Tagged: Iraq

Islamic State returning to insurgent roots as caliphate disappears

(CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) — After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, the Islamic State group has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say – a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham al-Hashimi, an IS expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring an Islamic caliphate across large areas of both countries.

Mr. Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

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India, Pakistan, Philippines among 5 countries with most terrorist attacks in 2017

(GULF NEWS) — Almost 59 per cent of all terrorist attacks in 2017 took place in five Asian countries, including India and Pakistan, a US report said Thursday. The other three countries, according to the The annual State Department Country Report on Terrorism, include Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines.

The total number of terrorist attacks worldwide last year decreased by 23 per cent. Similarly, the total deaths due to terrorist violence decreased by 27 per cent, according to the report.

The decline in terrorist violence was largely due to dramatically fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq, Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator of Counter-terrorism, said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“Although terrorist attacks took place in 100 countries in 2017, they were concentrated geographically. Fifty-nine percent of all attacks took place in five countries. Those are Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Similarly, 70 per cent of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries, and those are Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria,” he said.

The report, he added, notes a number of major strides that the United States and its allies made to defeat and degrade terrorist organizations in 2017. “We worked with allies and partners around the world to expand information sharing, improve aviation security, enhance law enforcement and rule of law capacities, and to counter terrorist radicalization with a focus on preventing recruitment and recidivism,” Sales said.

However, despite these many successes, the terrorist landscape grew more complex in 2017, he said. “ISIS [Daesh – the extremist terrorist group], Al-Qaida, and their affiliates have proven to be resilient, determined, and adaptable,” Sales added. He said foreign terrorist fighters were heading home from the war zones in Iraq and Syria or traveling to third countries to join Daesh branches there.

“We also are experiencing an increase in attacks by home-grown terrorists – that is, people who have been inspired by Daesh but have never set foot in Syria or Iraq. We’ve seen Daesh-directed or Daesh-inspired attacks outside the war zone on soft targets and in public spaces like hotels, tourist resorts, and cultural sites,” Sales said.

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ISIS’s Second Resurgence

(Institute for the Study of War) — The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) is reconstituting a capable insurgent force in Iraq and Syria despite efforts to prevent its recovery by the U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition. The U.S. Department of Defense stated in August 2018 that ISIS retains nearly 30,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria and is “more capable” than Al-Qaeda in Iraq – ISIS’s predecessor – at its peak in 2006 – 2007. ISIS is waging an effective campaign to reestablish durable support zones while raising funds and rebuilding command-and-control over its remnant forces. On its current trajectory, ISIS could regain sufficient strength to mount a renewed insurgency that once again threatens to overmatch local security forces in both Iraq and Syria. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is issuing a map update depicting ISIS’s current operating areas based on an analysis of its activity from January 1, 2018 to October 1, 2018.

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Former ISIS Fighter: Islamic State Will Return With More Rigid Ideology

(OANN) — A former ISIS fighter issues a warning to the U.S. the ideology of the Islamic State will not go away.

Thursday, a Belgian man claiming to be one of the first foreign members of ISIS, gave an interview from a terrorist prison in Syria.

He warned of continued plots and splinter groups that will arise from the now defeated Muslim caliphate in Syria.

He said fighters were already planning to organize break away terror groups before the fall of Raqqa.

Reports show, many displaced ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq are now moving to areas of the Philippines, where one in five residents are Muslim.

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Middle East expert: “Regional empire building” spurred Iran’s involvement in Syria

(THE TOWER) — In a conference call with The Israel Project on Tuesday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a Middle East journalist and analyst, said that Syria has “become a subcontractor for the ambitions of outside powers,” notably the Islamic Republic of Iran. Spyer explained that Iran’s involvement in Syria is a key part of its “regional empire building program,” which it views to be of “critical importance.”

Dr. Spyer said the Syrian uprising against Assad was now “without any hope” of success. But “in the moment of victory,” the Assad regime, rather than being victorious and strong, “was absolutely depended for its victory and continued existence on its patrons, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He also addressed the emerging conflict between Israel and Iran in southwest Syria. Dr. Spyer said Iran “played a crucial role in the preservation of the Assad regime, now seeking to push its project westwards towards the Golan Heights.” Israel, meanwhile, is “determined to stop that process in its tracks.”

Elaborating further on Iran’s role in the region, Dr. Spyer stated that the JCPOA, the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers agreed to in 2015, played a significant role in cementing Iran’s totalitarian and hegemonic agenda in the Middle East.

The million-dollar windfall from sanctions relief “strengthened and broadened the Iranian hand.” However, Dr. Spyer insisted, even before the deal was signed “Iran still managed to find billions of dollars to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, to finance the Shiite militias in Iraq, and the uprising of the Houthi movement in Yemen.”

