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World Media on ISIS and Iraq Part - 11


Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Desk

01 August, 2014


Islamic Community Disavows Terrorism, Extremist Organisations

By Linda Karadaku

ISIS ‘Greater Threat’ To West than Al-Qaida

By Daniella Peled

ISIS Woos Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya

By Mawassi Lahcen

Iraq's Maliki: Out of Favour with Shia Allies?

By Hayder Al-Khoei

The Limits of Hezbollah’s Conciliation

By Michael Young


Islamic Community Disavows Terrorism, Extremist Organisations

By Linda Karadaku

30 July, 2014

Many Muslims are increasingly critical of the Islamic state -- formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) -- Boko Haram and other Islamic extremist groups, experts said.

Such organisations are perceived by Muslims in the Balkans as criminal, using religion to cover their brutal actions, said Dashamir Berxulli, a professor at the Pristina University in Kosovo.

"The most natural action of the Albanian Muslims in practice is to distance immediately from this approach, and, moreover, to identify with pure Islam and with European values," Berxulli told SETimes.

Many throughout the Islamic community reacted after extremists issued a fatwa last week, ordering females in the area around Mosul, Iraq, to undergo genital mutilation and expelled Christians while confiscating their properties.

"They are killing people. It is a sin," Drita Dauti, a self-employed woman in Tirana, Albania, told SETimes.

Officials said such practices are violating fundamental human rights and are of grave concern.

"This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by terrorists," Jacqueline Badcock, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, told Reuters.

Thousands of Muslims are murdered every day by other Islamic extremists, said Mehmet Gormez, head of Turkey religious affairs directorate (Diyanet) at the World Islamic Scholars, Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative conference in Istanbul on July 19th.

"They are being killed by their brothers, not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Libya, Pakistan, Africa and Myanmar," Hurriyet quoted Gormez as saying.

Gormez said the crimes committed by ISIL and Boko Haram show that the common values of the Islamic civilisation are fading in modern times and an effort is needed from the Islamic world to revive them.

Diyanet established a 10-member contact group to promote peace in the Islamic world. The group will meet officials, religious groups and scholars to propose and discuss solutions for peace in conflict areas.

"The main reasons behind the conflict in Syria, Iraq and other troubled regions are not religion and sects, but the desire to gain interest and power from these sectarian differences," Gormez added.

Initially, there was probably some sympathy for ISIL because of the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, said Taulant Hodaj, a lawyer in Pristina.

"By now, [Muslims] saw that they act against any normal thing in the countries they operate," Hodaj told SETimes.

Hodaj said the brutality discredited ISIL in in the public eye, as did the YouTube videos by Kosovo recruits who set their Kosovo passports on fire.

Many of their actions in the conflict zones are contrary to Islamic principles, said Faton Arifi of Struga, Macedonia.

"The basis of Islam is peace and tolerance. Islam does not call at any moment for war, murder or similar things that are being done by these groups. That is why I see contradictions when they say they act in the name of Islam, but actually work against its values," Arifi told SETimes.

Correspondent Miki Trajkovski in Skopje contributed to this report.

What can the Islamic world do to further distance itself from extremist organisations? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

This content was commissioned for


Isis ‘Greater Threat’ To West Than Al-Qaida

By Daniella Peled

JULY 26, 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pose a greater threat to Western security than al-Qaeda did in its day, according to an IWPR briefing this week.

Visiting London from Baghdad, IWPR Iraq chief of party Ammar al-Shahbander told the July 22 gathering that ISIS was an independent entity that operated in diverse ways and with different alliances in Syria and Iraq.

Speaking at the briefing via video link, IWPR Syria programme coordinator, Z.E., gave a snapshot of life in Aleppo and her work supporting citizen activism there. (Her name is not given here for security reasons.)

“Many people think that ISIS is not a threat to the West,” said al-Shahbander. “I completely disagree. ISIS is a much greater threat than al-Qaeda – it is the number one magnet for jihadis internationally.”

Not only has ISIS created its own de facto state, but it has a much more open recruitment policy than al-Qaeda.

“This is a very dangerous mix of people with top fighting capability and no ethics. ISIS is capable of violence beyond anything seen by al-Qaeda,” he continued, adding that the international mix of fighters made it all the more likely that they would bring extremist ideas back to their own countries.

At the same time, Shahbander argues that ISIS’s days are numbered in Iraq, as the range of Sunni groups that have struck up a temporary alliance with it and operate under its flag will ultimately turn on it – and they have significantly more military clout than it has.

The process will begin once the Iraqi establishment completes the tortuous process of appointing a prime minister. Assuming they do not settle on the incumbent, Nuri al-Maliki, the new premier’s first task will be to negotiate a political settlement with the Sunni Arabs, likely to result in a kind of devolved status for the territory the insurgents have captured in recent weeks.

