November 17, 2015
The Islamic State (IS) was never a part of the legitimate resistance against Syrian President Bashar al Assad. There are possibly hundreds of opposition groups inside Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the leader of the rebellion. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are divergent ethnic and religious groups that are often antagonistic and even violent towards one another.
The Islamic State has used the chaos created by the Syrian rebellion to try and fulfill an obscure Islamic prophecy. Back during the zenith of Osama bin Laden’s war with the West, some Islamists started focusing on any Islamic teachings, no matter how obscure, that promoted a jihadist vision that would be global in scope. Their goal was to legitimize their politicized version of Islam and to cement the legitimacy of jihad in the minds of Muslim moderates. This search led to scholarship regarding something called Yawm ad-Din, the Day of Judgement.
Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events in history. Such a concept is often referred to as “end times” and it is definitely not limited to Islam. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’i, and new religious movements such as New Age religions also have eschatological theology and followers who believe in imminent apocalypticism
The Day of Judgement was first introduced to jihadi groups by the world’s foremost jihadist scholar, a Palestinian man named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi. Maqdisi’s prominence and knowledge has attracted jihadi acolytes over the years including Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) called upon Maqdisi to find out if their jihad in Yemen would lead to an Islamic Caliphate. Maqdisi affirmed an exceptional destiny for the jihadists in Yemen, but added a caveat that the group in Yemen would have to go on to Syria to fulfill their destiny. Maqdisi explained that AQAP would help bring about Allah’s judgment by helping to usher in the end of the world. Maqdisi explained that jihadists in the AQAP would help mobilize popular support against the West and its apostate allies by launching attacks all over the globe. But first, the fighters in Yemen had to get to Syria.
Yemeni fighters poured into Syria, but the original al Qaeda and its affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq would play a part in popularizing Syria’s role in bringing about the Day of Judgement.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed control of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010. Baghdadi’s closest aide, Hajji Bakr, who has been described as the “prince of the shadows,” helped his leader consolidate power. He proclaimed Baghdadi as a legitimate caliph that was helping to usher in the apocalypse. Baghdadi’s followers believe there will only be four more caliphs after Baghdadi before the end of the world.
During this period, Bakr saw jihad in pragmatic terms. He wanted to attack government troops and police as a blueprint to open up power vacuums to deplete security and resistance to an Islamic State takeover. He also wanted to introduce a powerful religious motivation for uniting jihadists behind a single program—his program. The Day of Judgement prophecy became an influential tool for motivating jihadists to take over Iraq and Syria under Baghdadi’s control.
When Syrians began peaceably protesting against their government in 2011, Assad’s administration released an unknown number of jihadists from prison with a calculation that these men would foster violence among the protesters and give the regime an excuse to violently suppress them. Taking advantage of the volatility, al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri encouraged Baghdadi to send members of his Islamic State of Iraq into Syria. He did, and this group morphed and eventually came to calling itself Jabhat al Nusra or Nusra Front.
Nusra expanded in Northern Syria, and it eventually splintered with the Islamic State of Iraq.
In 2013, Baghdadi announced that he was in control of Nusra and that he was merging it with the Islamic State of Iraq into one group, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIL or ISIS). Some leaders within Nusra rejected this merger and reaffirmed an allegiance to al Qaeda. Others, particularly foreign fighters from Yemen, joined with Baghdadi.
The end times prophecy worked as a solidifying agent and as propaganda to bring jihadists groups under Baghdadi’s control.
The Qur’an does not go into much specificity about the Day of Judgement. Instead, Islamists have had to depend on hadith for descriptions and guidance. Various hadith explain that chaos and corruption will rule in Muslim lands, and Jesus (whom Muslims see as a Muslim and a Prophet) will return near the day of judgement to restore justice and to defeat the Antichrist called the Mahdi. After he defeats the Mahdi, Muslims believe that Jesus will assume leadership of the world and will live for another 40 years before dying of natural causes. The rule of Jesus will be the precursor to Muhammad returning for the final day of judgement.
