an August 2018 United Nations report, a report by the Pentagon Inspector General that same month, and another from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in November 2018, it was said that IS has between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters remaining to it—roughly the same number as the group was believed to have at the height of its power. (The Pentagon said IS had 15,500 to 17,100 fighters in Iraq and 14,000 in Syria.) These figures are almost certainly far too high, as are the claims that 40,000 foreigners joined IS and that as late as October 2018 there were 100 new volunteers coming into Syria per month. These estimates seem to be mostly related to the Coalition’s messaging strategy, which relies heavily on the foreign fighters for legitimacy when explaining the campaign to domestic Western audiences.
The jihadists do not need physical strength, rather “preserving the creed (aqeeda) of the Islamic State and its methodology” is what will assure victory for God’s sake, according to Al-Naba. As proof of this, IS cites its expansion abroad during the last 55 months, and again this cannot be denied. From West Africa to Egypt to Afghanistan, the foreign wilayats have been growing increasingly powerful and increasingly obviously under the control of the “centre” as IS operatives have moved from “Syraq” to simultaneously be sheltered by, and to fortify, these insurgencies.
“The biggest victory for the Islamic State … is that the enemy recognises its inability to [achieve] victory over it, despite … its formation of the largest military alliance known to history”, Al-Naba boasts. “The most it could do is turn the lands ruled by shari’a into piles of rubble” and then hand these devastated areas over to disbelievers.
The Islamic State has not surrendered and the war is not over, Al-Naba says at the start of its peroration. “The banner (raya) of the Islamic State remains, by the grace of God Almighty, and its war against the polytheists [continues its] expansion (tatamadad) and [will] spread (amtidad) until the earth is ruled by the law of the Lord of the worshippers” and IS’s enemies are weakened, dispersed, and afflicted by mounting desperation and despair. This is an interesting alteration of the old slogan, baqiya wa tatamadad (remaining and expanding), away from meaning physical territory, doubtless to help IS’s propaganda better align with the current circumstances. Al-Naba concludes: America is trying to pass the task of defeating IS to its allies, but they will fare no better against the united believers of IS.