Nor, Shahbander argues, will the other Sunni militias and groups tolerate the ISIS’s imposition of its narrow, hard-line ideology in the longer term.

Chairing the discussion, Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), agreed that the complex nature of the conflict made mapping alliances very difficult.

“If you go to some policy circles in Europe and in the United States, there is confusion,” he said. “You have people saying that to solve this issue we have to collaborate with Assad and Iran, our allies in the fight against ISIS, and you have people saying that ISIS is the creation of Saudi Arabia.

“And on the other side, you have people saying no, this is the classic game of Iran and the Syrian regime playing arsonist and offering to be the firefighter.”

Z.E. agreed with Shahbander’s view that in Syria, ISIS is allied with President Bashar al-Assad’s government and not, as it might appear, his most dangerous foe.

“The ISIS base in Raqqa was not bombed once,” she recalled, adding that activists used to head there when firing began. “It was the only place where the regime wouldn’t shell us.”

In a vivid description of the war-torn city, she said she was living in the only remaining civilian neighbourhood in Aleppo. People had become so used to the “barrel bombs” dropped by the regime that they now simply tried to go into an inner room to avoid shrapnel if they heard helicopters flying above.

But the crude weapons still exact an awful toll. Z.E. said that last month, one scored a direct hit on a building whose basement had been turned into a school, killing 25 people.

Despite the huge dangers, she said, “There are still people surviving here. I am even invited to four weddings. Life goes on, in an awkward way.”

Describing her work to empower women, including running writing workshops and supporting training programmes, Z.E. said, “As a woman it’s easier for me to work with women under ISIS, even if I have to wear black and cover up.… Working with women is still valid whatever the situation.”

Looking into the future, she spoke of the need to document the contribution made by women.

“The history of this war is going to be written by men, and these women are going to be forgotten if we don’t write about them,” she said.

Guests at the briefing event welcomed the opportunity to get unique insights from actors on the ground.

“It was very good to have first-hand witnesses from Baghdad and Aleppo,” veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn said afterwards. “Aleppo, in particular, is a city on which it not easy to get up-to-the-minute eyewitness accounts of the situation such as we received.”

Daniella Peled is IWPR Editor in London. This article appeared at IWPR’s ICR Issue 407.


Isis Woos Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya

By Mawassi Lahcen

30 Jul 2014

After failing to attract al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now trying to gain the support of Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia.

An ISIS supporter recently endorsed the terror group on a global jihadist forum.

On July 23rd, the militant urged ISIS followers to repost his comments on social networking websites, in order to push Ansar al-Sharia in Libya to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Earlier this month, Abdelmalek Droukdel’s al-Qaeda subsidiary refused to recognise the self-proclaimed caliphate and instead renewed allegiance to the parent organisation led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Without AQIM, Al-Baghdadi and his group are desperate for friends. To their view Ansar al-Sharia in Libya is key for taking control over the Maghreb and Egypt.

According to Abdellah Rami, an expert on jihadist movements, AQIM’s refusal to recognise al-Baghdadi’s group kept ISIS from claiming the key position in the parent terror organisation.

“The success or failure of the ISIS project hinges on the positions of three key jihadist organisations in the world: al-Qaeda in Yemen, AQIM and Ansar al-Sharia in Libya,” Rami said. “Without the allegiance of those groups, the caliphate project will just be ink on paper and will be a local organisation confined to Iraq’s borders.”

“However, this doesn’t mean that the caliphate state doesn’t have supporters in those areas,” Rami told Magharebia. “There are dozens of small groups and terrorist cells that have already sworn allegiance to ISIS in those countries, and there are hundreds of lone wolves that ISIS has already attracted. Therefore, al-Baghdadi can use those at any moment to carry out terrorist operations and destabilise regional countries.”

Moroccan researcher Mouhcine Abdelwahed said: “Just because AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia or other terrorist groups don’t swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi, it will not make them any less dangerous or less harmful to societies.”

“Maghreb stability and security are now threatened in a way that requires swift, decisive intervention from the international community, before it is too late,” he told Magharebia.

The recent violence in Tunisia and Libya demonstrates the threat to the region, he noted.

The Uqba Ibn Nafaa brigade that claimed responsibility for the Jebel Chaambi attack that killed 15 Tunisian troops “has extensions under the same name in Syria”, while Libya clashes “are becoming fiercer with the return of Libya’s al-Battar brigade from Syria to join Ansar al-Sharia”, he said.

Tunisia and Libya attacks “are prototypes for future operations in North Africa”, he said, “which will undermine the region’s stability and security and wreak havoc if the international community doesn’t act quickly”.