The prophecy that the Islamic State has used is a version of this narration. It describes that the armies of “Rome” will gather on what are currently grasslands in Northern Syria. These armies will face off against the armies of Islam (Islamic State) and then be vanquished. IS will then be free to takeover Istanbul before a final showdown in Jerusalem. It is there in Jerusalem that Jesus will return to slaughter the Antichrist and his followers the Christians and Jews.
Most Islamic sects consider hadith to be essential supplements to, and clarifications of, the Qur’an. Sunni and Shi’a hadith collections differ drastically. Sunni hadith texts number around 10 thousand. Shi’ites refute six major Sunni collections, but Shi’a sects cannot agree with one another on which of their texts are actually authentic. Consequently, hadith texts within Shi’a traditions are more contested, and therefore an exact number for Shi’a hadith is difficult to claim.
November 16, 2015
The extremist group Islamic State (IS) has taken credit for a series of terror attacks in Paris on Friday that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more. The attacks are the deadliest on French soil since World War II, and French President François Hollande has called them “an act of war.”
In Syria, U.S. fighter jets joined this morning with the French in bombing IS targets. In Paris, authorities continue to investigate the attacks, saying they have identified the mastermind as a Belgian man living in Syria. In the United States, opponents of the Obama administration say a stronger response to IS terrorism is required.
Much is happening in France as a response to the attacks. This morning, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the country has subsequently conducted 168 raids, detaining 23 suspects and putting more than 100 under house arrest.
Salim Benghalem, a French national, is believed to have orchestrated the attacks, while Abdelhamid Abaaoud is believed to have ordered them. The two men are thought to currently be in Syria.
In the last few months IS has begun training their fighters on a battlefield, in real-life situations, which can make them more successful terrorists.
France and the United States are founding members of NATO.
A NATO response to the attacks will undoubtedly start with an enhanced level of intelligence-sharing and special operations from the NATO nations going in and supporting the current campaign. Secondly, NATO will probably take over the Syrian bombing campaign.
In the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January, the guns were traced back to Belgium, where there has been a series of arrests in recent days. Two of the gunmen, who died in Friday’s attacks, appear to have been Belgian.
Tens of thousands of foreign Muslims are thought to have immigrated to the Islamic State. Recruits hail from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many more. They immigrate with the intention to fight, and many expect to die.
The Islamic State rejects peace as a matter of conviction, and its members espouse enthusiasm for mass genocide. The religious views of IS followers specify that they consider the Islamic State to be a harbinger of the imminent end of the world; furthermore, they believe that IS will play a primary and specific role in bringing it about.
I cannot stress this enough, the kind of radical fundamentalism that IS promotes matters for its terrorist strategy. IS believes in a distinct variety of Islam that puts prominence on an end times scenario. The Islamic State’s strategy is to hit Western society with frequent and devastating attacks to provoke Western governments into a declaration of open war. The Islamic State actually wants to be attacked in a very specific Syrian location of its choice.
IS has attached pronounced significance to a Syrian city near Aleppo named Dabiq. IS members passionately rejoiced when they conquered Dabiq’s strategically inconsequential grasslands, and the organization named its propaganda magazine after the town. Dabiq is basically all farmland, but IS believes that Prophet Muhammad proclaimed that the armies of Rome would set up their camp there. The armies of Islam will then meet them in Dabiq, and the battle will lead to Rome’s demise as the world comes to an end.
Everything the Islamic State does is in anticipation of this event. IS awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will start the countdown to armageddon. The Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as an article of faith, and that means it is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration while remaining confident that it will receive divine rescue if it stays true to its religious model.
The prophetic tale that predicts the encounter at Dabiq refers to the enemy as Rome. The identity of who this Rome is remains widely debated among IS membership, because the Pope no longer controls a vast military. Some members argue that Rome is the Republic of Turkey. Other IS members suggest that Rome is an infidel army, and, if that is the case, many in IS are sure that must mean the Americans… or perhaps the French.
IS has captured large portions of land in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.
The Islamic State has introduced forced conscription in the territories it has conquered. They’ve been going to the heads of families as well as tribes and saying, you have to give us one son from every family. And those young men are then taken to training camps.
