Ohio Arrest Shows Threat to U.S. from Al-Qaeda in Syria

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What now for the U.S.’ relationship with Al-Nusra after an American goes to Syria for jihadist training and returns to commit terrorism?

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, April 19, 2015:

Al-Nusrah American citizen Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud was indicted after a cleric associated with Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) ordered him to carry out an attack here, the Justice Department announced. His plot to attack a military base in Texas was thwarted. The involvement of Al-Nusra will make it difficult for the U.S. to keep looking the other way as it gains territory in Syria.

Originally from Somalia, Mohamud grew up in the U.S. He lives in Columbus, Ohio and Islamist radicalism seems to be a family affair in this case. His brother died fighting for Al-Qaeda in Syria and was apparently a major influence in Mohamud’s radicalization.

Their younger brother, Abdiqani Aden, was arrested earlier this month during a visit to Mohamud because he made a gun symbol with his hands and pointed towards the sheriff’s deputies. He was speaking in a foreign language at the time. This is especially threatening because Mohamud’s second-choice target was a prison.

The government’s monitoring of communication between the two older brothers shows their motivations were not frustration with U.S. foreign policy or personal trials. They were inspired by a glorification of those who die in violent jihad and a belief that such “martyrs” are guaranteed entry into heaven.

His brother left the U.S. in May 2013 and went to Syria to link up with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing. Mohamud’s travel arrangements involved Al-Nusra members and that is presumably the group he joined, but his online postings showed his loyalty was with ISIS. Al-Nusra facilitators appear to have been surprisingly unconcerned by this.

This may indicate the rift between the leadership of ISIS and Al-Qaeda isn’t necessarily trickling down to most of the membership. The attacks in Paris are another example where Al-Qaeda and ISIS supporters worked together despite the quarrels of their leaders.

His brother was killed in June 2014 and he returned home afterwards. Mohamud told a close associate that he completed his training with an unidentified terrorist group in Syria and a cleric told him to return to the U.S. to carry out an attack. The indictment charges Mohamud with providing material support to Al-Nusra, so it appears that he never joined ISIS.

Mohamud began plotting but two unidentified individuals close to him reported their dialogues to the FBI and likely recorded them. One was a friend of his for three years and all indications point to one or both of these informants being Muslim. This is another example of why the demonization of informants by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is so dangerous.

Mohamud decided his preference was to attack a military site with a prison as a backup option. He chose a base in Texas and hoped to execute three or four U.S. soldiers before achieving “martyrdom.” The FBI arrested him before he could start putting the details together.

The cleric’s involvement is an important detail because it threatens to unravel the Obama Administration’s façade that Al-Nusra isn’t a direct threat to America. It also indicates the group is putting an increased emphasis on hitting us at home.

The U.S. realized in September the air campaign against ISIS needed to include a unit within Al-Nusra named the Khorasan Group that was orchestrating terror plots against the West. The problem is that Al-Nusra is much more popular than ISIS and works closely with other Syrian rebels, including ones the U.S. supported and anticipated relying upon to fight ISIS on the ground.

The desire to avoid alienating Al-Qaeda-allied Syrian rebels and their supporters led the Obama Administration to begin promoting a myththat the Khorasan Group is an independent entity that is somehow illogically linked to Al-Qaeda but not Al-Nusra. The New York Timesrepeated it in its coverage of this case.

The myth is harmful to U.S. interests and anti-Islamist Syrians because it distances Al-Nusra from Al-Qaeda, thereby giving it a higher ceiling of public support. A Zogby poll in November found the population of Turkey favors Al-Nusra above all other participants in the Syrian civil war. A whopping 40% of Turks support Al-Nusra the most.

The indications are that Mohamud’s Syrian cleric is from Al-Nusra but it’s still significant he’s in ISIS because that would mean it is now dispatching operatives from the region to America. That would be a shift from relying on so-called “lone wolves” inside the U.S. who plan terrorism because they’ve determined that traveling to the Caliphateis unlikely to succeed.

