As tensions flared between the United States and Iran over the last ten days, a number of Washington’s Western allies have signalled their distance from the U.S. view, most dramatically in the case of Major-General Chris Ghika, Britain’s top commander in the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), who dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment of an increased threat from Iran. This has since been walked back, but the fissures in the Western alliance over how to deal with Iran are real, and this has been compounded by differences within the U.S. government and the highly irregular nature of the Donald Trump administration, particularly its decision-making processes and public messaging. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) released the 169th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 14 February 2019. Al-Naba 169 leads with the attack on the governor of Borno in Nigeria by IS’s branch in that country. In terms of volume, much of the focus remains on the guerrilla campaign in Iraq and Syria, though there is an item on the last stand of the caliphate in Baghuz, the final village in eastern Syria. IS highlights its clashes with al-Qaeda in Yemen. There is a profile of a Russian-speaking atheist-turned-jihadist who was killed in Egypt. And perhaps most notable is an essay on Saudi Arabia, where IS has a terrorist infrastructure that is instructed to be patient. It is a question that likely is unanswerable until it is too late how strong IS is in Saudi Arabia. Continue reading
The operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, began on 17 October and is now 188 days old. IS was announced cleared from east Mosul on 25 January, and the offensive that began on 19 February to clear the more densely-populated and difficult west Mosul has ostensibly swept IS from sixty percent of that area. Official sources claim IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraqi territory, down from forty percent in 2014. But yesterday, a car bomb struck Zuhur, the first attack of this kind in east Mosul since February, murdering at least four people. This is part of a pattern of attacks that suggests the Mosul operation itself was rushed and more importantly that IS is already recovering in liberated areas. Continue reading
After some (perhaps wilful) confusion over the timing, the operation to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa City, its Syrian capital, got underway this morning, running concurrent with the effort to evict IS from its Iraqi capital, Mosul. There are deep concerns about the methods adopted in both cases. The ground forces the U.S.-led Coalition has chosen to support in Raqqa cannot lead to sustainable stability in Syria, something that is essential to defeat IS. While the Mosul operation has proceeded generally to plan, there are increasing signs of trouble within the operation itself and the most troubling aspect—the aftermath—still appears to be unplanned. Beyond this is the continued assault on Aleppo City by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Russian and Iranian patrons that is systematically destroying the forces needed if there is to be any settlement to Syria’s war that ends the space given to international terrorists. Continue reading
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society
The offensive to wrest the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State’s (IS) caliphate, Mosul, from the terror organization began on 17 October, led on the ground by Iraqi and Kurdish forces and supported from the air by the U.S.-led Coalition. While progress has been generally steady, IS has been able to mount a series of diversionary attacks, the most significant in Kirkuk City. Among those subsequently arrested for a role in planning the terrorism in Kirkuk is a cousin of Saddam Husayn, a micro-example of the influence of the fallen regime on the current situation in Iraq. Continue reading
President Obama met with Congressional leaders on Wednesday to brief them on a “comprehensive approach” to Iraq, which for now will not include airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inside Iraq, “in part because”—as previously reported—”U.S. military officials lack sufficient information to hit targets that would shift momentum on the battlefield.” Obama has let this drag out so long that the Sahwa (Awakening), the Sunni Arabs who rose up against ISIS’s previous incarnations, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), are now either eliminated or mixed back in with ISIS and—crucially—other locally-focussed Sunni Islamist insurgent groups, notably the Sufi-Ba’athist Jaysh an-Naqshbandi. Defensible as this is, there are stronger reasons why the decision not to strike is correct.
We might all hope to be vindicated so quickly. I wrote yesterday morning of the way the Iraqi government’s sectarianism and authoritarianism had created the space among Iraqi Sunni Arabs in which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could operate, and that I saw no way out of this, so one should expect escalating violence, chaos, and killing. By midday, Mosul, Iraq’s third city after Baghdad and Basra, had fallen to ISIS. Continue reading