The Islamic State’s principal forebear, al Qaeda, constructed its identity around extraordinary terrorist attacks because it aimed to “provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding wars” throughout the Islamic world. Its ultimate goal was to use terrorism as a mechanism of change— to undermine the status quo and weaken Middle Eastern countries—so that radicals could turn those countries into an Islamic militant paradise. The Islamic State, in contrast, isn’t interested in creating a paradise on earth. IS wants to destroy the world in order to achieve a paradise in heaven.
Al Qaeda’s brand of Islamist ideology encouraged reconsideration of earlier Islamic religious positions. For example, a chief goal of bin Laden was to defend and preserve Sunni norms and laws against Western secular encroachment. Defensive arguments within bin Laden’s Salafi movement, often referred to as jihad, were accompanied by an unusual degree of openness to departures from past Islamic analysis and understanding. These departures included a call for a more rigid conservatism while promoting a militant vision and culture unheard-of in classical Islam.
The Islamic State takes these ideological departures further. IS has styled itself a state so that it can take up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. Without a caliphate, jihadists could only interpret their actions as defending themselves, because offensive jihad is still seen as an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph. As an essential duty, IS hopes that its caliphate could potentially draw in millions of Muslims more for IS’s end of the world scenario.
September 4, 2015
Photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his small and lifeless frame washed up onto a Turkish beach, have forced the current refugee crisis onto front pages, the nightly news, and Facebook feeds across the world this week.
Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have been fleeing strife and persecution due to civil wars and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in their home countries.
Their plight is connected to the larger humanitarian disaster fueled by ongoing religio-political violence going on elsewhere in the Middle East.
The largest numbers of refugees are coming to Europe from Syria which has entered its fifth year of civil war. The second largest group is coming from Eritrea which has one of the most repressive governments in the world where young men are subjected to an indefinite military draft. And then you have refugees coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Mali, and Libya.
The world is currently seeing the largest number of displaced refugees since Word War II. There are currently over 50 million people who have fled war and conflict worldwide. This works out to over 32,000 people fleeing their homes every single day.
The current crisis in Syria has bled over its boarders into its neighbor Lebanon. Lebanon currently has more refugees per capita than any other country. One out of four people presently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Since Lebanon has no refugee camps, Syrians are living among the population in over 1,500 locations.
The refugees flood out of Syria as people migrate into the country to join the Islamic State. The people joining IS come from a range of religious, cultural, national, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. The people migrating into Syria often speak about fighting for Muslims, about combating the Syrian regime, or about marrying a good Muslim. IS claims to have fighters from European countries including England, France, and Germany as well as the caucasus, the United States, and the Arab world.
IS’s fight in Syria – and in Iraq – is understood to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles the two countries. The group has been operating independently of other jihadist groups in the region, such as al Qaeda and its affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. It has had a tense relationship with other rebel groups fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. IS has regularly attacked fellow rebels and abused civilian supporters of the Syrian opposition. The largest cause of tension appears to come from IS telling all other jihadist groups worldwide that they must accept its supreme authority.
IS seeks to eradicate all obstacles to restoring what they understand to be God’s rule on Earth, and the organization seeks to defend the Muslim community, or umma, against apostates and infidels.
The organization views confrontation with the US-led NATO coalition as being a harbinger of an end times described in Islamic apocalyptic prophecies. IS has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. Tellingly, it named its propaganda magazine after the town, and had a frenzied celebration when it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains at great cost to the organization. The Prophet reportedly said that the armies of Rome will set up their camp in Dabiq. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Battle of Waterloo.
IS has been seeking to bring on that battle by goading the international coalition to confront it there. The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. Many sources within the Islamic State suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the United States will do just fine.
The Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as an article of faith, and that means it is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration while remaining confident that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to its Prophetic model.
All of that matters little to the millions of people displaced by the Islamic State. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has said that the current refugee crisis hitting Europe is “a defining moment.”
The United Nations says the European Union must accept 200,000 refugees as part of a “common strategy” to replace its country-by-country response to the sudden surge of refugees — most of whom are trying to reach Germany.
In a video released on August 18, 2015, the self-described Islamic State (IS) threatened Turkey as it called for the “conquest of Istanbul.”
