Author Archives: KyleWOrton

About KyleWOrton

My name is Kyle Orton. I did a degree in zoology but found that my interests shifted from biology to politics and history, and especially to the Greater Middle East and the world of Islam. I have just finished a social science Masters in Humanitarian Studies at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine that comprises elements of geopolitics, history, and practical skills in running a humanitarian program, the logical end-point of which would be work with a non-governmental organisation. I have travelled quite widely, especially in Eastern Europe having been to all the old Soviet satellite States except Romania, and in the Balkans—Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. I have also been to Turkey and Israel, took part in a voluntary course (teaching) in Kenya, and worked in Lebanon for my Masters on the healthcare system for the Syrian refugees. Having long been interested in the Arab world, and especially in ways that it might be reformed, I was very interested when the rebellions came to that region at the end of 2010, and followed the course of this “Arab Spring” from its inception. The carnage in Syria and its obvious importance for that whole region have made the subject my primary focus. I can be found on Twitter (@KyleWOrton)

U.S. Treasury Targets Al-Qaeda in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 24, 2017

The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two senior operatives associated with al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS). This is undoubtedly part of the escalating campaign against AQS. The two men are interesting on their own account, however, and give a glimpse at some of the things that have shaped jihadism across the Fertile Crescent. In the one case, that of Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, better-known as Iyad al-Tubaysi or Abu Julaybib, this history begins with the earliest days of the Islamic State (IS), from which AQS splintered, in Iraq before Saddam Husayn was deposed. The other case, that of Bassam al-Hasri (Abu Umar al-Filistini), highlights the events at the outset of the Syrian uprising, when the regime of Bashar al-Assad set in motion its strategic plan to militarize and radicalize the nascent insurgency in order to present the population and the world a binary choice—the dictator or a terrorist takeover. Continue reading

The Need for Caution in Releasing Guantanamo Inmates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 21, 2017

Ronald Fiddler (Abu Zakariya al-Britani)

Ronald Fiddler (Abu Zakariya al-Britani)

Since the offensive against Mosul, the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State (IS), began five months ago, IS has expended a high number of lives quite deliberately in suicide attacks. One of the suicide-attacks conducted on 20 February 2017, a car bombing against an Iraqi base, was by Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a British citizen now identified as Ronald Fiddler from Manchester. In 2002, Fiddler, then calling himself Jamal Udeen al-Harith, was sent to Guantanamo Bay, before being released in 2004 while still protesting his innocence. After suing the British government over his imprisonment, Fiddler received a substantial cash settlement in order to avoid compromising state secrets. Fiddler’s demise invites some revisiting of widely-held assumptions surrounding Guantanamo. Continue reading

Testimony of an American Fighter with the Syrian Kurds

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 18, 2017

1

In November 2016, an American, named only as “Brennan,” who had fought alongside the Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), spoke to “Kraut and Tea,” a German atheist YouTuber. Brennan provided some interesting details on the governance methods, ideology, and capabilities of the YPG. Continue reading

Life under the Kurdish YPG in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2017

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Four days ago, Chapo Trap House, a Left-wing politics and humour podcast, hosted Brace Belden, known to Twitter as “PissPigGranddad,” a 27-year-old from San Francisco who has joined the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was very interesting and informative on the state of play in northern Syria.

The YPG is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) front of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The most amusing part of the interview is Belden’s formal maintenance that the YPG, while fraternal comrades to the PKK and admirers of their ideology, have absolutely no organizational links at all, while at the same time letting the audience in on the fact that the YPG and indeed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition that it controls are parts of the PKK structure. Belden describes joining the YPG by first linking up with the PKK at its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, before being spirited across the border into Syria.

Belden gives a very interesting glimpse of the YPG’s method of governance. The YPG calls its rule “libertarian socialism,” says Belden, but it’s “pretty much a Stalinist state”. Belden describes the ascetic nature of the true believers in the PKK’s ideology—of which he, clearly, is not one—and the collectivized nature of life. Among other things, everyone is subjected to struggle sessions of the kind associated with Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading

The Islamic State Explains Its Secret To Success

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 11, 2017

2016-12-20-wilayat-dijla-tigris-4

On 28 September 2008, the emir of the Islamic State’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), released an audio statement, his twelfth such, entitled, “The Promise Of God”. An English version of al-Zawi’s speech was released by the Islamic State and is reproduced below with some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading

Leader of New Al-Qaeda Group in Syria Speaks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 9, 2017

hashem-al-shaykh-2

After a series of intra-insurgent clashes beginning on 19 January 2017 in northern Syria, al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), annexed several groups and clerics—and a number more since—on 28 January in a merger that took on the name Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). JFS followed the pattern of its parent branch, the Islamic State, and did not monopolize the leadership posts in HTS, leaving the emir post to Hashem al-Shaykh (Abu Jabbar). Al-Shaykh is a former senior official of Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group that also has links to al-Qaeda and has been the primary bridge between the mainstream rebellion in Syria and al-Qaeda. Al-Shaykh gave his first speech as General Leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham on 9 February, and Bilad al-Sham Media put out a transcript (reproduced below) and picture (above). Continue reading

Pro-Al-Qaeda Ideologue on Merging With Non-Jihadi Groups

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 5, 2017

Abdallah al-Muhaysini at a rally for Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, 3 February 2017

Abdallah al-Muhaysini at a rally for Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, 3 February 2017

On 28 January, as a part of its long-term strategy of integrating with, and ultimately co-opting, the Syrian rebellion, al-Qaeda shifted ground again and merged into a wider spectrum of insurgent groups, many of them jihadi in character, but many not, united under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). One of the non-jihadi groups to join HTS was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which became infamous in July 2016 after it beheaded one of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s child soldiers on video. This has aroused some controversy in jihadi circles, and today a statement by a jihadi ideologue, Abu Mahmud al-Filistini, who lives in London, was circulating explaining why HTS was right to take in al-Zengi. The statement was entitled, “Clearing the Doubts Regarding Nooradeen al-Zengi Uniting with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and is reproduced below. Continue reading