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.
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
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
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
Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a speech today entitled, “Sham Will Submit to None Except Allah” or “Syria Will Submit to None Except Allah”. The short speech—around five minutes in length—was part of the “Brief Messages” series, “Brief Messages to a Victorious Nation 6,” to be exact. An English transcript of al-Zawahiri’s speech was released by As-Sabha Media and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, explanatory notes added, and interesting sections highlighted in bold.
Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is a U.S.-designated terrorist, an al-Qaeda operative who has formally resigned from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), which was previously Jabhat al-Nusra and has now reorganized itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Earlier this month, on 11 March, Michael Ratney, the U.S. special envoy to Syria wrote an open letter (in Arabic) labelling all constituents of HTS as terrorists seeking to exploit the Syrian opposition, and incited divisions within the Islamist sections of the insurgency by including Ahrar al-Sham—heretofore a close HTS ally, though recently involved in clashes with the group—as part of the Syrian revolution. HTS issued a formal response on 12 March and, on 20 March, Mahamed issued his own response, which is reproduced below. The main themes were anti-Americanism and dissuading the Syrian armed opposition that the U.S. was an ally; arguing that HTS was different than JFS and unconnected to al-Qaeda; and the strong impression of a threat should the U.S. move against HTS—while explicitly denying that such a threat was being made. Continue reading