Modernity has made Isil possible: it is a creature of the digital era, a phenomenon as new as the social media on which it so heavily depends. Its methods – beheading some captives, burning others alive – are
designed to travel around the world by online video.
The ISIS MANIFESTO: What Every American Needs To
Know About ISIS Plan To Kill ‘Ten Million Americans’
ISIS came into being thanks to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In its earliest incarnation, it was just one of a number of Sunni extremist groups fighting U.S. forces and attacking Shiite civilians in an attempt to foment a sectarian civil war. At that time, it was called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden. Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. air strike in 2006, and soon after, AQI was nearly wiped out when Sunni tribes decided to partner with the Americans to confront the jihadists. But the defeat was temporary; AQI renewed itself inside U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, where insurgents and terrorist operatives connected and formed networks—and where the group’s current chief and self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, first distinguished himself as a leader.
In 2011, as a revolt against the Assad regime in Syria expanded into a full-blown civil war, the group took advantage of the chaos, seizing territory in Syria’s northeast, establishing a base of operations, and rebranding itself as ISIS. In Iraq, the group continued to capitalize on the weakness of the central state and to exploit the country’s sectarian strife, which intensified after U.S. combat forces withdrew. With the Americans gone, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued a hard-line pro-Shiite agenda, further alienating Sunni Arabs throughout the country. ISIS now counts among its members Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders, former anti-U.S. insurgents, and even secular former Iraqi military officers who seek to regain the power and security they enjoyed during the Saddam Hussein era.
Isis doesn’t want people to work, it just wants them to suffer, so that the men will join the group, and the women will marry Isis fighters. The Isis men seem to be sex-mad. They are always confiscating Viagra from pharmacies, which people think they use themselves. Many take several wives and are still looking for captives to take as concubines, like the Yazidi women.
Shahrukh Khan, a 15-year-old student at the school who was shot in both legs, said he witnessed the murder of one member of staff. “One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,” Khan told Reuters, lying on a bed in the city’s Lady Reading hospital. “One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me my friends were lying injured and dead.”
The teenager said he had decided to play dead after being shot, stuffing his tie into his mouth to prevent himself from screaming. “The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.”
Iran Gains Influence in Iraq as Shiite Forces Fight ISIS
By ANNE BARNARD MARCH 5, 2015
AWJA, Iraq — All along the green irrigated plains in the heart of what American occupying troops used to call the Sunni triangle, lampposts and watchtowers are flying the flags of the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia long hated and feared by many Iraqi Sunnis.
The road from Baghdad to Tikrit is dotted with security checkpoints, many festooned with posters of Iran’s supreme leader and other Shiite figures. They stretch as far north as the village of Awja, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, on the edge of Tikrit, within sight of the hulking palaces of the former ruler who ruthlessly crushed Shiite dissent.
More openly than ever before, Iran’s powerful influence in Iraq has been on display as the counteroffensive against Islamic State militants around Tikrit has unfolded in recent days. At every point, the Iranian-backed militias have taken the lead in the fight against the Islamic State here. Senior Iranian leaders have been openly helping direct the battle, and American officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forces are taking part.
Iraqi officials, too, have been unapologetic about the role of the militias. They project confidence about their fighting abilities and declare that how to fight the war is Iraq’s decision, as militia leaders criticize American pressure to rely more on regular forces.
On Thursday, as they showed journalists around the outskirts of the battle, leaders of militias and regular forces alike declared that there was no distinction between the two; that the militias were a legitimate force under the government’s chain of command. And like the militiamen, many police officers and soldiers decorated their checkpoints and helmets with Shiite slogans and symbols.
What has been conspicuously absent in this fight, in the eyes of some Iraqis, has been the United States, whose airstrikes have assisted in earlier battles to roll back the Islamic State but have not been brought to bear in this new and crucial battle.
On Thursday, one of the militiamen, Mohammad al-Samarrai, 28, stood near a ruined mosque in the village of Muatassim, southeast of the city of Samarra, that he and his comrades had taken back from Islamic State militants on Monday. His face brightened at the sight of an American reporter, and he explained that he loved to see Americans because his brother had worked as an interpreter for American troops and now lives in Virginia.
But now, he said, he was confused that the United States did not seem to be throwing its full weight behind Iraq’s fight against the militants.
“After Saddam fell, American policy was helping the Iraqi people,” he said. “So why now are they helping the very same enemy that used to kill the American soldiers? If only they would remember the American soldiers killed by Al Qaeda.”
Kareem al-Jabri, a former teacher who now heads an artillery unit for the militias, known as popular mobilization committees, explained the new order of things more directly: “Iran is the principal supporter of Iraq, for the people and the army,” he said. “Iran is a real, true partner.”
Mohannad al-Ikabi, a spokesman for the militias, declared: “Iran is the only country that is actually responding to what is happening.”
