Written by  //  June 7, 2019  //  Middle East & Arab World, Terrorism  //  No comments

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

7 June
Mystery crop fires scorch thousands of acres in Syria and Iraq — and ISIS claims responsibility
This was supposed to be the year the farmers of eastern Syria and Iraq bounced back. For the first time in a decade, neither war nor drought had intervened to deter what promised to be a bumper harvest. Fields of golden wheat rippled across the vast lands once ravaged by militant fighters, the most fertile area of the region that in centuries past served as the breadbasket of the known world.
Then came the mysterious crop fires — blamed on and claimed by the Islamic State, but perhaps not entirely the work of the militants.
Starting in early May, tens of thousands of acres of farmland have been burned across an expanse of territory stretching from the Iranian border in the east to near the Mediterranean coast in the west. The scorch marks across the landscape are visible from satellites. The plumes of smoke rising on the horizon recall the U.S.-led airstrikes that pummeled much of the area a few years ago.
The Islamic State asserted responsibility for the earliest of the fires and urged its followers to ignite more. “The harvest season is still long, and we tell the soldiers of the Caliphate: you have before you millions of dunams of land planted with wheat and ­barley, which are owned by apostates,” said the statement published by the Islamic State’s al-Naba newsletter, according to a translation by the SITE monitoring service, exhorting supporters to set more fires.
… The military defeat of the militants has meanwhile brought no political solutions to the bigger question of who should govern these long-disputed areas. Grievances fester, and blame has been leveled among all players in the conflicts.
Arabs and Kurds have accused one another both in Syria and Iraq. Some fires in Iraq have been set in areas far from the traditional Arab-Kurdish land disputes, drawing allegations that Iran was behind them in a bid to force Iraq to buy Iranian wheat.

29 April
For five years, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hadn’t been seen publicly. But on Monday the Islamic State released a 12-minute video of Baghdadi in which he sits cross-legged and is flanked by a rifle—an indication that he’s neither dead nor disabled. Since 2014, the last time Baghdadi gave a speech, reports have swirled about his demise, most notably the Russian claim that he died in an air strike two years ago. But unlike past Baghdadi speeches when ISIS was presiding over a vast territory, this video mostly forgoes soaring rhetoric. “Now as an insurgent leader again, he has dispensed with the fanciness.

24 April
Don’t Call It a Comeback: By claiming responsibility for the devastating Easter Day attacks in Sri Lanka, the Islamic State showed why it’s premature to celebrate its defeat. ISIS may have been pushed out of Syria, but its global influence is growing, Jonah Shepp writes in “The ‘Caliphate’ Is Defeated, But ISIS Is Just Getting Started.” It has recently claimed responsibility for attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Philippines. ISIS may no longer hold land, but the “threat of terrorist violence by returnees from Syria, local terrorist groups that affiliate themselves with ISIS, or from individuals radicalized online by the group’s slick jihadist propaganda will remain a generational problem around the world.”
(New York) If Sunday’s bombings inflame religious tensions in Sri Lanka, sow distrust among its faith communities, and destabilize the country’s politics, that very much suits ISIS’s purposes. The Christian community can’t be blamed if it loses faith in the government’s ability to keep them safe, nor can Muslims necessarily expect much protection from retaliatory violence. As the Sri Lankan government scrambles to root out other individuals linked to the bombings and crack down on extremists, it may engage in torture and other human-rights abuses, which will serve as fodder to radicalize future terrorists and help jihadist ideology take root in a place where it had little purchase before.

23 April
Pressure builds on Sri Lankan officials as Isis claims Easter attacks
Bombings that killed more than 320 people have hallmarks of Isis, say security experts
(The Guardian) Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 320 people, the group’s Amaq news agency has said, with experts saying the attacks bear the hallmarks of the group.
It is the deadliest overseas operation claimed by Isis since it proclaimed its “caliphate” almost five years ago, and would suggest it retains the ability to launch devastating strikes around the world despite multiple defeats in the Middle East.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said on Tuesday that there were more explosives and militants “out there”, and acknowledged there had been a prior warning about potential attacks. Some officials would likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses, he said.
Wickremesinghe also revealed there had been a failed attack against a fourth major hotel, and that the Indian embassy was also a possible target.
One emerging theory among western and south Asian security officials was that Sri Lankans who had fought for Isis in Syria or Iraq may have been “connectors” linking extremists in their home country with experienced terrorists elsewhere.
Analysts have repeatedly stressed that Isis continues to retain the ability to motivate recruits and attract new members, despite the destruction of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

16 April
Robin Wright: The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS
(The New Yorker) After five years of war with the Islamic State, the biggest problem for the winners is coping with the losers. The aftermath has produced one of the world’s most perplexing postwar challenges: there are tens of thousands of captured ISIS members whom no nation wants to repatriate, and the local militia holding them has neither the resources nor the personnel to keep them indefinitely. More than five thousand ISIS fighters surrendered in the final month of fighting alone. Thousands more were captured earlier in the conflict.
“There is nothing else in the world that compares to this unprecedented humanitarian and security situation, which is legally complicated and politically fraught,” a senior State Department official told me. So far, the local Syrian Democratic Forces militia (S.D.F.), the U.S.-led coalition of more than seventy countries, and several international relief agencies have been improvising—total ad-hockery, in the words of a senior U.S. military commander involved in Syria.

