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
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.
Seven Syrian armed opposition groups, who have participated in the Russian-directed Astana process, put out a statement today that denounced Russia’s failure to enforce the terms of the agreements already made for a ceasefire and criticized the broader international community for its inaction in the face of barbarous crimes by the Russians’ client regime. Continue reading
Abu Mahmud al-Filistini (@battar2812) is a London-based jihadi cleric, one of those to whom al-Qaeda’s loyalists look for guidance. An essay by Abu Mahmud, “An Indispensable Though Imperfect Unity,” has been put out defending Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the restructured al-Qaeda presence in Syria. Abu Mahmud writes mostly against those who are attacking HTS “from the Right,” the jihadists who believe that the rebranding and merging with groups of distinctly imperfect jihadi-salafist credentials like Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi is a betrayal of the cause. Abu Mahmud writes specifically and harshly against Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi), the Jordan-based cleric who is the leading light of the part of the jihadi world that did not go over to the Islamic State, without ever naming him. The essay is reproduced below with some interesting and/or important parts highlighted in bold, and some notes added. 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
Hudayfa al-Batawi was among the Iraqis who joined the Islamic State (IS) movement early after the fall of Saddam Husayn, having been a long-time Salafist extremist. Al-Batawi rose through the ranks and became the emir of Baghdad, involved in some of the worst attacks in that city in 2009 and 2010. Arrested in late 2010, al-Batawi was killed in a prison riot in 2011. Continue reading
The Syrian media activist Hadi al-Abdullah interviewed Ahrar al-Sham’s leader, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar al-Umar), in a video released on 11 January 2017. The focus was the ongoing negotiations with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded Syrian branch, to create an insurgent merger. The question has caused intense turmoil within Ahrar. Continue reading