But the commander of the Badr Organization, Mueen al-Kadhumi, joked that Americans had contributed to the fight — on the other side. He was referring to the Islamic State’s claims that an American suicide bomber had carried out an attack for the group on Monday. Near Muatassim, militiamen pointed to a crater that they said came from that explosion. A Badr flag has been planted beside the hole.
During the operation, Iraqi state television has sought to emphasize the competence and cooperation of militia and regular forces. While militias make up the bulk of ground forces, the Iraqi Air Force has carried out strikes, and Iraqi news channels have shown grainy pilot’s-eye footage of bombs hitting their targets — much like the ones often released by the Pentagon.
Thursday’s trip made apparent the complex nature of Iraq’s war effort. So far it has heavily relied on the Shiite militias, who are powerfully motivated by ISIS’s belief that Shiites are apostates who deserve death. But the militias’ involvement carries a risk of further inflaming sectarian tensions that ISIS has exploited — as has already happened in some places where Sunni residents have reported abuse or summary executions by the militias.
Officials said that as many as 5,000 local Sunnis had joined the counteroffensive for Tikrit. But Mr. Jabri, the artillery commander, and other militia leaders said their main function was not fighting, but providing intelligence and basic guidance to the militia fighters, who are mostly from Baghdad and southern Iraq and do not know the area.
Even as militia leaders declared that they were inseparable from the Iraqi state, the Shiite identity of the combined forces marching on Tikrit was on vivid display — jarring in an area long known as a Sunni stronghold.
The tour convoy began at the Badr Organization’s headquarters in Baghdad. There, over a breakfast of bread dipped in tahini, fighters embraced visiting clerics and recounted missions to Syria to defend the shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, holy to Shiites.
The fighters showed enthusiasm, expressed in both patriotic and religious terms. Many said they had left jobs to volunteer in the militia after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, called on all Iraqis to join the effort.
Vehicles were draped with the Badr flag and Shiite slogans. Religious battle songs blared from a sound system atop a bus; on its rear window, “God is Great” was spray-painted in pink.
The first stop along the road was Samarra, a mixed Sunni-Shiite city that was once a hub of Sunni insurgents fighting the Americans. Qaeda insurgents bombed a revered Shiite shrine there in 2006, provoking years of tit-for-tat sectarian attacks. Its dome, now half-rebuilt, glimmers gold beneath a scaffolding, and towering portraits of the Shiite imams Hussein and Ali now stand in a main traffic circle.
At federal police headquarters, there was a spread of grilled fish served beside Samarra’s reservoir, as the smoke of battle rose in the distance.
Many villages along the road seemed nearly empty, except for a few residents and shepherds who cautiously approached checkpoints on foot, holding white flags. The tour provided no time to talk to local Sunnis. But some said in separate interviews that they supported the effort and even the militias.
“They left their provinces to help us,” said Saleem al-Jabouri, 28, a government employee. “No one else has helped to liberate our areas, not even our tribal neighbors.”
At the edge of Tikrit, a blocked road marked the beginning of Islamic State territory. Militiamen worked a base that looked out on the city and Saddam’s palaces, once occupied by American soldiers, and more recently by ISIS.
At the base, Nizar al-Asadi, a militia member and engineer, compared the war effort to the battles of Imam Hussein 1400 years ago, adding, “His history is repeating itself.”
“Iraq is defending the whole world,” he said. “Your freedom is assured as long as you are with us.
Pope says world’s many conflicts amount to piecemeal World War Three
Islam is at War with the Oldest Religions
Ancient communities will soon be gone as ISIS murders “infidels”.
The Islamic State is failing at being a state
In Raqqa, Syria, where airstrikes have damaged buildings and infrastructure, observers say the Islamic State doesn’t have enough expertise to effectively provide services and govern the city. (Nour Fourat/Reuters)
By Liz Sly December 25 at 1:45 PM
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The Islamic State’s vaunted exercise in state-building appears to be crumbling as living conditions deteriorate across the territories under its control, exposing the shortcomings of a group that devotes most of its energies to fighting battles and enforcing strict rules.
Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the “caliphate” proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group’s boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.
Slick Islamic State videos depicting functioning government offices and the distribution of aid do not match the reality of growing deprivation and disorganized, erratic leadership, the residents say. A trumpeted Islamic State currency has not materialized, nor have the passports the group promised. Schools barely function, doctors are few, and disease is on the rise.
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, the water has become undrinkable because supplies of chlorine have dried up, said a journalist living there, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety. Hepatitis is spreading, and flour is becoming scarce, he said. “Life in the city is nearly dead, and it is as though we are living in a giant prison,” he said.
In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s self-styled capital, water and electricity are available for no more than three or four hours a day, garbage piles up uncollected, and the city’s poor scavenge for scraps on streets crowded with sellers hawking anything they can find, residents say.
Videos filmed in secret by an activist group show desperate women and childrenclamoring for handouts of food, while photographs posted on the Internet portray foreign militants eating lavish spreads, a disparity that is starting to stir resentment.