It has taken almost ten months, but Turkey and the allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have agreed to cooperate in fighting the Islamic State. The agreement is to clear insurgents out of an area 98 kilometers by 45 kilometers between two Syrian towns seen as essential to the war effort.
NATO airstrikes are being launched from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. US Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, announced that NATO can get from Incirlik to the combat area in roughly 20 minutes. This close proximity has allowed the coalition to increase the number and effectiveness of airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Coalition forces are also permitted to use three other Turkish bases Batman, Diyarbakir, and Malatya.
The Islamic State has captured large portions of land in Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2014. Initially averse, Turkey joined the Coalition campaign against the Islamic State after an IS suicide bomber killed 33 people in a small town that sits on Turkey’s border with Syria, and then killed a Turkish military officer the next day.
Turkey faces new elections as it becomes more involved in the campaign against the Islamic State, and is grappling with a sharp increase in violence between Turkish security forces and Kurdish rebels. More than a hundred people (mostly police and soldiers) have been killed in Turkey since July in renewed conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and security forces.
The collapse of the 2 1/2-year-old peace process with the Kurds has had political consequences for Turkish politicians. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected Monday to formally call new elections for November 1st a day after the deadline passed for establishing a government following Turkey’s June election. President Erdogan is also expected to re-appoint Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form an interim administration after Davutoglu’s last efforts to form a coalition alliance failed last week.
The Islamic-rooted ruling party, which Mr. Erdogan founded, lost its parliamentary majority in June for the first time since 2002. Erdogan is thought to favor new elections to give the ruling party the chance to win back its majority and rule alone.
The Turkish lira has dropped to record lows against the dollar amid the political and military uncertainty.
In proliferation, diplomacy has failed to prevent the last four members of the nuclear club from getting the bomb—North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Israel.
Now, this new agreement with Iran shows little promise that diplomacy will halt that country’s nuclear program.
The main aim of this deal is to prevent Iran from creating a nuclear bomb.
This deal is being encoded into a new United Nations (UN) resolution that will make it an international legal arrangement. The arrangement gives veto welding powers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1). The ability of the UN to increase transparency regarding Iran’s nuclear program is entirely dependent on these 6 countries agreeing to let the UN do its work and not obstructing the UN through the use of a veto.
Is this a victory for diplomacy?
The question over granting UN nuclear inspectors access to Iranian military bases is a good illustration of what is wrong with this agreement.
This “deal” guarantees that there is no way to make sure that the Iranian government is not hiding nuclear related projects at one or more of its military locations.
Under this agreement, inspectors will be granted access to military sites inside Iran if and only if the Iranian regime allows it to. Proper policing of the Iranian regime will be impossible the way this deal is written.
The dispute mechanism negotiated within the deal works like this: if UN inspectors want to visit an Iranian military base, they send a request to Iran; however, the regime then has two weeks to reply. If Iran says no, the agency can force a vote on the issue with the P5+1, and that process can take as long as an additional 24 days. These 38 days give the Iranian regime the time necessary to scrub clean a site in order to avoid detection of any violations. Of course, that is assuming that Russia would ever vote to force Iran to allow inspectors within its military instillations.
The lack of transparency afforded by this deal is causing anxiety in the Middle East, and could potentially kick-off a nuclear arms race in that region. It is believed that Iran’s longtime adversary Saudi Arabia has already begun taking steps to create their own nuclear capabilities by working with Pakistan. Two more of Iran’s opponents, Egypt and Turkey, have also expressed renewed interest in getting the bomb.
Furthermore, there is the issue over the potential lifting of the United Nations arms embargo. This is an embargo on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles in and out of Iran. It was put in place in 2006 as part of a strategy to drive Iran to the bargaining table, but now that an agreement has been reached, Iran wants the embargo removed.
China and Russia wanted the embargo lifted immediately so they could sell arms to Iran. The United States and European states wanted to keep it on almost indefinitely. A compromise was reached with a mix of five years on conventional arms, and eight for ballistic missiles.
Iran’s ability to once again buy and sell heavy conventional weapons threatens other Gulf leaders in the Middle East. A renewed conventional arms race has begun. The Gulf Cooperation Council is currently looking to increase its defense capabilities against ballistic missiles including an early warning system. An integrated defense system among the Gulf States will easily cost tens of billions of dollars.