It is true that Mohamud’s case is important because it’s the first publicly-acknowledged case of an American going to Syria for jihadist training and returning home to commit terrorism, but there’s a bigger point to be made. The U.S. is at war with Jabhat al-Nusra because it is at war with Al-Qaeda. If a Syrian rebel partner doesn’t approve of the U.S. recognizing that unavoidable fact, then that’s not a partner worth having.

Benghazi suspect designated by UN, State Department

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LWJ, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | April 15, 2015:

The State Department added Ali Ouni Harzi to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists yesterday. Harzi, who is based in Syria, “joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia,” according to State.

Curiously, the State Department’s designation page does not mention Harzi’s role in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks.

Days earlier, the United Nations (UN) added Harzi to the Security Council’s al Qaeda sanctions list. The UN’s designation page for Harzi reads: “Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012.”

Indeed, Harzi was one of the first suspects in the Benghazi attack to be publicly identified. The Daily Beast first reported that Harzi’s involvement in the assault on the US Mission and Annex were discovered after US officials learned that he had “posted an update on social media about the fighting shortly after it had begun.” This was “[o]ne of the first clues the intelligence community had about the perpetrators” in Benghazi.

Harzi was apprehended in Turkey in October 2012 at the behest of US officials. He was making his way to Syria at the time.

After being deported to Tunisia, Harzi was held for weeks. In December 2012, FBI agents questioned him about the Benghazi attack. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization, stalked the agents. The group posted their pictures online while condemning the Tunisian government for allowing the FBI to interview Harzi. That same month Ansar al Sharia Tunisia released a video discussing Harzi’s case and confirming the FBI’s role in his questioning.

In early January 2013, despite his suspected role in the death of four Americans, Harzi was released. Ansar al Sharia posted a video celebrating Harzi’s release. Harzi made some brief comments in the video, which showed him being congratulated by his fellow jihadists.

US officials, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Brennan, who became the CIA director, were asked about Harzi’s release during congressional hearings.

In late January 2013, Clinton told senators that the Tunisians had “assured” the United States that Harzi was “under the monitoring of the court.” In February, during his confirmation process to become CIA director, Brennan claimed that the US government “didn’t have anything on” Harzi and, therefore, his release was not worrisome.

As the UN’s designation shows, however, there has long been evidence that Harzi was directly involved in the Benghazi attack. And Tunisian authorities clearly failed to keep tabs on Harzi.

On February 6, 2013, a left-wing Tunisian politician named Chokri Belaid was assassinated. Then, on July 25, another popular politician, Mohamed Brahmi, was killed. The following day Tunisian authorities claimed that Harzi was involved in both assassinations. However, neither the UN nor the State Department designations mention this allegation. Another Ansar al Sharia Tunisia member who went on to join the Islamic State has boasted of his role in planning the murders.

In March of this year, the Tunisian National Guard issued an arrest warrant for Harzi.

In addition to Ali Ouni Harzi (whose name is often spelled Ali Ani al Harzi in the press), the UN designated Tarak Ouni Harzi, Ali’s brother. Tarak was a known facilitator for al Qaeda in Iraq. Tarak was a “dangerous and active member of Al Qaida in Iraq” as of 2004, according to the UN and “also active in facilitating and hosting members of Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia…in Syria.” Tarak was sentenced, “in absentia, on 30 October 2007, to 24 years imprisonment for terrorist activities by the Appeals Court of Tunis.”

Despite being wanted by international authorities, both of the Harzi brothers remain at large. It is not clear if they are working for the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, or some other jihadist groups in Syria.

The leader of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, Abu Iyad al Tunisi, remains free as well. Al Tunisi is a longtime al Qaeda operative who helped orchestrate the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012, just three days after the Benghazi attack. The State Department has also designated Abu Iyad as an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist and noted his role in the Sept. 14 assault.