Much of the assistance that is being provided comes from Western aid agencies, which discreetly continue to help areas of Syria under Islamic State control. The United States funds health-care clinics and provides blankets, plastic sheeting and other items to help the neediest citizens weather the winter, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The government workers who help sustain what is left of the crumbling infrastructure, in Syrian as well as Iraqi cities, continue to be paid by the Syrian government, traveling each month to collect their salaries from offices in government-controlled areas.
“ISIS doesn’t know how to do this stuff,” said the U.S. official, using an acronym for the group. “When stuff breaks down, they get desperate. It doesn’t have a whole lot of engineers and staff to run the cities, so things are breaking down.”
There are also signs of falling morale among at least some of the fighters, whose expectations of quick and easy victories have been squashed by U.S.-led airstrikes. A notice distributed in Raqqa this month called on fighters who were shirking their duties to report to the front lines, and a new police force was created to go house to house to root them out.
There is no indication that the hardships are likely to lead to rebellion, at least not soon. Fear of draconian punishments and the absence of alternatives deter citizens from complaining too loudly, the residents said, in interviews conducted while they were on visits to neighboring Turkey or over the Internet.
But the deterioration is undermining at least one important aspect of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed identity — as a state, dedicated to reviving the 7th-century caliphate that once ruled the Muslim world. Governing is as central to that goal as the military conquests that occurred as Islamic State fighters swept through much of Syria and Iraq over the past year.
The group’s momentum on the battlefield has been slowed by the U.S.-led air campaign, which has helped reverse or stall Islamic State offensives on numerous fronts, from the tiny town of Kobane in northern Syria to the farmland south of Baghdad.
That the group is also failing to deliver services in the areas it does control calls into question the sustainability of its larger ambition.
The Islamic State “is not this invincible monster that can control everything and defeat everyone,” said an activist in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the ineffectual delivery of services there.
“The whole idea that it is well organized and an administrative entity is wrong. It is just an image.”
‘They have no expertise’
It is in Raqqa, the first major city to fall under Islamic State control more than a year ago and the cradle of its governance experiment, that the discrepancy is perhaps most conspicuous. A Raqqa businessman who traveled to Mosul recently said the Iraqi city is in far better shape than his own city in Syria, where people are being driven away by the specter of hunger and devastating government bombing raids that have killed mostly civilians.
The bombardments have played a big role in straining the infrastructure. U.S. airstrikes, aimed at Islamic State targets, have also contributed, forcing the group to abandon many of its government buildings. American attacks on the small, makeshift oil refineries that many citizens relied on for income have deepened the deprivation, leaving many people without income and sending prices soaring.
Whether the Islamic State’s administration was ever as capable as it has been portrayed appears to be in doubt, Syrians say. Those who could afford to flee areas controlled by the group have done so, disproportionately including the professionals and technocrats whose skills are needed to run government services.
Syrians say the Islamic State’s administration is overseen by a network of shadowy emirs or princes. Lower-level positions are occupied by Syrians or foreigners who often lack administrative or technical skills.
“ISIS has become too big to control itself,” said a Syrian aid worker who regularly interacts with Islamic State officials and who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order not to compromise his dealings with the group. He finds them willing and cooperative, “but they’re not smart, and they’re not capable. They have no expertise.”
For most citizens, the main interaction with the Islamic State is with its ubiquitous police and security agencies, including the notorious Hesbah, which patrols the streets in quest of those transgressing the group’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Those rules continue to be rigidly enforced. Shopkeepers shut their stores five times a day for prayer. Smokers have quit for fear of the obligatory three-day jail sentence for a first offense — and a month for a second. Public executions for theft, blasphemy and dissent are on the rise. A new punishment, for homosexuality, in which the accused is thrown off a tall building, has been implemented twice in recent weeks.
To some, better than Assad
Meanwhile, crime has plunged, and for many residents the order is a welcome alternative to the lawlessness that prevailed when more moderate Syrian rebels were in charge. Syrians who lived for decades under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad are accustomed to obeying orders, and many have adapted to the new rules, said a government employee in the former tax department who collects his salary from the government, even though he is no longer working.
“Daesh are not as cruel as the regime was,” he said, using an Arabic name for the militants. With the Islamic State in charge, “if you don’t do anything wrong — according to their standards, not ours — they will not bother you.”
The strict enforcement of rules sometimes undermines efforts to deliver services, however. When electricity workers raced to repair cables damaged by government shelling in the town of Deir al-Zour, the Islamic State detained and lashed them for violating a prohibition on working during prayer time, said the Deir al-Zour activist.
Everyone on the staff of one of the city’s four functioning field hospitals was detained as they held a meeting because three of them were smoking.
There is no indication that the Islamic State’s income, estimated at $12 million a month, is suffering. Syrians continue to sign up because there are no other jobs available, residents say.
Islamic State functionaries also continue to exact payments, going door to door to collect taxes from shopkeepers and fees for electricity and telephones.
