It was reported on jihadist websites and by local activists that Turki al-Binali, a senior cleric of the Islamic State (IS) and perhaps the most important public proponent of the caliphate’s formation, had been killed in Syria by an airstrike from the U.S.-led Coalition on 29 May. IS has been silent on this despite releasing their newsletter al-Naba and the tenth edition of their English-language propaganda magazine Rumiyah since then. On Tuesday, the intelligence services of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq confirmed that al-Binali had been killed. Continue reading
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) issued a threat against Turkey on Tuesday, at the very moment the U.S.-led Coalition was announcing the commencement of the operation to evict the Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, in alliance with the TAK’s mother organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This underlines some of the challenges confronting the Coalition as a result of a half-decade of short-sighted counter-terrorism policy in Syria and a regional posture that tilted away from traditional allies. Continue reading
The United States recently committed itself to arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the Y.P.G., to help evict the Islamic State from its Syrian stronghold, Raqqa. This decision is likely to prove deeply troublesome, risking the regional stability necessary for the lasting defeat of the Islamic State.
The Y.P.G. denies that it is, in effect, a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., but the evidence is clear. The P.K.K., a Marxist-leaning Kurdish nationalist organization, was founded in Turkey in 1978, and took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. The group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was expelled from Syria in 1998, when his old patron, the regime of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father), came under military threat from Turkey. Mr. Ocalan was soon arrested by the Turks, and the tide of war turned against the P.K.K. Continue reading
The New York Times on 11 May carried an op-ed entitled, “Once We Beat ISIS, Don’t Abandon Us,” by Sinam Mohamad, the effective foreign minister of the governance structure in northern Syria administered by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian departments of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This comes just over two weeks after another senior PYD/PKK official, Ilham Ahmed, was given space to disseminate the group’s messaging in The Washington Post, and the problems remain the same.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) controls areas of northern Syria, operating under the name of the Democratic Union Party or PYD (its political wing) and the People’s Protection Units or YPG (its military wing). On Tuesday, President Donald Trump approved plans to arm the YPG directly, abandoning a fiction that the U.S. was only arming the Arab parts of an ostensible coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is in fact controlled by the YPG/PKK. This is in preparation for the U.S. backing the “SDF” to liberate Raqqa City, the Syrian capital of the Islamic State’s (IS) caliphate. Leaving aside the geopolitical implications of the U.S. decision for NATO and regional order, and putting aside, too, the likelihood that this decision will defeat its own purposes and give IS a new lease on life, there is a purely humanitarian dimension that deserves more attention. In March the PYD effectively legalized its one-party state in northern Syria and escalated its already-severe persecution of the Kurdish opposition. That crackdown has continued. Continue reading
The United States has tried to engage in Syria almost solely in a counter-terrorism capacity, against Daesh (IS) and—in a recently-escalating campaign—against al Qaeda. The narrowness of the focus on jihadist terrorists led to the US disregarding wider political dynamics in the war in Syria—and to a degree in Iraq, too—and partnering with forces that over the long term will undo even this narrow mission.
The announcement yesterday that President Donald Trump will now arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to expel Daesh from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, is the end-point of this policy, setting up a very dangerous medium- and long-term situation that will redound to the benefit of terrorists. 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