ISIS/ISIL/Daesh 2015

Written by  //  December 29, 2015  //  Middle East & Arab World, Terrorism  //  Comments Off on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh 2015

See also ISIS/ISIL 2013-14
Profile: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Russia in 2015
What ISIS Really Wants
ISIS Fantasies of an Apocalyptic Showdown in Northern Syria

Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war, so use ‘Daesh’
Whether referred to as ISIS, ISIL, or IS, all three names reflect aspirations that the United States and its allies unequivocally reject. Political and religious leaders all over the world have noted this. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “This is a terrorist group and not a state. . . the term Islamic State blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists.”
The term “Daesh” is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term. — Boston Globe October 9, 2015

‘ISLAMIC STATE’ – Seven Impressions Of A Difficult Journey
By Jürgen Todenhöfer (22 December 2014)

Isis jihadi linked to Paris terror attacks killed by US-led airstrikes – Pentagon
(Guardian) Ten Isis leaders are reported to have been killed in airstrikes over the past month. News of the deaths followed reports from Turkey that a Briton and two Pakistanis had been arrested on suspicion of membership of the terrorist group. Earlier, police in Belgium announced the arrests of two men said to have planned attacks there.
28 December
Exclusive: Seized documents reveal Islamic State’s Department of ‘War Spoils’
(Reuters) Islamic State has set up departments to handle “war spoils,” including slaves, and the exploitation of natural resources such as oil, creating the trappings of government that enable it to manage large swaths of Syria and Iraq and other areas. … U.S. officials say the documents have helped deepen their understanding of a militant group whose skill in controlling the territory it has seized has surprised many. They provide insight into how a once small insurgent group has developed a complex bureaucracy to manage revenue streams – from pillaged oil to stolen antiquities – and oversee subjugated populations.
Quartz: Iraqi forces retook Ramadi from ISIL.The military said it was back in control of the Anbar province’s capital, which was the Islamic State’s “biggest prize of 2015.” The offensive in Ramadi began last week and culminated on Sunday with the seizure of a government complex. It’s the Iraqi military’s first major victory since its devastating 2014 collapse.
15 December
Are the Saudis finally getting serious about the anti-ISIS fight?
(Brookings) Saudi Arabia has sponsored the development of Islamic institutions to push Islamic causes since the 1960s. Then-King Faysal bin Abd al Aziz believed that the Islamic states should unite to oppose international communism and Soviet aggression, as well as to back Palestinian independence. Faysal created the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Muslim World League. He sponsored the first Islamic summit in Morocco to press for an end to Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1969.
The new Saudi effort is designed to appeal to the same constituencies as Faysal’s efforts both in the Islamic world and inside the Kingdom. An effective Islamic counterterrorism military entente could mobilize Islamic states against al-Qaida and the Islamic State. It could also be a platform for more effective counter measures in the ideological battle by mobilizing Islamic clerics. It will also be popular at home with Saudis who want a more energetic foreign policy.
The Saudis undoubtedly also hope the announcement will help silence criticism that the Saudis and their allies are doing too little against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq because of their commitment in Yemen. President Obama implicitly made that criticism in his speech at the Pentagon this week.
The new organization does not include Iran or Iraq. Riyadh sees Iran as a patron state sponsor of terrorism for backing the Houthis, Hezbollah and the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. The Saudis accuse Iran of promoting terrorism in Bahrain and other Gulf states. The Iraqi government, for its part, is regarded as a pawn of Tehran. For Riyadh, the battle against Iran is as important as the battle against al-Qaida and Islamic State, perhaps even more important.
Several other countries are notably absent from the Saudi-led alliance. Oman refused to join the war against the Houthis last March and it is not among the new allies.
The largest Muslim country in Africa, Algeria, is also not a member. Algeria has been fighting al-Qaida for over a decade and has the largest and most modern army in Africa. Its absence weakens the clout of the alliance.
Afghanistan and the Central Asian states are also absent. Afghanistan is at the front of the war against Islamic extremists. Pakistan and Bangladesh are traditional Saudi allies and members of the new alliance, although Pakistan pointedly refused to fight in Yemen against the Houthis.
FT reports Paying for ‘caliphate’ war machine
Budgets reveal fighters are well supplied while public services suffer in militant-controlled areas
14 December
Reading Between the Lines of President Obama’s ISIS Pentagon Briefing
(TIME) What he said, what he meant and what he left unsaid
Part of President Obama’s problem is the human nature of the American people. They like a quick fix, and he doesn’t have one for ISIS. They don’t like to hear a leader say he’s planning on continuing down the same path—just a little faster—when that path hasn’t led to anything approaching victory in more than a year. It doesn’t matter if that route may be the best among unsatisfying options.
8 December
The Beachhead: Islamic State Uses Libya to Gain African Foothold
The Islamic State is using the same strategy it deployed in Syria in order to expand its territory in North Africa. Libya has become the center of its deadly activities in the region.
(Spiegel) Libya’s disintegration into competing factions and regions provides fertile soil for the jihadists’ creeping rise to power. More than 1,000 kilometers (612 miles) of coastline and uncontrolled borders in the south make for easy access to the country. Tunisians, who comprise the largest group of IS foreign fighters, established a broad network in Libya early on and often travel from here to the “caliphate.”
The Isis papers: leaked documents show how Isis is building its state
Blueprint lays bare new contours of Islamic state, complete with civil service, regional government and Soviet levels of economic control
(The Guardian) A leaked internal Islamic State manual shows how the terrorist group has set about building a state in Iraq and Syria complete with government departments, a treasury and an economic programme for self-sufficiency, the Guardian can reveal.
The 24-page document, obtained by the Guardian, sets out a blueprint for establishing foreign relations, a fully fledged propaganda operation, and centralised control over oil, gas and the other vital parts of the economy.
The manual, written last year and entitled Principles in the administration of the Islamic State, lays bare Isis’s state-building aspirations and the ways in which it has managed to set itself apart as the richest and most destabilising jihadi group of the past 50 years.
4 December
Shlomo Ben-Ami: Blinded By ISIS
The Arab Middle East is not susceptible to quick fixes. It requires profound indigenous change that might take the better part of this century to produce. For now, turning the caliphate into yet another failed state in the region seems to be the best possible outcome.
(Project Syndicate) The general consensus emerging since last month’s carnage in Paris seems to be that the Islamic State (ISIS) can be defeated only by a ground invasion of its “state.” This is a delusion. Even if the West and its local allies (the Kurds, the Syrian opposition, Jordan, and other Sunni Arab countries) could agree about who would provide the bulk of ground troops, ISIS has already reshaped its strategy. It is now a global organization with local franchised groups capable of wreaking havoc in Western capitals.
In fact, ISIS has always been a symptom of a deeper malady. Disintegration in the Arab Middle East reflects the region’s failure to find a path between the bankrupt, secular nationalism that has dominated its state system since independence and a radical brand of Islam at war with modernity. The fundamental problem consists in an existential struggle between utterly dysfunctional states and an obscenely savage brand of theocratic fanaticism.
