The United States has taken steps Syria in recent months that suggest a shift towards reconciliation with Turkey. Even if this is so, however, there is still such a deep divide over strategic outlook that these steps could be easily reversed, opening a new round of uncertainty in northern Syria as 2018 draws to a close. Continue reading
The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2011, released a report on 29 May 2018, “Sieges as a Weapon of War: Encircle, Starve, Surrender, Evacuate”. The report examined the effects of the sieges and “evacuation agreements”—deportations—between November 2012 and April 2018.
The Commission notes that the report is based on “over 400 interviews”, though the Commission continues to struggle in gathering information because it is banned from Syria by Bashar al-Asad’s regime and because of the threat the regime poses to potential interviewees. Continue reading
Saddam al-Jamal, born in al-Bukamal, a town near the Iraqi border in Syria’s the Deir Ezzor province, became a prominent example of a rebel against Bashar al-Asad’s regime who joined the Islamic State in 2013. It has now reported that al-Jamal has been arrested by the Iraqi government after an operation involving Turkey and the United States lured him into a trap. Continue reading
The latest edition of the Islamic State’s newsletter, Al-Naba 108, released on 1 December 2017, has a profile on page 7 of a fighter named Abu Sulayman al-Libi, a Libyan jihadist who came to Syria soon after the caliphate declaration in June 2014 and became the senior religious official in Homs. Abu Sulayman was killed in the fighting between IS and the pro-Asad coalition in the deserts of eastern Homs Province, near the T3 oil pumping station. This probably means Abu Sulayman was killed in the last days of September or the first few days of October during the IS counter-attack to the regime coalition’s push into Deir Ezzor. A rough translation of the Naba obituary is published below. Continue reading
In the 101st edition of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter al-Naba (page 8-9), released on 12 October 2017, the organization gave some fascinating details about how they responded to the “defeat” inflicted on them in 2007-08 by the American surge and the tribal Sahwa (Awakening) forces. The article describes how IS switched wholly to insurgent-terrorist tactics, dismantling its conventional fighting units and even its sniper teams in March 2008, and training in hit-and-run bombings. The leadership at that time, the emir Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) and his deputy, the “war minister” Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), encountered some initial scepticism, but the rank-and-file soon came on board when they saw its effectiveness. IS says that it is time to return to this form of warfare. In short, IS marked a switch in al-Naba 101 entirely from the statehood and governance phase of its revolutionary warfare, back into insurgency mode. The article is reproduced below. Continue reading
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