The Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), took the anti-Shi’ism within jihadi-salafism, and moved it to ideological centre-stage in his campaign to implement a shari’a regime in Iraq. In a speech on 18 May 2005, “The Return of Ibn al-Alqami’s Grandchildren”, al-Khalayleh cast the Shi’a as the internal enemies of Islam. Al-Alqami, a Shi’a, was the vast vizier of the Abbasid caliphate and allegedly opened the gates to allow the Mongols to sack Baghdad in 1258. In al-Khalayleh’s telling, the Iraqi Shi’a repeated this in 2003 by welcoming the Americans—a piece of sectarian incitement first used by Saddam Husayn. Al-Khalayleh makes reference to Shi’a figures conspiring in the American project for a New Iraq, something unalterably opposed not only by al-Khalayleh but most Iraqi Sunnis and their “resistance” groups, who objected to their loss of primacy in the aftermath of Saddam, flatly rejecting the demographic facts of Iraq that grant them a smaller share of power than they feel is their due. This political grievance is secondary to al-Khalayleh, however. Al-Khalayleh advances a cosmic, theological argument. To al-Khalayleh, the existence of the Shi’a is a standing affront to the “true” faith and a temptation for Sunnis to fall into apostasy, and since the need to defend the faith itself is above the protection of human life, the shedding of the blood of Shi’a civilians licit. This is the intellectual universe in which al-Khalayleh and his successors dwell. Excerpts from the speech are republished below. Continue reading
In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. Continue reading
The U.S. State Department on 17 August sanctioned two Islamic State (IS) operatives, Ahmad al-Khald (or Ahmad Alkhald), who was involved in the November 2015 terrorist atrocities in France and the March 2016 bombings in Belgium, and Iyad Hamid Mahl al-Jumayli (Abu Yahya al-Iraqi), IS’s internal security chief. Continue reading
The most recent issue of Perspectives on Terrorism had a paper by Ronen Zeidel entitled, ‘The Dawa’ish: A Collective Profile of IS Commanders’, which was “the first attempt to provide a comprehensive collective profile of commanders and leaders of the Islamic State (IS)”. Based on “an inventory of over 600 names”, the paper assessed the nationality, ethnicity, and tribal origins not just of the very senior IS commanders, but those lower down, a novel and much-needed line of investigation. Zeidel found that these commanders of the IS movement are or were overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni Arab, with an important Turkoman contingent.
Zeidel’s findings are important for drawing attention again to the local-revolutionary character of an organisation that gets a great deal of attention for its foreign fighters and external attacks, especially in the West, but which only a recently acquired global reach—and, indeed, only recently needed to: until 2011, the West was easily reachable since it had troops on the ground in Iraq, so the incentive to invest resources in creating a foreign terrorist apparatus was minimal.
One small part of Zeidel’s work has created something of a storm, however. Zeidel gives the occupation held by these commanders and, for those where this was known, 72% of them were former regime elements (FREs) from the dictatorship of Saddam Husayn. This reignited the argument over how important the FREs have been to IS. Continue reading
The United States has tried to engage in Syria almost solely in a counter-terrorism capacity, against Daesh (IS) and—in a recently-escalating campaign—against al Qaeda. The narrowness of the focus on jihadist terrorists led to the US disregarding wider political dynamics in the war in Syria—and to a degree in Iraq, too—and partnering with forces that over the long term will undo even this narrow mission.
The announcement yesterday that President Donald Trump will now arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to expel Daesh from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, is the end-point of this policy, setting up a very dangerous medium- and long-term situation that will redound to the benefit of terrorists. Continue reading
Hudayfa al-Batawi was among the Iraqis who joined the Islamic State (IS) movement early after the fall of Saddam Husayn, having been a long-time Salafist extremist. Al-Batawi rose through the ranks and became the emir of Baghdad, involved in some of the worst attacks in that city in 2009 and 2010. Arrested in late 2010, al-Batawi was killed in a prison riot in 2011. Continue reading