Tag Archives: Taliban

One More Time on Saddam and the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 September 2017

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

Al-Qaeda in Syria Denounces America, Claims to Be the Revolution

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 13, 2017

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham fighter engaging the Assad regime

Michael Ratney, who has been the United States Special Envoy for Syria since July 2015, wrote a public letter , released on 11 March 2017, which labelled all constituent parts of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as members of al-Qaeda and therefore as terrorists.[1] On 12 March, HTS’s “Administration of Political Affairs”—its newly-minted political office, perhaps evidence of an evolution in HTS’s thinking about an endgame in Syria—issued a statement in reply, which is reproduced below.
Continue reading

The Need for Caution in Releasing Guantanamo Inmates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 21, 2017

Ronald Fiddler (Abu Zakariya al-Britani)

Ronald Fiddler (Abu Zakariya al-Britani)

Since the offensive against Mosul, the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State (IS), began five months ago, IS has expended a high number of lives quite deliberately in suicide attacks. One of the suicide-attacks conducted on 20 February 2017, a car bombing against an Iraqi base, was by Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a British citizen now identified as Ronald Fiddler from Manchester. In 2002, Fiddler, then calling himself Jamal Udeen al-Harith, was sent to Guantanamo Bay, before being released in 2004 while still protesting his innocence. After suing the British government over his imprisonment, Fiddler received a substantial cash settlement in order to avoid compromising state secrets. Fiddler’s demise invites some revisiting of widely-held assumptions surrounding Guantanamo. Continue reading

The Islamic State’s Media Apparatus and its New Spokesman

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 16, 2016

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The Islamic State (IS) has named a new official spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Abu Hassan is the fourth man to hold the position of spokesman within the IS movement, and the third since it declared statehood in 2006. Very little is known about Abu Hassan but assessing the history of IS’s media enterprise offers some hints about his profile. Continue reading

The Dangers of Emptying Guantanamo

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 17, 2016

It was announced on 15 August that fifteen more inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have transferred, twelve Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates, the largest individual release of the Obama administration. The U.A.E. also took in five “lower-level” Yemeni detainees in November. The Emirates had previously taken in just one—Abdullah al-Hamiri, in 2008—but President Obama leveraged this deal with the Gulf states at the May 2015 meeting when the Khaleejis were deeply concerned about the then-impending Iran nuclear deal, and in exchange for security reassurances, Obama extracted further concessions.

One reason why so many jihadists have been released to the U.A.E., other than having a similar language and culture, is because the U.A.E. has a competent security apparatus to monitor these people. Those released last November were kept in “a custodial rehabilitation program“—a version of house-arrest, basically. The conditions this time around are less clear.

What is clear is just how dangerous the operatives who are being let out of the Guantanamo detention facility are. Every single one of them has been assessed as posing a “high” risk to America, her interests, and her allies. Continue reading

Death of a Caliphate Founder and the Role of Assad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 10, 2016

Published at Middle East Eye.

Amr al-Absi on the left

Amr al-Absi on the left

Amr al-Absi, one of the most senior Islamic State (IS) leaders, was killed in an airstrike on 3 March, according to reports on social media and by the SITE Intelligence Group. Al-Absi—better known as Abu Atheer al-Absi or just Abu al-Atheer—exemplified several key dynamics at work in Syria.

Atheer was among the jihadi-Salafists released by the regime of Bashar al-Assad at the beginning of Syria’s uprising in an attempt to make self-fulfilling the regime’s claim that the opposition were terrorists, and was also a seminal figure in making Syria so dangerous for journalists that it allowed Assad and IS to shape the coverage as if Syria was a binary choice between them.

Atheer is among the longstanding ultra-extremists who shape and define IS spiritually, and he was crucial in more concrete terms in IS infiltrating and expanding in Syria, particularly by bringing in foreigners who are among the most ideologically driven category of IS members. Continue reading

Response to Response: Yes, Saddam Laid the Groundwork for the Islamic State

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

Iraqi army MIA1 Abrams tanks march under the victory Arch landmark during a parade to mark the 91st Army Day in Baghdad on January 6, 2012, weeks after US troops completed their pullout. The Armed Forces Day display by the fledgling 280,000-strong security force completely reformed after the US-led invasion of 2003. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

The “Victory Arch,” which Saddam built after the war with Iran. (January 2012)

About three weeks ago I wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the evolution of Saddam Hussein’s regime away from the hard-secularism of its Ba’athist origins, and how this had prepared the ground for the Islamic State (IS). I received much positive feedback, but the social media reaction was inevitable: little thought and much anger, particularly from people who view Iraqi history through a political prism and felt I was trying to exculpate George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, the critique could hardly be called thoughtful. So it is nice to finally have such a critique to deal with, from Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in today’s Foreign Affairs. Continue reading