The Iraqi Kurdish authorities arrested Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan (Hassan Ghul) on 23 January 2004. Khan had been dispatched to Iraq by Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), one of the key military officials of al-Qaeda “central” (AQC), to function as AQC’s intermediary with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State movement. Khan replaced Abdallah al-Kurdi, the first envoy sent by Abdulbaqi. Al-Kurdi had failed to establish any footing to do his job effectively, but Khan, a battle-hardened jihadist from Baluchistan, earned a measure of respect from al-Khalayleh and facilitated a productive conversation between AQC and al-Khalayleh. Al-Khalayleh, possessed of a pathological anti-Shi’ism, wrote a seventeen-page memo to Usama bin Ladin explaining his strategy to defeat the Americans by starting a total war between the sects in Iraq. That memo, in digital form, was given to Khan, and Khan had it in his possession when he was captured. The letter was translated and publicized by the State Department, and is reproduced below with minor editions for clarity and some interesting sections highlighted in bold.Continue reading →
Last night it was reported that al-Qaeda’s overall deputy, Abu Khayr al-Masri, had been killed by the U.S.-led Coalition in Syria with a drone strike. This was soon seeminglyconfirmed by pro-Qaeda channels, and Abu al-Khayr was said to have been buried this morning. Though the emphasis on targeting jihadist leaders can be overdone, the demise of Abu al-Khayr is an important development, and one with significance beyond itself.
Abu al-Khayr’s career is demonstrative of a few interesting trends within the Jihadi-Salafist movement, primary among them the willingness of the Iranian revolution to work with the Sunni jihadists, al-Qaeda very much included, when it suits its purposes, particularly in undermining Western interests. Abu al-Khayr also elucidates the changed nature of al-Qaeda, where the “centre” (AQC) could now be said to be more in Syria than the Afghanistan-Pakistan, and where al-Qaeda operates both an overt and covert presence to try to secure a durable foothold in the Levant, which might in time be a base for attacks against the West, currently suspended only for tactical reasons. Continue reading →
Adnan Ismail Najem al-Bilawi al-Dulaymi (Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi), the leader of the Islamic State’s Military Council when he was killed on the eve of the Mosul offensive that he had planned in June 2014, was eulogized by IS’s official spokesman, Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), explaining his importance to the organization. Below is a profile of al-Bilawi and the section of Falaha’s speech dedicated to al-Bilawi. Continue reading →
Umar Hadid was a native of Fallujah, hence his kunya, Abu Khattab al-Falluji, and a part of the extremist thread of the Salafist underground in Saddam Husayn’s Iraq. Working as an electrician for a time, Hadid had gone into internal exile years before the invasion after attacking Saddam’s security forces. In the aftermath of Saddam’s toppling, Hadid quickly joined with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the Jordanian founder of the Islamic State (IS) who had been in Baghdad from May 2002. Hadid rose swiftly in the ranks of the IS movement, and led the insurgency during the two battles with American forces in Fallujah in 2004, being killed during the second of them. Continue reading →
Since al-Qaeda broke ties with the Islamic State (IS), then the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in 2014 there has been an ongoing war of narratives about what happened. Below is an attempt to work through this murky situation. Continue reading →
Last week, a judgment in United States District Court in Washington, D.C., awarded nearly $350 million to the families of two Americans killed in Jordan in 2005 by the predecessor organization to the Islamic State (ISIS). The important point of the case was who the court found liable: the regime of Bashar al-Assad, currently presenting itself to the world as the last line of defense to a terrorist takeover of Syria. This case highlights a neglected history, which began in 2002, where the Assad regime underwrote ISIS and fostered its growth, first to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq and later Lebanon, and since 2011 to discredit and destroy the uprising against Assad in Syria. Continue reading →
At midnight on Friday a ceasefire began in Syria. It was billed as a prelude to negotiations that restart on 7 March, and which are supposed to lead to a political transition that will end Syria’s war. The chances of success on either front are slim.
This was the second February ceasefire attempt—the first, on 19 February, failed without even the pretence of starting. The pretence is still being maintained this time around, but the structural problems with the ceasefire’s design—namely that it allows the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his supporters to continue their war against the Syrian population, while restraining the opposition from defending itself—ensure that it will fail and the West’s purported allies within the opposition will be worse-off, both during the period of faux-ceasefire and afterwards.
The Geneva III peace process was a dangerously misconceived effort. After Russia’s intervention in Syria on 30 September the Assad regime was simply too strong. With no US willingness to change the balance of power inside Syria it meant that either the process was preserved and ‘peace’ was redefined as regime victory, or the process was surrendered and peace on some more humane terms was sought by empowering the rebellion to enforce such terms on the regime in future negotiations. The US chose the process.
The US’s emphasis on process over substance can be seen in all kinds of ways. Continue reading →