Iran’s traditional adversaries, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, have begun increasing their land forces, their air forces, their surface to air forces, and their overall war fighting capability. These countries are not just worried about conflict with Iran. There is fear that Iran will once again freely give arms to its proxies.
Iran is the de facto leader of the alliance between Shi’ite Muslim states, because the biggest effect the Iranian Revolution of 1979 had on the Middle East was to encourage the most uncompromising elements within the Shi’ite community to fight a regional counteroffensive against what was then a Sunni status quo.
Syria has long been an important mechanism for arming pro-Palestinian militant groups to fight Israel inside Gaza. With the civil war in Syria refusing to abate, Hamas currently lacks the ability to re-arm itself against Israel like it once did in the past; therefore, Hamas now depends more heavily on Iranian power.
The Lebanese Hezbollah has long operated as an instrument for Iran. The U.S. State Department now concedes that Hezbollah, with Iran as its state sponsor, is considered the most technically capable terrorist group in the world.
Finally, Iranian supplies to the Taliban and other groups within Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. Insurgents have long moved freely across the border Iran shares with Afghanistan, and Iran has been a safe haven for members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and others hiding from Western intelligence.
Iran is populated primarily by Shi’ites, and it remains a security (mukhabarat) state whose rulers focus on retaining their power and privilege by focusing on military and security forces at the cost of societal modernization. Islamic revivalism has stunted Iran’s march toward “Western” modernization, and has created a growing social split within the country.
Iran’s official language of Persian (Farsi) helps to keep Iran culturally isolated from much of the Middle East where Arabic is the dominant language. While Persian and Arabic share an alphabet, they are completely different languages with completely different pronunciations. This causes difficulties with Iran sharing in cultural products such as news, entertainment, and religious services with the majority of the Middle Eastern region.
This fact is especially important to remember when we consider Iran’s communications (or lack thereof) with other countries in the Middle East. A lack of clear communication could complicate and escalate any conflict brewing in the region due to conventional weapons proliferation.
Iran, under the shah, wanted 22 nuclear reactors for energy, and at the time the United States supported this position. Iran only ever built one, but it has plans, it says, for others, but it’s taken a very long time to get to the point where it can build them. The question is, is Iran’s current regime also moving toward a weapon.
Iran was already supposed to declare everything that it was doing on the nuclear front with the United Nations, but Iran has never cooperated with the international community in terms of giving it access to its scientists or in providing information on what it has been doing. Iran has blocked the United Nations at every turn, and there is no reason to believe that Iran will change its behavior with this new deal.
June 30, 2015
When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell last month to the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State, it was a big defeat. Ramadi is a provincial capital just 60 miles west of Baghdad, and its capture is not just seen as a strategic loss, but also a symbolic one.
Iraqi forces, on numerous occasions, have fled from the Islamic State. Iraq’s military abruptly absconded from Mosul last year. In Tikrit, Iraq’s security forces were failing to turn the tide of battle, so Shi’ite militias had to be brought in to liberate the city. And in Ramadi, Iraqi troops turned tail and ran.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi sought to deflect blame over the weekend with a televised appearance. He said troops had never been authorized to withdraw from Ramadi, and insisted his orders, “were the opposite.” Mr. al Abadi asserted that if troops had followed orders and stayed, Ramadi would still be under government control.
Iraq’s Prime Minister came to power vowing to mend sectarian fractures that were exasperated under his predecessor, Nouri al Maliki. Sectarianism has been cited as one of the main contributing factors for why the Islamic State has so easily conquered large cities in Sunni areas of the country. To put it simply, Iraq’s Shi’ite government has been unable to galvanize alienated Sunni soldiers to fight on its behalf.
The changes that have occurred in Iraq’s political process since Saddam Hussein’s fall from power have upset the established and seemingly stable relationships that existed before the Iraq War. Shi’ite forces taking over the central government hint at far-reaching shifts in regional distributions of power, an unleashing of renewed religio-political forces, and a realignment of tribal relations.