Both Ansar al Sharia Libya, which was one of the al Qaeda groups responsible for the Benghazi attack, and Ansar al Sharia Tunisia have operated as part of al Qaeda’s network in North Africa.

Brit David Miliband (BFF George Soros): US should take 65,000 Syrians by end of 2016! You need to act!

Refugee Resettlement Watch, by Ann Corcoran on April 10, 2015:

Here he goes again!  The former British Foreign Secretary and CEO of the refugee resettlement contractor, theInternational Rescue Committee, is demanding that the US resettle the mostly Muslim Syrians that the FBI has already said cannot be properly screened for security because frankly there are no records on the hundreds of thousands who have been pouring out of Syria!

Raise the ceiling, says Miliband!

David Miliband (center) with Jonathan and George Soros. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/gallery/201311

David Miliband (center) with Jonathan and George Soros. http://www.crainsnewyork.com/gallery/201311

Raising the ceiling is the only way to bring in that many Syrians since the total refugee resettlement projection for all refugees from across the globe this year, and likely 2016, is 70,000.We told you here recently that Miliband wants Obama to raise the ceiling on the total refugee numbers to be admitted to the US, something Obama can legally do in CONSULTATION with Congress!

Do we have any hope that this Congress would even pay attention if Obama tried to pull that off?

And, is this why the resettlement contractors are out scouting (in secrecy) new potential sites to ‘seed’ with refugees?

For new readers, when Miliband arrived in New York to head the giant IRC*** he was feted by non-other than Bill Clinton, George Soros and Samantha Power which tells you all you need to know about him, here in 2013.

From AP at the Huffington Post:

BEIRUT (AP) — An international aid group on Thursday called on the United States to resettle 65,000 Syrians before the end of 2016, highlighting Washington’s slow response to the massive refugee crisis generated by the civil war.

David Miliband, the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, told The Associated Press in Beirut that the whole international community shares responsibility for the consequences of the Syrian civil war. [Why is that?—ed]

[….]

Miliband, a former U.K. Foreign Secretary, said the U.S. has traditionally taken half the world’s registered refugees who resettle in third countries and that the United Nations says it wants 130,000 refugees from Syria resettled in the wealthier countries of the world by the end of 2016.

Half of that number would be 65,000. To date, the U.S. has resettled just 648 Syrians, less than 1 percent of that figure.

“We are calling for scale and speed in response to this crisis. The Syria crisis shows no signs of abating,” he said.

***Doing well by doing good!

We just checked the most recent Form 990 available for the IRC (one of nine major federal resettlement contractors) and see that the giant ‘non-profit’ took in 451,017,146 that year and $305,481,609 came out of your wallets!  Government grant amount is on page 9.

Miliband’s salary does not yet appear in a Form 990 because he is so new, but his predecessor George Rupp took home a whopping $485,321 in salary and benefits, so we can assume Miliband must be in that same salary range.

Astoundingly, this approximately 68% funded-by-you NGO paid two other top staffers in the $300,000 range and another eight got over $200,000.  Imagine how many real poor people could be helped with that kind of money!   Salaries are on page 175 of the 218 page return.

Please call your elected representatives in Washington and tell them NO Syrian Muslims for your towns and cities!

Go here to see a list of approximately 190 cities and towns where resettlement contractors are already working and remember if you live within a hundred miles of their offices you could be next to receive refugees gratis these fat cats!   (By the way the list is somewhat alphabetically out of order, so look carefully for your state.)

See also:

Sunni Jihadists Gain Ground in Syria

Syrians in the city of Idlib on Wednesday lined up to receive bread. The city was seized last weekend by the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, which said it would not try to monopolize power there. Credit Mohamad Bayoush/Reuters

Syrians in the city of Idlib on Wednesday lined up to receive bread. The city was seized last weekend by the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, which said it would not try to monopolize power there. Credit Mohamad Bayoush/Reuters

CSP, by Aaron Kliegman, April 1, 2015:

The al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front seized the provincial capital of Idlib in northwestern Syria this past weekend. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces withdrew after five days of intense fighting with a primarily al-Nusra-dominated coalition of rebels, all of whom are part of the multi-faceted Syrian opposition.