“Terrorism will always be terrorism, regardless of the banner or name it is using to operate,” he added.


Iraq's Maliki: Out of Favour with Shia Allies?

By Hayder Al-Khoei

30 Jul 2014

Hayder al-Khoei is an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, a London-based think tank on international affairs.

When Iraq's third largest city of Mosul fell to the Islamic State group on June 10, things appeared to be going well for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki despite the successful advances made by the jihadists and allied insurgent forces. Though Maliki had lost control of large swathes of Iraqi territory, he was still talking the language of the victor - and he had heavy political and military support from his key regional ally.

Iran doubled down efforts to mobilise ideologically driven Shia militias that were already acting as paramilitary forces, assisting the Iraqi army in counterterrorism operations. The shadowy Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qasim Suleimani was in Iraq, personally visiting checkpoints on the outskirts of Baghdad, making sure that Iraqi government forces and allied militias were prepared to prevent an assault on the capital.

Furthermore, Iraq's highest religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, immediately issued a statement in support of the Iraqi armed forces and called on all Iraqi politicians to unite in the face of this grave threat. Even Maliki's Shia political rivals rallied around the flag and declared this a "sacred war" against terrorism.

It seemed that - for a moment - politics was being put to the side and there was a collective effort to prevent the collapse of Maliki's government.

During a Friday prayer sermon on June 13, Sistani issued a call to arms for Iraqis to defend Iraq, its people and its sacred sites from the Islamic State. This sent shockwaves across the country because it was the first fatwa of its kind in almost 100 years. The call to arms reflected the fear of the Shia religious establishment that Iraq was on the brink of an even greater catastrophe than was the case during the civil war in 2006-2007.

Sistani's fatwa was carefully worded and directed at Iraq's citizens. It was a call for Iraqis, regardless of ethno-sectarian background, to join the armed forces and help in the fight against terrorism. It was not a call to arms for the Shia to fight Sunnis, as was widely misinterpreted by much of the mainstream media.

When I met Sistani in Najaf the morning after the call to arms was issued, he repeated his famous remarks made during the darkest days of the civil war in 2006-2007: "The Sunnis are not [just] our brothers, they are ourselves." He stressed that the call to protect Iraq's sacred sites was not just about safeguarding Shia mosques and shrines but also Sunni, Christian and other places of worship.

Later that day, Sistani's office issued a further statement which was posted on the official website clarifying that volunteers who do take up arms should do so exclusively within the legal framework and that arms should solely be in the hands of the state.

With this, Sistani was making a pointed reference to Iranian-backed militias that had increased their mobilisation across the country. He even called on the relevant state authorities to curb armed activity that falls outside the legal frameworks. His fatwa was a signal to Iran as much as it was a message to the rest of the world that the military advances of the jihadist and insurgent groups in Iraq must be stopped.

During the following week's Friday prayer sermon on June 20, Sistani urged Iraqi politicians to speed up the government formation process. He called on politicians to learn from past mistakes, open new horizons and work towards a better future for Iraq. The sermon was widely interpreted as a not-so-subtle reference to Maliki himself. At the same time, sources close to Sistani's office told me that the Ayatollah had sent a clear message - through private channels - to the prime minister's office stating that a third term for Maliki is a red line for the religious establishment.

However, the most public signal from Sistani that he was opposed to a third term for Maliki came on July 25. During the Friday prayer sermon in Karbala, Sistani's representative urged Iraqi politicians not to cling on to their posts and positions. He called on Iraqi politicians to sacrifice their own personal political interests for the sake of the country. Though he didn't single out anyone by name, Sistani's official website later in the day published a news story that interpreted the sermon as "sending signals to Maliki".

To make matters worse for Maliki, even his own Islamic Dawa Party issued a statement that same day echoing Sistani's demand that politicians must not cling on to power. When I asked a senior Dawa official if this statement meant that there was now a formal split within the Dawa Party, he responded by saying Dawa's leadership was united and in agreement with Sistani that the nominee of the Shia bloc in parliament had to be someone other than Maliki.

This latest development is very significant. It is no longer just the Sunni, Kurdish and rival Shia political parties - as well as Ayatollah Sistani - who believe that a third term for Maliki is untenable. Now, even the party that Maliki heads believes it is time for him to go.

Maliki's days now appear to be numbered, but it still remains to be seen whether or not he will go quietly.

Hayder al-Khoei is an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, a London-based think tank on international affairs.


The Limits Of Hezbollah’s Conciliation

By Michael Young

Jul. 31, 2014

As Iran continues to absorb its recent setbacks in Iraq, one place where both the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia appear to be aiming to contain any Sunni-Shiite confrontation is Lebanon. That should be good news.

