Category Archives: Iraq

Reviewing the Iraqi Surge and Awakening

Book Review: Carter Malkasian, ‘Illusions of Victory’, Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 280.

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 4 July 2018

Carter Malkasian sets out in Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State to upend the conventional understanding of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) movement, known at the time as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in Anbar province of western Iraq. Continue reading

Don’t Celebrate the Fall of Raqqa Just Yet

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 October 2017

Raqqa city has been destroyed (image source)

The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading

Iraqi Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum and the West’s Middle East Strategy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 September 2017

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on 25 September, and voted overwhelmingly—with nearly 93% in favour—for independence. The comparison with Brexit might have been overworked by all sides, but there was a familiarity: while the result itself was not a shock, the fact of the referendum itself came as a surprise to many in what one might call the global elite, which lectured in that endearing way that had such success in deterring Brits a year ago. Then as now, the effect was, if anything, to stoke the bloody-mindedness of a population that had considerable qualms but had enough pride to repudiate being harangued in those accents. Still, as with Brexit, it wasn’t as if the naysayers didn’t have a case, and now comes the really difficult work. Continue reading

Coalition Risks Replacing the Islamic State With the Islamic Republic

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 14 September 2017

By recent reports, one could easily come away with the impression that war and instability across the Fertile Crescent are winding down. Predictions about what comes next, always a risky enterprise in the Middle East, are at a point of unique vulnerability. Chaos and violence for some considerable time to come look like a safe bet, though the timing and scale look more uncertain. Nonetheless, certain trendlines are visible, most clearly the emergence of a regional order, abetted by the international coalition’s campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Continue reading

The Fall of Islamic State’s Caliphate Won’t End the Foreign Attacks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 July 2017

Screenshots from the bay’a-martyrdom videos of: Riaz Khan Ahmadzai (Muhammad Riyad), Anis Amri, Mohammad Daleel (source)

The Islamic State (IS) has escalated a campaign of global terrorism over the past few years, exactly as it was losing overt control of territory. In 2016, IS consolidated a model of guiding and claiming attacks in the West and elsewhere via is media channel, Amaq. The outlines of this have long been known. Now there is significant new detail thanks to a four part reporting series in the German newspaper BILD by Björn Stritzel, who contacted Amaq and posed over many months—in consultation with Germany security agencies—as a potential terrorist. Continue reading

Coalition on the Verge of Repeating the Mistakes of the Past Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 May 2017

Within the next month, the Islamic State (IS) will likely lose its grip on its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and the operation to drive it from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, will begin. The destruction of IS’s caliphate, however, is not even close to the end of the road for the movement, not least because of the manner in which it is being accomplished.

At its core the IS movement is waging a revolutionary war, and as Craig Whiteside, a fellow with The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has explained, this means that the focus is on legitimacy. Military victories come and go but if IS is, over the long-term, gaining acceptance—whether from support, resignation, or fear—among the population it hopes to govern (the Sunni Arabs), then it is winning. It is for this reason that IS tries to embed political victories within its military defeats. Continue reading

Russia and Iran Use Terrorism Against Western Interests

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 25 April 2017

The evidence is mounting that Vladimir Putin’s government supports the Taliban as a means of thwarting NATO interests in Afghanistan. Russia has long manipulated terrorists, internally and abroad, to suit its policy aims, but as Moscow solidifies its relationship with the Iranian revolution the Russian policy, particularly in Syria, has become something more like a conventional alliance—not least because those who run Tehran’s foreign policy and the clerical regime’s most powerful assets are themselves terrorists. Continue reading