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Ed Webb

The ISIS Beat - The Drift - 1 views

  • even as the new Biden Administration announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, to “end” the twenty-year war, it will continue airstrikes and raids to tackle the ever-looming threat of terrorism.
  • As the persistence of far-right nationalism suggests, ideologies cannot so easily be destroyed — even those we thought we had bombed out of existence seventy years ago. Yet, the world refracted through this war (the “only one” of the 21st century, Bush hoped) has left us not just morally inept, but also woefully misguided about what is to come next
  • The S.D.F. offers a remarkable vision to counter ISIS’s draconian rule — local councils, farmers’ cooperatives, and committees that promote the rights of oppressed minority groups. In the village of Jinwar, a female-controlled town, the S.D.F. has built a commune for women and their children, both Kurdish and Arab, seeking to escape oppressive families and realize a community without patriarchy. According to the constitution of the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the S.D.F.-linked ruling authority in the region, a post-ISIS Syria will be “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.” In order to realize this vision, part of the S.D.F.’s mandate is not just to govern, but also to annihilate ISIS. Several soldiers and S.D.F. spokesmen told me that the war against ISIS isn’t over — its aim now, with the support of the U.S., is to destroy sleeper cells and root out the ideology.
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  • ISIS has taken control over parts of regime territory in the deserts of central Syria, and slices of S.D.F.-controlled Deir ez-Zor province are witnessing a full-blown ISIS insurgency, underscoring just how central the question of governance is to the group’s appeal. But the U.S. and its allies’ focus on ideology risks ignoring why ISIS gained support in the first place. Raids and detentions, torture and execution, and governance that politically marginalizes certain groups and offers few options for justice or accountability will only build anger. It is these layers of political and social contexts that are lost in most coverage, even if they will shape Iraq and Syria for a long time to come. 
  • a core argument for the war depended on the idea that terrorism was, in essence, a form of religious violence
  • If our enemy is everywhere, we will seek allies in even the most oppressive of regimes (like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) to hunt down “terrorists,” no matter if they are gun-wielding militants or political dissidents who believe that the current state of affairs does not serve them.
  • If a war is a “good war,” or merely conceived of as a necessary one, it matters little why a terrorist group gained support, or how we may be inadvertently contributing to the group’s appeal. Yet, while the current approach to terrorism has been wildly successful in building a cottage industry of extremism and deradicalization experts, it has failed to rid the world of terrorists.
  • Massacres of Iraqi civilians, deaths of Afghan civilians by airstrikes, and indiscriminate detention and torture and rape have all happened at the hands of state security forces, including those allied with the U.S.
  • The Manichean framework helps absolve the West of its role and its responsibility in ending an endless conflict. “Terrorism” has become so synonymous with horrific violence that most Americans are likely unaware that the vast majority of civilian deaths in global conflicts today are caused by states, not non-state actors.
  • As with other battles against evil, the “killers and fanatics” necessitated the dropping of bombs, an operation that Obama’s successor continued.
  • If we portray certain enemies solely as existential threats, we sweep over the political conflicts unfolding in places like Iraq and Syria, and the political violence wrought upon these communities, even by those who claim to be fighting a just war.
  • What the Bush administration argued, and what the media accepted, was that terrorism is not a mere tactic, but a full-blown ideology — what Bush called “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century,” including “fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.” In practice, this means non-state armed groups not allied with the U.S. should be understood as terrorist organizations — no matter if, like the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, they have little else in common
  • By and large, the media accepted the Bush administration’s framing. By 2006, public criticism of the handling of the Iraq War was mounting, but even then, few questioned the legitimacy of the war itself. In a 2009 study of media coverage after 9/11, two scholars from the University of Texas found that journalists “helped brand the policy, [then] labeled the frame as public opinion,” ultimately contributing to the acceptance of that frame as a “fact of life,” and a “larger narrative of struggle and heroism.” Journalists did not treat the War on Terror as a policy decision made by the Bush administration, but as the natural and inevitable order of things. 
  • mainstream media coverage of ISIS receives almost no scrutiny. But many other publications and reporters have operated on the same flawed assumptions and premises as Caliphate, ones that animated the West’s understanding of the Middle East long before ISIS gained its first foothold
  • decades of imperialism, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Russia and Iran’s interventions, have irrevocably transformed communities in the Middle East. Similarly, though ISIS opposes the Saudi government, the Salafi-Jihadi underpinnings of the group could not have gained traction without the Kingdom’s years of effort of exporting and standardizing a particular form of Islam across the Middle East. 
  • the issue here isn’t just the violence — after all, Assad has also relished the torture, starvation, and murder of his citizens. Since 2011, his regime has used chemical weapons repeatedly, more than three hundred times according to one study. The critical difference is that while Assad depends on the international system for legitimacy (Russia and Iran are key supporters, and Syria remains part of the global financial system), ISIS rejects it. While Assad would prefer that the world looks away, ISIS practically begs us to stare. It aims to demoralize Western audiences, while projecting to potential recruits its vision of a new world order
  • In parts of the Caliphate, ISIS did promise a different model, at least nominally. In one piece of propaganda, the group declared, “The people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no difference between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak. The holder of a right has redress, and the grievance of an injured party will be answered.” In appealing to residents and new recruits, ISIS touched upon something familiar: the desire for justice, equality, and law and order in a world that has manifestly failed to deliver any. Women, too, found opportunities under ISIS. In Fallujah, they used the regime’s justice system to secure divorces, which had been more difficult under the Iraqi government.
  • civilians were likely to stay in ISIS-controlled territory because, among various reasons, the “quality of governance,” including “availability of electricity, cleanliness of streets, and crime rates,” was better compared to services provided by the Iraqi government
  • “All the locals here wonder why the U.S. coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight ISIS when it took a few pieces of land,” one rebel told the Guardian. 
  • the current global order has left many people behind
  • The political scientist Austin Doctor recently conducted a study of sexual assault by 143 rebel groups around the world, from 1989 to 2011, and separately applied the results of his analysis to ISIS.  He found a correlation between the presence of foreign fighters and increased incidence of sexual violence, which suggests that the Islamic State functioned much like other rebel groups — that ISIS is not so singular as it may seem.
  • devoid of any political context, terms like “radicalization” and “ideology” lose meaning
  • how ISIS appeared in the public imagination: as a movement beyond human understanding. The only sensible answer to so inscrutable and atavistic an adversary was total war.
  • This frenzied interest in the U.S.’s darkly powerful new enemy lured some journalists and analysts to focus on the group full-time. It emerged as a distinct topic from the Syrian civil war, whose crowded theater was becoming difficult to explain, or the Iraq War, now a nearly-adolescent 11 years old. Soon, writers covering ISIS, what Wired called “the world’s most important beat,” developed a signature flourish, describing it not just as a terrorist organization, but as an almost supernatural threat. “It is not clear,” argued a New York Review of Books piece in 2015, “whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.”
  • Stories of the group’s atrocities emerged in quick succession, echoing the parade of violence ISIS was proudly broadcasting on its own channels: public executions, conscription of child soldiers, disappearances and murders of thousands, Yazidi girls sold into slavery.
  • by narrowly focusing on the savagery of ISIS fighters, we miss the deeper and more important story of how ISIS grew into a political force, and of how it moved not just the hearts and minds, but the physical bodies, of tens of thousands
  • the core issue with Caliphate isn’t just that a lying source may have misled overeager journalists. Rather, the controversy, and indeed even the proposition that a “terrorism editor” would have resolved the problem, points to a deeper flaw in the way media has long covered extremism: divorced from the local and historical contexts that have fueled its rise
  • After a decade of the War on Terror and chaos in the Middle East, ISIS seemed to be the ultimate testament to an enduring clash of civilizations. It is not that surprising that ISIS itself encouraged this fantastical narrative — but it is striking that our media took their word for it.
Ed Webb