“If the regime did not supply telecoms and salaries, I don’t think ISIS could survive,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst with the Abu Dhabi-based Delma Institute. “It charges people for things the regime is providing. But it’s not viable as a state.”
Tensions are emerging between the local populace and the foreign fighters, estimated by U.S. officials and analysts to number around 15,000, or about half of the total fighting force. Foreigners get paid in dollars, while Syrian recruits, known as munasir, or helpers, are paid in Syrian pounds.
Islamic State fighters are treated in their own secretly located field hospitals, while civilians are forced to rely on the collapsing private hospitals, said Abu Mohammed, an activist with Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group that works to draw attention to conditions under the Islamic State. He uses a nickname to protect his safety.
“People are fed up with them and would like to get rid of them,” he said. “But they don’t have the ability.”
Most Arab states share Isis’s ideology. They’re trying to have it both ways.
‘Most Arab states – including several members of the military coalition against it – share Isis’s approach to compulsion in religion.’ Photograph: Adam Butler/AP
As far as many of the Arab public are concerned, discriminating against members of the “wrong” faith, or those who hold unorthodox views, is not only acceptable, but the right thing to do. For Arab governments, enforcing religious rules and allying themselves with God helps to make up for their lack of electoral legitimacy.
A poll published in July in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hayat newspaper found that 92 percent of Saudis believe the Islamic State conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law. Other polls throughout the Islamic world show large numbers of Muslims at least sympathetic, if not openly supportive, of tactics used by extremists.
Qatar’s promotion of extremism has infuriated its neighbours Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen
Last month, Gerd Müller, the German international development minister, implicated Qatar in the rise of Isil. “You have to ask who is arming, who is financing Isil troops. The keyword there is Qatar,” he said.
Pressure is mounting on the Government to take action against wealthy Gulf states accused of funding Islamist terrorism after the beheading of Alan Henning, the British aid worker kidnapped in Syria.
Two retired generals and a former defence secretary claimed that nations such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia were helping the rise of violent extremism by channelling cash to terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which carried out Mr Henning’s murder.
The trio of senior military figures said air strikes against Isil were insufficient to defeat the terrorist threat. Instead, they called on the Government to pressure Gulf leaders into tackling extremism by strangling the funding of terrorist networks and the religious ideology that fuels them.
Investigations by The Telegraph suggest that tens of millions of pounds have been raised for Isil — and al-Qaeda — by wealthy individuals in the Gulf region while its leaders have “turned a blind eye” to the problem or been complicit in funding certain groups.
Robert Gates Says U.S. Will Need Some Boots On The Ground To Defeat Islamic State In Iraq
While airstrikes have weakened the Islamic State, its adaptations will make it even harder to fight without effective ground troops, Mr. [Hisham]Alhashimi said.
Its fighters now move in small groups, making them less vulnerable to air power. And instead of storming into towns with overwhelming force, the group has begun establishing sleeper cells in areas it wants to seize.
“It used to be that a force would come from the outside and attack a city,” Mr. Alhashimi said. “Now the forces rise up from inside the city and make it fall.”
ISIS is a killing machine, and it will take another killing machine to search it out and destroy it on the ground. There is no way the “moderate” Syrians we’re training can alone fight ISIS and the Syrian regime at the same time. Iraqis, Turkey and the nearby Arab states will have to also field troops.
After all, this is a civil war for the future of both Sunni Islam and the Arab world. We can degrade ISIS from the air — I’m glad we have hit these ISIS psychopaths in Syria — but only Arabs and Turks can destroy ISIS on the ground. Right now, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stands for authoritarianism, press intimidation, crony capitalism and quiet support for Islamists, including ISIS. He won’t even let us use our base in Turkey to degrade ISIS from the air. What’s in his soul? What’s in the soul of the Arab regimes who are ready to join us in bombing ISIS in Syria, but rule out ground troops?
Qur’an (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
Sitting next to [Jalal al-Gaood”, Gaood during the interview is Zaydan al-Jibouri, a 50-year-old sheik of another leading tribe. He frankly admits that his fighters have joined ex-Baathists and former military officers in siding with the Islamic State. “Why do you blame us in Anbar for joining” the Islamic State, he asks. “The ones who went with ISIS did so because of persecution” by the Shiite-led government of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“The Sunni community has two options,” Jibouri continues. “Fight against ISIS and allow Iran and its militias to rule us, or do the opposite. We chose ISIS for only one reason. ISIS only kills you. The Iraqi government kills you and rapes your women.” That sectarian rage and hunger for vengeance appear to animate Sunnis across Iraq.
U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map
By BEN HUBBARD, ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI SEPT. 11, 2014
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Obama’s determination to train Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria leaves the United States dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad — and one another. Among them, even the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”
Analysts who track the rebel movement say that the concept of the Free Syrian Army as a unified force with an effective command structure is a myth.
Whatever force the United States can muster, it will face a jihadist army that has surged in size. Todd Ebitz, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, said Thursday that the agency now believes ISIS has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria, an increase from a previous assessment of more than 10,000 fighters.
