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
Published at The New Arab.
The Iraqi government announced an operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) out of Fallujah on the evening of 22 May. In the intervening three weeks, IS have lost numerous villages and towns around Fallujah and Iraqi counterterrorism forces are said to have entered Fallujah proper in the south.
As the first major city IS took on its way to proclaiming a caliphate in June 2014, the pace of the operation is not the most troubling element. What is disturbing—and what may ultimately undo any military success against IS—is the overtly sectarian nature of the offensive, led not by professional troops loyal to Baghdad, but by militias loyal to Iran and the extremist ideology of Tehran’s clerical regime. Continue reading
Last night the United States launched a commando raid into al-Amr in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. According to the White House statement, Abu Sayyaf (real name: Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi), a senior Islamic State (ISIS) commander “overseeing … illicit oil and gas operations,” was killed, and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was taken into American custody and is being held in Iraq. The Sayyaf couple had been holding a young Yazidi woman as a slave and she has now been freed.
Unfortunately, this American raid is a tactical success amid a strategic failure—and a tactical success likely to be used to obscure the strategic failure of the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign. Even in the narrowest humanitarian terms: if the freedom of this one Yazidi girl is used to perpetuate a policy that leaves many more Yazidi girls in bondage then it is a failure. Continue reading
This morning Human Rights Watch released a report, “After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli.”
Amerli is a town of about 25,000 people, mostly Shi’a Turcomen, in the east of Saladin Province, close to Diyala Province, sixty miles from the Iranian border.
The Islamic State (ISIS) invaded Iraq from Syria, conquering Mosul on June 10, 2014, then swept across central Iraq into Diyala. In a situation not dissimilar to the Assad regime’s terror-sieges and ISIS surrounding of the Yazidis on Sinjar Mountain, ISIS imposed a siege on the population of Amerli on June 14.
By the time the Iraqi government forces and Hashd al-Shabi (a.k.a. the Popular Mobilization Units, PMUs), the Shi’ite militias that are largely Iran proxies, broke the siege on August 31, with the help of airstrikes from the American-led Coalition, “at least 15 civilians in Amerli, including newborn infants, had died from lack of food, water or medical treatment, and more than 250 children were suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration,” HRW reports. On Sept. 1, the militias and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) entered Amerli. Continue reading
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of an offensive on March 1 to dislodge the Islamic State (ISIS) from Salah ad-Din Province. Abadi announced that this would be led by the Iraqi army and Hashd al-Shabi, known in English as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), the militias composed overwhelmingly of Shi’ites and directed by Iran.
While the offensive seems to be winding down, it is not over. ISIS is out of ad-Dawr/Dour and al-Awja, south of Tikrit, and Albu Ajeel to the east. Al-Alam to the north seems to still be contested. On March 10, ISIS was driven out of al-Qadissiya, a northern district of Tikrit City. On March 11, the anti-ISIS forces entered Tikrit City, “inched closer to the city center … and took up positions in a military hospital, the police academy and the traffic police headquarters … Forces in southern districts took over three palaces erected by former dictator Saddam Hussein”. Continue reading
In watching the Syrian conflict, one of the most extraordinary tendencies of the reporting is the way “foreign fighter” and “jihadist” have become synonymous with the Sunni militants who have descended on that tormented country. This is one among many illusions that will hopefully be ended by Phillip Smyth’s monograph, “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and its Regional Effects“. You should read the whole thing but below are the salient points I took away. Continue reading