According to the “Army of Conquest”, the name of the coalition, 70 rebels were killed in the decisive battle. Beyond al-Nusra, other Islamist militias helped in the effort including Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Liwa al-Haqq, and Failaq al-Sham, and some smaller groups played a lesser role.

Al-Nusra said today that it will rule Idlib with sharia law, with the group’s leader Abu Mohamad al-Golani stating, “We salute the people of Idlib and their stand with their sons … God willing they will enjoy the justice of sharia, which will preserve their religion and their blood.” While the jihadists were battling the regime and now are trying to setup Islamic governance, hundreds of thousands of residents have reportedly fled the city.

Idlib has strategic significance for multiple reasons, including that it is 20 miles from the Turkish border, and one Syrian military source accused Turkey of helping the rebels take Idlib. Furthermore, Idlib is only the second provincial capital that Assad has lost, the first one being Raqqa. The Sunni jihadists are gaining ground and can consolidate their power in Idlib to move onto other strategic targets. Idlib is important for exerting control northeast toward Aleppo city, and the rebels are better suited to move towards Hama city and its military airfield or into the regime’s heartland.

As al-Nusra is imposing sharia law on Idlib, its main rival jihadist group, Islamic State (ISIS), seized most of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria’s capital. Al-Nusra members who defected to ISIS helped in the fight against Assad regime forces. According to the U.N., before the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Yarmouk was home to about 200,000 people; now, that number is down to 18,000.

ISIS has been attempting to push into western Syria, far way from its main strongholds, for months. The group is trying to establish sleeper cells in the areas around Damascus and maintain a firm presence there. While the regime has strong checkpoints to repel attackers from Damascus, ISIS’s presence so near to the capital indicates that they are getting closer.

While these two developments are occurring, Syrian rebels, including Jabhat al-Nusra, were fighting Wednesday with regime forces along the Jordanian border. The rebels attacked the main border crossing between the two countries on the Syrian side, known as the Nasib post, causing Jordan to close the area. According to Conflict News, al-Nusra militants captured the border crossing on the same day. If true, Jordan will rightfully be concerned about the fighting’s proximity to its border, especially while it has been dealing with an influx of Syrian refugees throughout the civil war.

All of these stories show the increasingly chaotic situation in Syria. While ISIS is adding territory to its self-declared caliphate, the al-Nusra front is also quietly gaining territory. Both groups’ success will only increase their propaganda and bring in more recruits. With Sunni jihadists groups on the move and the Assad regime trying to hold onto as much of the country as possible, there seems to be no good foreseeable outcome. The conflict will only get more complicated as the fighting gets closer to Turkish and Jordanian territory and Islamist rebels get closer to Damascus.

Also see:

The Kobani Precedent

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO’s commitment to defending Turkey’s security during a period of regional instability. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO’s commitment to defending Turkey’s security during a period of regional instability. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Rubin Center, by Jonathan Spyer, March 25, 2015:

Recently,  I attempted to undertake a reporting trip into the Kurdish Kobani enclave in northern Syria.  It would not have been my first visit, neither to Syria nor to Kobani.  For the first time, however, I found myself unable to enter.  Instead, I spent a frustrating but, as it turns out, instructive four days waiting in the border town of Suruc in south-east Turkey before running out of time and going home.

The episode was instructive because of what it indicated regarding the extent to which Kurdish control in the enclaves established in mid 2012 is now a fact acknowledged by all neighboring players, including the enemies of the Kurds.  This in itself has larger lessons regarding US and western policy in Syria and Iraq.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  First, let me complete the account of the episode on the border.    My intention had been to enter Kobani ‘illegally’ with the help of the Kurdish YPG and local smugglers.  This sounds more exciting than it is.    I have entered Syria in a similar way half a dozen times over the last two years, to the extent that it has become a not very pleasant but mundane procedure. This time, however, something was different.  I was placed in a local center with a number of other westerners waiting to make the trip. Then, it seemed, we were forgotten.