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.“When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”
  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

After a New Massacre, Charges That ISIS Is Operating With Assad and the Russians - 0 views

  • In all, 273 Druze were killed and 220 injured, Druze officials told us.They strongly suspect that the attack by ISIS was carried out in cooperation with the Russian-backed Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and this is corroborated to some extent by ISIS prisoners we have interviewed who are being held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces here in northern Syria.  The Druse politicians and officials came here to try to forge an alliance with like-minded Kurds for mutual self-protection, which is when they told us the details of the massacre.
  • As the ISIS massacres in the Sweida region began just after dawn, mysteriously, telephone land lines and electricity in the area had been cut off. But the news spread by cell phone, and well-armed Druze men came out in droves to defend their population. “The big battle started around noon and lasted until 8 p.m,” said one Druze official who joined the fight. According to the Druze politicians we talked to, there were approximately 400 combatants from ISIS, or Daesh as they are called here, facing thousands of individually armed Druze who rose to fight — and who did not take prisoners. “Currently 250 Daesh are dead,” one Druze official told us. “There are no injured [ISIS fighters]. We killed them all and more are killed every day in ongoing skirmishes in which the Daesh attackers continue to come from the desert to attack. Every day we discover the bodies of injured Daesh who died trying to withdraw. Due to the rugged terrain, Daesh could not retrieve them with their four-wheel-drives. We have no interest to bury them.”
  • The Druze officials said that the Syrian authorities are demanding any surviving ISIS captives be turned over to them, but the Druze are refusing to do so
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  • People in the Middle East constantly speculate about the machinations of their governments and political parties, and rumors are taken seriously since verifiable facts often are hard or impossible to come by. But the Assad regime and ISIS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake. Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation.
  • Assad’s alleged complicity with ISIS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in busses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. ““It is known that Daesh militants in the suburbs of Damascus have been displaced to the east of Sweida in green buses by an agreement with the government: 1,400 Daesh were moved this way to the area east of Sweida and near the Tanf base of the Americans,” one of our Druze sources told us.
  • “Adding to that, 1,000 combatants of Daesh came in a discreet way from the Yarmouk area [a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus] to join the local Daesh, estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 combatants," said one of the Druze officials who talked to us. "We know this by internal sources of the Syrian army. There are still some Druze of the army who leak this information to us.”
  • “On the 24th of July most of the official checkpoints of the Syrian army around Sweida were withdrawn—all around the villages where the massacres occurred,” this Druze official told us. “They hit at 7 a.m., but at night something else was happening. Where the villages are—facing the Daesh area—the Syrian army withdrew the local weapons from the local protection militias. No one knew why. They also withdrew their checkpoint in the area and cut the electricity and local phone service. The regime was a spectator to the massacre.”
  • One of the 10 captured ISIS attackers admits on an interrogation video shared by the Druze leaders that in the village massacres a man from the Syrian government guided them from house to house, knocking on the doors and calling the inhabitants by name so they would unwittingly open their doors to the ISIS attackers.
  • ISIS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, under ISIS protection. Early in the the revolution, Bashar al-Assad released al Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prison to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the ISIS leaders in the battle in Sweida.
  • U.S.-led coalition forces say that in the area patrolled by Americans and their close allies, around 1,000 ISIS militants are still at large. And an estimated 9,000 ISIS militants are still roaming free in Syria and Iraq. And in both places heinous attacks continue to occur.
  • “To safeguard our community and to protect the diversity in the future of Syria, we need to create a crescent against aggressors,” said one of the politicians. Running from north to south, including parts of Iraq, it would protect the Kurds, the Yazidis, Christians, and Druze. “The minorities are looking to the Coalition as the only credible force in the area,” he said, adding, “The crescent strategically speaking would also cut the Iranians from access to the regime.”
Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
    • Ed Webb
       
      A remarkable and alarming discrepancy. We must treat military claims with great skepticism, unfortunately.
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
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  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation. The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”
  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved. Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.
  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
Ed Webb

Is ISIS Gone? No, Kurdish Leader Says. - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • a Kurdish leader who witnessed the militant group’s rise and fall is warning that ISIS is putting itself back together and stressing an uncomfortable fact: that ISIS is bigger now than it was nearly six years ago, when it founded its self-styled caliphate.
  • Even after America spent billions of dollars during two presidencies to defeat ISIS, deployed troops across Iraq and Syria, and dropped thousands of bombs, ISIS persists. If anything, it stands ready to exploit Trump’s impatience to end America’s “forever wars” and shift the country’s focus to countering Iran.
  • Before he became prime minister in June, Barzani was an influential U.S. partner in the war against ISIS as the top security official in the Iraq’s Kurdish region, which is semiautonomous from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. Kurdish fighters, called peshmerga, defended their territory from the ISIS onslaught in 2014 even as entire divisions of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces melted away. They not only proved to be some of America’s most effective military allies in the country, but their spies fed intelligence to the Americans, their officials helped coordinate U.S. air strikes, and their counterterrorism units worked alongside U.S. special operators. Thousands of  peshmerga have been killed and wounded in the anti-ISIS campaign.
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  • Barzani, whose government relies heavily on U.S. support, did not directly criticize Trump for the Soleimani killing, saying he was “surprised” by it and wanted to de-escalate regional tensions.
  • ISIS is still managing to carry out 60 attacks a month in Iraq alone against security forces and local rivals, Barzani said, as it regroups around a core of hardened fighters.
  • what is striking about Barzani’s portrayal of the group is the idea that it is not just surviving but thriving
  • The Soleimani strike capped months of U.S.-Iran tensions that included Iran-linked attacks on shipping and oil interests in the Persian Gulf and rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. troops in Iraq; after Soleimani’s death, Iran sent missiles flying at bases housing U.S. troops in the country. “This confrontation definitely will have a negative effect on the fight against terrorism and ISIS, which should be the priority for all of us,” Barzani said.
  • the main reason for the ISIS resurgence, Barzani said, is the persistence of the same conditions that allowed it to rise up in the first place. Syria remains in chaos. In Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi leaders alike have, for almost two decades, failed to solve problems such as corruption, poor governance, sectarianism, and economic malaise
  • The U.S. has pushed other countries to contribute funds to help rebuild ravaged areas, but it has not prioritized these efforts, which have been halting and plagued by local mismanagement. Leaders in Baghdad have made little effort at political reconciliation. Many residents remain in displaced-persons camps. “If people are jobless, if people are hopeless, if people have no security, if people have no opportunity, if there is no political stability, it's always easy for terrorist organizations to manipulate local populations,” Barzani told us. “ISIS is a by-product. So as long as these factors are still valid, there will always be either ISIS or something similar to ISIS.”
Ed Webb

