April 27, 2015

The Islamic State Comes to Damascus

The Jupiter temple in Damascus (by Ai@ce - http://www.flickr.com/photos/aiace/2177466137/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Jupiter_temple_in_Damascus.jpg#/media/File:The_Jupiter_temple_in_Damascus.jpg)

The latest reports suggest that Islamic State fighters have largely withdrawn from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, on the outskirts of Damascus.The jihadis have returned to the district of Hajar al-Aswad, from where they launched their assault into the camp on April 1; the strongest element in the camp now is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian franchise of al-Qaida.Islamic State does not seem to have suffered a major defeat in Yarmuk. Rather, their intention was to strike a blow against the … [Read more...]

The Middle East Battle Lines Are Drawn

Rebel fighters prepare to launch an anti-tank missile towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Maaret al-Naaman village, in Idlib April 30, 2014.

In the last decade, the Middle East has been living through a political convulsion of historic proportions.  Regimes that once appeared immovable have been destroyed or have receded.  New forces have risen up and are making war over the ruins. The result of the effective eclipse in recent years of the states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has been the emergence of a large and chaotic conflict in the contiguous area once covered by those states.  The failure to develop coherent state-loyal … [Read more...]

Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: Eulogy to Abu Ahmad of Mosul: Translation and Analysis

A woman walks through her village outside of Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 4, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kieran Cuddihy)

This latest statement from Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is intended to commemorate Abu Ahmad of Mosul, a leading figure in Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's Iraq branch who was reportedly killed by the group's traditional rivals the Islamic State, whose claim to a state/caliphate it has officially rejected. However, on account of ideological overlap in that Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is also aspiring to a caliphate and the overwhelming power of the Islamic State [IS] inside Iraq, the overwhelming majority of … [Read more...]

ISIS Pushes West

Jafra Palestinian Youth Center in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. Also location of Yarmouk PFLP office.

The conquest by the Islamic State of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus confirms the resilience of the jihadis and is an indicator of their current strategy.  Islamic State has lost considerable ground in Iraq, with the recapture of Tikrit constituting its latest setback.  IS has no real response to coalition air power, when it is combined with a competent and determined ground force.  This was first demonstrated in the organization’s defeat at Kobani in January, and it is … [Read more...]

In the Shadow of the Gunmen

[Essam Mohamed] Fighters for Libya's interim government rejoice after winning control of the Kadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid, October 2011. (Image courtesy of: Magharebia)

In a process of profound importance, five Arab states in the Middle East have effectively ceased to exist over the last decade.  The five states in question are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya.  It is possible that more will follow. The causes of their disappearance are not all the same. In two cases (Iraq, Libya) it was Western military intervention which began the process of collapse. In another case (Lebanon) it is intervention from a Middle Eastern state (Iran) which is at the root … [Read more...]

A New Chapter in the Sunni-Shi’ite War

US Marines training members of the Saudi Arabian Army. Members of the Royal Saudi Air Force observe indirect fire from Jordanian artillery alongside forward observer Marines from India Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of Exercise Eager Lion 12 here, May 17, 2012.

The assembling of a Sunni coalition to challenge the advance of an Iranian proxy in Yemen, and the subsequent announcement in Sharm al-Sheikh of the formation of a 40,000 strong Arab rapid reaction force are the latest moves in a war which has already been under way in the Middle East for some time. This is a war between Sunni and Shia forces over the ruins of the regional order. It is a war which is unlikely to end in the wholesale victory of one or another of the sides.  Rather, it will … [Read more...]

Is ISIS Islamic, and Other “Foolish” Debates

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

"Do they think we are Jewish now? lol," responded one ISIS fighter in Syria when asked for his thoughts on the current public debate about whether the Islamic State is actually Islamic. He went on to make an argument, as many of these fighters often do when interviewed, that not only is the Islamic State Islamicbut it is the purest and most pristine form of Islam, the kind most in line with what God and His Prophet had intended all along. Another ISIS fighter from South Africa, when asked how … [Read more...]

Review of ISIS: The State of Terror

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern & J.M. Berger (Ecco, 2015)

The ISIS phenomenon that has swept Iraq and Syria with global repercussions has produced a demand for information on the origins, rise, operations and future of arguably the most brutal jihadist movement yet. Following on from "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror," Berger and Stern's book is the second major title to come out on the subject. In 11 chapters, the authors begin with the origins of ISIS through Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and his predecessor groups in the days of the Iraq War, with the … [Read more...]

The Islamic State and Its “Sinai Province”

"Wilayat Sinai: By God's permission not a drop of gas will reach the state of Jordan until permitted by the Amir al-Mu'mineen [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the proclaimed Caliph]."

In November 2014, the Gaza-Sinai jihadist group Jamaʿat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis(JABM: "Supporters of the Holy House," i.e. Jerusalem) pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). The IS's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi officially acknowledged JABM's pledge as the creation of a new "Sinai Province" (Wilayat Sinai),alongside other recently proclaimed IS provinces in Yemen, Libya, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. The IS leadership's acknowledgment of these pledges of allegiance and annulment of the groups' … [Read more...]

“Oh Son of Yemen”- New Nasheed from the Islamic State’s Ajnad Media

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.

This is the latest nasheed to be released by the Islamic State's Ajnad Media. Similar to its the nasheed 'The Land of Sinai', this represents an elevation of the importance of the fight in Yemen to the Islamic State's international expansion. One should compare with the statements the Islamic State distributed on the ground in Yemen (here and here) promising bloodthirsty attacks on Houthis prior to the bombings in Sanaa: though the U.S. may be mentioned briefly as a force of evil, the focus … [Read more...]