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Posts Tagged ‘Hisham Alhashimi

 

ISIS Wave of Might Is Turning Into Ripple

Photo

A destroyed school in Qirnas, a village that Iraqi forces took back from the Islamic State. Credit Ali Mohammed/European Pressphoto Agency

BAGHDAD —

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance.

Analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

Across the territories the Islamic State holds, the group has overhauled its operations. Bases and hospitals have been evacuated and moved to civilian homes that are harder to identify and bomb, Iraqi officials said.

Fighters who used to cross the desert in convoys now move in small groups or by motorcycle.

Fallout From the Battle With ISIS for Kobani

A visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria.

 

OPEN Graphic

“The airstrikes from the coalition have been very helpful, and now the ISIS fighters are confused and don’t know where to go,” said Maj. Gen. Hamad Namis al-Jibouri, the police chief of Salahuddin Province in Iraq, where a combination of government security forces and Shiite militias have been fighting the jihadists near the town of Baiji. “They have also raised the spirits of the groups on the ground that are fighting ISIS.”

Still, airstrikes alone cannot achieve President Obama’s goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, analysts say. And they have not been the only reason the group’s advance has seemed to slow.

One main factor in the shift has been demographics.

ISIS thrives in poor, Sunni Arab areas that have lost their connection to the central state. The Sunni-led uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria opened up such areas there. And the neglect of such areas in Iraq during the tenure of former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki made them an opportunity for the jihadists.

But after months of steady expansion, the Islamic State has taken most of these areas in Iraq while failing to seize areas with non-Sunni populations. And although it could still expand in Syria, the group also faces resistance from rival rebel groups there.

ISIS can only expand in areas where it can enter into partnerships with the local population, and that largely limits the scope of the expansion of ISIS to Sunni, disenfranchised areas,” said Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

It is in Iraq, where coalition forces began bombing in August, that the Islamic State has lost the most ground.

In recent weeks, combinations of Iraqi government units, Kurdish pesh merga forces, Shiite militias and armed Sunni tribesmen have seized the Rabia crossing with Syria; taken back the area of Zumar in the north and Jurf al-Sakr south of Baghdad; opened crucial roads in the country’s center; and held off Islamic State advances elsewhere.

For the first time since the jihadists seized Mosul and much of north-western Iraq in June, an Iraqi military vehicle can drive from Baghdad to the northern city of Erbil on a main highway.

Hisham Alhashimi, an Iraqi researcher and an expert on the Islamic State, said those changes had broken up the group’s territory, making it harder for it to move its forces and for its couriers to relay messages among the leadership and the field commanders.

And indications have emerged that Sunni populations in some areas it controls are trying to undermine it.

In Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, ground forces have cut the group’s supply lines and killed a number of its local leaders with the help of tips from angry residents, security officials there said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocols.

Others say the group’s own rhetoric has left it vulnerable.

What differentiates the Islamic State from Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups is that it claims to have re-established the Islamic Caliphate, making its commander the spiritual leader of Muslims everywhere.

Very few Muslims abroad agree, and the group’s argument would further fall apart if its fighters went underground.

“So central to this group’s appeal is its ability to keep expanding,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst with the International Crisis Group. “But as soon as that stops, the whole narrative is less convincing.”

While the group appears to have lost no ground in Syria, the air campaign has forced it to leave its headquarters in former government buildings and lighten its patrols in the city of Raqqa. And strikes on oil wells and small refineries run by the Islamic State have undermined its economic base, making fuel prices rise.

Over the last week, Islamic State fighters have been struggling with government forces for control of natural gas fields in Homs Province, facilities that are unlikely to be bombed because they fuel electricity plants.

While airstrikes have weakened the Islamic State, its adaptations will make it even harder to fight without effective ground troops, Mr. 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.”

It has certainly not been all setbacks for ISIS.

While the various Iraqi ground forces have generally grown more effective, they are still lacking in many parts of the country, including Anbar Province, a vast and predominantly Sunni Arab region that abuts the capital.

Last month, Islamic State seized the Anbar town of Hit and has since been killing members of the Albu Nimr tribe, which resisted its advance. The Iraqi human rights ministry said this week that more than 300 tribe members had been killed.

Because of Iraqi’s sectarian dynamics, most agree that the government cannot send Shiite forces to fight in Anbar. The result has been a delayed, anemic attempt to push back ISIS there.

“The executions continue, and the support is weak,” said Naim al-Gaood, an Albu Nimr leader who has spent recent weeks asking Iraqi officials for arms support while receiving nearly daily reports of new killings from home. “All we are asking for is supplies to protect people from getting killed and food to keep them from starving.”

The Islamic State faces even less resistance in Syria, where government forces and the rebels are exhausted from three and a half years of civil war. A covert program by the United States to arm select rebel groups has made little difference, and a Pentagon program to train 5,000 fighters a year is still in the planning stages.

In many areas dominated by the Islamic State, residents still cannot imagine a force that can push it out.

“There are a few guys who try to launch attacks on them or shoot at them, but there is no force that can really challenge their control,” said an activist reached through Skype in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour.

Modern means. Slick production… ISIS forging its archaic Caliphat-hood

Iraqi expert on Isis, Hisham Alhashimi, said:

Abu Bakr Baghdadi wants to bring the US Americans into a war with him so he will prove that what was written in the Quran and the prophecies that (Christians) will fight against the Muslims. He wants to prove that he is the leader of Muslims.