29 March
(The Atlantic): The Islamic State is on the decline, but the group’s founder has so far eluded capture. ISIS’s leadership has been hallowed out, but does getting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the man sitting at the top of the food chain—really matter? The decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden might give some insight; after he was killed in a dramatic raid in 2011, the group still survived without its figurehead. Though capturing Baghdadi would of course be a PR victory, it might not do all that much to hasten ISIS’s demise: To protect himself, Baghdadi scampers between safe houses and eschews communications equipment, which has limited his effectiveness as a leader.

24 March
All ISIS Has Left Is Money. Lots of It.
Even without a physical state, the Islamic State can still fund its main product: political violence.
(The Atlantic) Abu Shawkat—not his real name—is part of the hawala system, which is often used to transfer cash between places where the banking system has broken down or is too expensive for some to access. If he agrees to do business, you’ll set a password and he will take your cash, then provide you with the contact information of a hawala broker in the city where your money is headed. Anyone who offers that specific password to that particular broker will get the funds. Thus, cash can travel across borders without any inquiry into who is sending or receiving it, or its purpose.

20 March
Trump says ISIS will be ‘gone by tonight
U.S.-backed Syrian forces seized control of an ISIS encampment on Tuesday after hundreds of fighters surrendered overnight, the AP reported. The victory was a major advance, but not the final defeat, of the group in Baghouz, the last village held by ISIS in Syria.

18 March
Trump Says ISIS Is Defeated. Reality Says Otherwise.
The radicalized children of the Islamic State will threaten the world for generations to come unless the president changes course.
(Politico) Just two weeks after President Donald Trump triumphantly declared the “100 percent” defeat of ISIS’s caliphate, his national security advisor, John Bolton, admitted on television that “the ISIS threat will remain” and that this explained why a small “observer force” would now stay in Syria. Next, senior administration officials announced that 200 U.S. troops are set to stay in northeastern Syria as part of a “multinational observer force,” with another 200 to remain in al-Tanf, an encampment near the border with Iraq, to deter Iranian behavior. Then on March 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military was “crafting plans to keep nearly 1,000 forces in Syria” in what the newspaper described as “a decisive shift away” from Trump’s order to withdraw.
So long as no other governments step up to replace the departing American troops, the U.S. will be forced to continue to shoulder the burden in Syria, virtually guaranteeing a return to a full withdrawal. With the U.S. 2020 election cycle slowly kicking into gear, and despite domestic polling showing a majority of Americans actually favor remaining engaged militarily in Syria, President Trump remains highly unlikely to back something that he campaigned so strongly against and has remained committed to ending ever since. And with that black cloud hanging over Syria and the fight against ISIS, no foreign ally is likely to put its faith into what looks, to all extents and purposes, like untenable ideas presented to them by U.S. officials who ultimately still matter little in comparison to their commander-in-chief.
Worse, still, is the fact that ISIS lives on despite the president’s claims to the contrary. In Iraq, ISIS attacks are rising month-on-month after a to-be expected winter lull. In February, ISIS conducted an average of four attacks every day; Mosul has been hit by multiple car bombs in recent weeks; and most rural areas liberated from ISIS have been abandoned, left lying in ruins. Next door in Syria, ISIS’s last sliver of territory in Baghouz amounts to little more than a quarter of a square kilometer, but the group’s battle lines have barely changed after five weeks of fighting. Elsewhere, the jihadist group still runs night-time checkpoints across eastern Syria; deadly attacks are on the rise and intricate networks of sleeper cells lie in waiting.

7 January
The True Origins of ISIS
A secret biography suggests that Abu Ali al-Anbari defined the group’s radical approach more than any other person.
By Hassan Hassan, Co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
Most historians of the Islamic State agree that the group emerged out of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a response to the U.S. invasion in 2003. They also agree that it was shaped primarily by a Jordanian jihadist and the eventual head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian had a dark vision: He wished to fuel a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and establish a caliphate. Although he was killed in 2006, his vision was realized in 2014—the year ISIS overran northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
Narratives about the origins of Islamic State ideology often focus on the fact that Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, both Sunni extremists, diverged on the idea of fighting Shiites and on questions of takfir, or excommunication. Such differences, the story goes, were reinforced in Iraq and eventually led to the split between ISIS and al-Qaeda. Based on this set of assumptions, many conclude that Zarqawi must have provided the intellectual framework for ISIS.
Recently, I came to question the conventional wisdom. The groundwork for ISIS was arguably laid long before the invasion, and if there was one person responsible for the group’s modus operandi, it was Abdulrahman al-Qaduli, an Iraqi from Nineveh better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Ali al-Anbari—not Zarqawi. It was Anbari, Zarqawi’s No. 2 in his al-Qaeda years, who defined the Islamic State’s radical approach more than any other person; his influence was more systematic, longer lasting, and deeper than that of Zarqawi.

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