The city of Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar Province which is, geographically, the largest governorate in Iraq. Encompassing much of Iraq’s western territory, Anbar Province shares a border with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Anbar’s provincial council has requested assistance from Shi’a militias to free Ramadi from Islamic State control. Since Anbar Province has a mostly Sunni population, there are risks to Shi’ite militias engaging the Islamic State there.
Many fear that Shi’ite militias would further fuel the sectarian conflict that underlies everything that’s going on in Iraq. There are concerns that there will be reprisals from Shi’ite militias against Sunnis in the area; however, the fact that Anbar’s Sunni leadership has called for Shi’a assistance is a sign of how desperate the situation has become. Anbar’s provincial council has lost faith in Iraq’s military.
Sectarianism isn’t the only thing that hinders Iraq’s armed forces. US troops training and advising the Iraqi military on combating the Islamic State have found that Iraq’s military leadership is plagued by tribalism and cronyism. The US Army’s No. 2 general, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, has found that tribal factions have degraded the training and readiness of Iraq’s security forces. This is a huge problem, because Sunnis who do not feel a particular loyalty or allegiance to the Islamic State have lost confidence that the government is going to protect them. This makes it that much harder for these Sunnis to trust the government’s promises, and to agree to work with government forces to organize themselves.
Capitalizing on Iraq’s sectarianism, the Islamic State has developed a narrative that it defends Sunnis against Baghdad.
Some in Iraq have sought to combat the Islamic State by using the theme of reconciliation as a competing narrative. This involves careful cooperation between Shi’ite militias and Baghdad-allied Sunni tribes, and there is evidence it is working.
Representatives from a Shi’ite militia in Najaf, Iraq recently held a meeting on reconciliation with Sunni tribal leaders in the area. After the meeting, all of the Sunni tribes agreed to hand over the Islamic State collaborators from within their ranks.
Iraqi forces will need a wide array of tools to defeat the Islamic State. Along with Ramadi, the Iraqi government has lost control of about 90% of Anbar Province and most of the “Sunni Triangle.” The security forces that have proven effective, the Shi’ite militias and Kurdish Peshmerga, will likely be a source of future conflict if the fight with the Islamic State is ever brought to a successful close.
Since the Islamic State has taken over Ramadi, it has established two Islamic courts and a police force to keep order and maximize its control over the population. It has seized pension payments from former Iraqi civil servants and retired military. Most concerning, however, are the stories of Islamic State soldiers going door to door with a list of names, and that they are killing people who they believe to be supporters of the Iraqi government. The Islamic State is trying to observe Ramadi’s population twenty-four hours a day to see who might be secretly sending information to Baghdad and to the Americans.
May 11, 2015
High-ranking military personnel from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Libya will meet in Cairo, Egypt on May 18th to coordinate plans to stabilize Libya, which has seen crisis since the toppling of the Gadhafi government in 2011.
The meeting is not being publicized, but France and Italy may also play a role.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab leaders have been in talks with Libya National Army Chief Maj. Gen. Khalifa Haftar which have resulted in the Libyan Army buying arms including five M-35 Hind upgraded helicopters that were delivered on April 26th.
Operations are ongoing in Yemen by Arab forces. These operations are seen as going well, and this has emboldened Arab forces to move into Libya.
The Egyptian government is hosting Libyan tribal leaders at the end of May to guarantee safe passage for Arab troops. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced on May 5th that the forum is meant to “unify the Libyan people.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty stressed in a statement, “the extremely important role of Libyan tribes and civil society,” in restoring stability in Libya.
Egypt is preparing to lead this coalition of states, much like Saudi Arabia has led in Yemen, to support the Libyan National Army. The Islamic State is pouring over Libya’s border into Western Egypt, so it has been deemed that action is required.
March 30, 2015
Foreign ministers of the Arab League last week announced their agreement to form a Joint Arab Strike Force for rapid intervention in troubled hot spots.
This announcement constituted a formidable alliance to fend off Iranian influence in the region, and firmly established the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world. The regional coalition has been in the works for months, and is made up of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and Sudan.
Under the auspices of this coalition, Saudi Arabia has launched operation Decisive Storm wherein precision airstrikes have been unleashed on its southern neighbor, Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is bombing Houthi rebels who have been taking over Yemen. This is the latest installment in a long simmering proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional power.