The ISIS Ambassador to Turkey - Homeland Security Today - 1 views

  • the ISIS military and weapons training and the ISIS “obligatory shariah training” in which new male recruits are taught the ISIS takfir ideology, an ideology that justifies use of violence against those considered heretics or unbelievers, including against fellow Muslims.
  • Abu Mansour explains the format and nature of intake forms that were filled out at the ISIS reception area. “It was a form about experience, countries you visited, etc. I don’t remember it very well, but it was very detailed,” he explains. He further continues, “There were several people who came with higher education. We wrote his discipline, his studies, his languages. These things were recorded on my forms.” According to Abu Mansour, job placements occurred after another intake took place inside the training camps. “At those places, there were very trusted people running the ISIS offices of recruiting, so if you say you’re an engineer, they put you to that kind of job. It was an office of human resources management,” he states, adding, “but of course different, because in ours we also had, ‘I want to be a martyr.’
  • According to Abu Mansour, the numbers of would-be “martyrs” went down as the Caliphate was in fact established. “It started to go down as Raqqa stabilized. [Then,] most came simply to live. It was a small ratio of those who came to martyr themselves.” Adhering to his uncanny ability to remember exact recruiting figures, he explains, “Before 2014, 50 percent came to martyr themselves. Then it went under 20 percent.”
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  • “There were some agreements and understandings between the Turkish intelligence and ISIS emni about the border gates, for the people who got injured,” Abu Mansour continues. “I had direct meeting with the MIT [the Turkish National Intelligence Organization], many meetings with them.”
  • The benefit to Turkey, according to Abu Mansour, was that “we are in the border area and Turkey wants to control its borders – to control Northern Syria. Actually they had ambitions not only for controlling the Kurds. They wanted all the north, from Kessab (the most northern point of Syria) to Mosul.”
  • When he mentions meeting Turkish government officials in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, we suddenly upgrade him in our minds to an ISIS ambassador, which is indeed how he was functioning. “I passed the borders and they let me pass. [At the border,] the Turks always sent me a car and I’m protected. A team of two to three people from our side were with me. I was in charge of our team most of the time.”
  • we learn that his “diplomatic” reach on behalf of ISIS extended even to the president of Turkey himself. “I was about to meet him but I did not. One of his intelligence officers said Erdogan wants to see you privately but it didn’t happen.”
  • “There were teams. Some represent the Turkish intel, some represent the Turkish Army. There were teams from 3-5 different groups. Most meetings were in Turkey in military posts or their offices. It depended on the issue. Sometimes we meet each week. It depends on what was going on. Most of the meetings were close to the borders, some in Ankara, some in Gaziantep.”
  • In our meetings, we talked about re-establishing the Ottoman Empire. This was the vision of Turkey.
  • “I cannot say that this is the vision of the whole Turkish government. Many are against interfering to bring this project to reality. They say we will try to defeat the PKK and Kurds. We are afraid of the union between Kurds and that they may make a Kurdish state, but they also expanded to Aleppo,” he adds regarding Turkish aspirations inside Syria.
  • “It’s a big benefit to Dawlah, as they could protect our back. Approximately 300 km of our border is with them. Turkey is considered a road for us for medications, food – so many things enter in the name of aid. The gates were open.”
  • “No one can accuse the Turkish government that they gave us weapons, because we got weapons from different sources. Actually, we didn’t need to get weapons from Turkey,” he explains, noting that the Free Syrian Army soldiers would trade their weapons for a pack of cigarettes. “Anti-government Syrian people provided us with weapons; many mafias and groups traded weapons to us.”
  • “We negotiated to send our fighters to the hospitals [in Turkey]. There was facilitation – they didn’t look at the passports of those coming for treatment. It was always an open gate. If we had an ambulance we could cross without question. We could cross [into Turkey] at many places. They don’t ask about official identities. We just have to let them know.”
  • “Dawlah [ISIS] paid for the treatments, but some Turkish public hospitals took these fighters for free. It was not only for our fighters but also for the victims of bombings. I don’t know how many were treated in Turkey, but it was routine,” Abu Mansour explains, adding that it was not his area, so he doesn’t have the figures on that. “I just know this agreement to open the gates for our wounded and that there were ambulances sent for them. It was a ‘state-to-state’ agreement regarding our wounded. I negotiated these agreements. For the wounded, medical and other supplies to pass, and I negotiated about water also, the Euphrates.”
  • “Actually, we [Syria] had an agreement with Turkey for 400 cubic meters per second [of water] into Syria. After the revolution, they started to decrease the quantity of water to 150 cubic meters per second. After our negotiations [in 2014] it returned to 400. We needed it for electrical power and as a vital source of living. Even water we cannot keep it, it passes to Iraq also,” he explains. “But the importance of water [cannot be understated]. We don’t need to generate electricity through the dams. We could have another source [i.e. petrol], but we need water for farming. There are three dams. The biggest is Tabqa dam. Actually, at 150 cubic meters, we could generate some electricity, but if the level of the lake reached 5 meters it would not work.”
  • When asked what ISIS gave in return for water, he answers, “There is the most important benefit – their country will be safe and stable.” We ask if he means that ISIS agreed not to attack inside Turkey.“In negotiations I could not say I would attack Turkey. This is the language of gangs, but I would say we will try to keep Turkey from the field battle, we will not see Turkey as an enemy. They understood what we are talking about. We said many times, ‘You are not our enemy and not our friend.’”
  • “Most of the Syrian oil was going to Turkey, and just small amounts went to the Bashar regime.”
  • “We didn’t ask ransom for the consul employees, we asked for our prisoners. MIT knows their names.” For the consul employees, “approximately 500 prisoners were released from Turkey, and they came back to Dawlah,”
  • “[In 2014,] they opened some legal gates under the eye of Turkish intel that our people went in and out through,” Abu Mansour explains. “But, entry into Syria was easier than return to Turkey. Turkey controlled the movements.”
  • “Turkey wanted us to move 10 km back from the borders so the danger from Turkey is removed. They wanted it to be under control of Turkey and no aviation above it. This was for an area 60 km long and 10 km wide.”
  • Abu Mansour’s journey started in Morocco when he was a young man and where he first watched the 9/11 events from afar and suddenly began to feel that if he wasn’t with them, as U.S. President Bush stated, he was against them – that Muslims in the world needed to unite and resist dictators and world powers, like the U.S.-led coalition that invaded foreign countries. “After I heard George Bush say it’s you are with us or against us – when I heard that [and saw his invasion of Iraq] I searched for who stands up for the Muslims.”
  • We were searching for the identity of Muslims, to protect Muslims and to be freed to do our Islamic duties. There was no desire to fight, no tendency to kill or revenge, just to free ourselves from dictators. I use the weapon to prevent harm by others and all that is taken by force should be regained by force,” he explains. “All these government regimes, we were forced to follow, we didn’t chose them.”
Ed Webb