“This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate,” said Mr. Ebitz.
The Syrian rebels are a scattered archipelago of mostly local forces with ideologies that range from nationalist to jihadist. Their rank-and-file fighters are largely from the rural underclass, with few having clear political visions beyond a general interest in greater rights or the dream of an Islamic state.
Most have no effective links to the exile Syrian National Coalition, meaning they have no political body to represent their cause. And the coalition’s Supreme Military Council, which was intended to unite the moderate rebel forces, has all but collapsed.
“There’s a lot of skepticism about this piece of the president’s strategy,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “The so-called moderate rebels have often been very immoderate and ineffective.”
Even as they line up to support Mr. Obama’s strategy against ISIS, some European allies remain skeptical about the efficacy of arming the Syrian rebels. Germany, for instance, has been arming and training Kurdish pesh merga forces in Iraq, but has resisted doing the same for any groups in Syria — partly out of fear that the weapons could end up in the hands of ISIS or other radical groups.
“We can’t really control the final destination of these arms,” said Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the United States.
The approach — training and arming local fighters — has also not been effective in other arenas, whether Iraq, where the military melted away when ISIS attacked, or in Mali, where forces trained in counterterrorism switched sides to join Islamist fighters.
The Obama administration’s plans to arm Syrian rebels have been troubled by false starts since April 2013, when Mr. Obama first authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret training mission in Jordan.
Months after the authorization, the White House still had not delivered details to Congress about the C.I.A.’s plans, and it was not until September 2013 that the first American-trained rebels returned to Syria from Jordan.
To date, the C.I.A. mission in Jordan has trained 2,000 to 3,000 Syrian rebels, according to American and Arab officials.
To expand the training, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend up to $500 million for scores of American Special Forces troops to train up to 3,000 rebels over the next year. But the proposal languished on Capitol Hill as lawmakers complained that the plans lacked specific details. A revised plan now calls for as many as twice that number of fighters, analysts said.
Even if Congress approves the Pentagon plan, as now appears likely after Mr. Obama’s speech on Wednesday, military planners said it would be months before the fighters, to be trained at a base in Saudi Arabia, would be battle-ready.
Fatigue from three years of war has left most of those forces exhausted and short of resources. Since pushing ISIS from parts of northern Syria early this year, Syria’s rebels have few military advances to point to and in many areas have lost ground, to Mr. Assad’s forces and to ISIS. But in many places they remain busy fighting Mr. Assad and are not eager to redirect their energies to ISIS — even while many say they hate the group.
“The priority is the regime,” Ziad Obeid, who heads a small rebel faction in Aleppo, said through Skype. “But it is ISIS that is preventing any progress on the ground, so we have to get rid of it, too.”
Still, he added, he would not pull fighters from battles with the government to fight ISIS. “People on the fronts with the regime can’t leave to fight ISIS,” he said. “That won’t work.”
American involvement with the rebels so far has largely been through so-called operations rooms in Jordan and Turkey staffed by intelligence officials from the United States and other countries that have provided arms to limited numbers of vetted rebels. So far, the support provided has included light arms, ammunition and antitank missiles, which have helped the groups destroy government armor but have not resulted in major rebel advances or helped control the spread of ISIS.
“The United States can probably work with them to some extent, but they haven’t been hugely effective so far, which is why the Islamic State is there in the first place,” said Mr. Lund, the Syria analyst.
The support so far has been limited, leaving many rebels feeling that the aid is prolonging the war, not helping them win. And the fluidity of battlefield alliances in Syria means that even mainline rebels often end up fighting alongside the Nusra Front, whose suicide bombers are relied on by other groups to soften up government targets.
“Even the groups that the U.S. has trained tend to show up in the same trenches as the Nusra Front eventually, because they need them and they are fighting the same battles,” Mr. Lund said.
The operations rooms — known as the Military Operations Command — also have had their influence sapped by the spread of extremists.
Ahmed Naimeh, the top Syrian official in the operations room in Jordan, was captured by rebels during a visit to Syria this year, ironically while trying to unify local rebel groups. He has not been heard from since, and many suspect that the Nusra Front killed him.
An operations room in Turkey has provided support to a number of moderate groups in northern Syria, shifting the balance of power away from the Islamists, according to a report published this week by the International Crisis Group. But this, in addition to a decline in direct support from Persian Gulf states, has not strengthened the rebels, instead causing “a weakening of overall rebel capacity to halt regime gains in Aleppo and hold ISIS at bay to the east,” the report said.
Current and former American officials acknowledge the government’s lack of deep knowledge about the rebels. “We need to do everything we can to figure out who the non-ISIS opposition is,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former United States ambassador to Iraq and Syria. “Frankly, we don’t have a clue.”
The operations rooms, which require beneficiaries to provide information on their members, may have helped identify fighters and groups that the United States will channel greater aid through in the future.
