Monday, October 14, 2013

al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Syria

The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham's Messages and Self-Presentation in Syria and Iraq, by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, September 9, 2013:
it is apparent that the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) in Syria has enjoyed a degree of success that the group's counterparts in Iraq have never been able to achieve.
The consequence of this level of control is that in images and videos put out by ISIS, its supporters and sympathizers within Syria, the wider ideological agenda of the group is made much more apparent than within Iraq. Thus, below one can see a number of images from Syria circulated among pro-ISIS circles that openly affirm the goal of establishing a Caliphate, which should eventually encompass the entire world.
figure 3We knew this already of course, but it is useful to be reminded so graphically as Figure 3:  while al-Qa'ida eventually want the entire Earth under their banner, first they aim to establish the more immediate "State of the Caliphate" : this includes, of course, the Iberian Peninsula (Andalusia), north and west Africa, as far as, the map is a bit "broad-brush", but as far as a line between Libreville and Zanzibar, southeastern Europe as far as Vienna, etc.

"one of the ISIS muhajireen explains that they have come in order to establish an Islamic state in Arḍ ash-Sham [the Levant] as an extension to an Islamic state in Iraq that is currently fighting the Safavid government and army."
In contrast, ISIS and its supporters within Iraq are not putting so much emphasis on transnational ambitions for a Caliphate. Instead, it is accurate to characterize ISIS' current approach in Iraq as conveying an image of "protector of Sunnis" (as suggested by analyst Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq), playing on the fact that many Sunni Arabs undoubtedly perceive themselves to be a marginalized minority, or even a plurality/majority unjustly usurped of power.
ISIS says that the series of bomb attacks carried out in Iraq is "a response to the recent crime which the Safavid government committed with the execution of a new cohort of prisoners of the Muslims of the people of the Sunnah in Iraq" or a "response to the ongoing security campaigns of the Safavid army and police that have reached the Sunni belt areas of Baghdad" or they allege the encroachment by "sectarian militias": 
While there are no specific names [..], it is clear that the allegations largely concern the actions of Shi'a Iranian proxy groups, particularly Aṣā'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), which has certainly tried to expand into Diyala. Indeed, recently Sunni protest Facebook pages featured a photo of a purported AAH funeral convoy in Muqdadiyah for fighters killed in Syria , and claimed this to be an indication of the group's expansionist efforts in the town and the wider province. As it turns out, the group in question is not AAH. [..] However, from my perspective of looking at ISIS' projection of itself as protector of Iraq's Sunnis, what matters more here is perception.
In Iraq, ISIS does not control towns, and is still seeking to build up its reputation after many years of being perceived as brutal and heavy-handed- indifferent to local concerns- in pursuit of the grand goal of a worldwide Caliphate. Thus, one will not find pro-ISIS circles within Iraq circulating images like that [showing the entire Earth under the banner of ISIS]. That said, ISIS is clearly able to conduct most of its operations in the Anbar area and wider western Iraq at will [..]. Indeed, in the widely publicized video of ISIS' execution of three Alawites on the Anbar highway, it is noteworthy, as Michael Knights points out, that the mujahideen were in no hurry with their stopping, questioning and killing of the three men, illustrating a severe deficiency in control on the part of the Iraqi security forces.
I do not think in the long-run ISIS in Iraq can enjoy the level of success it has achieved in Syria [..] Sunni Arabs are a demographic minority in Iraq, the government has well-established security forces (however incompetent), and there is the problem that ISIS is undoubtedly continuing to target Sunni Arabs it sees as government collaborators [..]
As for Syria, the overt emphasis on transnational goals may cause a degree of alienation among locals, but there is no evidence that ISIS in Syria has reverted to brutalization of the populace as happened in the Iraq War. [..] the only way its influence could be substantially reduced is in the context of a post-Assad order whereby a large long-term international occupation force (at least a decade or so) is stationed to coordinate an anti-ISIS/Jabhat al-Nusra militia movement, not through vague policies of 'arming moderates.'
Published 21 Nov 2013


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