The Wartime Transformation of AQAP in Yemen | ACLED - 1 views

  • Al Raymi’s death has marked a turning point in AQAP’s decade-long history. Al Raymi oversaw AQAP’s expansion in southern Yemen, where the group held the third biggest port city in the country, and its eventual retreat into the mountains of central Yemen. Within the Islamist camp, AQAP also faced fierce competition at the hands of the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), which escalated into months of fighting between the two groups between July 2018 and February 2020. Batarfi’s appointment came at a moment when AQAP was suffering from fragmentation and low morale, two factors that negatively affected its operational and mobilization capabilities (Al Araby, 22 March 2020). Today, AQAP appears to be in a transitional phase, as it redirects its weakened military force towards fighting against the Houthis.
  • the report identifies three phases of AQAP’s wartime activity: AQAP’s expansion (2015-2016), its redeployment and infighting with ISY (2017-2019), and the current retrenchment in Al Bayda (2019-2020).
  • thrived on the political instability that followed the 2011 Yemeni uprising. Operating under the semi-political mantle of Ansar Al Sharia, AQAP took advantage of the fragmentation that tore apart the Yemeni army to take control of several towns in southern Yemen, where it declared small Islamic emirates between 2011 and 2012 (International Crisis Group, 2 February 2017). These included Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan governorate, which fell under AQAP’s control with little or no resistance from the security forces.
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  • In 2015, the outbreak of the war gave yet another boost to AQAP’s fortunes in Yemen. Amidst the fragmentation of the Yemeni armed forces, the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition saw AQAP as an indispensable bulwark to prevent Houthi-Saleh forces from advancing into central and southern Yemen
  • At its apogee in 2015-2016, AQAP was reported to be active in 82 of Yemen’s 333 districts. Four years later, the number has decreased to 40
  • While the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition were preoccupied with the advance of Houthi-Saleh forces in central and southern Yemen, AQAP took advantage of the situation to capture Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt governorate and Yemen’s fifth largest city. Upon entering Mukalla almost without a fight on 2 April 2015, the group staged a mass jailbreak which freed 150 fighters – including the current AQAP emir Batarfi – from the central prison, looted approximately 100 million USD from the local branch of the Central Bank, and seized military equipment (Radman, 17 April 2019). During its year-long occupation of the city, AQAP developed governance practices that turned its Islamic emirate into a proto-state.
  • Until April 2016, when an Emirati-led offensive drove AQAP out of Mukalla, the group collected an estimated two million USD every day in customs fees levied on goods and fuel entering the port.
  • Nowhere was AQAP’s participation in the conflict more pronounced than in the mountains of Al Bayda, where the group mounted a fierce resistance against the Houthis from as early as 2014. The Houthis moved into Al Bayda in the last quarter of 2014 under the pretext of fighting ISY, and within one year took control of the province. 
  • At the heart of AQAP’s success in 2015-2016 was its pragmatism. Contrary to the uncompromising sectarian narrative of ISY, AQAP has calibrated its message to local audiences, winning the support of local tribes who were largely concerned with protecting their homeland from the Houthis
  • tribes have long been wary of AQAP, fearing that the group’s presence in tribal territory would elicit counterterrorism operations and further disrupt tribal orders (Al-Dawsari, June 2018)
  • Though aligned with nearly a decade of counterterrorism operations conducted on Yemeni soil, the military-heavy approach endorsed by the Trump administration inflicted several losses to AQAP and ISY, while also exacting a heavy civilian toll. In January 2017, a botched Special Operations raid in Yakla area targeting AQAP emir Qasim Al Raymi killed instead several members of the Al Dhahab clan, including a pro-government tribesman whom the US mistakenly believed to be an AQAP operative (Al-Muslimi, 26 June 2019). It was estimated that at least 25 civilians, including women and children, have died in US ground raids launched between January and May 2017 (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 9 February 2017; The Intercept, 28 May 2017).
  • a military campaign spearheaded by coalition-backed Yemeni troops was successful in curbing AQAP activity in Yemen’s southern provinces. Earlier research by ACLED has highlighted how AQAP’s retreat from Shabwah went hand in hand with the activation of local counterterrorism forces funded and trained by the UAE (see Yemen’s Fractured South: ACLED’s Three-Part Series). In addition to recapturing pockets of territory from AQAP, the Security Belt in Abyan and Aden and the Elite Forces in Shabwah and Hadramawt drained the organization’s recruiting pool, exposing its vulnerabilities and subordination to tribal politics.
  • The main beneficiaries of AQAP’s fragmentation were Salafist militias variously aligned with the Hadi government or the Southern Transitional Council (STC), as well as ISY which aggressively boasted about its ideological purity
  • The four factors plunging AQAP into a major crisis coincided with the evolution of the jihadi “cold war” with ISY into a hot war in July 2018 (Hamming, 7 November 2018)
  • Local and national factors likely ignited the armed confrontations between the two groups, rather than ideological disputes on a transnational scale
  • As of November 2020, no clashes between AQAP and ISY have been reported in the last nine months as AQAP started its shift from redeployment to retrenchment.
  • a Houthi offensive in the Qayfa tribal areas this year led to a significant defeat of both AQAP and ISY at the hands of Houthi forces
  • Instead of fighting ISY, AQAP has ramped up its anti-Houthi rhetoric, in an attempt to reclaim its role as the main enemy of the Houthis
  • AQAP has long taken advantage of tribal grievances towards the Houthis by positioning itself at the epicenter of Houthi opposition in Al Bayda, and therefore presenting itself as a potential partner for tribal resistance movements
  • Despite a recent uptick in activity between August and October 2020, which could indicate a slow consolidation of capabilities following the drone strike that killed both its Emir Al Raymi and senior jurist Al Ibbi in January, AQAP’s activity plummeted in November.
  • if AQAP manages to re-consolidate itself in Yemen, the threat it poses towards its ‘distant’ enemies, such as the United States, could increase as well. This is the driving force behind the US attempts to contain AQAP in Yemen
Ed Webb

ISIS' growing sphere of influence in Central Asia and Caucasus poses new security risks... - 0 views

  • The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, with close ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has already announced its allegiance to ISIS. According to Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB), more than 300 Kazakh citizens are fighting alongside ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq and half of those are women. Poorer countries of Central Asia, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, especially in their shared Ferghana Valley region, are said to be fertile ground for ISIS recruitment. It is estimated that the number of Chechens fighting in Syria range between 200 and 1,000, many of them veterans of previous conflicts.  Chechens are known to have a prominent role in ISIS and the group has threatened to take the fight to Russia. In September, ISIS militants directly threatened Russia.
  • Hundreds of Azerbaijanis are known to have joined the ISIS forces in Syria. On 19 November, Dogan News Agency reported the arrest of 22 foreigners on the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis trying to cross illegally into Syria. 18 were of Uighur origin and 4 of them citizens of Azerbaijan
Ed Webb

Accountability for Islamic State Fighters: What Are the Options? - Lawfare - 1 views