In his view, it is testimony that “the regional empire building program is of such critical importance to the Iranian regime that, even when sanctions were having visible effects on the living standard of the Iranian people,” the Iranian leadership set aside billions for its military expansionism.

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US intelligence official: Gains against IS in Iraq, Syria fragile

(VOA) — The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has been able to decimate the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria but these gains could be easily undercut by continued instability, a U.S. intelligence official warned Tuesday.

“In the near term, I worry about a loss of gains in Syria and Iraq,” David Cattler, of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done there,” he said.

The Islamic State terror group has lost thousands of fighters and has been expelled from more than 98 percent of territory it held for over three years in Iraq and Syria.

Last year the group was pushed out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa in Syria and declared defeated in Iraq.

Now the coalition is helping the Syrian Democratic Forces to finish off IS remnants in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

IS global ideology

Cattler said IS ideology continues to resonate globally as it tries to adjust to the losses in the region.

In Syria, he warned that gains are threatened by increased complexity in the battlefield where allies and enemies compete for influence.

“The United States, Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are all combating ISIS. We are fighting the same enemy as our adversaries. As such, they too will likely reap the benefits of a ‘peace dividend,’” Cattler said.

Meanwhile, Turkey and the Kurds, both U.S. allies, have turned on each other, thereby diverting attention from IS, he added.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.

Sunni Shiite dynamics

In Iraq, he said, gains are endangered by increased political instability fueled by reconstruction challenges and lack of trust between Sunni residents and the Shiite-dominated central government.

“Even if these do not lead to the group’s resurgence, fears of reprisals and Sunni grievances due to political marginalization, discrimination, and delays in reconstruction may hamper the reconciliation necessary for a sustained peace, which is a key U.S. objective,” he said.

Islamic State is believed to have exploited Sunni fears of Shiite domination to seize large swaths of predominantly Sunni regions in 2014. Sunni leaders have already accused the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces of committing crimes in Sunni areas retaken from IS and have asked for the disbanding of the group.

But the Shiite leaders reject those claims and say the group needs to be given an institutionalized role as an effective fighting force to prevent the re-emergence of IS.

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GLOBAL JIHAD What remains of ISIS’s global terror network? Map reveals fanatics still have strongholds in ‘safe havens’ all over the planet

(THE SUN) — SINCE declaring its self-styled caliphate in June 2014, ISIS has conducted or inspired hundreds of terror attacks around the world.

At the height of its powers it was feared the terror group had more than 80,000 jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria alone.

And although it is now on the run in the middle east, security experts insist the group is still a major threat to global security.

With martyrdom a key factor of ISIS ideology many members still expect to die for the cause – and not just on the battlefield.

This is why so many have gone underground and formed “sleeper cells” in their countries of origin or other safe havens.

Now they lie in wait ready to stage attacks on locations around the world.

Here is what remains of the terror group’s deadly network…

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The Islamic State has left a toxic farewell of environmental sabotage and chronic disease

(POST-GAZETTE) — Iraq – Like any typical 15-year-old, Ahmed Jassim stays glued to his smartphone, watching music videos and playing games. In his family’s modest living room with dark concrete walls, the light from the phone’s screen illuminates his handsome but gaunt face.

But unlike his peers, Ahmed doesn’t go outside to play soccer or fly kites. Simple activities tire him out quickly because his heart is permanently damaged, the result of inhaling the smoke that blanketed this town of farmers and shepherds after Islamic State militants ignited nearby oil wells.

“He hates life. He just hates life,” his mother, Rehab Fayad, said wistfully. “It’s affected him not just physically, but psychologically.”

The militants detonated 25 oil wells in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to defend their terrain against Iraqi security forces in 2016 and wreck a prized national asset. For nine months, a thick, blinding cloud of smoke engulfed Qayyarah and the villages that surround it, turning people’s skin and sheep’s coats black from soot.

The Islamic State footprint on Iraq’s environment may be unprecedented and permanent, with a toxic legacy that includes wide-scale cattle deaths, fields that no longer yield edible crops and chronic breathing complications in children and the elderly, doctors and experts said.

Up to 2 million barrels of oil were lost, either burned or spilled, between June 2016 and March 2017, when firefighters put out the final blaze, according to a United Nations report citing Iraq’s Oil Ministry. Environmental experts worry that much of the oil has seeped into the groundwater and the nearby Tigris River – a lifeline for millions of Iraqis stretching more than 1,000 miles to Baghdad and beyond.

The militants also torched a sulfur plant north of Qayyarah, spewing 35,000 tons of the stinging substance into the air, the United Nations said. Reportedly containing one of the largest sulfur stockpiles in the world, the plant was set ablaze in part to help hold off Iraqi security forces, according to human rights and environmental experts.