The westerners themselves were  an interesting bunch, whose varied presence was an indication of the curious pattern by which the Syrian Kurdish cause has entered public awareness in the west.

There was a group of European radical leftists, mainly Italians, who had come after being inspired by stories of the ‘Rojava revolution.’  A little noted element of the control by the Syrian franchise of the PKK of de facto sovereign areas of Syria has been the interest that this has generated in the circles of the western radical left.  These circles are ever on the lookout for something which allows their politics to encounter reality, in a way that does not bring immediate and obvious disaster.  As of now, ‘Rojava,’ given the leftist credentials of the PKK, is playing this role.  So the Europeans in question  wanted to ‘contribute’ to what they called the ‘revolution.’

Unfortunately, their preferred mode of support was leading to a situation of complete mutual bewilderment between themselves and the local Kurds.   Offered military training by their hosts, the radical leftists demurred.  They would not hold a gun for Rojava before they had seen it and been persuaded that it did indeed represent the peoples’ revolution that they hoped for.

Instead, they had a plan for the rebuilding of Kobani along sustainable and environmentally friendly lines, using natural materials  In addition, the health crisis and shortage of medicines in the devastated enclave led the radicals to believe that this might offer an appropriate context for popularizing various items of alternative and naturopathic medicine about which they themselves were enthusiastic.  (I’m not making any of this up).

All this had elicited the predictable reaction from the Kurds, who were trying to manage a humanitarian disaster and a determined attempt by murderous jihadis to destroy  them.  ‘Perhaps you could do the military training first and then we could talk about the other stuff?’ suggested Fawzia, the nice and helpful representative of the PYD who was responsible for us.  This led to further impassioned and theatrical responses from the Italians.

***

Why is the YPG the chosen partner of the Americans in northern Syria, just as the Kurdish Pesh Merga further east is one of the preferred partners on the ground in Iraq?

The answer to this is clear, but not encouraging.  It is because in both countries, the only reliable, pro-western and militarily effective element on the ground is that of the Kurds.

Consider:  in northern Syria, other than the forces of the Islamic State, there are three other elements of real military and political import.  These are the forces of the Assad regime, the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the YPG.

In addition, there are a bewildering variety of disparate rebel battalions, with loyalties ranging from Salafi Islamism to Muslim Brotherhood style Islamism, to non-political opposition to the Assad regime.  Some of these groups operate independently.  Others are gathered in local alliances such as the Aleppo based Jabhat al-Shamiya (Levant Front), or the Syria-wide Islamic Front, which unites Salafi factions.

Despite the reported existence of a US staffed military operations room in Turkey, the latter two movements are either too weak, or too politically suspect (because of their Islamist nature), to form a potential partner for the US in northern Syria.

Nusra is for obvious reasons not a potential partner for the US in the fight against the Islamic State.  And the US continues to hold to its stated  goal that Bashar Assad should step down.  So the prospect of an overt alliance between the regime and the US against the Islamic State is not on the cards (despite the de facto American alliance with Assad’s  Iran-supported Shia Islamist allies in Iraq).

This leaves the Kurds, and only the Kurds, to work with.  And the un-stated alliance is sufficiently tight for it to begin to have effects also on Turkish-Kurdish relations in Syria, as seen in the Suleiman Shah operation.

But what are the broader implications of this absence of any other coherent partner on the ground?

The stark clarity of the northern Syria situation is replicated in all essentials in Iraq, though a more determined attempt by the US to deny this reality is under way in that country.

In Iraq, there is a clear and stated enemy of the US (the Islamic State), a clear and stated Kurdish ally of the west (the Kurdish Regional Government and its Pesh Merga) and an Iran-supported government which controls the capital and part of the territory of the country.