The Houthis, who are financed by Iran, are strongly anti-American as well as opponents of Sunni regimes like Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are dominated by a Shi’a Muslim sect, the Zaydis.
Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has long been a tinderbox. The American-backed government in Yemen abruptly collapsed in January. The resignation of the president, prime minister, and cabinet took many by surprise and heightened the risks that Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, would become even more of a breeding ground for terrorism. It was in this vacuum that Iran hoped to expand its influence.
The launch of operation Decisive Storm has been in play since the accession of Salman Bin Abdul Aziz to Saudi Arabia’s throne. King Salman was crowned in January and has quickly moved to address Saudi public opinion which has been getting increasingly worried about Iranian power surrounding the kingdom and perceived Saudi impotence in opposing the Iranian threat.
The Iranian response has reportedly been one of shock. The Iranian defense council is said to have met at 3 a.m. Tehran time on Thursday morning after receiving news of the airstrikes. The Iranian intelligence services did not anticipate such airstrikes, because Iran miscalculated the regional response to its expansion.
To complicate matters for Iran, it and Yemen do not share a border. The Iranian government is worried how it will recover the missile systems, intelligence and surveillance systems it has placed there.
Iran has supplied the Houthis with weapons systems that can hit almost anywhere in Saudi Arabia including government buildings, landmarks, and infrastructure.
The airstrikes are designed to take out as much Iranian sponsored Houthi military equipment as possible.
Operation Decisive Storm has seven stages; first is the destruction of the Houthis air-power, then their air defense systems. This will be followed by flushing out any pockets of air resistance. The fourth stage is the establishment of air superiority to be followed by the establishment of complete control over the theater of operations. The sixth stage is the apprehension of key figureheads, and finally redeployment of Yemeni forces into the theater.
The land forces that will be deployed will be formed out of Yemeni special forces, tribes and factions loyal to former Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi while Saudi Arabia’s coalition forces will be ready to assist or intervene as well as providing air support for ground operations.
Saudi and Egyptian warships have been deployed to the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, a key trade and oil route separating the Arabian Peninsula from east Africa.
It will be important to redeploy the Yemeni special forces because neither the Saudis nor the Egyptians are likely to be able to match the Houthi and their allies in combat in mountainous terrains in which familiarity with the grounds will prove a major advantage.
The Saudi coalition is arguably one the most significant developments within the Middle East in decades, because it is a complete reversal of Saudi Arabia’s former policy of quiet disengagement with its neighbors. It also reflects the emergence of two young Saudi leaders: the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and the Defense Minister and Royal Court chief Prince Muhammad bin Salman. This kind of proactive policy is not in traditional Saudi style and the credibility of these two men will be heavily impacted by the success or failure of this operation.
However, it is Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman who most threatens Iran’s dreams of expanding its power.
There is a danger that the longer this campaign continues, the more damage will be done to stability inside Yemen. Instability is a breeding ground for terrorist groups.
Another worry is that the Arab nations’ intervention in Yemen may cause them to lose interest in a different war – the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Most of the members of Saudi Arabia’s coalition are also members of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria that’s been waging an air campaign against ISIL.
As they begin to focus on the Yemen problem, the coalition’s resources will be used less in Syria.
July 29, 2014
The United Arab Emirates Federal National Council approved last week a revised draft of its 10-year-old counterterrorism law to respond to evolving threats.
If the new law is approved by the UAE Cabinet of Ministers and signed by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, a person need only threaten, incite or plan any terrorist act to be prosecuted as a terrorist. Furthermore, crimes committed “with terrorist intent” would carry much greater penalties than those without.
The law would also authorize the UAE Cabinet to set up lists of designated terrorist organizations and persons. The Cabinet can also establish prison centers to give convicted terrorists intensive religious and welfare counseling to dissuade them from extremist views.
Virtually all native Emeratis are adherents of Islam. Approximately 78% are Sunni and 22% are Shi’ite. The ruling families are Sunni and support the Mālikī school of jurisprudence. The Mālikī school differs from the other Sunni schools of law most notably in the sources it uses for derivation of rulings. All schools use the Qur’an as primary source, followed by the prophetic tradition of the prophet Muhammad, transmitted as hadiths. In the Mālikī school, said tradition includes not only what was recorded in hadiths, but also the legal rulings of the so-called four rightly guided caliphs.