Still unknown is the full extent of the impact. Studies into the long-term health effects have been halting, with Iraq’s government putting greater urgency on rebuilding, resettling displaced people and the clearing of explosives.

“The effect of what happened here will be felt for many years and decades, and the worst of it hasn’t even shown up yet,” said Abdelmeneim Tabbour, the head of Qayyarah’s health department. “The government has other priorities.”

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Trust no one: Scholar risked all to document Islamic State

(NATIONAL POST) — By LORI HINNANT and MAGGIE MICHAEL

The historian carried secrets too heavy for one man to bear.

He packed his bag with his most treasured possessions before going to bed: the 1 terabyte hard drive with his evidence against the Islamic State group, an orange notebook half-filled with notes on Ottoman history, and, a keepsake, the first book from Amazon delivered to Mosul.

He passed the night in despair, imagining all the ways he could die, and the moment he would leave his mother and his city.

He had spent nearly his entire life in this home, with his five brothers and five sisters. He woke his mother in her bedroom on the ground floor.

“I am leaving,” he said. “Where?” she asked. “I am leaving,” was all he could say. He couldn’t endanger her by telling her anything more. In truth, since the IS had invaded his city, he’d lived a life about which she was totally unaware.

He felt her eyes on the back of his neck, and headed to the waiting Chevrolet. He didn’t look back.

For nearly two years, he’d wandered the streets of occupied Mosul, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by IS. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear the killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes.

The blogger known as Mosul Eye kept his identity a secret as he documented Islamic State rule.

He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger . As IS turned the city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths.

He knew that if he was caught he too would be killed.

“I am writing this for the history , because I know this will end. People will return, life will go back to normal,” is how he explained the blog that was his conduit to the citizens of Mosul and the world beyond. “After many years, there will be people who will study what happened. The city deserves to have something written to defend the city and tell the truth, because they say that when the war begins, the first victim is the truth.”

He called himself Mosul Eye . He made a promise to himself in those first few days: Trust no one, document everything.

Neither family, friends nor the Islamic State group could identify him. His readership grew by the thousands every month.

And now, he was running for his life.

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Isis fighters surrender en masse after fall of Hawija despite vowing to fight or die

(UK INDEPENDENT) — By Rod Nordland

Extremist soldiers in Syria are foregoing martyrdom to hand themselves in at Kurdish interrogation center in northern Iraq after loss of regional stronghold in morale-sapping defeat

The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs.

More than 1,000 prisoners determined to be Isis fighters passed through that room this past week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija. Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.

For an extremist group that has made its reputation on its ferociousness, with fighters who would always choose suicide over surrender, the fall of Hawija has been a notable turning point.

The fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, took nine months, and by comparison, relatively few Isis fighters surrendered. Tal Afar fell next, in only 11 days. Some 500 fighters surrendered there.

The Iraqi military ousted Isis from Hawija in 15 days, saying it had taken its forces only three days of actual heavy fighting before most of the extremists grabbed their families and ran. According to Kurdish officials, they put up no fight at all, other than planting bombs and booby traps.

One of the men smelled so bad that when he was taken into the small interrogation room, those inside were startled. He filled the doorway, appearing even larger than his actual size. Everyone in the room seemed scared of the man, even though his hands were tied behind his back. His face had only a wisp of black stubble on the chin.

“Hello,” a visitor said. “Where’s your beard?” Isis requires all men to grow full beards.

“I’m only 21, I can’t grow it yet,” he said, clearly embarrassed.

Kurdish interrogators allowed a dozen of the surrendered fighters to be interviewed by a reporter as they arrived at the local headquarters of the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence service, in Dibis, near the Kurds’ front lines opposite Hawija. Officers monitored all interviews.
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Many of the fighters claimed to have been just cooks or clerks. So many said they had been members of Isis for only a month or two that interrogators suspected they had been coached to say that. Gone was the contempt for the world’s opinion, spewed out in one violent video after another — many of them made in Hawija, where grisly killings, especially of Kurdish prisoners, were the norm during their three-year reign over that Sunni Arab city in northern Iraq.

Most of the prisoners, though, claimed to have never seen a beheading, or even heard of such a thing.

At first, the beardless fighter seemed an exception, admitting defiantly that he had been fighting for the group for two years, alongside family members. He readily gave his name: “Maytham Muhammed Mohemin,” he said, practically spitting it out.

The interrogator, Lieutenant Pisthiwan Salahi, said Mohemin was not only an Islamic State soldier but also a member of an elite suicide squad known as the Seekers of Martyrdom, according to informers.

Kurdish officials have been perplexed by the number of fighters who have surrendered. Many of the militants said they were ordered by their leaders to turn themselves in to the Kurds, who were known to take prisoners instead of killing them.

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