Unlike in Syria, however, in Iraq the US relates to the official government, mistakenly, as an ally.  This is leading to a potentially disastrous situation  whereby US air power is currently partnering with Iran-supported Shia militias against the Islamic State.

The most powerful of these militias have a presence in the government of Iraq. But they do not act under the orders of the elected Baghdad government, but rather in coordination with their sponsors in the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

It is possible that the current partnering with Shia Islamist forces in Iraq is the result of a general US attempt now under way to achieve a historic rapprochement with Iran, as suggested by Michael Doran in a recent essay.  Or it may be that this reality has emerged as a result of poor analysis of the realities of the Levant and Iraq, resulting in a confused and flailing policy.  But either way, the result is an astonishing mess.

In northern Syria, the obvious absence of any partners other than the Kurds has produced a momentary tactical clarity.  But as the larger example of Iraq shows, this clarity is buried in a much larger strategic confusion.

This confusion, at root, derives from a failure to grasp what is taking place in Syria and in Iraq.

In both countries, the removal or weakening of powerful dictatorships has resulted in the emergence of conflict based on older, sub-state ethnic and sectarian identities.  The strength and persistence of these identities is testimony to the profound failure of the states of Syria and Iraq to develop anything resembling a sustainable national identity.  In both Syria and Iraq, the resultant conflict is essentially three-sided.  Sunni Arabs, Shia/Alawi Arabs and Kurds are fighting over the ruins of the state.

Because of the lamentable nature of Arab politics at the present time, the form that both Arab sides are taking is that of political Islam.   On the Shia side, the powerful Iranian structures dedicated to the creation and sponsorship of proxy movements are closely engaged with the clients in both countries (and in neighboring Lebanon.)

On the Sunni Arab side, a bewildering tangle of support from different regional and western states to various militias has emerged.  But two main formations may be discerned. These are the Islamic State, which has no overt state sponsor, and Jabhat al-Nusra, which has close links to Qatar.

In southern Syria, a western attempt to maintain armed forces linked to conservative and western-aligned Arab states (Jordan, Saudi Arabia) has proved somewhat more successful because of the close physical proximity of Jordan and the differing tribal and clan structures in this area when compared with the north.  Even here, however, Nusra is a powerful presence, and Islamic State itself recently appeared in the south Damascus area.

The Kurds, because of the existence among them of a secular, pro-western nationalist politics with real popular appeal, have unsurprisingly emerged as the only reliable partner.    On both the Shia and the Sunni sides, the strongest and prevailing forces are anti-western.

This reality is denied  both by advocates for rapprochement with Iran, and by wishful-thinking supporters of the Syrian rebellion.  But it remains so.  What are its implications for western policy?

Firstly, if the goal is to degrade the Islamic State, reduce it, split it, impoverish it, this can probably be achieved through the alliance of US air power and Kurdish ground forces.  But if the desire, genuinely, is to destroy the Islamic State, this can only be achieved through the employment of western boots on the ground.  This is the choice which is presented by reality.

Secondly, the desire to avoid this choice is leading to the disastrous partnering with Iraqi Shia forces loyal to Iran.  The winner from all this will be, unsurprisingly,  Iran. Neither Teheran nor its Shia militias are the moral superiors to Islamic State. The partnering with them is absurd both from a political and an ethical point of view.

Thirdly, the determination to maintain the territorial integrity of ‘Syria’ and ‘Iraq’ is one of the midwives of the current confusion.  Were it to be acknowledged that Humpty cannot be put back together again, it would then be possible to accurately ascertain which local players the west can partner with, and which it can not.

As of now, the determination to consider these areas as coherent states is leading to absurdities including the failure by the US to directly arm the pro-US Pesh Merga because the pro-Iranians in Baghdad object to this, the failure to revive relations with and directly supply Iraqi Sunni tribal elements in IS controlled areas for the same reason,  and the insistence on relating to all forces ostensibly acting on behalf of Baghdad as legitimate.