With that struggle, in which most of the region’s regimes have exhausted their already-limited stores of legitimacy, a century-old regional order is collapsing
1 December
All-female Kurdish unit takes on ISIS
U.S. deploying new force to Iraq to boost fight against Islamic State
(Reuters) U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the deployment of the new “specialized expeditionary targeting force” was being carried out in coordination with Iraq’s government and would aid Iraqi government security forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces.
“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders,” Carter told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, using an acronym for Islamic State.
“This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office issued a statement saying it welcomed foreign assistance but Iraq’s government would need to approve any deployment of special operations forces anywhere in Iraq – a point Carter also acknowledged.
30 November
ISIS Is Now Hiring Engineers To Run It’s (sic) Oil Business & Is Offering Unbelievable Salaries
At this point of time, ISIS has over 10 oil fields in their control throughout Iraq and Syria. The crude oil is sold directly to independent traders through a sophisticated system. The commodity has such a high demand that even before the crude oil is pumped out, the tankers are already lined up to buy the produce. Producing 34,000-40,000 barrels per day, industry experts estimate that ISIS makes over 1 Milion dollars every day.
27 November
I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy
Jürgen Todenhöfer
Militants in Syria dream of a big showdown with the US and Europe. There are other ways to defeat them
(The Guardian) Since the Paris attacks, western politicians have been walking open-eyed into a trap set by the terrorists – just like they did after 9/11. They retaliate with bombs, even though bombs are one of the main reasons why we are facing terrorism in the first place: because bombs predominantly kill innocent people, and thus help to create fresh recruits for the terrorist cause.
21 November
Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It
(NYT op-ed) Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
The Paris Attacks Reflect Intelligence Failure — Not a Change in ISIS Strategy
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
(World Post) one should have no illusions that simply intensifying airstrikes and more tough talk can lead to the defeat of ISIS. As before, we must have a realistic view of the true scale of commitment required to defeat ISIS: namely, an extensive international presence on the ground to enforce a political settlement acceptable to all major actors and to assist a massive nation-rebuilding project. Unless international consensus emerges for such an undertaking, one must not harbor pretenses about destroying ISIS.
19 November
Islamic State says ‘Schweppes bomb’ used to bring down Russian plane
Islamic State’s official magazine carried a photo on Wednesday of a Schweppes soft drink can it said was used to make an improvised bomb that brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing all 224 people on board.
The photo showed a can of Schweppes Gold soft drink and what appeared to be a detonator and switch on a blue background, three simple components that if genuine are likely to cause concern for airline safety officials worldwide.
18 November
Drying up ‘Islamic State’ sources of financing
IS terrorists look unlikely to be cut off from all resources any time soon. That’s why information provider IHS believes the capability of the “Islamic State” to carry out attacks abroad has not really become any weaker despite recent military losses in Syria and Iraq.
(Deutsche Welle) At their meeting in Turkey, G20 leaders have pledged to help dry up the financial sources of the “Islamic State.” That’s easier said than done, and terror attacks are cheap. Where does the money come from?
It’s widely known that the “Islamic State” (IS) has huge financial resources at its disposal. The German government reckons that the terrorist organization can fall back on a capital stock of up to $2 billion (1.87 billion euros).
IS current receipts are also sizeable and come from a number of sources, ranging from selling or smuggling oil and antiques and looting banks to confiscating people’s property, collecting ransom money or taxes plus donations.
17 November
Patrick Graham: Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
The hard question of what to do in the wake of weekend attacks on France and Lebanon
(The Walrus) ISIS will remain strong because the underlining politics that created it—the boring old Iraqi Sunni Arab alienation, the familiar hegemonic disputes between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Syria and elsewhere—continue and will do so for a long time. Last fall in Baghdad, I interviewed deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of Iraq’s most powerful Sunni politicians, who listed the demands that needed to be met if the Sunni population was going to be convinced to rise up against ISIS. The Sunni Arabs, without whom ISIS cannot be defeated, are still waiting to join the fight. For many, ISIS is a better alternative than the present Iraqi government, let alone the government in Syria. Bombing will not change this political equation. And, not surprisingly, many Sunnis don’t want the bombing to continue. Air power absent an effective strategy is a terrifying, random death machine that hardly wins over the local population.
ISIS Is Likely Responsible for Nearly 1,000 Civilian Deaths Outside Iraq and Syria
(NYT) … the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has a history of attacking mosques, hotels, busy city streets and other civilian targets in mostly non-Western countries. If the Islamic State is responsible for the Paris killings and the explosion of the Russian plane, as officials on both sides of the Atlantic seem to believe, the civilian death toll outside Iraq and Syria would rise to nearly 1,000 since January. It would also signify a major leap in the group’s ability to direct attacks on the West.
“This is much different than a normal lone wolf-inspired attack,” Patrick M. Skinner, a former C.I.A. operations officer now with the Soufan Group, a security consultancy, said about the Paris attacks. “This was choreographed.”
AGNÈS GRUDA: Au-delà des bombes
La Turquie qui cherche à contenir les Kurdes. Les Kurdes qui cherchent à établir leur État. Les Iraniens qui voient dans l’EI un moyen d’empêcher l’unification des sunnites. Tous voient dans l’EI une sorte d’allié objectif pour parvenir à leurs fins.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, politicienne originaire de Somalie qui combat depuis longtemps l’islamisme radical : « Nous ne gagnerons pas en rayant de la carte l’État islamique, ou Al-Qaïda ou Boko Haram, écrivait-elle récemment. Un nouveau groupe radical apparaîtra ailleurs. Nous ne gagnerons que si nous sommes capables de combattre l’idéologie de l’islam radical, de contrer son message de mort et d’intolérance […] avec notre propre message de vie, de liberté et de poursuite de bonheur ici-bas. »
What Would It Take to Destroy the Islamic State?
VICE interview with Omar Lamrani, a military analyst for Stratfor, edited for length and clarity:
The Islamic State won’t be defeated until the Syrian Civil War is dealt with. … If you don’t divorce IS from the Sunni community within Syria and Iraq in which they operate, then you will always have the same problem potentially coming back. You have to remember what happened in Iraq after the surge and after the Anbar Awakening, we actually saw the jihadists there, not completely destroyed, but largely negated to a significant extent. Violence went down dramatically. That’s because, to a large extent, the Sunni community was brought into the talks. They were given a way out of the crisis. They were told that things could get better for them, that something could be arraigned with Baghdad, with the government. But that didn’t really end up happening, and the historical grievances of the Sunni community within Iraq and Syria make it so that groups like IS and other jihadist actors can keep coming back.
Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse
Scott Atran
They deal in chaos, but they work from a script. The failure to understand that is costing us dear
(The Guardian) There is a playbook, a manifesto: The Management of Savagery/Chaos, a tract written more than a decade ago under the name Abu Bakr Naji, for the Mesopotamian wing of al-Qaida that would become Isis. Think of the horror of Paris and then consider these, its principal axioms.
Hit soft targets. “Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.”
Strike when potential victims have their guard down. Sow fear in general populations, damage economies. “If a tourist resort that the crusaders patronise … is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.”
16 November
Muslims Hate ISIS Most of All
Before the Paris horror, ISIS was killing Muslims on a daily basis. We Muslims despise these crazy people more than anyone else does.