Some rebels appear ready to join the fight against ISIS. A video posted online this week showed Jamal Maarouf, a rebel commander in northern Syria, addressing a gathering of hundreds of fighters. “God willing, we will fight two states: the state of Bashar al-Assad, the unjust tyrant, and the state of Baghdadi, the aggressor tyrant,” he said, referring to the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The ‘best’ model for how to destroy the Islamic State? The time the U.S. first defeated it.
By Ishaan TharoorSeptember 12 at 12:52 PM
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters held position during fighting against Islamic State militans in Rashad, on the road between Kirkuk and Tikrit, on Thursday. (J.M. Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
As the United States embarks on an open-ended campaign to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, there are pronounced questions as to how that can be achieved. In his Wednesday night speech, President Obama linked planned operations in Iraq and Syria to ongoing campaigns in Yemen and Somalia -- missions he deemed "successful."
WorldViews explained why the ongoing U.S. drone wars in Yemen and Somalia are hardly reasons for enthusiasm, especially when taking into account the considerable capabilities of the Islamic State, which eclipse al-Qaeda and its affiliates: The Islamic State commands swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, is cash rich and very well-armed.
In a story published Friday in The Washington Post, my colleagues Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock explored how little positive precedent there is for American efforts to neutralize the Islamic State:
Although the conventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have essentially concluded, the United States is still battling al-Qaeda affiliates in countries including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. None of those groups has been eradicated, or even degraded to a degree that would allow U.S. counterterrorism operations to end.
"The only apparent exception to this pattern," suggest Miller and Whitlock, "had been al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that was seen as virtually dismantled untilits reincarnation as the Islamic State."
That's right: The closest the United States has come to destroying a terrorist organization like the Islamic State was when it subdued the al-Qaeda insurgency that led to its rise. A U.S. counteroffensive in 2008, aided by a coalition of Sunni tribal militias, beat back al-Qaeda in Iraq; Baghdad, for a brief moment, seemed to be showing the political will to better accommodate Iraq's Sunni majority regions. But those gains didn't hold and, in the chaos of Syria's civil war, units that once belonged to al-Qaeda in Iraq reemerged as the Islamic State.
The irony is unwelcome for a raft of reasons: The Islamic State is far more powerful than its predecessor, boasting as many as 31,500 fighters, according to new estimates from the CIA. That includes an influx of radicalized European nationals, as well as opportunistic defectors from other Syrian rebel groups. The United States does not have the boots on the ground as it did during its occupation in Iraq; nor is it certain that the Obama administration or the Iraqi government can call on the same Sunni militias that helped first push back al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Lastly, the challenge this time requires action in two countries, not one, and it's still unclear how the United States will proceed in taking out the Islamic State's positions in Syria, a country ravaged by a civil war that the Obama administration has tried desperately to avoid.
In other words, the best precedent for American action against a terrorist organization is only grounds for pessimism and doubt.
Countering Islamic State will be hard in Iraq and harder in Syria, officials say
Going to War With the Allies You Have
ISIS Draws a Steady Stream of Recruits From Turkey
By CEYLAN YEGINSU SEPT. 15, 2014
ANKARA, Turkey — Having spent most of his youth as a drug addict in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Turkey’s capital, Can did not think he had much to lose when he was smuggled into Syria with 10 of his childhood friends to join the world’s most extreme jihadist group.
After 15 days at a training camp in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto headquarters of the group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the 27-year-old Can was assigned to a fighting unit. He said he shot two men and participated in a public execution. It was only after he buried a man alive that he was told he had become a full ISIS fighter.
“When you fight over there, it’s like being in a trance,” said Can, who asked to be referred to only by his middle name for fear of reprisal. “Everyone shouts, ‘God is the greatest,’ which gives you divine strength to kill the enemy without being fazed by blood or splattered guts,” he said.
Hundreds of foreign fighters, including some from Europe and the United States, have joined the ranks of ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate that sweeps over vast territories of Iraq and Syria. But one of the biggest source of recruits is neighboring Turkey, a NATO member with an undercurrent of Islamist discontent.
As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials here. Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers. The C.I.A. estimated last week that the group had from 20,000 to 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The United States has put heavy pressure on Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to better police Turkey’s 560-mile-long border with Syria. Washington wants Turkey to stanch the flow of foreign fighters and to stop ISIS from exporting the oil it produces on territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.
So far, Mr. Erdogan has resisted pleas to take aggressive steps against the group, citing the fate of 49 Turkish hostages ISIS has held since militants took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in June. Turkey declined to sign a communiqué last Thursday that committed a number of regional states to take “appropriate” new measures to counter ISIS, frustrating American officials.
For years, Turkey has striven to set an example of Islamic democracy in the Middle East through its “zero problems with neighbors” prescription, the guiding principle of Ahmet Davutoglu, who recently became Turkey’s prime minister after serving for years as foreign minister. But miscalculations have left the country isolated and vulnerable in a region now plagued by war.
