Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 July, 2014
Iraqi men pose with their weapons as they ready to fight against militants led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Kirkuk Photo: Getty
• Al-Qaeda Group Divided On Islamic State
By Atef Kadadra
• The Islamic State Finds That Politics Is Much Harder Than Power Grabs
By Taylor Luck
• Iraq’s Obsession with Faisal II Reflects Its Hunger for a Lost Era
Faisal Al Yafai
• Gloves Come Off Between Syrian Regime, Islamic State
By Edward Dark
Al-Qaeda Group Divided On Islamic State
By Atef Kadadra
July 21, 2014
A new message by the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has revealed signs of a rift within the organization regarding issues related to the organization of “the basis of jihad.” The organization issued two contradictory statements about the Islamic State (IS). One statement was issued by the emir of the group, Abu Musab Wadud, and the second by Sheikh Abu Abdullah Osman al-Assimi, who is believed to be the group’s judge.
The contradictory statements were issued over the course of a week. While one statement pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — following his July 5 speech — and criticized the stance of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the other one denied any allegiance for IS and stated a renewed loyalty to Zawahri.
It remains unclear whether this disparity in positions is the result of a rift within AQIM about which organization is worth allegiance, the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Following the proclamation of an Islamic caliphate headed by Baghdadi nearly a month ago, AQIM has issued a statement pledging allegiance to IS. Al-Qaeda’s judge addressed IS fighters saying, “We would like to build bridges of friendship between you and us. You are loved by us more than our families and clans and you shall always have our support.”
This statement was made by Assimi in an audio recording. It is believed that he hails from Algiers and has been newly appointed to his position, knowing that the head of the judicial committee in the organization was arrested two years ago in Ghardaia, south of the [Algerian] capital.
However, the organization has contradicted itself by criticizing IS for “not consulting with jihadist leaders” as to the proclamation of the Islamic caliphate on the lands it had seized in Syria and through its rapid progress in parts of Iraq.
AQIM justified its no recognition of the caliphate in Syria and Iraq saying that the IS leaders “did not consult with jihadist leaders” to this effect. “We re-emphasize our loyalty to our sheikh and emir Ayman al-Zawahri. Our allegiance to him is deeply entrenched in us and we do not see any reason to renege on it. It is our aim to liberate the lands of Muslims, implement the Islamic Sharia and regain the caliphate that is in line with the prophecy,” he said.
In another context, armed political movements that are active in north Mali declared their commitment to peaceful dialogue to solve “deep-seated problems” that are causing the local crisis. The groups expressed their hope that a dialogue in Algeria would measure up to the aspirations of the citizens of north Mali. Vice President of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) Mohamad Maiga said, during the meetings of the first round of inclusive dialogue between Malians, that the movement “reflects the legitimate and real demands of the Azawad people which should not be marginalized, [but] rather emphasized in the dialogue.”
In addition to Mali’s parties, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, the European Union and the Islamic Cooperation Organization also attended the dialogue meetings.
Mali’s partners expressed their satisfaction with the conditions under which the inclusive dialogue was prepared. Secretary-General of the Islamic Cooperation Organization Iyad Madani said, “The road to peace won’t be easy in the absence of the peace option and commitment to the unity of Mali’s territories. Moreover, Mali’s geographic characteristics should be taken into consideration and the neighboring countries and international community must be supportive in order to reach peace.”
In Dakar, a spokesman for the radical al-Mourabitoun jihadist group claimed responsibility yesterday for the suicide bombing during the week that claimed the life of a French soldier in north Mali.
A video posted on the Internet showed the spokesman, who introduced himself as Abu Assem al-Mouhajer, saying that the attack in the Al-Moustarat region, north of Gao in eastern Mali, came in response to the French allegations that they had killed the mujahedeen.
The group was formed last year when two Islamist groups in north Mali merged. They were the Al-Mulathamun Battalion, led by the veteran jihadist Mokhtar Bel Mokhtar, and The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.