By Dean Obeidallah, a former lawyer turned political comedian and writer, host of The Dean Obeidallah show on SiriusXM radio.
(Daily Beast) We can debate whether ISIS’s actions in Paris were inspired by a perverted view of Islam or was simply an act of revenge by ISIS against France for being the most commited European country in the military fight versus ISIS in Syria. But in the last two weeks, ISIS downed a Russian passenger jet liner as revenge for Russia’s attacks on ISIS and the Beirut bombing was to punish Hezbollah for fighting them in Syria. Paris looks less about religion and more like a counterattack by ISIS hitting its enemies where it can, as NBC’s counterterrorism expert Laith Alkhouri explained on my radio show Saturday and as other experts have echoed.
But what must be clear to all is that we can’t allow ISIS to achieve its goal of framing this as a fight pitting Islam against the West. It’s not. It’s all of us versus ISIS.
15 November
There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS
We must hold accountable our Middle Eastern “allies”—the states and bankers and political elites—who persist in funding mass murder.
(Esquire)) It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.
Beirut, Baghdad and Paris: how 24 hours of Isis terror unfolded around the world
(The Independent) While the Isis atrocities in Paris have dominated headlines around the world, they were not the only major attacks the terror group has carried out on innocent people this week.
On Thursday night Lebanon was left reeling after the worst terror attack in Beirut in years left at least 43 people dead and 250 injured in a double suicide bombing.
Early on Friday, an Isis militant blew himself up at the funeral of a pro-government Shia fighter in Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and wounding 41.
13 November
Libya IS head ‘killed in US air strike’
(BBC) A US air strike has targeted the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya and probably killed him, the Pentagon says.
Iraqi national Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, was a “long-time al-Qaeda operative”, it said.
The strike took place on Friday and targeted a compound in Derna.
‘Jihadi John’: US ‘reasonably certain’ strike killed IS militant
(BBC) As the militant who sadistically murdered Western aid workers and journalists on camera, Mohammed Emwazi became a top target for US and British intelligence agencies, even though he is thought to have played no military role within Islamic State.
After his identity was revealed in February, Emwazi largely stayed out of sight, taking particular care not to leave a digital trail to his whereabouts.
But GCHQ, the UK government’s communications headquarters, has expended enormous efforts to intercept and decipher any encrypted messages that might reveal his location or those of his associates.
9 November
Al-Gharabli dead: Isis commander behind kidnapping of Tomislav Salopek killed by Egyptian forces
(IBT) Egyptian security forces have killed the Islamic State (Isis) commander allegedly involved in kidnapping Croatian surveyor Tomislav Salopek, who was subsequently beheaded. Authorities said in a statement IS militant Ashraf Ali Hasanain al-Gharabli had been killed in Cairo.
8 November
Russian plane crash: Leader of Sinai Province group Abu Osama al-Masri named as bombing mastermind
(IBT) Whitehall officials confirmed that Abu Osama al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric and frontman of Sinai Province – a militant group linked with Islamic State (IS) and active in the Sinai peninsula – is a person of interest in the 31 October crash of Russian flight KGL9268. In November 2014 his Sinai-based organisation pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, in return for weapons, finance and bomb-making knowledge.
2 November
How the Islamic State group justifies brutality with an apocalyptic vision
(PBS Newshour) The Islamic State militant group is taking advantage of chaos and upheaval in the Middle East to recruit fighters by prophesying the end of days, says William McCants, an early Islam historian. McCants joins chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner to discuss his new book “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.”
The Islamic State believes that the end of the world is approaching and it believes that it has also reestablished God’s kingdom on Earth. And that kingdom is going to wage an epic battle against the infidels before it all comes tumbling down.
… Gives them a special sense of urgency, but also has been terrific for recruiting. They have been able to attract a lot of foreigners to their cause and many of the foreigners, based on interviews with journalists, say that the main reason they’re there is because they believe that the world is coming to an end and the Islamic State is a fulfillment of prophecy. So, they’re traveling there to do their bit. …
MARGARET WARNER: Then what recourse is there for the U.S. and its allies?
WILLIAM MCCANTS: They have to contain the problem. It’s not going to be possible to put this genie back in the bottle.
MARGARET WARNER: And what would it take to resolve these sectarian conflicts?
WILLIAM MCCANTS: Well, fundamentally, it’s going to require some tough political deals.
The disenfranchisement of the Sunnis is what the Islamic State thrives on. And until those Sunnis are brought back into the political process, groups like the Islamic State will continue to thrive
1 November
C Uday Bhaskar — Russian Aircraft Crash: Why IS Claims Aren’t Totally Misplaced
(The Quint) Ghoulish responsibility for the crash of the ill-fated Metrojet aircraft in the Sinai desert on Saturday (Oct 31) that resulted in the death of all 224 passengers and crew on board the Airbus A 321 has been claimed by the Islamic State (IS). However at the time of writing this comment this has been rejected by the Russian government.
While more detailed investigations will establish the cause of the crash, the political-military context is instructive and the conjecture about the I S is not totally misplaced.
In recent weeks Russia under President Vladimir Putin has embarked upon a muscular military initiative in the Syrian crisis that has seen the Russian military providing valuable support to the beleaguered forces of president Assad. Consequently the IS has been under severe attack and is now on the defensive and the current multilateral talks in Vienna have been enabled in some measure by Moscow’s intervention.
A spectacular attack that would result in the destruction of a Russian asset would have served the purpose of the IS and local media have reported the following cyber claim by the IS.
17 October
Russian and Iranian offensive may allow Isil to ‘seize more territory’ in Syria
(The Independent) As Russian warplanes and Iranian forces attack non-Isil rebels in Syria, Western officials fear this could help the terrorists to advance
For the first six days of the Russian air offensive, not a single Isil target was attacked. So far, no Russian air strikes are believed to have taken place inside Isil’s de facto capital, Raqqa.
Instead, the offensive against non-Isil insurgents in and around Aleppo is now Russia’s main effort.
15 October
How Would Lawrence of Arabia Defeat the Islamic State?
Lessons from the early 20th century for the chaotic, modern Middle East
(Foreign Policy) … we could profitably spend some time looking at the life and times of Thomas Edward Lawrence, otherwise known to posterity as “Lawrence of Arabia.” From his story emerges some potentially helpful insights that could inform our badly constructed policy, such as it is, toward the region generally and Syria in particular. …
First and perhaps most importantly, he would tell us to understand the strategic terrain in vastly more depth than we do. Know the language, history, and culture of the region.
Second, Lawrence would counsel us to build alliances with local leaders, especially the Sunnis. This was the general course he undertook, and though there were tortuous twists and turns, he recognized that the only way to ultimately succeed in a regional conflict would be through recruiting, training, organizing, and deploying local fighters. But he also knew his presence as a mentor and leader would be crucial.
Third, there is a central role for special operations at the campaign level in much of what we need to accomplish. Just as Lawrence needed to conduct strong, decisive special operations, we need to think in terms of a coherent strategic plan that melds U.S. and partner capabilities. Not only do several of the Sunni partners have capable forces, but America’s Israeli friends do as well. Melding them together is probably a bridge too far at this point, but thinking in a campaign sense about a special-forces role is crucial.