Ultimately, the mess in the former Syria and Iraq derives from a very western form of wishful thinking that is common to various sides of the debate in the west.  This is the refusal to accept that political Islam, of both Shia and Sunni varieties, has an unparalleled power of political mobilization among Arab populations in the Middle East at the present time, and that political Islam is a genuinely anti-western force, with genuinely murderous intentions.

For as long as that stark reality is denied, western policy will resemble our Italian leftist friends on the border, baffled and bewildered as they go about proposing ideas and notions utterly alien to and irrelevant to the local situation.

The reality of this situation means that the available partners for the west are minority nationalist projects  such as that of the Kurds (or the Jews,) and traditional, non-ideological conservative elites – such as the Egyptian military, the Hashemite monarchs, and in a more partial and problematic way, the Gulf monarchs.  Attempts to move beyond this limited but considerable array of potential allies will result in the strengthening of destructive, anti-western Islamist forces in the region, of either Sunni or Shia coloration.

As for the Syrian Kurds, they deserve their partnership with US air power, and the greater security it is bringing them.

The American Baptist volunteer, to conclude the story, made it across the border and is now training with the YPG.  He, at least, has a clear sense of who is who in the Middle East.  Hopefully, this sense will eventually percolate up to the policymaking community too.

Read it all

Nusra Front quietly rises in Syria as Islamic State targeted

Protesters hold the Jabhat al-Nusra flag during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Idlib province, northern Syria, in March 2013. The Nusra Front, Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, is consolidating power in territory stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, crushing moderate opponents and forcibly converting minorities using tactics akin to its ultraconservative rival, the Islamic State group. HUSSEIN MALLA, FILE/AP

Protesters hold the Jabhat al-Nusra flag during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Idlib province, northern Syria, in March 2013. The Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, is consolidating power in territory stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, crushing moderate opponents and forcibly converting minorities using tactics akin to its ultraconservative rival, the Islamic State group.
HUSSEIN MALLA, FILE/AP

Stars and Stripes, by BASSEM MROUE The Associated Press, March 24, 2015:

BEIRUT — The Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, is consolidating power in territory stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria, crushing moderate opponents and forcibly converting minorities using tactics akin to its ultraconservative rival, the Islamic State group.

But while the Islamic State group gets most of the attention largely because its penchant for gruesome propaganda, the Nusra Front quietly has become one of the key players in the four-year civil war, compromising other rebel groups the West may try to work with while increasingly enforcing its own brutal version of Islamic law.

Its scope of influence now abuts the Golan Heights bordering Israel, and its membership largely composed of Syrian nationals refuse any negotiations with the government of embattled President Bashar Assad, further complicating the brutal conflict.

“The Nusra Front will most likely outlast ISIS in Syria, and will represent a severe and existential threat to the aspirations of the Syrian people in terms of a pluralistic, democratic society,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, using an alternate acronym for the extremist group.

The Islamic State group helped create the Nusra Front, providing financing, manpower and military hardware in 2012. But the group and its patron eventually had a falling out in 2013 for ideological as well as strategic reasons. The Nusra Front, while loyal to al-Qaida, has cooperated with other Syrian rebel factions in the fight to oust Assad.

In recent months, the group has overrun rebel strongholds in Syria’s Idlib province, trouncing two prominent, U.S.-backed rebel factions, Harakat Hazm and the Syria Revolutionaries Front. Following the deadly clashes, SRF leader Jamal Maarouf fled to Turkey and Hazm announced it was dissolving.

A Middle East-based Western diplomat said the Nusra Front began its attacks on moderate, U.S.-backed rebel factions after the American-led coalition began airstrikes in September targeting both the Islamic State group and the Khorasan group, which Washington says is a special cell within Nusra plotting attacks against Western interests. U.S. officials last week said airstrikes have hit as many as 17 separate targets connected to the Khorasan group.

The Nusra Front responded with a series of spectacular attacks targeting moderate rebel groups and forces loyal to Assad in northwestern Syria, the diplomat said.