The Islamic State Finds That Politics Is Much Harder Than Power Grabs
By Taylor Luck
July 21, 2014
In the weeks since its announcement of a caliphate, the Islamic State’s greatest battle has been waged behind closed doors as a power struggle threatens to puncture its unity.
As it made rapid gains across Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State remained united, maintaining a broad coalition linked by the powerful, if vague, dream of restoring the Islamic caliphate.
Yet cracks have begun to show within the Islamic State as its followers are learning that the dream is often far simpler than the reality.
The growing divisions within the Islamic State begin at the top.
The group’s ranks are divided over the choice of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi to lead the fledgling group.
Over half of the Islamic State’s Shura council reportedly had misgivings, with many pushing for a more unifying cleric who could rally those outside the movement.
Although the council members eventually backed their leader, the struggle has reportedly shifted to the question of succession.
While the selection of caliph posed a challenge, the appointment of lower leadership posts may still spark a crisis. As Al Baghdadi fills administrative posts ranging from state governors to municipal council members, competition has heated up as rank-and-file members jockey for patronage.
According to insiders, the competition has sparked a series of whisper campaigns with emirs and ground generals questioning each other’s aspirations.
The mudslinging campaign has resulted in a flood of news reports and posts on social networking websites allegedly “outing” various loyal commanders as agents for enemy states.
Al Baghdadi has appointed dozens of allies from his inner circle to senior positions – raising concern that the caliphate would soon become a personality cult rather than the long-awaited greater Islamic state.
The move has reportedly alienated Islamic State supporters in Syria and elsewhere who are finding themselves on the outside of an increasingly-Iraq centric state.
As Al Baghdadi delivered his first sermon as caliph earlier this month, Islamic State leaders failed to reach a consensus on where the caliphate’s boundaries extended to.
Perhaps the greatest source of dissent within the Islamic State lies not in Mosul or on the edge of Damascus, but hundreds of kilometres away from the nascent state.
Jihadist websites and message boards have been flooded with criticism over the Islamic State’s silence and inaction over the crisis in Gaza, questioning the self-described leader for failing to act on what many believe to be the “central cause” for Muslims.
“What kind of caliphate is unable to defend Muslims or holy sites or even show its strength at the doors of crusaders and Zionists?” writes one jihadist.
“Where are the differences between our new ‘caliph’ and the Arab regimes of old?”
Insiders say such criticism has risen to the levels of the Islamic State’s leadership, many of whom have pushed Al Baghdadi to act on Gaza so as not to appear weak.
While silence was acceptable for a man of jihad, Al Baghdadi is learning that politicians are rarely given a free pass.
Fending off opposition both within the Islamic State and outside, Al Baghdadi has preached patience.
However, the Gaza crisis will be the first of several polarising political issues to be put before the self-anointed caliph, who could now have to steer a foreign policy platform that has to find responses to issues ranging from the rights of Muslims in Myanmar to the ban of headscarves in France.
With each and every decision, Al Baghdadi will inevitably alienate followers and fail to live up to the expectations of others, in the process unveiling the group as the flawed political machine it is.
The Islamic State has already learnt that campaigning is much simpler than governing, and that jihadists are much easier united behind the bayonet than the ballot box.
Time will soon tell whether the Islamic State can truly survive these complex political battles.
Taylor Luck is an Amman-based political analyst and journalist
Iraq’s Obsession with Faisal II Reflects Its Hunger for a Lost Era
Faisal Al Yafai
July 21, 2014
When Iraqi army officers summoned the royal family into the courtyard of the Qasr Al Rihab palace in Baghdad in 1958, they believed they were ushering in a new era of freedom for Iraq. By murdering the last king of Iraq, Faisal II, and his relatives, they hoped to end British control over their country.
Instead, they ushered in a tumultuous republic, one that lurched from crisis to coup, until the arrival of a 42-year old Baathist thug called Saddam Hussein managed to consolidate power.
Since then, the July 14th Revolution has been celebrated as a national holiday, but, even before the overthrow of Saddam, Iraqis often hearkened back to the “golden age” of the monarchy.