Turkey has been criticized at home and abroad for an open border policy in the early days of the Syrian uprising. Critics say that policy was crucial to the rise of ISIS. Turkey had bet that rebel forces would quickly topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, but as the war evolved, the extremists have benefited from the chaos.
Turkish fighters recruited by ISIS say they identify more with the extreme form of Islamic governance practiced by ISIS than with the rule of the Turkish governing party, which has its roots in a more moderate form of Islam.
Hacibayram, a ramshackle neighborhood in the heart of Ankara’s tourist district, has morphed into an ISIS recruitment hub over the past year. Locals say up to 100 residents have gone to fight for the group in Syria.
“It began when a stranger with a long, coarse beard started showing up in the neighborhood,” recalled Arif Akbas, the neighborhood’s elected headman of 30 years, who oversees local affairs. “The next thing we knew, all the drug addicts started going to the mosque.”
One of the first men to join ISIS from the neighborhood was Ozguzhan Gozlemcioglu, known to his ISIS counterparts as Muhammad Salef. In three years, he has risen to the status of a regional commander in Raqqa, and locals say he frequently travels in and out of Ankara, each time making sure to take back new recruits with him.
Mehmet Arabaci, a Hacibayram resident who assists with distributing government aid to the poor, said younger members of the local community found online pictures of Mr. Gozlemcioglu with weapons on the field and immediately took interest. Children have started to spend more time online since the municipality knocked down the only school in the area last year as part of an aggressive urban renewal project.
“There are now seven mosques in the vicinity, but not one school,” Mr. Arabaci said. “The lives of children here are so vacant that they find any excuse to be sucked into action.”
Playing in the rubble of a demolished building on a recent hot day here, two young boys staged a fight with toy guns.
When a young Syrian girl walked past them, they pounced on her, knocking her to the floor and pushing their toy rifles against her head. “I’m going to kill you, whore,” one of the boys shouted before launching into sound effects that imitated a machine gun.
The other boy quickly lost interest and walked away. “Toys are so boring,” he said. “I have real guns upstairs.”
The boy’s father, who owns a nearby market, said he fully supported ISIS’s vision for Islamic governance and hoped to send the boy and his other sons to Raqqa when they are older.
“The diluted form of Islam practiced in Turkey is an insult to the religion,” he said giving only his initials, T.C., to protect his identity. “In the Islamic State you lead a life of discipline as dictated by God, and then you are rewarded. Children there have parks and swimming pools. Here, my children play in the dirt.”
But when Can returned from Raqqa after three months with two of the original 10 friends he had left with, he was full of regret.
“ISIS is brutal,” he said. “They interpret the Quran for their own gains. God never ordered Muslims to kill Muslims.”
Still, he said many were drawn to the group for financial reasons, as it appealed to disadvantaged youth in less prosperous parts of Turkey. “When you fight, they offer $150 a day. Then everything else is free,” he said. “Even the shopkeepers give you free products out of fear.”
ISIS recruitment in Hacibayram caught the news media’s attention in June when a local 14-year-old recruit came back to the neighborhood after he was wounded in a shelling attack in Raqqa. The boy’s father, Yusuf, said that the government had made no formal inquiry into the episode and that members of the local community had started to condemn what they saw as inaction by the authorities.
“There are clearly recruitment centers being set up in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, but the government doesn’t seem to care,” said Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. “It seems their hatred for Bashar al-Assad and their overly nuanced view of what radical Islam is has led to a very short- and narrow-sighted policy that has serious implications.”
The Interior Ministry and National Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
On a recent afternoon in Ankara, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu came to pray at the historic Haci Bayram Veli Mosque, just over 100 yards away from an underground mosque used by a radical Salafi sect known to oversee ISIS recruits.
When news of their visit reached the neighborhood, several residents scurried down the steep hill hoping to catch an opportunity to raise the issue.
At the same time, a 10-year-old boy lingered in his family’s shop, laughing at the crowd rushing to get a glimpse of the two leaders. He had just listened to a long lecture from his father celebrating ISIS’ recent beheading of James Foley, an American journalist. “He was an agent and deserved to die,” the man told his son, half-smirking through his thick beard.
To which the boy replied, “Journalists, infidels of this country; we’ll kill them all.”
Sunday 9 November 2014
War with Isis: The militants will remain until the region's Sunnis feel safe
The US plan of strengthening local tribes is no match for the brutality of the jihadis
Islamic State (Isis) has a grisly ritual whereby its victims are compelled to chant "the Islamic State remains" in the moments before they are executed. Unfortunately, the slogan remains all too true: five months after Isis defeated the Iraqi army and captured much of northern and western Iraq, it is still tightening its grip on its territory in Iraq and Syria and nobody has devised a feasible policy to defeat it.
The US announced on Friday that it is to send another 1,500 soldiers to Iraq to advise and train its army, doubling the number it already has in the country. A new development is that the extra troops will be sent to serve in Iraqi army and Kurdish units and no longer be confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The supposed reason for sending them, according to the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, is because "the Iraqis have demonstrated the willingness and the will to go after Isil [Isis]“.
