Over the past week, two members of the Islamic State (IS) have been arrested—a rarity in itself during the Coalition campaign against the group—and both in different ways give a glimpse of archetypes that have made up the organisation, from its inception to its expansion into Syria. Continue reading
Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcotics trafficking entity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.
This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) formally turned from statehood to insurgency last October. The 125th edition of Al-Naba, IS’s weekly newsletter, released on 29 March 2018, contained a number of indicators that the jihadists’ guerrilla warfare is gaining considerable steam—and that IS thinks it should gain more. Continue reading
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum on 25 September, and voted overwhelmingly—with nearly 93% in favour—for independence. The comparison with Brexit might have been overworked by all sides, but there was a familiarity: while the result itself was not a shock, the fact of the referendum itself came as a surprise to many in what one might call the global elite, which lectured in that endearing way that had such success in deterring Brits a year ago. Then as now, the effect was, if anything, to stoke the bloody-mindedness of a population that had considerable qualms but had enough pride to repudiate being harangued in those accents. Still, as with Brexit, it wasn’t as if the naysayers didn’t have a case, and now comes the really difficult work. Continue reading
Within the next month, the Islamic State (IS) will likely lose its grip on its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and the operation to drive it from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, will begin. The destruction of IS’s caliphate, however, is not even close to the end of the road for the movement, not least because of the manner in which it is being accomplished.
At its core the IS movement is waging a revolutionary war, and as Craig Whiteside, a fellow with The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has explained, this means that the focus is on legitimacy. Military victories come and go but if IS is, over the long-term, gaining acceptance—whether from support, resignation, or fear—among the population it hopes to govern (the Sunni Arabs), then it is winning. It is for this reason that IS tries to embed political victories within its military defeats. 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
This is the fourth of a four-part series looking at the United States’ increasingly-evident de facto alliance with Iran in the region. The first part looked at the way this policy has developed since President Obama took office and how it has been applied in Iraq; the second part looked at the policy’s application in Syria; the third part looked at its application in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Yemen; and this part is a conclusion. Continue reading
A week after the American-led airstrikes inside Syria began, it was reported that two women from the Balkans, Dora Bilic and Fatima Mahmutović, had been hit in ar-Raqqa, and that Ms. Mahmutović had been killed. Ms. Bilic, born in Croatia, converted to Islam two years ago and moved to Gornja Maoca, north-east Bosnia, which is in effect a Wahhabi commune, where she met her husband with whom she travelled to Syria for jihad. Ms. Mahmutović is from a village in Bosnia not far from the infamous Srebrenica, and she moved herself and her young son to Syria late last year. As is so often the case, it seems that the Croatian intelligence services were aware of Ms. Bilic but had done little about it. Even less surprising was the follow-up report that Ms. Bilic had been radicalised in London. Continue reading