It is important to note that if the list of terrorist groups to be drawn up under this law is seen by the UAE’s neighbors or other countries as politically motivated, that could undermine the law’s perceived legitimacy.
The 2004 law primarily addressed terror financing. All UAE banks were placed under the authority of the Central Bank through its Banking Supervision and Examination Department, which monitors banks and other financial institutions. The law allows the Central Bank to freeze funds anywhere in the UAE, and to monitor accounts that may be used to facilitate terrorism.
In recent months, media reports have depicted a number of Emirati citizens who were killed in the fighting in Syria with Islamic factions.
In May, nine people were tried on charges of supporting the Jabhat al Nusra Front in Syria. The state news agency WAM reported that UAE state security prosecutors have accused seven of the defendants of joining the terrorist al Qaeda organisation and forming a cell in the UAE to promote its ideas,. It said the men had tried to recruit members to join al Nusra that is fighting the Syrian government and had raised money that they sent to the organization.
The two other defendants were accused of running a website promoting al Qaeda’s ideology and aimed at “recruiting fighters to execute terror acts outside the country” according to WAM.
No terrorist attacks have occurred in the UAE to date.
July 27, 2014
Iraq is dealing with its worst crisis since American forces withdrew in 2011. Extremist Sunnis now calling themselves the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) have taken much of the North and West of the country. They vowed to march on Baghdad and the violence in the capital spiked again last week.
Police claim they found 18 bodies of security forces outside Baghdad. And this follows on a huge battle in the city of the Baqubah, which is just northeast of Baghdad, in which the Islamic State attacked a police station and police fended them off. Forty-four prisoners died in that process, but it is unclear how.
In the Kurdish north, calls for independence are growing, and relations between Baghdad and the region have soured since Sunni extremists overran much of northern and western Iraq. The Kurds used the opportunity to seize disputed territories they believe are part of a future independent state.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki angered Kurdish leaders when he accused them of harboring terrorists. World leaders are urging an inclusive government as violence escalates in the capital. Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum has been elected president of Iraq by the country’s parliament, another step in forming a new government after months of deadlock, as part of this inclusive strategy.
Al Maliki is a seriously divisive figure. He’s seen among the Sunni Arab community as corrupt and sectarian. He’s also seen as somebody who purposely put his cronies in top security forces positions to keep himself in power, the same security force that crumbled in the face of an Islamic State advance. And now he’s fired four of his top security officials in order to save face.
The Islamic State, who control the city of Mosul, announced they would enforce the compulsory veiling of women. Even more problematic, the Islamic State has introduced forced conscription. They’ve been going to the heads of families as well as tribes and saying, you have to give us one son from every family. And those young men are then taken to training camps.
Iraqi, American, and Iranian drones are continuously searching Iraq for Islamic State fighters. The US is currently flying about 50 missions a day over Iraq. Additionally, the US government has sold Iraq 10 ScanEagle and 48 Raven class drones for their own missions. The Iranians are flying a small amount of surveillance drones from their operations center at Rasheed Air Base. The Iranians are trying to minimize the public knowledge of what they’re doing, but reports suggest that Iran is trying to gather all the intelligence it can on both the Islamic State and US operations and platforms as well.
The power that the Islamic State holds in Iraq is giving the organization an upper hand in their fight in Syria. The Islamic state scored a propaganda victory when it took much of Western and Northern Iraq.
To moderate Syrian rebels, the effect of seeing the Islamic State conquer so much territory has made this organization appear to be an irresistible force in Syria too. Now, the extremists control nearly all the towns along the Euphrates River that flows from Syria into Iraq. And moderate Western-backed rebels are giving up fighting.
Before their march on Iraq, the Islamic State rarely took on Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces directly, preferring to consolidate control of rebel-held areas. But this month, their fighters have confronted regime soldiers over a gas field and they have also surrounded an army base close to the city of Raqqa. The Islamic State claims that its flag flutters across “all the land,” between central Syria and Eastern Iraq. This isn’t true, but they’re getting stronger.