Fourth, Lawrence would say to do the unexpected militarily. … We need top military planners to think about new operational concepts in this most complicated theater.
Fifth and perhaps most importantly, like Lawrence we must have the humility to recognize the limitations of Western influence in this most volatile of regions.
11 October
ISIS Leader Survives Attack By Iraqi Air Force
(Reuters) – Eight senior figures from Islamic State were killed in an air strike while meeting in a town in western Iraq, but the group’s reclusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not appear to be among them, residents of the town and hospital sources said.
Iraq said on Sunday its air force had hit the meeting and had also struck a convoy that was carrying Baghdadi to attend it. It said Baghdadi had been driven away from the convoy in an unknown condition.
The Iraqi military’s announcement was the latest unconfirmed report of the possible death or injury of Baghdadi, who has survived a year of U.S.-led air strikes and multi-sided wars in two countries since proclaiming himself caliph of all Muslims after his forces swept through most of northern Iraq last year.
21 September
Journalist Robert Fisk on ISIL, the Syrian refugees and a changing Canada
On a seven-city speaking tour of Canada this week with Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, his talk, titled ‘Goodbye, Mr. Sykes! Adieu, M. Picot!’ How the ISIL ‘caliphate’ frightens the Middle East — and us’, will focus on how the Syrian Civil War has destabilized the existing order in the Middle East.
… I’m still trying to figure out what ISIL is and what it represents. …
Groups of people became totally desensitized. Normally you associate religion with emotion. And yet ISIL has never shown any emotion. The execution of the Jordanian pilot was filmed with seven different camera angles. Hollywood uses four. These people showed no anger. Nothing.
Last year I went to Yabroud after the Syrian government army had managed to retake it. I went to the church — the oldest Christian church in Syria — to see if (it) had been destroyed. Around the church someone had specifically drilled out all the eyes of the Saints in the Orthodox mosaics, including St. George and the dragon. They even drilled out the eyes of the dragon! In one corner there were piles and piles of ripped up oil paintings. Beautiful, gold paintings. But they didn’t use a knife to cut them. They brought a machine — the paintings were mathematically, precisely cut by a machine. It’s the lack of emotion. They are absolutely cold.
“Reality is setting in:” why some ISIS fighters are packing up and going home
(Vox) There haven’t been waves of mass defections from ISIS, but a few people have left the group. A new report from the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) looks at the cases of ISIS volunteers who’ve grown disillusioned, quit, and survived to tell the story. ICSR’s researchers verified 58 publicly-reported cases between January and August of this year alone. The true number of defectors is likely higher — and the pace of defections from ISIS, according to ICSR, is increasing.
Peter Neumann, ICSR’s director, said he believes there’s lot more that the US and other Western powers could do to encourage defections and use them against ISIS. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
16 September
What if the Islamic State Won?
(Vice) We’re not talking about a global “convert or die” type of victory that would see the world consumed by the apocalyptic ambitions of IS’s megalomaniacal leadership. Instead, what would a more plausible kind of “agree to disagree” or at least “agree to be mortal enemies” victory look like for IS? Perhaps something much more pragmatic, like being able to effectively govern the territories they already control and successfully protect the borders of their so-called caliphate.
From a certain perspective IS is already doing just that. They already carry out the essential day-to-day asks of any state: paying municipal salaries, issuing travel documents, and running schools and hospitals. However, once this kind of administration becomes the status quo, defeating IS becomes less about targeting leaders or shattering terror networks than about destroying an entire system of political and military governance: no small task.
3 September
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers – and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting
(The Independent) A Lebanese-French archaeologist tells Robert Fisk about her unique answer to a unique crime
“Antiquities from Palmyra are already on sale in London,” the Lebanese-French archaeologist Ms Farchakh says. “There are Syrian and Iraqi objects taken by Isis that are already in Europe. They are no longer still in Turkey where they first went – they left Turkey long ago. This destruction hides the income of Daesh [Isis] and it is selling these things before it is destroying the temples that housed them.
“It has something priceless to sell and then afterwards it destroys the site and the destruction is meant to hide the level of theft. It destroys the evidence. So no one knows what was taken beforehand – nor what was destroyed.
1 September

AbuBakr_alBaghdadi-020515The Believer
(The Brookings Essay) Ibrahim al-Badri is known to the world as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ruler of the Islamic State or ISIS, and he has the power not just to admonish but to punish and even execute anyone within his territories whose faith is not absolute. His followers call him “Commander of the Believers,” a title reserved for caliphs, the supreme spiritual and temporal rulers of the vast Muslim empire of the Middle Ages. Though his own realm is much smaller, he rules millions of subjects. Some are fanatically loyal to him; many others cower in fear of the bloody consequences for defying his brutal version of Islam. (1 September 2015)

David Jones: Kurds Remain Better Option in Fight With ISIS
When there is an option between terrorist rapists and torturers and those with dirty fingernails, we have no choice. We’ll call for a manicurist later.
David Kilgour: Support Kurdistan, or Accept the Horrors of ISIS?
Kurds and Kurdistan are the antithesis of ISIS and its medieval caliphate. Should they be aided in their dream of independence even while giving up many of their lives to quell the nightmare that is ISIS? Absolutely. Lawmakers from Denmark, Sweden, and Britain are calling for more military help for peshmerga forces. All of us should join them
August 31
ISIS destroys Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, U.N. reports
(CNN) One of the most culturally significant pieces of architecture in the world has been destroyed, the United Nations said on Monday.
The U.N. training and research agency released satellite images and analysis that confirmed the Temple of Bel — which for nearly 2,000 years has been the center of religious life in Palmyra, Syria — was no longer standing, despite conflicting reports earlier in the day that it was not fully demolished.
26 August
Why is ISIL targeting cultural heritage? And to what extent is it also profiting from them?
The armed group’s destruction of ancient sites in Syria and Iraq is drawing condemnation worldwide. (Al Jazeera video)
24 August
ISIS’ Destruction Of Palmyra Temple Is A War Crime, UNESCO Says
The militant group blew up the temple of Baal Shamin.
(Reuters) — Islamic State’s demolition of an renowned ancient Roman temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra is a war crime that targeted an historic symbol of the country’s diversity, the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO said on Monday.
Ultra hardline Islamic State militants blew up the temple of Baal Shamin on Sunday, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said, describing the destruction of one of the most important sites in the central city.
“Such acts are war crimes and their perpetrators must be accountable for their actions,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement.
She also condemned the killing of Khaled al-Asaad, an 82-year-old archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra’s UNESCO World Heritage ruins for four decades.
News of the temples destruction comes after relatives and witnesses said Wednesday that Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra, was beheaded by Islamic State militants, his bloodied body hung on a pole. He even had named his daughter after Zenobia, the queen that ruled from the city 1,700 years ago.
22 August
Beheading of Khaled al-Asaad, keeper of Palmyra, unites Syria in condemnation
Admired for his work in documenting and promoting Syria’s cultural heritage, Asaad was regarded as a national treasure by regime loyalists and opponents
(The Guardian) Islamic State’s execution of Khaled al-Asaad, the keeper of Palmyra’s extraordinary cultural artefacts, has inspired a rare consensus among Syria’s other political factions.