Having the Americans bomb him is not at odds with spreading the caliphate. ISIS dream is a real jihad against the Crusaders.”

Baghdadi does not fear the Arab world’s armies.

He has tapped into the ruins of a body politic across much of the Arab world that has spectacularly failed to share power or respond to the will of the street.

He knows from his time in Iraq, both in US prisons and on the battlefields that to be realistically confronted, the US, or another power, will need to ally with local backers.

 in The Guardian, Wednesday 3 September 2014

What next for Islamic State, the would-be caliphate?

Isis is making very modern military and media advances, but its existence is rooted in religion and old sectarian divides
A Shia militia fighter holds a gun

A Shia militia fighter holds a gun near a graffito that says ‘Amerli‘ in Arabic (city  in Iraq that was freed lately from Daesh). Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s most potent terror group is also its most savvy.

In its 18 month existence, Islamic State (Isis) has imposed its old world view of Islam using very modern means. Slick production, an eye for a camera angle and high definition horror have done just as much to showcase the group – and further its aims – as its rampage across Iraq and Syria.

Almost every move Isis has made has been chronicled in some form, either through shaky hand held mobile phones that have captured battle scenes Blair Witch style, or by applying more sophisticated Hollywood production values.

An hour-long chronology of barbarism that the group posted online in June featured an opening sequence copied straight from the 2009 film about the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker.

Isis may eschew much of the modern world, but it certainly studies its enemy.

And, in what is the biggest punt of its short and bloody life, the group appears to have gambled that it can call the bluff of its most formidable foe.

On extremist web forums and within the organisation, debate is raging about how the US will respond to the beheading of two of its citizens, and what Britain and Europe may do if its nationals are harmed.

A growing school of though is that the gruesome, highly public, deaths of James Foley and Stephen Sotloff (an Israeli/US), have done what three blood-soaked years in Syria and Iraq had previously failed to do: galvanized war-weary western leaders and their deeply skeptical publics to a common and fast growing enemy that may eventually point its turrets their way.

Advocates of toning down the brazen violence say that while such tactics have a strong terror shock value among communities they want to conquer, they also stir sleeping giants.

And if Isis is to continue its quest for dominance, having superpowers collectively enraged so soon might not help further such goals.

The group has enormous momentum at the moment:

1. militarily it is manoeuvering on three fronts at once – something far beyond the Iraqi, or Syrian armies.

2. It is collecting large numbers of Sunnis on both sides of the now redundant border. Some are joining out of coercion, others from fear and a smaller number from a conviction that the jihadis share their values and are acting out pre-ordained prophecies.

Whatever their motivation, Iraq’s Sunni minority shares a common sense of being estranged from any semblance of a political process ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted in Iraq and Shia Islamic Iran established itself as a post-occupation power.

Syria’s Sunni majority, especially in the north and east, has been partly subservient to a Shia-aligned Alawite regime for more than three decades longer. Together they make a formidable support base.

Supporters in favour of a less confrontational approach say that Isis needs this stunning progress to continue if it is to make good its goal of re-establishing a caliphate across ancient Islamic lands.

After declaring the establishment of a new caliphate, what to do now is at the behest of the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and a tightly-knit military council that makes all the group’s strategic decisions.

(Currently, all the leading chiefs in ISIS are Iraqis. The Syrians and foreigners play secondary roles)

Some who study Isis closely say Baghdadi is aiming for an apocalyptic showdown that he wants to bring on sooner rather than later. Interpretations of Koranic teachings underpin all of what Baghdadi does.

And high on the list of teachings being adhered to by Isis is a 1,400 year old prediction that Muslims and Christians would fight a pre-apocalyptic battle in a place called Dabek. (I never heard of that prediction or who did the prediction)

Since establishing themselves as a force in northern Syria in May 2013, Isis members have focused on small hamlet of 4,000 people some 30 miles south of the Turkish border, called Murj Dabek. This, to many among Isis, is ground zero of the war, a place where ancient prophecies will be thrashed out in an existential battle between the faiths.

(I never heard of that prediction or who did the prediction. Murj Dabek is the battlefield where the Ottoman army crushed and the Mameluke army that ruled Egypt and Syria as the Ottoman Empire decided to expand southward during Salim I in the 16th century)

Baghdadi does not fear the Arab world’s armies. He has tapped into the ruins of a body politic across much of the Arab world that has spectacularly failed to share power or respond to the will of the street. He knows from his time in Iraq, both in US prisons and on the battlefields that to be realistically confronted, the US, or another power will need to ally with local backers.

He also knows, that without an occupying army – and re-occupying central Arabia is something that Barack Obama still seems repulsed by – it will be difficult to splinter the Sunni support base that now stands with him.

“There are military leaders working with him, former Saddam henchmen,” said one former middle-ranking member of Isis who left the group before it changed the face of the Middle East in June with its advances into Mosul and Tikrit.

They were not with us then. They thought we were a bus that they wanted to get to their destination. But now, from what I know of them, they are just as ruthless, just as committed. These people are running the war in places like Tikrit. Even if they part ways, they will help Islamic State win.”

Note: Apparently, the western States have not yet decided to crush ISIS and the social networks used by ISIS have been easily circumvented to spread the message.


adonis49

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