The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading →
Bashar al-Assad, Hussam al-Katerji, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Reuters reported on 11 October that Hussam al-Katerji, a member of Bashar al-Asad’s Syrian regime, has been engaged in trading wheat with the Islamic State (IS), helping supply the terrorists with resources to run their statelet and threaten the security of Syria’s neighbours and the wider world. This pattern of behaviour from the Asad regime—holding itself out as a counterterrorism partner, while it bolsters terrorist organizations—is well-established, and has its origins in the regime’s survival strategy: to destroy all acceptable opposition forces and make the Syrian war a binary contest between the dictatorship and terrorists. Continue reading →
The “defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIL), signified by its eviction from Mosul in July, its impending loss of Raqqa, and an apparent resurgence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seemed to augur a new era of stability for the Middle East. The jihadists would be gone and Iranian-backed governments in Syria and Iraq consolidated.
True, Assad murdering those who resisted him with poison gas and concentration camps, and hiding the evidence by installing crematoria, would nag at our conscience. But foreign policy is a cold-blooded business and it has been decreed that ISIL is the greatest—really the only—threat emanating from the region.
It would not be justice, but it would be peace. Or something like that. Continue reading →
For the second March in a row, the Islamic State (IS) was driven from control of Palmyra this week in an operation led by Iranian ground forces and supported by Russian airstrikes—the actual instruments of power that remain to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The primary interest this time is that the United States-led international anti-IS coalition and its Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR) provided crucial assistance to the regime. Continue reading →
In September 2014, Kuwait undertook a series of raids against terrorists loyal to the Islamic State (IS). It was found by authorities that one of the “great influence[s]” over the jihadi-Salafists in Kuwait was Abdulmuhsin al-Taresh (Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti). Al-Taresh was an important propagandist-recruiter for IS at this time, and would later become a senior military official. He was killed near IS’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, by the U.S.-led Coalition at the end of December. Continue reading →
Syria has broken down as a functioning entity. There were some who saw in the takeover of Aleppo City last month by the coalition of states and militias that supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime the beginning of the end of the war. The pro-Assad coalition will make further territorial gains in 2017, but peace—even the peace of the graveyard—is still a long way off, and unlikely to ever arrive while Assad remains in power. The West, unwilling and apparently unable to remove him, nonetheless has vital interests in Syria that cannot be outsourced and must be secured by navigating a fragmented state. Continue reading →
Syrian pro-government forces recapture the old city of Aleppo, December 13, 2016 [Getty]
In May 2016, the Roman Theatre in Palmyra was the site of a Russian orchestra performance, led by Valery Gergiev, a supporter of Russian ruler Vladimir Putin. The event was broadcast widely on RT (formerly Russia Today), the state-run English-language propaganda channel, and images and clips of the event were disseminated worldwide. The concert crowned Putin’s eight-month intervention in Syria, reinforcing the Kremlin’s messaging: Moscow and its blood-drenched client, Bashar al-Assad, were staffing the front line for civilisation against the barbarous hordes of the Islamic State group—and they were winning. What a difference seven months has made. Continue reading →