The archaeologist and historian reportedly opposed the 2011 uprising against the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, but his murder has provoked grief and condemnation from regime loyalists and opposition activists.
Syrian activists say Isis militants captured Asaad shortly after they seized control of the ancient city of Palmyra in May. He was reportedly released and recaptured later before he was beheaded in a public square on Tuesday. According to a placard tied to his corpse, Asaad was accused of apostasy. His alleged crimes included representing Syria at “infidel conferences”, serving as “the director of idolatry” in Palmyra, visiting Iran to commemorate the anniversary of the “Khomeini revolution” and communicating with Syrian military officers, including his brother Col Issa al-Asaadin.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director of Syria’s department of antiquities and museums, told CNN that Asaad had been executed because he refused to tell the militants the whereabouts of Palmyra’s treasures. …
Asaad’s death is a reminder that Isis cannot be counted as part of the Syrian opposition. The group’s targeting of the country’s cultural heritage, and those who protect it, illustrates its distinct idealogical position. The reaction to the militants’ latest atrocity also offers hope that many of Assad’s opponents still differentiate between his regime and those who support it.
21 August
Airstrike kills Islamic State’s second-in-command
(PBS) In Iraq, a U.S. airstrike has killed the Islamic State group’s second-in-command. The National Security Council announced today that Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali died on Tuesday north of Mosul. A spokesman called him a primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria.
And the U.S. military says ISIS mortar fragments in Northern Iraq show traces of mustard gas. They were fired at Kurdish fighters this month. (Al Jazeera) The White House said Hayali was a “primary coordinator” for moving weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria. He was in charge of operations in Iraq and helped plan the group’s offensive in Mosul in June of last year, the White House said.
17 August
Sex Slavery In The Islamic State – Practices, Social Media Discourse, And Justifications; Jabhat Al-Nusra: ISIS Is Taking Our Women As Sex Slaves Too
ISIS fighters and supporters openly discuss the topic on social media, for example talking about which women may be legitimately enslaved according to Islamic religious precepts. These social media conversations also reveal information on where and under what conditions the women are being held, on the going prices for them, and even on other issues relating to them – such as possible trafficking in human organs.
However, ISIS firmly believes in the benefit of the practice for slaves as well as for masters, as well as for society as a whole, and holds that the slaves gain much from their enslavement because in this way they are exposed to Islam and may convert. Among these promoters of sex slavery are numerous female ISIS members and supporters, who tout it both via social media and in articles in ISIS publications.
ISIS is aware that the issue of sex slavery is highly sensitive, particularly in the West, so it also uses it openly so as to threaten and provoke its enemies. …
While ISIS and its proponents condone and encourage sex slavery, there is considerable disagreement over who exactly may be enslaved. The group insists that it does not enslave Muslim women, but the discussions on the various social media show a different picture. There are indications that Muslim women from groups that ISIS accuses of being apostates or infidels are also taken as slaves – such as Shi’ites and even Sunni Muslims who disagree with the ISIS ideology. Furthermore, there are also allegations that Muslim women are being taken as sex slaves by Kurdish fighters.
27 July
Why did ‘Jihadi John’ flee Islamic State?
British terrorist ‘Jihadi John,’ one of the most well-known members of ISIS, has reportedly fled the terrorist group, fearing for his life.
(CSM) Jihadi John left because the terrorist organization might drop him “like a stone or worse if they feel he is no longer of any use to them,” according to a source for the British news outlet, the Daily Express.
Jihadi John Flees ISIS and Syria, Possibly Headed for North Africa
27 June
Kurdish Forces Drive ISIS Out Of Syria’s Kobani
(AP) — Kurdish forces have driven out Islamic State fighters who had infiltrated the Syrian border town of Kobani, but clashes continued outside the town, activists and the official Syrian news agency said Saturday
23 June
Palmyra An-aerial-view-taken-on-J-007
Isis destroys Palmyra shrines in Syria
Islamic State militants have blown up two ancient shrines they consider sacrilegious at the 2,000-year-old Unesco world heritage site in central Syria
(Th Guardian) The report was the first of any damage being done by the militants to buildings in Palmyra, a 2,000 Unesco world heritage site in central Syria, since they seized control of the city in May. Syrian forces have bombed the city, and the militants camped within it, since then.
Before and after pictures showed several militants carrying explosives and the shrines, which are not among the city’s monumental Roman-era buildings, reduced to rubble.
News of the destruction in Palmyra emerged as the chief spokesman of Isis issued a call for increased violence during the holy month of Ramadan, and called upon Sunnis in Iraq to rise up against what he described as Shia oppression intended to end the Sunni presence in the country.
Isis also released a video apparently showing the brutal killing of men alleged to be spies. In the recording, the men are drowned in a cage submerged in a swimming pool.
Religious teaching that drives Isis to threaten the ancient ruins of Palmyra
Most historical sites under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria remain intact. Palymyra might be different precisely because of western warnings
The ruins at Palmyra would not normally qualify for destruction by Isis, but the attention drawn to the site might tempt the group to destroy them as a way to inflict psychological pain.
For Isis, only artefacts that involve a deity or worship must be destroyed. This also applies to shrines of saints because, according to the group’s cleric, they compromise absolute devotion to God. Such issues fall under so-called shirkiyat (polytheistic practices), a Salafi concept to justify crackdowns mostly on Sufi and Shia practices. Under this concept, clerics have the discretion to punish worshippers or destroy icons if they deem them to directly or indirectly compromise an exclusive belief in God. …
For many Syrians, the biggest event in Palmyra was last week’s capture of Tadmur prison, one of the Assad regime’s most notorious jails. The disproportionate attention ancient ruins have received, compared with human tragedies, has disturbed many. If Isis blows up the site, it would be largely because of this deemed hypocrisy.
10 June
BBC_iraq_mapLife In Mosul, A Year After ISIS Took Over
Over the year since the takeover, reports have trickled out from residents that paint an extremely dire picture of life under IS governance. Some of the problems facing the city are the result of immediate edicts issued by the group, while others are symptoms of IS’ deteriorating ability to provide basic services.
A Raid on ISIS Yields a Trove of Intelligence
(NYT) American intelligence agencies have extracted valuable information about the Islamic State’s leadership structure, financial operations and security measures by analyzing materials seized during a Delta Force commando raid last month that killed a leader of the terrorist group in eastern Syria, according to United States officials.
The information harvested from the laptops, cellphones and other materials recovered from the raid on May 16 has already helped the United States identify, locate and carry out an airstrike against another Islamic State leader in eastern Syria, on May 31. American officials expressed confidence that an influential lieutenant, Abu Hamid, was killed in the attack, but the Islamic State, which remains resilient, has not yet confirmed his death.
New insights yielded by the seized trove — four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official — include how the organization’s shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces.