Spend enough time among the exiles in London – that educated generation that had to flee the brutal Arab republics of Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria – and it is clear that nostalgia for the past is rampant not merely among them but also among their children, few of whom remember the period.
Even today, young Iraqis – of a particular class, admittedly – still yearn for a period they know only through history and memory, a time before overt political repression and before religion had such a hold in the public arena. For them, Faisal II and the monarchical period represents a country they could easily imagine living in, an era far different from today’s Iraq.
I’ve often wondered about the love some Iraqis have for the monarchy – a monarchy, after all, that was imposed on them by the British, and whose royal family came from the coastal cities of western Arabia. But there is a reason, wrapped in the romance of a gilded age, why Iraqis yearn for those years – and it has to do with Iraq’s role in the world.
When Iraqis speak of the monarchy, they are, in general, talking of the period just after the Second World War until the death of Faisal II in 1958.
Although the romantic figurehead of the monarchial era was King Faisal I, Iraq’s first king, by this period he had gone and the throne had passed to his grandson, Faisal II. This was a period of increased prosperity, aided by oil revenues and marked by rapid industrialisation.
It is perhaps natural that Iraqis would view those years through rose-tinted glasses. Historical accounts of the period recall it as a cultured, outward-facing country, self-confident in its place in the world, less crowded than Cairo, more cosmopolitan than Damascus.
Yet this rapid increase in privilege and wealth was not widely shared. By the 1950s, the majority of Iraqis lived in or near the cities; the idealised life of the village was fading, a vision best-remembered in music and art. The cities of Iraq, in particular Baghdad, were swelling with new arrivals.
The accounts of Baghdad at that period – a world of garden parties, lavish villas, cars and passenger planes – were the world of an elite. Most Iraqis did not live like that. Indeed, even in social terms, the urban poor were reverting to older ways.
Young Iraqis today love the photographs of clean-shaven men in suits and beautifully-dressed women without veils, chiefly because it marks such a contrast to the religiosity of today. But even then, the secularism of Iraq was that of the upper- and middle-classes. Those who had recently left the village for the city often sought comfort in religion.
Those who remember the monarchy fondly are, therefore, also forgetting parts of Iraq’s history. They recall the life of the merchant class, the fruits of those who owned the factories but not the lives of those who worked in them.
More than that, though, the nostalgia is tinged with sadness for something else, an ephemeral feeling that the affairs of Iraq mattered beyond its borders.
Iraq during the monarchy had a place in the world, a leading role in the affairs of the region. Nothing better illustrates this than the Baghdad Pact, the “Arab Nato” centred in Iraq that stretched from Turkey in the west to Pakistan in the east.
One can see this yearning for an Iraqi role in the world in the biography of King Faisal I by Ali Allawi, a former Iraqi minister of finance after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Faisal I of Iraq is interesting not merely because of the historical detail Allawi provides, but because it speaks of a period when the affairs of Iraq mattered in the capitals of the Middle East and Europe. Today, it is what happens on Iraq’s streets rather than in its corridors of power that most concerns foreign leaders.
To some degree that is also what happened during the republican years, especially after Saddam Hussein came to power. Like the man, the country frequently threw its weight around, waging war on larger neighbours like Iran and smaller ones like Kuwait. Rather than a country to be admired, Saddam strove to make Iraq a country to be feared.
Hence the nostalgia for a better age. Iraq during the monarchy wasn’t a backwater of war. It was a country that mattered, the heir to a great civilisation, with something that could be called a national mission. It is this belief – ephemeral perhaps, rarely stated – that animates the desires of Iraqis to remember Faisal II.
If Iraqis today look back to the monarchy, it is only because they have to go so far into the past before they can look forward to a future.
