Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ISIS takes the war back to Iraq

By Elizabeth Kendal

source map date 10 June 2014
A state of emergency has been declared in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham/Syria (ISIS) has seized control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (the capital of Nineveh Province in Northern Iraq) as well as several areas in hotly-contested oil-rich Kirkuk.


The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham/Syria (ISIS) [also known as The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)] is the rebel force presently in control of Syria's Al-Raqqa Province and Iraq's Anbar Province.
See, Raqqa, Syria: Christians in the lion's den.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 250, 5 March 2014

The group split from al-Qaeda primarily over the issue of cooperating with Iran (i.e. with Shi'ites). For al-Qaeda, despite being Sunni and neo-Salafi, has long cooperated with Iran in theatres as diverse as the Balkans and West Africa. For Iran's  "Axis of Resistance" stretches beyond the Shia Crescent to include Sunni groups such as Hamas, the Government of Sudan and elements of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Hence Morsi's rapprochement with Iran, which triggered Saudi Arabia's support for al-Sisi.] The jihadist ideologues of ISIS regard this cooperation / alliance with Shi'ites as error and a betrayal of the Salafi-jihadist cause. According to ISIS's Abu-Muhammad al-Adnani, "the leaders of al-Qaida have deviated from the correct path [of anti-Shi'ite zeal]. They have divided the ranks of the mujahedin in every place".

The debate actually commenced a decade ago, between Al-Qaeda in Iraq's (AQI's) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri, over the jihad in Iraq. Zarqawi's penchant for killing Shi'ites was turning the Muslim masses away from al-Qaeda, which in turn created a problem for al-Zawahiri. While US and Iraqi forces killed many AQI jihadis, a remnant recovered to become the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which subsequently expanded into Syria to become the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham/Syria (ISIS) under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

As terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky explains, the issue of contention is whether the Sunni jihadist movement -- being neo-Salafist, and thus inherently anti-Shi'ite -- should "uncompromisingly confront all apostates and Shi'ites, or cooperate with some of them in the expedient pursuit of such higher goals as the establishment of an Islamist Caliphate in the greater Middle East." (Defense & Foreign Affairs, Strategic Policy, issue 4, 2014 - available here, via ISN)

The matter was brought to a head in February, after ISIS jihadists assassinated a leading al-Qaeda figure.


Sometime between late December 2011 and early January 2012, Abu Musab al-Suri -- long regarded as "the most important ideologist of the global jihadi movement" (Bodansky) -- was released from his Syrian prison cell. A leading figure in international jihad, Abu Musab al-Suri had been captured in Quetta by Pakistani Intelligence Services on the night of 31 October 2005. A few weeks later he was handed to the CIA and reportedly transferred to "phantom prison" on Diego Garcia where he was subjected to "intense interrogation". Divulging nothing, al-Suri was fast-tracked for "special rendition" and in March 2006 was "rendered" to Assad's Syria with the expectation that Syrian Intelligence officers would extract something from him.

Assad's release of Abu Musab al-Suri came at the request of Iran, specifically the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp. The plan was that al-Suri would help end the fratricidal in-fighting in Syria by co-opting more jihadis into al-Qaeda's Axis of Resistance-aligned al-Nusra Front which would adopt the al-Suri strategy of attracting and securing local support.
See: Jabhat al-Nusra’s New Syria Strategy
January 2013

[Confused? The fact is, as far as Iran is concerned, nothing and no-one (including Assad) is more important than the strategic objective of maintaining Syria as an integral part of the Axis of Resistance. And remember, Iran had al-Suri released from prison in around Jan 2012, when Assad was under immense pressure and the jihadists were ascendant. Al-Suri's job was to turn the jihadis on the ground away from Sunni Arab but US-Israel-allied Saudi Arabia, towards the Axis of Resistance, in line with Zawahiri.]

Then in late February 2014, ISIS jihadis assassinated Abu Khaled al-Suri, who was Abu Musab al-Suri's closest companion and al-Zawahiri's personal emissary to Syria.  From that moment, Zawahiri's al-Nusra Front and Baghdadi's ISIS parted ways, with al-Nusra continuing its fight in Aleppo, and ISIS seizing control of Raqqa (in Syria) and then Fallujah (in Iraq).


In April 2014, ISIS escalated the ideological/theological dispute by introducing the Khorasan pledge; there would be no reconciliation. Nine prominent al-Qaeda emirs from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran declared their allegiance to the new emir of the faithful, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- the head of ISIS -- in what is being termed as the "Khorasan pledge".
See: The Khorasan Pledge
Yossef Bodansky, April 2014 (via ISN)
Khorasan pledge splits al-Qaeda
By Radwan Mortada, for Al-Akhbar,  23 April 2014

The defecting emirs have published a lengthy theological thesis in which they outline their position and urge others to follow suit.

Bodansky explains: "The emirs allude to the al-Qaida affiliates which were guided by Abu Musab al-Suri into secret cooperation with the Quds Forces in order to sustain their jihad. They [the emirs] refused to accept the excuses of al-Qaida leaders that 'the groups did not have any courage to enforce judgements over those who disobey Sharia, under the pretext of avoiding a clash with the people or due to their inability and incapacity, although they enforced in secret more than did out in the open'.

"On the contrary, the nine emirs stressed, the tacit and expedient cooperation with Shi'ite Iran was not limited to the jihadists under duress in Syria but was rather a new trend in the Islamist movement. The most glaring example of the theological corruption of the Islamist-jihadist creed was 'former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was proven to be an apostate, even for those who had a semblance of comprehension. Or was it an indication of a new kind of jihad?' The emirs emphasize that Morsi's rapprochement with Iran and other apostate states, as well as his refusal to launch jihad against Israel . . . was a conscientious betrayal of the Islamist creed.