5 June
M D Nalapat — ISIS: Global danger point near
Interestingly, the psychology of ISIS most resembles that of the Nazis. Like its German predecessor, the organisation has a supremacist ideology and extreme cruelty in its methods. It legitimises the slavery of innocents by recourse to a manufactured mythology, while its members believe themselves to be the Herrenvolk or Master Race. Millions of Germans, especially among the young, were attracted to the hate filled, hateful ideology of Adolf Schicklgruber (the original family name of the Nazi Fuehrer). As a consequence, it took many years of war before the Third Reich could be defeated, but not before it had exterminated millions of the finest individuals on earth, permanently impoverishing the future of the human race. Had Hitler been checked earlier, when his movement was much smaller, the world would have been spared the cataclysm of war. Unfortunately, the world stood by while Hitler and both his ideology as well as his followers grew in strength.
Thanks to President Obama signing on to the strategy of reserving much of the firepower available to the US in the war against ISIS till such time as the Sunnis get the same primacy that they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein (a situation that will never come about), ISIS is now in its third year of operations. In just three or so more, the organisation would have enrolled tens of thousands of members (whether declared or secret) within Europe and North America, not to speak of South Asia and the GCC countries.
At that stage, it will become impossible to fight, except by a lengthy war of attrition that would cost the globe both growth and stability.
2 June
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi Says Allies Not Doing Enough To Counter ISIS
(Reuters) – Western and Arab states carrying out air strikes on Islamic State fighters backed on Tuesday Iraq’s plan to retake territory from the jihadist movement after being accused by the Iraqi premier of not doing enough to help Baghdad push back the insurgents.
Around 20 coalition ministers met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Paris, in part to persuade his Shi’ite Muslim-led government to repair relations with Iraq’s Sunni minority to strengthen its campaign against the Sunni Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Alastair Crooke: You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia
(The World Post) Saudi Arabia’s internal discord and tensions over ISIS can only be understood by grasping the inherent (and persisting) duality that lies at the core of the Kingdom’s doctrinal makeup and its historical origins.
One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader — amongst many — of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.)
The second strand to this perplexing duality, relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz’s subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalization of the original Wahhabist impulse — and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export — by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution throughout the Muslim world. (27 October 2014)
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family as the New Emirs of Arabia Part II of Alastair Crooke’s historical analysis of the roots of ISIS and its impact on the future of the Middle East. (2 November 2014)

27 May
Skyping with the enemy: I went undercover as a jihadi girlfriend
(The Guardian) When a French journalist posed online as a young woman interested in Isis, she was soon contacted by a fighter in Syria. He proposed marriage – but could she maintain a double life?
I wanted to understand how European children were falling for this propaganda, and grasp the mindset of these soldiers
22 May
Iraq enlisted 100,000 militiamen to fight ISIL and now it can barely control them
(Quartz) Despite a few setbacks earlier in the year, ISIL remains a formidable power. Its seizure a few days ago of Ramadi illustrated once more the ineptitude of the Iraqi army: Deprived of US airstrikes (after sandstorms reduced visibility), the Iraqi troops collapsed against a numerically inferior group. The authorities in Baghdad aren’t blind to the dangers of untrammeled militia power. With no other fighting forces to turn to against ISIL, few people wish for the militias’ imminent demise. But it’s clear that they too could end up as an obstacle to Iraq’s stability.
ISIL took control of the last Syria-Iraq border crossing. Syrian government forces withdrew from the crossing at al-Tanf, allowing Islamic State militants to form a more direct link between their forces in the two countries. ISIL now controls half of Syria’s territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
20 May
Islamic State seizes ancient Palmyra city from Syrian forces
(Reuters) Islamic State insurgents stormed the historic Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday, fighting off pro-government forces who withdrew after evacuating most of the civilian population, state television said.
The capture of Palmyra is the first time the al Qaeda offshoot has taken control of a city directly from the Syrian army and allied forces, which have already lost ground in the northwest and south to other insurgent groups in recent weeks.
The central city, also known as Tadmur, is built alongside the remains of a oasis civilization whose colonnaded streets, temple and theater have stood for 2,000 years.
19 May
Battle for Ramadi is only likely to get worse
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants searched door-to-door for policemen and pro-government fighters and threw bodies in the Euphrates River in a bloody purge Monday after capturing the strategic city of Ramadi. Some 500 civilians and soldiers died in the extremist killing spree since the final push for Ramadi began Friday, authorities said.
Shi’ite forces move in on Iraqi city taken by Islamic State
(Reuters) Thousands of Shi’ite militiamen on Monday prepared to fight Islamic State insurgents who seized the Iraqi provincial capital Ramadi at the weekend in the biggest defeat for government forces in nearly a year. The decision by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a Shi’ite, to send in the militias to try to retake the predominantly Sunni city could add to sectarian hostility in one of the most violent parts of Iraq.
18 May
Ramadi battle: Shia militias near IS-held Iraqi city
The fall of Ramadi is a disaster for the Iraqi army and government, and especially its Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi.
After the recapture of another provincial capital, Tikrit, at the end of March, he announced the start of a similar campaign to “liberate” Anbar province (the country’s biggest) and flew to Ramadi to kick it off.
Now Ramadi has gone, and along with it the military command centre for the whole province. A few days before the final collapse on Sunday, Mr Abadi said he would not allow it to fall.
It did.
Now he and the largely Sunni provincial council have had to do what they didn’t want – to call in the Iranian-backed Shia militias who were instrumental on the ground in recapturing Tikrit.
21 April
Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike’
Exclusive: Baghdadi no longer in day-to-day control of terror group as he recovers from injuries sustained during attack in March, according to sources
(The Guardian) In recent months, air strikes have been increasingly effective in targeting the Isis leadership. Baghdadi’s deputy, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, and the head of the group’s military operations in Iraq were both killed in early December.
After seizing control of a large chunk of Iraq and Syria last June, and threatening Baghdad and Irbil, Isis has recently lost substantial ground in both countries. An offensive led by Shia militias and the Iraqi military took back Iraq’s fourth city, Tikrit, last month, as well as close to 7,000 sq km in the centre of the country.
While Baghdadi invokes authority as a religious leader, the constant threat from the skies has led to some of its command and strategic decisions being made by other member of the leadership. Since Baghdadi’s wounding, Isis’s military and Shura councils have become increasingly prominent in decision-making, the source close to the organisation revealed.
12 April
Islamic State video ‘shows destruction of Nimrud’
Islamic State has posted a video online that shows its militants destroying the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq.
The images appear to confirm reports in March that the jihadists had vandalised Nimrud, one of Iraq’s greatest archaeological treasures.
The video shows them using bulldozers and then explosives on the ruins of the ancient city.Nimrud [which was founded in the 13th Century BC]. Many treasures from Nimrud are in foreign museums, but a number of giant “lamassu” statues, depicting winged beasts with human heads, and stone friezes were still at Nimrud.
The region held by the militants in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of the country’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites.
The reported destruction of the statues followed reports that IS burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts.
(Jerusalem online) “God has honored us in the Islamic State to remove all of these idols and statutes worshiped instead of Allah in the past days,” one of the operatives stated. “Whenever we seize a piece of land, we will remove signs of idolatry and spread monotheism.”
4 April
Is Canada’s fight against ISIS a moral war?
Kyle Matthews debates Gwynne Dyer.(aired April 4)
29 March
Gwynne Dyer explains why terrorism is overblown and why Islamists want western countries to attack the Islamic State
Don’t panic. Terrorism is a very small problem. And any western president or prime minister who thinks they’ll severely damage ISIS by dropping bombs on its fighters is terribly mistaken.
