The offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its primary urban stronghold in Syria, Raqqa city, began on 6 November 2016 with shaping operations and commenced in earnest on 6 June 2017. Backed by the U.S.-led Coalition, the operation, known as EUPHRATES WRATH, is being carried out on the ground by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or Quwwat Suriya al-Dimoqratiyya (QSD). The SDF is formally a coalition of Kurds and Arabs—its announcement of the Raqqa operation named eighteen distinct sub-units. But the predominant force within the SDF is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Arab SDF play a “secondary role of maintaining local security,” which is to say providing an acceptable face for the PKK’s administration in the Arab-majority areas it has captured. Examining the SDF’s composition, and the recent marginalization of Arab SDF groups, underscores the point. Continue reading
As the operation proceeds to expel the Islamic State (IS) from its last major Syrian urban stronghold, Raqqa city, a statement was published on 5 July by a number of clerics, which points to the danger that the Coalition campaign, by partnering exclusively with Kurdish forces, is preparing conditions that will allow other Islamists to fill the vacuum after IS loses overt control of eastern Syria.
A major diplomatic crisis has erupted between the Gulf states, pitting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar because of what these states claim is Qatar’s destabilizing behaviour. On 5 June, Abdallah al-Muhaysini, identified last year by the U.S. government as a senior member of al-Qaeda in Syria, put out a message on Telegram effectively taking Qatar’s side, arguing that the campaign against Qatar was an American-orchestrated conspiracy against a government that had supported Muslims, i.e. Islamists. The message is republished below with some syntactical and spelling edits. Continue reading
Hussam al-Atrash was the most senior religious official of Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi and is now Deputy General Security Official of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadi-salafist insurgent group in north-western Syria whose relationship with al-Qaeda is much-contested. On 31 May, al-Atrash issued a statement arguing for a change of course for the insurgency in the “Greater Idlib” area.
In response to the recent rounds of the Russian-organized “peace” talks in Astana, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s restructured presence in Syria, put out a statement through its Fatwa Council on 9 May 2017, “The legal position concerning the latest events and developments facing the Syrian revolution”. HTS’s fatwa was a declaration of war against all parts of the rebellion participating in the Astana conferences, which HTS labelled a conspiracy to defeat the revolution and secure Bashar al-Assad in power. The statement is clearly intended against the mainstream rebellion, which operates under the colours of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and has shown signs of coalescing into an anti-HTS alliance. HTS’s paranoia about the rebels being repurposed against it has led to previous “pre-emptive” attacks that might well have precipitated the very thing it feared. Perhaps most interesting, however, is HTS saying that it would treat as an enemy actors who “allow [the Astana-compliant factions] to work under their banner”. The reference here is to Ahrar al-Sham, a heretofore close ally of HTS, its key enabler in infiltrating and co-opting large sections of the northern insurgency, which in January sheltered various groups that survived the first wave of HTS attacks to prevent their destruction. The statement was translated by al-Maqalaat and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and the key sections highlighted in bold.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the restructured al-Qaeda branch in Syria, put out a statement today on the intra-insurgent clashes that began on 28 April in the besieged enclave of East Ghuta, the suburbs east of Damascus, between Jaysh al-Islam on one side and HTS and Faylaq al-Rahman on the other. An old al-Qaeda hand, Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani), has already commented on this. Now HTS’s General Shari’a Council has released a statement “concerning the ongoing events in Eastern Ghuta”. The statement, translated by al-Maqalaat, is posted below. Continue reading
Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani), on Twitter as @alghreeb, is an Iraqi and long-time operative of the Islamic State (IS), who was sent into Syria to set up IS’s secret wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2011. After al-Nusra split with IS and became al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Maysar remained with al-Nusra and was its deputy until the summer of 2014, when the Deir Ezzor branch of al-Nusra that Maysar led was destroyed as IS poured resources captured in Mosul over the border. Since then, Maysar has been—with Saleh al-Hamawi, another member of the advance party that founded al-Nusra—a kind of dissident, formally expelled from al-Nusra, and more recently has set to work spreading his influence in the Turkish-occupied zone of northern Syria, notably through the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group. With the various moves to rebrand and restructure al-Qaeda in Syria under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Maysar has been drawn back into the fold to a degree.
Maysar has now released an essay, “Exposing the Backstabbers Within the Ranks,” condemning Jaysh al-Islam for its attacks on HTS in the East Ghouta area of Damascus beginning on 28 April. Intra-insurgent fighting in the besieged enclave a year ago allowed the coalition of states and militias supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime to considerably shrink the enclave and put it on the path to almost certain defeat. Maysar lays particular blame on Samir al-Kaka (Abu Abdurrahman al-Kaka; sometimes transliterated al-Kaakeh), a senior cleric of JAI, for issuing rulings licensing this conduct and compares JAI to IS. Maysar also asks, rhetorically, where the condemnations of JAI are from bodies like the Syrian Islamic Council, given how strongly they responded in January when al-Nusra attacked rebel factions as it laid the groundwork for the HTS merger. Masyar’s essay is reproduced below. Continue reading