  • Trump’s sudden announcement that the U.S. would withdraw forces from along the Syria-Turkey border has already had dramatic consequences. Turkish armed forces launched an invasion into northern Syria dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” in response to which the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the predominantly Kurdish military backed by the U.S.-led coalition, has warned that it will be forced to withdraw some of its guards from the Islamic State detention centers and camps to deal with the invasion
  • both the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are taking advantage of the Turkish invasion to launch their own attacks within Syria: On Oct. 9, the Islamic State attacked an SDF position in Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State, and Assad’s Russian-backed forces moved further into Manbij and Idlib. The same day, the U.S. reportedly helped move some of the “most dangerous” Islamic State detainees out of SDF custody but subsequently ordered a halt to any further operations against the Islamic State
  • By some estimates, the SDF is currently holding more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters—including at least 8,000 Iraqis and Syrians and 2,000 foreign fighters—in overflowing temporary detention centers in northeastern Syria. Thousands of family members of detainees are being held in camps for internally displaced persons in the same region
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  • The SDF has consistently asserted that it has limited capabilities to guard these facilities and has continually called for support from the coalition countries. Even before Trump’s announcement on Sunday, the head of the Kurdish forces expressed concern that the camp was at risk of falling under the control of the Islamic State. Despite the general consensus that the status quo was not sustainable, coalition countries have done little to address the problem and there has been no agreement on how to handle these fighters and their families.
  • Iraq reportedly intends to execute at least seven French nationals who were convicted under charges of being members of the Islamic State. There has been little clarity about exactly how these French citizens who had been fighting in Syria ended up in Iraqi detention centers, but experts suspect that they were transferred to Iraq by the SDF at the request of the French government after the French refused to allow them to return home
  • The situation may depend on who—among the SDF, Turkey, Syria and Russia—gains control of the northeastern territory. But if the security surrounding the detainees deteriorates, the Islamic State will likely exploit the situation and create a further opportunity for its ongoing resurgence
  • Although national courts in a conflict region usually provide the most obvious mechanism for criminal proceedings, neither Iraq nor the Kurds controlling territory in Syria have courts that are capable of achieving a just and fair form of accountability
  • a small subset of European governments—along with the SDF—have been calling for some sort of tribunal to deal with the detainees
  • Some see local prosecutions in Syria and Iraq as unrealistic options for foreign fighters, arguing instead for active repatriation followed by possible prosecution in the fighters’ home countries. This is also the option being urged by the U.S. government. Some practitioners even argue that European countries have an obligation to bring foreign fighters to justice under certain international legal instruments (specifically under U.N. Security Council resolutions 2178 [2014] and 2396 [2017]).
  • Countries outside of western Europe, including Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have demonstrated the most initiative in repatriating their nationals. Kosovo, the country that had the highest number of its citizens per capita leave to join the caliphate, has made particularly notable repatriation efforts. In April, for example, the Balkan republic brought back 32 women, 74 children, and four men from SDF custody in Syria. The male returnees were immediately placed in detention, pending prosecution, while the women and children were allowed to return home.
  • some western European examples of the successful handling of returned foreign fighters:
  • European Union has also recently set up a counterterrorism register meant to facilitate prosecutions of returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria. The database is intended to be a repository for information from all EU countries about ongoing investigations and prosecutions of terrorist suspects who fought in Iraq and Syria so that all 28 member states have access to the same data and evidence
  • a growing number of calls for the establishment of some sort of ad hoc international criminal tribunal to deal with Islamic State fighters. Leaders from relevant U.N. agencies, Sweden, the Netherlands and the SDF have raised the idea of an international tribunal located in the region to deal with the detainees
  • President Trump maintains that Turkey will take control of the Islamic State prisoners, but it is unclear whether any Turkish officials agreed to assume this responsibility and the detainees are located further inside Syria than Turkey is expected to occupy during the current phase of their offensive. Even if the Turkish forces did start to police the camps, there is concern that Turkey’s security would be inadequate given the country’s past failures to crack down on and contain Islamic State cells within its own borders.
  • Russian-backed Syrian forces may end up in control of the detainees since the U.S. withdrawal from Syria has created an opening for Assad to strike a deal with the SDF. Given Assad’s history of putting thousands of Syrians into “filthy dungeons” to be “tortured and killed,” the Islamic State detainees would potentially be subjected to severe conditions with no prospect of a fair trial
Ed Webb

Peter Schwartzstein | Climate Change and Water Woes Drove ISIS Recruiting in Iraq - 2 views

  • With every flood or bout of extreme heat or cold, the jihadists would reappear, often supplementing their sales pitches with gifts. When a particularly vicious drought struck in 2010, the fifth in seven years, they doled out food baskets. When fierce winds eviscerated hundreds of eggplant fields near Kirkuk in the spring of 2012, they distributed cash. As farming communities limped from one debilitating crisis to another, the recruiters—all members of what soon became the Islamic State—began to see a return on their investment.
  • By the time the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) seized this swath of Iraq—along with most of the country’s west and north—in a brutal summer-long blitzkrieg in 2014, few locals were surprised to see dozens of former fertilizer market regulars among its ranks.
  • Across rural Iraq and Syria, farmers, officials, and village elders tell similar stories of desperate farmhands swapping backhoes for assault rifles. Already battered by decades of shoddy environmental policies, which had hobbled agriculture and impoverished its dependents, these men were in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change. And so when ISIS came along, propelled in large part by sectarian grievances and religious fanaticism, many of the most environmentally damaged Sunni Arab villages quickly emerged as some of the deep-pocketed jihadists’ foremost recruiting grounds.
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  • ISIS appears to have attracted much more support from water-deprived communities than from their better-resourced peers
  • Hussein torched some of southern Iraq’s most bountiful date plantations for fear that Iranian saboteurs might use them as cover to attack oil facilities around Basra. Where once 12 million palm trees stood, there’s now just miles of dusty scrubland laced with oil spills
  • Years of below average rains in the Kurdish region and Nineveh governorate, the only parts of Iraq where rain-fed agriculture was historically possible, had increased the country’s dependence on the Euphrates and Tigris, the Fertile Crescent’s two great rivers. At the same time, upstream Turkey and Iran were relentlessly damming them and their tributaries. Turkey has built over 600 large dams, including dozens of major ones near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The Tigris and Euphrates’ combined flow in southern Iraq has subsequently shrunk so much that the Persian Gulf now barrels up to 45 miles upriver at high tide (the rivers used to project freshwater up to 3 miles out to sea).
  • the jihadists expertly exploited the desperation in Iraq’s agricultural heartland by rationalizing its inhabitants’ woes. They spread rumors that the Shia-dominated government was delaying crop payments and cutting off water to Sunni farmers. In fact, the lack of rain wasn’t due to climate change, but really a man-made ploy designed to drive Sunni landowners from their rich fertile fields, their emissaries suggested. Broke and unable to deal with their fast changing environment, many farmers ate it up.
  • By 2011, much of the Iraqi countryside was in desperate financial straits. Some 39 percent of people in rural areas were living in poverty, according to the World Bank. That’s two and a half times the country’s urban rate. Almost half lacked safe drinking water. The problems were so devastating in 2012-13 that tens of thousands of villagers ditched their fields altogether, preferring to try their luck in the slum districts of nearby cities instead.
  • Some 39 percent of those polled in Salahaddin cited drought as a reason for their displacement. Studies from neighboring Syria, large parts of which enjoy similar conditions to northern and western Iraq, suggest that anthropogenic climate change has tripled the probability of long, debilitating droughts.
  • When severe water shortages killed off countless livestock in 2011-12, jihadists descended on the animal markets to size up the frantic farmers, many of whom were trying to sell off their remaining cows and sheep before they too succumbed to drought. “They just watched us. We were like food on the table to them,”
  • After several years of energetic groundwater extraction near the oil refining town of Baiji, Samir Saed’s two wells ran dry in early 2014, forcing him to lay off the two young men he employed as farm laborers. Jobless and angry, he suspects they soon joined ISIS
  • water was becoming a resource that in some parts of Iraq only wealthier landowners could afford
  • The jihadists adopted scorched earth tactics as they were beaten back, laying waste to hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland. And so for returning farmers, climate change and shoddy governance are now among the least of their worries. ISIS fighters ripped up buried irrigation pipes to mold makeshift mortars. They poisoned wells, blew up water canals, and carted off everything that was of any value, notably generators, tractors, and water pump parts.
  • More or less broke after the oil price crash, the Iraqi state can’t afford to pay farmers for crops they’ve delivered to state silos, let alone cover the multi-billion dollar agricultural clean up bill
  • Turkey has almost finished building the Ilisu Dam, which threatens to further cut the Tigris’ flow when it comes online, probably next year. Hotter temperatures are evaporating more and more surface water—up to six feet worth in Iraq’s lakes every year, according to Nature Iraq, a local NGO. As Baghdad’s relations with the upstream Kurdish region deteriorate, farmers might once more bear the brunt of the dispute. Kurdish authorities have cut off water to mostly Arab areas on several occasions in the past
  • If Iraq can’t get a grip on its crumbling environment, the next war might not be far off.
Ed Webb

Blaming Islam for ISIS: A convenient lie to prepare us for more war | Middle East Eye - 2 views