In fact, according to Dyer, if western countries expand their bombing campaigns against ISIS into Syria, it will only make the Islamic State stronger.
That’s because it will reinforce ISIS’s message that western infidels are attacking and killing Muslims. Dyer said that this provides a perfect recruiting tool to attract more desperate people to join their cause.
22 March
A grotesque love of propaganda. Unspeakable barbarity. The loathing of Jews – and a hunger for world domination. In this stunning intervention, literary colossus V.S. NAIPAUL says ISIS is now the Fourth Reich
16 March
Saddam Hussein’s tomb destroyed, but Babylon is safe as ISIS targets antiquity
In a battle between Iraqi forces and ISIS over control of Tikrit recently, the tomb of Saddam Hussein was squashed to rubble, though it’s not clear which side did it.
Luckily, the ancient city of Babylon is outside the extremists’ grasp, south of Baghdad. For nearly 5,000 years it has stood as a symbol of the glory of ancient Mesopotamian civilization.
13 March
10 historical sites destroyed by ISIS and why they matter
This week, Iraqi officials reported that ISIS bulldozed parts of the ancient city of Khorsabad. The revered sites of Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra – all of which are either designated or nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage sites – have been attacked by the caliphate. … Amr Al-Azm, is working with a group dubbed Syria’s Monuments Men. They are an anonymous group of archaeologists, curators and activists who tread into dangerous territory to document what’s been lost and try to preserve sites in danger.
11 March
Owen Jones: Why the revolutionary Kurdish fight against Isis deserves our support
That radical feminists such as Ivana Hoffman are helping to drive back Isis in Syria should be a source of immense pride for the international left
(The Guardian) Isis is notorious for its misogyny. Appropriate, then, that its archenemies are radical feminists. The Kurdish activist Mehmet Aksoy explains to me that this is, in part, a “woman’s revolution”. It is not driven simply by women’s oppression and exploitation in the Middle East, and by their lack of representation in politics and civil society, but by the PKK’s own reading of history.
“The first revolution, the agricultural revolution, was instituted by women.”
Why did victims in Islamic State beheading videos look so calm? They didn’t know it was real.
9 March
Gwynne Dyer: Islamic State and the worst-case contingency
It’s certainly making progress, but how far can it go?
Probably not much further. All the new “provinces” of Islamic State, like most of the original ones, are in mainly rural areas, often sparsely populated, and with few natural resources (except some oil, in Libya’s case). They are areas that corrupt and autocratic governments, many of them distracted by civil war, can simply abandon for the short term as not vital for their survival.
For Islamic State to seize big metropolitan areas and their resources would require a level of popular support in those areas that is unlikely to emerge. Big cities are full of relatively sophisticated people who have something to lose, and are unlikely to see Islamic State as an attractive solution for their problems.
Without the big cities and their communications facilities—especially airports and harbours—there can be little effective cooperation between the widely dispersed “provinces” of Islamic State. They will have to go on fighting their own wars with little outside help, and some they will lose.
6 March
Queen Rania: Let’s Drop The First ‘I’ In ISIS. There’s Nothing Islamic About Them
(HuffPost) “They have nothing to do with faith and everything to do with fanaticism,” she said. “I think as an international community, we would do well to not focus on the religious character of that group because when we do, we give them undeserved legitimacy.”
“ISIS wants to be called Islamic … because any action against them will automatically be called a war against Islam, which is exactly what they want it to be,” she said. “They want it to be the West coming against Islam because it will help them with their recruiting.”
Instead, Queen Rania said, the war against ISIS must be led by Muslims and Arabs, with the international community in a supporting role. And part of that war is countering ISIS’s messaging online and on social media with content by the Muslim and Arab community, especially the youth, she said. “We can’t let [ISIS] hijack our identity and brand us in the way that they want. We have to write our own narrative.”
“What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims,” she said. “But really this fight is a fight between the civilized world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realize that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.”
Meet the “Monuments Men” Risking Everything to Save Syria’s Ancient Treasures From ISIS

The militant group is pillaging archaeological sites to fund its operations
Syria is known as one of the richest archaeological regions in the world, with relics dating back to the ancient Mesopotamian era. These include some of the earliest examples of Sumerian writing, the alabaster sculptures of Mari, and six UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Crusades-era citadels of Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din. As the region’s war rages on, criminals and militants have plundered many of these fragile sites, fueling a lucrative illicit antiquities market.
What antiquities the militant group doesn’t destroy, it steals to peddle on the international black market—a trade some experts claim is increasingly vital to the organization’s finances. (BBC) Nimrud: Outcry as IS bulldozers attack ancient Iraq site
2 March
How ISIS Is Using Marriage as a Trap
(World Post) Since the fall, ISIS has stepped up its social media campaign (especially in English and French) directed at luring young Western women and teens to be their wives. The recruiting and matchmaking is most often spearheaded by women residing in the Islamic State.
What ISIS Really Wants
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
(The Atlantic Magazine March 2015) The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
26 February
Isis fighters destroy ancient artefacts at Mosul museum
Footage shows Islamic State militants in Iraq smashing statues with sledgehammers in bid to crush what they call non-Islamic ideas
Islamic State militants ransacked Mosul’s central museum, destroying priceless artefacts that are thousands of years old, in the group’s latest rampage which threatens to upend millennia of coexistence in the Middle East.
The destruction of statues and artefacts that date from the Assyrian and Akkadian empires, revealed in a video published by Isis on Thursday, drew ire from the international community and condemnation by activists and minorities that have been attacked by the group.
‘Jihadi John’ Reportedly Identified As Mohammed Emwazi
(Reuters) – Investigators believe that the masked killer known as “Jihadi John,” who fronted Islamic State beheading videos, is a British man named Mohammed Emwazi, two U.S. government sources said on Thursday.
He was born in Kuwait and comes from a prosperous family in London, where he grew up and graduated with a computer programming degree.
ISIL’s war on art across the cradle of civilisation
World watches in horror images of destruction of priceless artefacts in Iraq’s second oldest museum in Mosul.
24 February
Kyle Matthews: Five ways to fight ISIS online
Combating extremism requires much more than military might. A digital strategy is key, but needs government, the private sector and NGOs to get on board
ISIS has become the global poster child for death and terrorism. If the international community if serious about halting its violence, then it must acknowledge that fighting the group online is as important as fighting them on the ground. It is not a coincidence that immediately after attending the summit in Washington the French Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, travelled to Silicon Valley to urge Google, Facebook and Twitter to be more cooperative in making their services more hostile to religious extremists.
20 February
Barack Obama Is Not a Muslim – He should stop trying to interpret Islam.
(Slate) President Obama has weighed in on matters that must ultimately be left up to Muslims. Take his remarks this Wednesday, when he said, quite rightly, that “we are not at war with Islam.” Not content to stop there, or to simply explain that we are at war with various apocalyptic death cults that have declared war on us, he added that “we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
In great detail, Obama explained that ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, and other extremist groups seek religious legitimacy in order to recruit young people to their cause, and that they “depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith.” According to Obama, these groups base their claims to legitimacy on falsehoods and selective readings of Islamic texts. Obama’s position seems to be that the leaders of these groups aren’t sincere in their beliefs. He suggests that what ISIS is really after is power, as if its obsessive focus on acting in accordance with practices that were widespread in the days of Muhammad is merely window-dressing for thuggery and theft. But why do the leaders of ISIS have to be insincere in their beliefs in order for us to reject their brutality? A more nuanced analysisis given by Joshua Keating ISIS Is Islamic, But Obama Is Right Not to Describe It That Way.