A more likely motive for sending US reinforcements at this time is that, over the past six weeks, the military situation in Iraq has either not changed or, in parts of the country, has deteriorated significantly. On 2 October, Isis launched an offensive in Anbar, a vast province west of Baghdad that makes up a quarter of Iraq. It captured most of the towns, villages and bases it did not already hold, winning a victory in the battle for Anbar that has been going on since the start of the year and opening the way for an attack on Baghdad. Contrary to what the Pentagon is saying, the Iraqi army showed that it remains unable to stop Isis and launch an effective counteroffensive.
The most important feature of the Iraqi and American plan to weaken and ultimately to defeat Isis is to turn the Sunni tribes against the movement, as happened in 2006-07. Then, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor of Isis, faced a revolt by the so-called Awakening Movement, provoked by its brutal rule and encouraged by US money and protection. But this time round, it is not happening like that: Isis is determined to prove that it will slaughter any Sunni tribe, party or individual opposing it.
The tragic fate of the Albu Nimr tribe over the past few weeks is a demonstration of why it will be so difficult to engineer a Sunni tribal revolt against Isis. The Albu Nimr claim half a million members concentrated in central Anbar but also present in Mosul, Salahuddin and Baghdad. They played an important role in combating AQI from 2006 on and, from the start of this year, were one of the main forces fighting Isis. But, in early October, they lost two important strongholds at Hit and Zauiyat, and, ever since, Isis has mercilessly hunted down their tribesmen.
So far, the Albu Nimr say that 497 of their members have been killed in a series of massacres, including 20 women and 16 children. On 29 October, 55 tribesmen were executed who had been members of the Awakening Movement and police at Zauiyat before it was overrun. Others were rounded up and killed in the following days. Isis had sleeper cells in Zauiyat who identified tribesmen to be arrested and later killed. Often their homes were taken over by Isis fighters and black flags raised above them. Much of the rest of the tribe is now in flight.
When the Albu Nimr’s stronghold at Zauiyat was under siege by Isis, the tribal elders appealed to Baghdad for help in the shape of weapons and air strikes, but they received neither. It is an important failure because other Sunni tribes, angered at Isis’s seizure of power in their territories, will think twice about staging a revolt when the penalty of failure is mass murder and the eviction of survivors from their homes.
In its determination to eliminate all who threaten Isis from within, the organisation does not rely solely on collective punishment of known opponents. Unlike AQI, it has its own security and intelligence service, similar to the Mukhabarat of Saddam Hussein and the present Iraqi government. It strikes pre-emptively, seeking out tribal sheikhs, former members of the Awakening Movement and retired army and police officers critical of the new jihadi regime. It sees enemies everywhere, responding with a fresh wave of killings to calls for an anti-Isis uprising by Sunni leaders in Baghdad and Erbil. Much of this may be paranoia, since it is the weakness of the Sunni political leaders and their lack of a mass following that has opened the door to extreme Sunni jihadis in both Iraq and Syria.
There have been some small successes by the anti-Isis forces on the periphery of the caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 29 June. These could be viewed as an optimistic sign that Isis can be beaten in the field, but these victories are not quite what they seem and are certainly not all good news from the point of view of Washington. One success was the recapture of the Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, an important development since it lies across the capital’s communications with the Shia heartlands to the south. But the defeat of Isis here was by Shia militiamen, reportedly under the overall direction of Iranian officers; it was only after the town had fallen that it was handed over to the Iraqi army. Its 80,000 Sunni population fled and there is little likelihood they will return because they are too frightened to do so, and the location of their town is too great a threat for the Baghdad government to allow them to come back.
Similarly, when Kurdish Peshmerga recaptured the Arab-Kurdish town of Rabia on the Syrian border, they found that just one Sunni Arab had stayed behind – and he was regarded with suspicion. What happened in these two widely separated places highlights the dilemma facing millions of Sunni in Isis-held areas in Iraq and Syria: they may detest and fear Isis, but they hate and are even more terrified by the Iraqi and Syrian governments.
In these circumstances, no wonder the US is doubling its forces on the ground to try to stiffen Iraqi government resistance. Sent to bases in the field, the soldiers would presumably be able to call in close-support US air strikes. Hitherto, only about 10 per cent of 6,600 air missions flown in Iraq and Syria have led to air strikes because Isis has evacuated bases and buildings it used to occupy and hidden its vehicles and heavy weapons. Only at the siege of Kobani have its fighters been concentrated and vulnerable to air attacks using precise intelligence from the Syrian Kurds on the ground.
President Obama was criticised during the run-up to the congressional elections for his limp response to the escalating wars in Iraq and Syria. But the Republicans were sensibly wary of suggesting an alternative strategy: the US problem is that it has never had a credible partner on the ground in Syria in three years of war, and none in Iraq since the fall of Mosul on 10 June. Until it has, Isis will remain.
Facts about ISIS