Hezbollah has toned down its rhetoric of late, preferring to push to the forefront the speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, who has taken on greater prominence in the search for a new president. In Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech last week on Jerusalem Day, he spoke about Gaza, steering clear of domestic politics.

Nasrallah also met with the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt last weekend. While Jumblatt represents a small community, he has been active, with Berri, in trying to effect a rapprochement between Sunnis and Shiites. Allegedly, Jumblatt and Nasrallah spoke only about Gaza. But that doesn’t seems very probable after a two-year interruption in their meetings.

At the same time, a Future parliamentarian has noted that the tone of Iran’s new ambassador in Beirut, Mohammad Fathali, was conciliatory in his recent courtesy meeting with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. What seemed clear to those present was that Fathali was engaging in outreach to moderate Sunnis, not surprising given Sunni radicalization throughout the region.

On the Saudi side things are less clear. And yet the behavior of pro-Saudi politicians in the country, always acutely sensitive to the temper in Riyadh, suggests a similar impetus. Both Nouhad Machnouk, the interior minister, and Ashraf Rifi, the justice minister, have sought to oppose radicalism in the Sunni community, particularly in the north; yet they have also tried to reassure Sunnis by abolishing wanted lists based on flimsy testimony prepared during the period of the Syrian presence.

The move may have had more symbolic value than anything else, but the Saudi decision earlier this year to lift the ban on travel to Lebanon by its citizens was also an indicator of a change in the kingdom. This prompted other Gulf countries to follow suit. The economic impact has been limited, but the decision contributed to increasing optimism in the country, despite the arrest of foreign visitors last month due to terrorism fears.

As the last country with a complicated sectarian mix that has not descended into conflict, Lebanon remains important not only to Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also to the international community. No one wants to see a new sectarian war in Lebanon, in a Middle East that is already veering out of control.

And yet the desire all around to stabilize Lebanon has not affected deeper political objectives and interactions. Hezbollah may be under duress in Syria, but that only makes it more determined to bring in a Lebanese president who will give it the political cover it wants. It seems doubtful that Michel Aoun is that man. The party is looking for predictability and consensus in volatile times, and Aoun assuredly does not promise that.

Nor does Hezbollah appear to be in any hurry to have a new president, given the uncertainties in Syria and Iraq. The ongoing fighting in the Qalamoun area northwest of Damascus shows the grinding nature of the Syrian conflict, and the foolishness of Hezbollah’s belief that a corner has been turned to the advantage of President Bashar Assad’s regime. A corner has indeed been turned, but what looms ahead is something far more worrisome for Hezbollah, Assad and many others.

Lebanese sectarian relations seem manageable for now, which has been reinforced by shared Sunni and Shiite outrage with the Israeli assault on Gaza. When Nasrallah speaks about Palestine, it allows him to revert to his past persona as a unifying Arab figure, rather than as the sectarian leader he was portrayed as after Hezbollah’s entry into the Syrian conflict.

But Hamas’ appeal to Hezbollah to open a Lebanese front against Israel may prove embarrassing. Hezbollah has no desire to enter the Gaza war today when it is so heavily committed in Syria. Nor would this do anything but increase the hardships of a country already forced to deal with over a million Syrian refugees and nearing the precipice economically.

Iran too must see a need to momentarily step back. Its policies and those of its allies in Iraq have proven disastrous. Nor has the Iranian reaction to the offensive of the Islamic State been effective. There now seems to be movement to remove Nouri al-Maliki, but initially he is said to have resisted Iranian entreaties that he withdraw his candidacy for the prime minister’s post. Unless Iraq’s political stability can be consolidated and a reconciliation forged with Sunnis so that they can turn against the Islamic State, it will be nearly impossible to reverse the jihadists’ gains.

But what holds in Iraq holds elsewhere. If the Iranians want to calm tensions with the Sunnis, it will not be enough to do so in Lebanon and even Iraq, while pursuing policies elsewhere, above all in Syria, that enrages Sunnis. Yet Iran has proven unwilling to compromise on its basic political aims in the region. It has adhered to the power principle, where it will stop pushing only when it meets equal resistance from its foes.

Therefore, while Lebanon may benefit from an Iranian (and a Saudi) desire to reduce tensions, this will be precarious for as long as Tehran refuses to downscale its regional ambitions, which will only provoke harsher Sunni counter-reactions.

Lebanon has many shortcomings, but one reason why it has managed until now to avoid the plights of Syria and Iraq is that its very imperfect system is yet based on sectarian compromise. Iran and Hezbollah must grasp that lesson, or else their expedient efforts to placate Sunnis will all be for nothing.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.