  • We can’t defeat ISIS if we misrepresent what and who ISIS actually is. Far from being the apocalyptic Islamist group that Wood contends they are, actual IS documents and blue prints reveal IS to be methodical state builders, led by secular Baathists – who aim to restore Sunni-Baathist power in Iraq. These documents also make clear that Saddam’s former generals (anti-Islamists) use Islam as a recruitment tool. “They [ISIS founders] reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face,” notes the German newspaper Der Spiegel.
  • recruits are drawn to ISIS for reasons that have little to do with extremist Islam. “They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the Caliphate,”
  • the media welcomes only those who blame Islam or “radical Islam” and not those who speak to the conditions that make ISIS appealing
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  • blaming Islam makes us feel good about ourselves. Blaming Islam is good for television ratings. Blaming Islam makes it easier to sell new wars
Ed Webb

Arabs Across Syria Join the Kurdish-Led Syrian Democratic Forces - MERIP - 1 views

  • Led by Kurds, the YPG evolved over time into the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): a multi-ethnic, multi-religious force in which all the indigenous peoples of the region are represented. Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Circassians and Turkmen have fought alongside Kurds to defend their homeland. By 2019, when the SDF had liberated all of Syrian territory from ISIS control, there were some 100,000 fighters (including SDF and Internal Security Forces) under the leadership of SDF commander-in-chief Mazlum Abdi, a Syrian Kurd and former Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) cadre.[2] The majority of his rank-and-file fighters, however, were Arabs.
  • My field survey of over 300 SDF members reveals that there are three main reasons for the SDF’s success in recruiting and retaining Arabs: First, the SDF offered material incentives such as salaries and training opportunities.[3] Second, the existence of a common threat—first ISIS and now Turkey—solidified bonds between Kurds and Arabs and also prompted many to enlist. Third, the survey shows that many Arab members of the SDF support at least some, if not all, of the basic political principles upon which the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) are based.
  • In September 2014, a joint operations room was established between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the YPG, known as Burkan al-Firat (Euphrates Volcano).[4] The ISIS siege of Kobane and ensuing US military support cemented the alliance between the YPG and a number of Arab units within the FSA, which led to the emergence of the SDF in October 2015.
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  • the SDF became the main partner force for the United States on the ground in Syria. In order to defeat ISIS, it was necessary to further expand the geographical reach of the SDF to Arab-majority cities such as Manbij, Raqqa, Tabqa and Deir Ezzor. In the course of this expansion, some Arab women were recruited as well. In July 2017, the YPJ (the women’s branch of the YPG) announced the creation of the first battalion of Arab women, the “Brigade of the Martyr Amara.”[5]
  • the expansion of the SDF and self-administration across north and east Syria was not always welcomed by Arab communities. The increase in Arab rank-and-file fighters has not yet been accompanied by an equally significant increase of Arabs in leadership positions, although Arabs have been promoted within both the military and civilian structures of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. The secular and gender-egalitarian ideology is not embraced by some more conservative members of society
  • In an attempt to undo tribal hierarchies, administration officials are encouraging people to use the term al-raey, which means shepherd
  • during my visits to ramshackle YPJ outposts in Manbij, Raqqa, Al-Sheddadi, Tabqa, Ain Issa, Al-Hasakah and elsewhere, I met many Arab women. They had all enlisted in the YPJ voluntarily, as there is no conscription for women. Many of them were eager to tell their stories
  • name of the governing entity was changed to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and the Kurdish term Rojava was dropped in December 2016.[10] Although this decision angered some Kurdish nationalists, it was justified by the expansion of the territory beyond Kurdish-majority areas. The official logo recognizes the linguistic diversity of the region, and is in four languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Syriac-Aramaic and Turkish. Furthermore, in 2018 the de-facto capital or administrative center of the region was moved from Qamishli to Ain Issa, an Arab town
  • By 2019, the SDF was in de-facto control of approximately one-third of Syria. The territory they defend from incursions by ISIS, the Turkish government and Syrian government forces is an ethnically and religiously diverse region. These six regions—Jazira, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Tabqa, Manbij and Euphrates—are governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which operates semi-independently of Damascus. The Arabs who inhabit these six regions are not a homogenous group. While some Arabs have protested the policies of the Autonomous Administration, others openly endorse the new political project.
  • Inspired by an eclectic assortment of scholars, ranging from Murray Bookchin to Immanuel Wallerstein, the ideology that emerged is referred to as Democratic Confederalism. The nation-state is no longer a prize to be obtained but is now seen as part of the problem that led to the subjugation of Kurds in the first place, along with that of women and other minorities, and therefore to be avoided.
  • The emergence of Arab Apocis may be one of the many unexpected twists of the Syrian conflict, signifying the appeal of the Rojava revolution beyond Rojava.
  • A co-chair system was established where all leadership positions—from the most powerful institutions down to neighborhood communes—are held jointly by a man and a woman
  • here I focus on Arabs since they now constitute the majority of rank-and-file fighters and yet are frequently omitted from analyses of the SDF. Scholars, journalists, think tank analysts and government officials still incorrectly refer to the SDF as a Kurdish force.
  • joining the SDF entailed risks, especially for women. Anyone who joined the SDF from a city that was under the control of ISIS, or who joined from territory never controlled by the SDF, did so at great personal risk
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces is the only armed group in Syria that has a policy of not discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, which has allowed the SDF to develop into a truly multi-ethnic and multi-religious force. This radical egalitarianism clearly appealed to non-Arab minorities who suffered under decades of pan-Arabism promoted by the Baathist regime of the Asad family. Kurds from the far corners of Kurdistan were galvanized by the promise of the Rojava revolution. What is less well appreciated is that Arabs have also embraced these ideals and practices.
  • a large number of Arab respondents rejected the Turkish occupation of Syria and demanded that the land be returned to Syria. Contrary to analysts who portray the conflict as one solely between Turkey and the Kurds, my survey shows that Arab SDF members also view the Turkish incursions and expanding Turkish presence as an illegitimate foreign occupation of Syrian land
  • The SDF faces ongoing threats from the Asad regime, Turkey and ISIS cells. The Turkish intervention in October 2019, however, did not lead to a disintegration of the SDF, or even to any serious defections, as some had predicted.[14]
Ed Webb

Syrian Women Helped Find Baghdadi, Beat ISIS, Will Face 'Tough Time' Ahead, Leader Says... - 0 views

  • In Syria, these women also fought for equality as much as they fought to end the Islamic State. Women’s rights sat at the center of the ideas they had worked to bring to the area, not at all because of American influence, but because of their own ideology inspired by Abdullah Ocalan, Murray Bookchin, and the ideas of near-utopian grassroots, participatory democracy with women’s equality at its center. While critics often saw these ideas as unique to this group of Kurds, the many young women I met from Arab and Christian communities across the region very much shared at least the women’s piece — the idea that they merited a say in their own future. For the members of the Women’s Protection Units that Nowruz led, beating ISIS meant beating the ideology that said women meant nothing and mattered even less.
  • More than 15 women have died since Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds began two weeks ago. Turkish-backed forces released a video showing their capture of one of the YPJ fighters.  Another video shows Turkish-backed forces calling a dead YPJ fighter a “whore.”
  • The end of Baghdadi offered the only bright spot she and her forces have experienced since Turkey launched its attack.
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  • “All of us who played a major role in fighting ISIS, we all have a part in this victory.”
  • In their experiment in self-rule, she said, they sought to bring people together, including religious and ethnic minorities.
  • “We have been fighting ISIS for seven years, and we were trying to build community in the newly liberated areas,” she said. “We tried to create a strong society and for all the people who lived under ISIS control, including religious minorities and all the ethnic groups.” I had seen it for myself in a year’s worth of interviews with Christian young women in Hassekeh, and Arab young women I met in the towns of Raqqa, Tabqa and Manbij since 2017 — women who had lived under ISIS, and who took on roles in the governance that came next. It is not that it was perfect, but it constituted fragile progress, and they took their part to make it better and to make it enduring.
  • “We will continue our resistance and our struggle against these people and these ideas.”
Ed Webb