"It was, the emirs believed, because of this deviation from the right and righteous path that the Islamists lost power in Egypt."

ISIS is not some little "off-shoot" of al-Qaeda. ISIS is a branch of al-Qaeda that is committed to takfiri orthodoxy; and it has considerable and growing support. [Takfiris are Muslim 'purists' who deem 'lesser' Muslims -- particularly Shi'ites -- to be infidels and apostates.]

Bodansky writes: "The inner-Sunni vicious fighting over takfiri orthodoxy verses cooperation with Quds Forces effectively self-neutralises the Sunni jihadist forces in the greater Aleppo area . . . [Meanwhile] Shi'ite Baghdad is desperately trying to stem the tide. . . Further south, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are increasingly vulnerable to the Shi'ite ascent  . . . The Saudi Ikwhan [Saudi Muslim Brotherhood] is a takfiri creed. . ."

There is little doubt that the split over takfiri orthodoxy is likely to spread to all theatres of jihad.

The split will cause sectarian tensions to skyrocket. It will also cause persecution to escalate as the two jihadi branches seek to prove their Islamic credentials for the purpose of recruiting fighters. Considering ISIS is willing to kill anyone and everyone in defence of 'true Islam', al-Qaeda / al-Nusra may well have to escalate its killing of Christians and burning of churches to compensate for its al-Suri-inspired strategic unwillingness to kill Muslims.


On Friday 6 June some 3,000 ISIS jihadis in technical vehicles (pickup trucks mounted with machine guns) overran the west bank of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and the capital of Nineveh Province in Northern Iraq.

Stratfor Intelligence reports (10 June): "Resistance seems to have ended quickly, with Iraqi army and police units abandoning their equipment and positions. The militants now control the provincial government headquarters, security bases and the airport, along with equipment that was left behind. They also were able to free as many as 1,500 prisoners [figure could be as high as 3,000] who could swell the group's ranks rapidly or at least add to the current chaos."

On 10 June, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of high alert in Iraq and asked parliament to approve a state of emergency.

See: In Iraq, a Militant Group Takes Mosul
Stratfor Global Intelligence, analysis 10 June 2014
ISIS booty includes two airports, banks as it takes control of Iraq’s 2nd-largest city
By Mitchell Proothero, Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy
McClatchy Foreign Staff,  10 June 2014

According to the BBC, some 150,000 have fled Mosul.  World Watch Monitor (WWM) can confirm that up to a thousand Christian families have fled, for safer areas.

WWM reports: "Local media say militants took 70 female students hostage at the University of Mosul, and took 28 Turkish truck drivers hostage in the city. . . One Mosul citizen reported 'No water, electricity or food in the houses now' and "'t is dangerous to go out as there is random sniper shooting in the city'.

"Several sources in mainly Christian areas have confirmed that militants have entered their villages too. A local Christian reports that ISIS extremists are now in control of a well-known 'Christian' village in Qara Qosh, where the guards ran away. Another Christian declared that ISIS militants also entered the Mar Behnam Monastery.

"Some 200 families, many Christian, are now hosted at the Mar Mattai Monastery and about 50 families an hour are thought to be arriving in Al Qosh, 45km from Mosul, where there is another Monastery. Others have fled as far as Dohuk, 80km from Mosul.

"Several schools in mainly Christian villages also opened their doors. New arrivals are desperate for mattresses and blankets, having left carrying only a plastic bag with a few clothes. Some said they had to leave their cars behind at check points and walk for many hours to safer regions.

" 'When this goes on like this, Mosul soon will be emptied of Christians', said World Watch Monitor's source in Iraq, who will remain unnamed for security. 'This could be the last migration of Christians from Mosul'.

Full Report, see: Up to 1000 Christian families flee Iraq’s second city
World Watch Monitor, 10 June 2014

The Stratfor Intelligence report explains, indirectly, why the situation for Assyrian Christians in Nineveh is so precarious. While restive Sunni Anbar Province fell easily into the lap of anti-Shi'ite ISIS, "Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga have been fairly successful in protecting the core Shiite region and Kurdish territories." Nineveh Province, however, is a mixed Arab-Kurd "fault-line" region; it just happens to also be the ancient homeland of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian Christians. So who will defend it? Can Baghdad and Arbil (Kurdish capital) cooperate to fight ISIS? Or will Arab-Kurd rivalry get in the way? There is a lot at stake, for as Stratfor notes, "Mosul sits at the heart of the oil-centered territorial struggle between Baghdad and Arbil."


On Tuesday 10 June, ISIS seized several areas of hotly-contested, oil-rich Kirkuk, even managing to seize Iraq's biggest (310,000 barrels per day) oil refinery in Baiji. Kirkuk is contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turks.

See: ISIS seizes more towns in northern and central Iraq (with map)
By Bill Roggio and Patrick Megahan, 10 June 2014

By Wednesday 11 June, the ISIS has seized control of Tikrit, taking 80 Turkish citizens hostage. (link includes map and video)

The"stunning collapse" in security has led CNN to question Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ability to hold on to the country.

The war has returned to Iraq.

With the mother of all battles looming, al-Maliki is offering to arm any citizen who volunteers to fight ISIS.

If Christians had any security before, it has certainly all evaporated now.

May God have mercy . . .