Gloves Come Off Between Syrian Regime, Islamic State
By Edward Dark
July 21, 2014
The Islamic State, arguably the most dangerous and brutal terrorist group in modern history, now controls more than a third of Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a prominent opposition nongovernmental organization. The group’s stunning victories in Iraq have been repeated in Syria, though to a lesser extent and to even less media attention. IS now controls nearly all of the oil-rich eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, with regime forces controlling only a few pockets. Crucially, after ousting its rival, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, from the provincial capital, IS is now face-to-face with regime forces, the two sitting opposite one another on the front lines that divide this largely devastated city.
The undeclared truce between the regime and IS seems to have run its course after both sides achieved all they could in their marriage of convenience. Nothing better illustrates this than the devastating assault launched by IS on the al-Shaer gas field in Homs on July 16 that may have left up to 300 regime troops and civilian employees dead. Meanwhile, the regime continues to launch airstrikes on IS headquarters and training camps in Raqqa, an indication that the gloves are now definitely off.
As IS consolidated its grip on Deir ez-Zor, after a humiliating rout of Nusra that saw its leader, Safwan al-Hant, captured and killed July 14 while trying to escape disguised as a woman — his own men having reportedly turned him over after defecting — it quickly turned its expansionist intentions elsewhere. IS has also resurfaced in rebel-controlled areas near Damascus, including the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, and threatens to derail fragile and painstakingly negotiated local cease-fires and agreements.
It is also launching its own campaign in Ghouta against the Islamic Front, headed by the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam, whose leader, Zahran Alloush, said that fighting IS is more important than fighting the regime.
IS has not yet attacked regime positions in Aleppo. It is likely waiting for an opportune moment — either after the regime roots out rebels or when it has other fronts under control and can send substantial reinforcements. It is guaranteed, however, that a confrontation is coming soon.
First Lt. Majed, an officer in the Syrian army who has been stationed in Aleppo for a while, spoke with Al-Monitor about the imminent showdown between the regime and IS. “We are ready for them, and we are prepared. We have some of our best military units now in Aleppo that have specifically been trained to combat them and have experience with the tactics they use. And of course, we have our friends too,” he added with a smile, meaning Hezbollah and Iraqi militias.
The Syrian regime will find in IS a much tougher opponent than the rebel factions it has been fighting. IS fighters are well trained, well armed, ideologically motivated and disciplined — a far cry from some of the ragtag, corrupt and chronically undersupplied militias the Syrian army had previously faced. That IS could make short work of some of the toughest rebel groups on the ground, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, must have the regime worried, at least insofar as it would mean even heavier reliance on already overstretched elite foreign troops and militias.
Aleppo remains a prized target for IS, as it would provide the group contiguity of the territory under its control, which stretches across Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor right into Iraq, as well as an enormous cache of financial and human resources. IS has also been engaged in fierce battles with the Kurdish enclaves in the north, as it attempts to wrest control of the strategic border regions. Kobani, in Aleppo province, seems to be firmly fixed in its sights as the group begins its slow sweep from the east.
When asked about a time frame for victory, the Syrian lieutenant was vague. “No one knows. It could be months or years, but we are committed. It’s either us or them. You have seen what those dogs did to people in Iraq. They will do the same here. We won’t allow it,” he said. Majed was referring to the ethnic cleansing and pogroms against religious groups in Iraq, mostly Shiites and Christians, something that would strike a nerve with Majed, as he is a member of the Alawite sect, the Shiite offshoot to which President Bashar al-Assad and many high-ranking regime military and civilian officials also belong.
The lieutenant said that he expected the IS battle in Aleppo “very soon” and that IS would find it tougher going in Aleppo due to the lack of support for the group and the many opponents it faces in the area. “Here it is easier (for the regime's fighters) than in the east. Here IS has less support, and more enemies. They have Kurds to contend with, as well as other local groups opposed to them. We will drive them out of here soon, just after we finish with the other terrorists (local rebels).”
The Syrian regime had always used “terrorists” as a blanket term with which to label any who oppose it. It now seems that the regime's version of reality will come true. Indeed, the only forces left fighting against it will be Islamic extremists. If, however, the Islamic State's fortunes continue, the regime might discover that it has bitten off more than it can chew.