18 February
Unbearably sad reminder that behind every statistic in this awful combat, there is a human face and a family
ISIS Boasted Of These Christians’ Deaths. Here Are The Lives They Lived.
(HuffPost) The men were laborers, gone for months on end, who sent home hard-earned money to feed entire families. They left their impoverished home in Egypt to work in Libya for a better future, despite the dangers. What they found instead was a militant group hell-bent on humiliating and harming them because they were Christian. While most of the people killed by the Islamic State have been Muslim, the group’s recent propaganda video made a point to threaten Christianity as a religion
15 February
Westerners Join Iraqi Christian Militia To Fight ISIS
(Reuters via WorldPost) Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria in the past two years, mostly to join Islamic State, but a handful of idealistic Westerners are enlisting as well, citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents.
The militia they joined is called Dwekh Nawsha – meaning self-sacrifice in the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Christ and still used by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.
A map on the wall in the office of the Assyrian political party affiliated with Dwekh Nawsha marks the Christian towns in northern Iraq, fanning out around the city of Mosul.
The majority are now under control of Islamic State, which overran Mosul last summer and issued am ultimatum to Christians: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most fled.
Dwekh Nawsha operates alongside Kurdish peshmerga forces to protect Christian villages on the frontline in Nineveh province.
14 February
Kimon Valaskakis: ISIS’s strategy remains seriously flawed
Let us examine ISIS’s basic strategic model as we would a business plan for a corporation.
First, whom is ISIS fighting? Is it the United States? Is it Europe, Canada, Australia, Jordan, Japan, Egypt? Answer: all of the above. ISIS has declared war on the rest of the world. It has also killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Can ISIS really take on the world and expect to win?
I don’t think so.
Second, what about the tactical objectives: Is intimidation by atrocity working? Jihadis kill Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Result: The periodical — with a typical circulation of 60,000 — prints 3 million copies of its first issue post-attack and 43 heads of state attend a solidarity march in Paris. Amedy Coulibaly kills four Jews in a kosher grocery store. Result: a big boost for Netanyahu. Besides, if French Jews were to leave France and move to Israel, they would just increase Israel’s Jewish population. How would this help the Palestinian cause? ISIS stages a horrific immolation of an unfortunate Jordanian pilot. Result: Jordan, previously wavering in its commitment to the anti-ISIS coalition redoubles its war effort and the UAE, who had left the airstrikes, now rejoins them.
If this is “winning,” please define “losing.”
11 February
A dead hostage is more valuable to ISIL
ISIL classifies hostages according to the reaction their killing generates if it is publicised
10 February
Operation Isis: Anonymous vows to take down accounts associated with extremist groupAnonymous logo
Anonymous has vowed fresh attacks against social media accounts affiliated with Isis, warning its supporters: “We will hunt you down and expose you.”
(The Independent) The hacking collective’s latest post comes after it “declared war” on jihadist websites and social networks in response to the Charlie Hebdo shooting massacre in January.
The group claimed it has disabled some Twitter and Facebook accounts used by Isis supporters.
Isis has continuously used social media and the internet as a channel for disseminating propaganda, circulating brutal videos of hostages being killed and as a tool for radicalising and recruiting new members.
5 February
ISIS is killing, torturing and raping children in Iraq, U.N. says
In a report issued Wednesday in Geneva, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said it has received reports of “several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive.”
3 February
Islamic State shows burning of hostage, Jordan vows “earth-shaking” response
(Reuters) – Islamic State militants released a video on Tuesday appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burnt alive in a cage, a killing that shocked the world and prompted Jordan to vow an “earth-shaking” response.
A Jordanian official said the authorities would swiftly execute several militants in retaliation, including an Iraqi woman whom Amman had sought to swap for the pilot taken captive after his plane crashed in Syria in December.
ISIL loses key Iraqi province to government forces
ISIS captors ‘didn’t even have the Quran,’ says former hostage
(CNN)A French journalist’s ISIS captives cared so little about religion they did not even have a Quran, Didier François — who spent over 10 months as the group’s prisoner in Syria — told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
“There was never really discussion about texts or — it was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”
“It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.”
1 February
Islamic State group ‘admits defeat’ in Kobani
15 January
Nadim Koteich: We are all ISIS
These killers are us. They are our religion at its most extreme.
The truth is that what the killers did in Paris has only reinforced the images drawn by the artists of Charlie Hebdo. The only difference between the actions of the artists and the killers is that the number of people who follow caricatures is far less than those who followed the international drama caused by the massacre. Nothing can insult Islam and Muslims as much as such crimes, and yet we still make do with saying that they do not represent true Islam, without providing a clear description of what true Islam is, beginning with our religious schools, some of which are factories for crime, to our constitutions which are rigged with the mines of Islamic jurisprudence and Sharia law.
(Now) In an effort to divorce Islam from responsibility for other crimes, some have said that the Islamic State (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, Somalia’s Al-Shabab, the Taliban and hundreds of other armed groups also do not represent true Islam.
So what is this true Islam that those who condemn crimes committed in the name of Islam are supposed to be bestowing upon us? Beyond condemnation, what confrontation with the criminals have the proponents of true Islam been engaged in since the defeat of the Mu’tazila — the defeat of rationality in Islam 1,100 years ago?
5 January
The Economist explains Where Islamic State gets its money
IS is one of the best-financed terrorist organisations in the world, except for state-backed ones. There is no credible estimate of the secretive group’s net worth, but in October 2014 an American official described it as amassing wealth at “a pretty massive clip”. It pays fighters around $400 a month, which is more than Syrian rebel groups or the Iraqi government offer. It appears to have no trouble purchasing weaponry, either on the black market or from corrupt officials or militias. And it runs services (even if not always successfully) across the areas it controls, paying schoolteachers and providing for the poor and widowed. So where does it get all its cash from?
Unlike other terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, IS largely funds itself rather than relying on rich supporters (despite various versions of a conspiracy theory in the region that America, Iran or Israel bankrolls the group). Although IS receives donations, especially from Gulf-based financiers, they are a relatively insignificant contributor to its coffers. Instead the bulk of its money comes from oil revenues from fields under its control in western Iraq and eastern Syria. American officials estimated that it was making $2m a day from oil before air strikes started (locals reckon it was more) but in December an official said the strikes, some of which have been against oil facilities in Syria, meant the group’s oil revenues had “significantly” dropped. Controlling so much land also helps IS make money from extortion and taxing people in the areas it controls. Like other jihadist groups, it has learned that kidnapping can be profitable. IS earned at least $20m last year from ransoms paid for hostages, including several French and Spanish journalists.
2 January
Kyle Matthews‘ Interview on CTV about why, in 2015, we must remain committed to stopping the Islamic State.


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