The Gray Zone: How Islamophobia is Playing to Someone Else's Rulebook - Tunisialive - 0 views

  • Scott Atran,  Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, told Tunisia Live, “The core strategy outlined in the ISIS playbook, The Management of Chaos-Savagery, (Idarat at-Tawahoush),   (required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir), is to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and create chaos that can be filled as in Europe.”
  • In achieving this, Daesh must eliminate the “gray zone,” the area of society they regard most Muslim emigrants as inhabiting. The “Brussels attacks represented just the latest, ever more effective, instalment for fomenting chaos in Europe and thereby ‘Extinguish[ing] the Grey Zone,’” Atran said. In a 12-page editorial in the February 2015 edition of Dabiq, Daesh’s online magazine, titled, “The Extinction of the Gray Zone.” specific mention is given to the kind of division that yesterday’s attack was intended to provoke and broaden. “The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir,” Atran told Tunisia Live. “’The world today is divided. Bush [former US President George W. Bush] spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,”’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, ‘the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Gray zone.’”
  • “Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the ‘Gray Zone’ between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called ‘terror attacks’ to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.”
rklingerman18

Al Qaeda's al-Zawahiri to ISIS: We can work together - CNN.com - 2 views

  •  
    For nearly two years, al Qaeda and ISIS have fought an unusually public battle for supremacy in the global jihadist movement. Al Qaeda disowned ISIS early in 2014 because al-Baghdadi ignored its directive to stay out of Syria. And its affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, is viscerally hostile to ISIS.
Ed Webb

They're Still Pulling Bodies Out of ISIS' Capital - 0 views

  • Overall, an estimated 2,000 civilians were killed during bitter fighting for control of Raqqa, according to local casualty monitors—in an assault dominated by U.S. firepower
  • international media coverage of Raqqa dwindles away. Once the center of countless stories about the so-called Islamic caliphate, ISIS’s self-declared capital is now 80 per cent uninhabitable due to destruction from recent fighting, according to the United Nations.
  • according to an Airwars analysis, at least 95 per cent of strikes in Raqqa and all artillery strikes were American. At least 21,000 munitions—and possibly thousands more—struck the city
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  • Local monitors estimate that upwards of 2,000 were killed by all parties to the fighting
  • In Raqqa, a greater reliance on air and artillery strikes ahead of more cautious ground advances—as well as the limited firepower of local partner forces (the largest weapons wielded by the SDF were 120mm mortars)—all indicated that civilian harm would be more often tied to Coalition actions. Yet nine months later, only 11 percent of Coalition civilian harm assessments have resulted in an admission of responsibility. Out of 121 reports so far assessed for the Raqqa assault, the Coalition has confirmed involvement in just 13 strikes, which it says left 21 civilians dead and six injured—far short of the 1,400 likely Coalition-inflicted deaths Airwars tracked between June and October.
  • Fired from afar and usually targeted based on intelligence from local proxy ground forces,the SDF, U.S. bombs, missiles and artillery shells rained almost continuously into Raqqa. According to official figures provided to Airwars, the Coalition launched more than 20,000 munitions into the city during the five-month campaign. In August, that barrage had officially increased to more than one bomb, missile, rocket or artillery round fired every eight minutes—a total of 5,775 munitions during the month
  • During the first half of the battle for Raqqa, fire from A-10 “Warthog” ground assault aircraft accounted for roughly 44 percent of weapon use in Raqqa. The extensive use of A-10s in such an urban setting—which fire 30mm cannons and can also deploy bombs and missiles—was described by U.S. officials at the time as unprecedented
  • Quentin Sommerville, the BBC’s veteran Middle East Correspondent, reported extensively from both Raqqa and Mosul. His battlefield dispatches from deserted areas of Raqqa that had been captured from ISIS showed a city in ruins, even as fighting still raged in other neighborhoods. “24 hours of coverage wouldn’t do justice to the total devastation across Raqqa,” he tweeted from the city on Sept. 17. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
  • The so-called Islamic State bears significant responsibility for the destruction and death toll at Raqqa, according to investigators. “By deliberately placing civilians in areas where they were exposed to combat operations, for the purpose of rendering those areas immune from attack, ISIL militants committed the war crime of using human shields in Raqqah governorate,” the UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria noted in a recent report. “Despite the fact that civilians were being used as human shields, international coalition airstrikes continued apace on a daily basis, resulting in the destruction of much of Raqqah city and the death of countless civilians, many of whom were buried in improvised cemeteries, including parks,” the Commission also wrote.
  • Despite the horrors experienced by civilians during recent fighting, press reports from Raqqa have been filed far less regularly than its status as the former “ISIS capital” might have suggested. In Mosul, many more journalists covered the battle—often revealing important details about the civilian toll. In December for example, a major field investigation by the Associated Press put the overall civilian death in Mosul above 9,000.
  • “In Mosul, media were falling over each other; almost no stone was left unturned,” said Sommerville. “But Raqqa was more difficult to reach during the offensive, and is still difficult to get to. There we have barely scratched the surface. It seemed to me that wherever we went there were stories of civilian casualties. And no one was investigating.”
  • “The Coalition has not conducted interviews on the ground in or around Raqqa as part of any civilian casualty investigation,” a Coalition spokesperson told Airwars.“It is striking to see the Coalition continue to deny civilian casualties even after independent on the ground investigations found the contrary,” said Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch. “If they want to talk to survivors, they only need to visit these areas.”
Ed Webb

Secret Alliance: Israel Carries Out Airstrikes in Egypt, With Cairo's O.K. - The New Yo... - 1 views

  • For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, frequently more than once a week — and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.The remarkable cooperation marks a new stage in the evolution of their singularly fraught relationship. Once enemies in three wars, then antagonists in an uneasy peace, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.
  • Their collaboration in the North Sinai is the most dramatic evidence yet of a quiet reconfiguration of the politics of the region. Shared enemies like ISIS, Iran and political Islam have quietly brought the leaders of several Arab states into growing alignment with Israel — even as their officials and news media continue to vilify the Jewish state in public.
  • Both neighbors have sought to conceal Israel’s role in the airstrikes for fear of a backlash inside Egypt, where government officials and the state-controlled media continue to discuss Israel as a nemesis and pledge fidelity to the Palestinian cause.
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  • Israeli drones are unmarked, and the Israeli jets and helicopters cover up their markings. Some fly circuitous routes to create the impression that they are based in the Egyptian mainland
  • In Israel, military censors restrict public reports of the airstrikes
  • The Egyptian government has declared the North Sinai a closed military zone, barring journalists from gathering information there
  • Mr. Sisi, then the defense minister, ousted Mr. Morsi in a military takeover. Israel welcomed the change in government, and urged Washington to accept it. That solidified the partnership between the generals on both sides of the border
  • In November, 2014, Ansar Beit al Maqdis formally declared itself the Sinai Province branch of the Islamic State. On July 1, 2015, the militants briefly captured control of a North Sinai town, Sheikh Zuwaid, and retreated only after Egyptian jets and helicopters struck the town, state news agencies said. Then, at the end of October, the militants brought down the Russian charter jet, killing all 224 people on board. Advertisement Continue reading the main story It was around the time of those ominous milestones, in late 2015, that Israel began its wave of airstrikes, the American officials said, which they credit with killing a long roster of militant leaders.
  • They moved into hitting softer targets like Christians in Sinai, churches in the Nile Valley or other Muslims they view as heretics. In November 2017, the militants killed 311 worshipers at a Sufi mosque in the North Sinai.
  • Zack Gold, a researcher specializing in the North Sinai who has worked in Israel, compared the airstrikes to Israel’s nuclear weapons program — also an open secret.“The Israeli strikes inside of Egypt are almost at the same level, he said. “Every time anyone says anything about the nuclear program, they have to jokingly add ‘according to the foreign press.’ Israel’s main strategic interest in Egypt is stability, and they believe that open disclosure would threaten that stability.”
Ed Webb

Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got 'Rolled' By Turkey and 'Has No Spine' - 0 views

  • Trump got "rolled" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a National Security Council source with direct knowledge of the discussions told Newsweek.
  • The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump's own Defense Department "completely stunned," said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime
  • Turkey has long considered the Kurdish militia in Syria to be a terrorist insurgency, despite the United States providing military and financial aid to the group in its fight against ISIS, the Islamic State militant group. A battle with the vastly superior military of Turkey, a NATO ally, could drive the Kurds into the arms of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian dictator that Washington wants ousted, and by extension into an alliance with Russia and Iran, two U.S. rivals with forces in Syria.
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  • both the Defense Department and Trump on Twitter said they made clear to Turkey that they do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria
  • Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.
  • "To be honest with you, it would be better for the United States to support a Kurdish nation across Turkey, Syria and Iraq," said the National Security Council official. "It would be another Israel in the region."
    • Ed Webb
       
      Hmmm. In what sense? With what effects?
  • witnesses observed United States forces withdraw from two observation posts in Tel Abyad and Ein Eissa in northeastern Syria.
  • the United States chose not to stand its ground to protect Kurdish Forces against Turkish airstrikes as a part of Trump's "America First policy" and his historical views that war is bad for business
  • Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border hours after he issued his strongest threat to launch Turkish forces over the border and into the "buffer zone," between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
  • Trump told Erdogan he did not want anything to do with ISIS prisoners despite the United States not currently detaining Islamic State prisoners in Syria. The Syrian Defense Forces control custody of the prisoners.Erdogan said Turkey would take custody of the ISIS militant prisoners, according to the White House statement and the National Security Council official Newsweek spoke to for this story
  • A senior Defense Department official told Newsweek in January no U.S. general was happy with the decision to pull back U.S. troops from Syria as Pentagon officials feared the withdrawal could spark an ISIS resurgence similar to the Taliban's growing influence and territory in Afghanistan.
  • A complete withdrawal could also potentially give up a valuable regional position to American military forces that threaten United States interests in the region, including the interests of allies such as Israel and, to some extent, Jordan.
  • "We are telling the world, we will use you and then throw you away," the official added. "It's not like they don't have a television in Asia, in Africa, and South America."
Ed Webb

IS designates Turkey as its next base - 0 views

  • There are credible indications that the Islamic State (IS), after losing its territorial dominance in Iraq and Syria, has designated Turkey as its next reorganization base.
  • The arrests of so many IS members by Turkish security forces are another sign of IS' intention to create cells in the country.
  • Iraqi intelligence sources have provided solid information that the brains of IS have moved to Turkey. The United States has tracked the jewelry shops and foreign currency exchanges used by IS in money transfers. The US Treasury Department on Sept. 10 placed al-Haram, al-Hebo, al-Khalidi and Saksouk foreign exchange bureaus and jewelry outlets on its sanctions list for transferring money for IS. 
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  • Turkey usually keeps a close watch over foreign exchange bureaus, so it was hard to believe that it missed such a developed network. The US Treasury’s update of its sanctions list with new companies and people meant Turkey once again lagged behind the United States. In addition to the Turkey-based Sahloul and al-Sultan foreign exchange companies, the United States put ACL and Ithalat-Ihracat on its blacklist Nov. 18 for providing IS financial and technological support.
  • Allaq, who works closely with the CIA, said IS senior personnel and bomb makers Khair-Allah Abdullah Fathi and Hussein al-Jumaili bribed smugglers in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces to secretly enter Gaziantep in Turkey.
  • The ongoing cooperation between Iraqi and Turkish intelligence services was seen in February 2018, when Turkey apprehended Ismail al-Ethawi, the man behind IS money operations, and sent him to Baghdad.
  • It's open to debate how much capacity Turkey has to mobilize against IS, and whether this is sufficient to cope with the threat. Turkey’s security and intelligence services have been dedicating the bulk of their capabilities to eradicating the Gulen movement and to suppressing domestic opposition, as led by the Kurds
  • haphazard policies and flawed legal processes enable IS members to escape, hide and move as they want in Turkey. IS has further obtained more room to maneuver due to Operation Peace Spring and the subsequent deterioration of stability east of the Euphrates
Ed Webb

Cultural heritage and violence in the Middle East | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • According to reports of the activist Facebook group Le patrimoine archéologique syrien en danger, all six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria have been damaged, major museum collections at Homs and Hama have been looted, and dozens of ancient tells have been obliterated by shelling. In Iraq, recent media stories recount ISIS fighters’ use of antiquities to raise revenues. So-called blood antiquities function as cash-cows, fetching high prices from unscrupulous collectors and netting a handsome cut for ISIS. As devastating as this news is, Syria and Iraq are simply additional chapters in the long-running story wherein conflict is characterised by a two-fold assault on humanity: human bodies themselves as well as the objects and sites that people create and infuse with cultural meaning.
  • So-called blood antiquities function as cash-cows, fetching high prices from unscrupulous collectors and netting a handsome cut for ISIS.
  • Current scholarly discussion on the Armenian genocide, however, focuses almost exclusively on the human destruction, not taking into consideration the systematic annihilation of Armenian sites and monuments that has taken place since then
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  • The destruction of human communities is incomplete without cultural violence. This was the conclusion of lawyer and human rights advocate Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-born jurist who coined the term “genocide” and fought successfully for its recognition by international legal bodies as a crime. In Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), he argued: By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group…[It signifies] a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. (Lemkin 1944: 80) Among the “essential foundations” of the life of human societies, Lemkin argued, were cultural sites, objects, and practices. The Holocaust galvanised his human rights work, but it was the tragic case of Turkish Armenians during the beginning decades of the twentieth century that served as the basis for Lemkin’s theory of genocide.
  • Also significant in this context was the systematic replacement of Armenian place names (on streets, buildings, neighbourhoods, towns, and villages) with Turkish names. The erasure of Armenians from collective memory was completed during the Turkish Republic; in their history textbooks, Turkish children hear nothing about Armenian culture or learn simply that they were enemies of the Turks.
  • the Turkish state and its governments have systematically removed all markers of the Armenians’ civilisation
  • This is cultural death, and it is especially dangerous because it legitimates the denial of diversity by authoritarian states and their societies.
  • Historical records document previous erasures of peoples and their culture: the Native Americans and First Nations of north America; the Mayas and Aztecs of Mesoamerica; and the Roman destruction of Carthage (north Africa), which some scholars point to as the earliest recorded organised genocide.
  • the harrowing plight of Syrian journalist Ali Mahmoud Othman, co-founder of Le patrimoine archéologique syrien en danger. Othman was arrested by government forces in March 2012 and has not been heard of since his televised “confession” in May 2012
  • Recurring Internet images of ISIS fighters beheading western men obscure the equally outrageous and horrific acts of sexual violence against women, torture of children, and destruction of homes, markets, churches, Shi’a mosques, and ancient monuments. All of this constitutes the challenging environment in which cultural activists must do their work.
  • Lemkin’s teachings still have something to say to us today: without monuments and cultural objects, social groups are atomised into disaffected, soulless individuals
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