Tag Archives: KGB

Russia’s Unreliable Claims About the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 October 2017

Gulmurod Khalimov

The Islamic State’s (IS) caliph, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), appeared on Thursday to deliver his first speech in nearly a year. Other than the contents of the speech, al-Badri’s re-appearance was confirmation that the claim by the Russian government, on 16 June, to have killed al-Badri and 330 other IS jihadists in a 28 May airstrike in Syria, was false.[1] This is far from the first mendacious claim Moscow has made on this topic.

On 8 September, the Russian Ministry of Defence claimed it had killed “four influential field commanders”, one of whom was Tarad al-Jarba (Abu Muhammad al-Shimali), and forty other IS jihadists, in an airstrike near Deir Ezzor city. Later in the day, the Russians claimed day that another of the four commanders was Gulmurod Khalimov (Abu Umar al-Tajiki), named by the U.S.-led coalition as IS’s War Minister. In fact, it is likely that Khalimov was already dead and that al-Jarba is still alive. Continue reading

Russia is No Partner Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 12, 2016

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This morning, Russia ostensibly agreed to help the U.S. impose a ceasefire in Syria within a week—on the way to a negotiated settlement. This could not work right now, even if Russia intended it to. But Russia does not. Russia’s role since intervening in Syria in late September 2015 has been to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a primary tactic in that overarching strategic aim has been the attempt to destroy all opposition to Assad that the international community could possibly deal with, and to create a binary situation where there is only the regime and jihadi-Salafist terrorists, primarily the Islamic State (IS), and secondarily—in areas where they do not threaten key regime interests—Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda). Moscow will eventually turn on IS, but in the short-term Russia has engaged in indirect coordination with IS to weaken the rebels and push them out of key strategic areas, notably in eastern Aleppo where Russia bombed rebels out of the way who had been holding IS out for years. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported on another aspect of this Russia-IS collaboration that aims to empower the takfiris in the short-term as part of the long-term plan, also supported by Iran, to secure the Assad regime in power. Continue reading

Litvinenko Verdict: What Happens Now?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 25, 2016

Published at Left Foot Forward.

The British inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded on Thursday, making official what everyone already knew: the Russian intelligence services, “probably” at the direct order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, murdered Litvinenko in London in November 2006.

Welcome as it is to have this on the record and to have Litvinenko’s killers named for all the world to see, it now leaves questions, primarily:

Will similar forensic scrutiny be brought to bear on several other odd instances of political and other crime in Russia?

And what does the British government intend to do now that the Kremlin is carrying out assassinations on its territory again? Continue reading

Propaganda and the War Against Independent Media in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 29, 2015

In the last month, the Islamic State (IS) has been waging a concerted campaign to shut down all independent sources of information emanating from its statelet. IS’s focus has been on Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), an activist group that began in April 2014 in IS’s de facto capital in northern Syria. RBSS has published information—including pictures and videos, much of it via Twitter—on the crimes of the “caliphate”. IS has now murdered at least five RBSS journalists and activists, two of them on foreign soil in Turkey, plus the father of one of RBSS’s founders. (The sixth case, also in Turkey, is more murky.) The suppression of independent media by IS is necessary to allow the group to maintain social control of the areas it rules and to sustain the narrative that it is building utopia on earth, which attracts in the foreign fighters that help IS maintain and expand its territory.
Continue reading

The Islamic State Murders Another Activist From Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 17, 2015

Published at The Independent.

Ahmad Mohamed al-Mousa

Ahmad Mohamed al-Mousa

From the outset of the Syrian uprising, the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the ISIS have been united on their strategic goal: eliminate the moderate opposition and make Syria a binary choice between themselves. This is why on the battlefield Assad and ISIS largely leave one-another alone and the Assad regime’s propaganda—that the whole rebellion is composed of Islamist terrorists—reinforces ISIS’s propaganda claim that it is the only effective protection for Sunnis against the regime. Both ISIS and the Assad regime are led by military and intelligence officers trained in the KGB and both rely on propaganda as a means of internal control, not only of controlling their international image, which is why both so virulently repress independent media that contradicts their officially sanctioned version. Last night, ISIS again struck down a member of an activist group that has tried to bring the truth about life under its rule to the outside world. Continue reading

The Riddle of Haji Bakr

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 10, 2015

Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr): in Saddam's army, in American prison, as a commander of the Islamic State

Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr): in Saddam’s intelligence service, in American prison, as a commander of the Islamic State

In the last few months I’ve increasingly focussed on the former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) within the Islamic State (I.S.). There’s now an entire section on this blog about it, and Aaron Zelin over at Jihadology recently gave me time to elaborate in a podcast.

In studying this topic there is one inescapable name: Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better-known by his pseudonym Haji Bakr, and sometimes by his kunya, Abu Bakr al-Iraqi. Al-Khlifawi is a former colonel in an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam Hussein regime—focussed on air defence at Habbaniya airbase, though what exactly that entails is murky. Al-Khlifawi was also apparently involved in weapons development.

Al-Khlifawi came to international attention in April when Christoph Reuter published an article in Der Spiegel naming al-Khlifawi as the “architect” of I.S.’s expansion into Syria, and the man who had been “pulling the strings at IS for years.” Continue reading

Kamel Sachet and Islamism in Saddam’s Security Forces

1Book Review: The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Life of an Iraqi Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny (2009) by Wendell Steavenson

By Kyle Orton
(@KyleWOrton) on October 24, 2015

Wendell Steavenson’s The Weight of a Mustard Seed—the title drawn from a verse of the Qur’an about the difference between attaining heaven and hell—comprises five years of research about Kamel Sachet Aziz al-Janabi, one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite and most senior generals.

Born in 1947, Kamel Sachet joined the Iraqi police straight from school in the mid-1960s and joined the army in 1975. Sachet was soon in the Special Forces, training in mountain warfare in Germany in 1978, taking part in joint exercises with Iranian Special Forces during the time of the Shah—learning Farsi along the way—and then being part of the Iraqi Special Forces advanced party sent to invade Iran after Ruhollah Khomeini’s takeover. Sachet would later be part of the elite forces sent to secure Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. After Saddam was evicted from Kuwait, Sachet, who had been slipping deeper and deeper into religious zeal from the early 1980s, was made governor of Maysan where he ran a de facto Salafi commune. Sachet was eventually removed from this post by regime internal intrigue, and was moved to a job in the office of the president. For reasons never definitively established, Sachet was murdered on Saddam Hussein’s orders on the first day of Operation DESERT FOX in December 1998.

Kamel Sachet’s story is an interesting one for what it says about the Saddam regime’s changing attitude toward Islamism as it ran its course, reversing the hard-secular outlook that prevailed at varying degrees of intensity from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and transforming into an Islamist State in the last fifteen years of the regime. Continue reading