It “has now created coherent control of a strategic area between Idlib and Hama (provinces) in northwestern and central Syria,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists.

At the same time, the group has become increasingly aggressive toward local populations. In January, members of the group reportedly shot a woman dead in front of a crowd in Idlib after they accused her of being a prostitute. The group also has carried out public lashings, crucifixions and kidnappings — though it has not publicized the atrocities like the Islamic State group.

Activists in southern Syria say the Nusra Front was behind the January bombing that destroyed the shrine of a 13th century Muslim scholar. The Nusra Front issued a statement denying it was involved but activists say its members were seen placing the bombs.

“They’re trying to come across as rational, moderate, more dynamic,” Gerges said. “They don’t celebrate savagery in the same way like the Islamic State group.”

Residents say among the group’s most worrisome action so far is forcing members of the minority Druze sect living in Idlib’s Jabal al-Summaq region to convert to Sunni Islam.

The Druze, a 10th century offshoot of Shiite Islam, made up about 5 percent of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million people. In addition to Syria, Lebanon and Israel have large Druze communities.

“The Druze in Idlib are being subjected today to religious persecution. The Nusra Front carried out shameful acts. They have dug graves and damaged shrines,” said former Lebanese Cabinet minister Wiam Wahhab, a Druze politician with close ties to the community in Syria.

Activists estimate several hundred Druze have been forced to convert. A purported Nusra Front document, posted online and dated Feb. 1, outlined an agreement that saw Druze in 14 villages in Idlib convert. Under the deal, the Druze will implement Islamic laws, destroy tombs, impose Islamic dress on women and stop having mixed-sex schools. Idlib-based activist Asaad Kanjo said many Druze there have fled.

“You are likely to see this sort of behavior from Nusra in Idlib province because they are increasingly the dominant party in this part of Syria, and are in the midst of a concerted effort to eliminate rivals there,” said Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Nusra ultimately wants to rule Syria.”

An opposition activist in Kafranbel, a town in Idlib, said the group has established an elaborate network of social services and Shariah courts and rules uncontested. Remaining rebel groups in the province operate only with Nusra’s approval, he said.

However, the group’s increasingly belligerent approach toward other rebel groups is starting to alienate former allies, said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The main Western-backed Syrian group, the Syrian National Coalition, which in the past has been wary not to criticize Nusra, has changed its tune.

“We are concerned over Al Nusra’s latest actions and abuses against civilians and (Free Syrian Army) fighters,” said spokesman Salem al-Meslet, adding that the abuses were akin to the Islamic State group and Syrian government forces’ “criminal behavior.”

The criticism has led the Nusra Front to issue a rare statement defending itself, saying its target are only those proven to have committed “crimes” against Muslims and fighters.

“It was not our intention on any day to spread influence and expand and control the worshippers and the country,” the statement from its Al-Manara Al-Bayda media arm said. “Rather, our goal and aim is to lift injustice from the oppressed, and push away every enemy that attacks the honor, religion, and sanctities of the Muslims.”

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.

Follow Bassem Mroue on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bmroue.

Also see:

ISIS Digs-in For Battle of Tikrit as Sunni Populace is Targeted by Iran’s Proxies

March 14, 2015 / /

In an update to our piece “The Tikrit Front: Not So Rosy as Claimed by Obama Administration,” the Islamic State (IS) has been conducting steady operations to delay the IRGC-Qods Force-led assault force’s advance towards Tikrit. This is being done by executing a series of IED and VIBED attacks all along the major avenue of approach, which has been narrowed into a single entry point into the city after the destruction of the Tikrit highway bridge that effectively blocked the advance. The move has pushed the assault force into repositioning itself north and south of the city. Currently, the joint-force is prepping to launch the main push into the city, which we assess will occur within the next 3-5 days. We are aware of two IA BDEs have already moved to positions 40 km north of Tikrit and have remained stationary, likely waiting for follow-on forces to arrive.

Iraqi offensive to dislodge Islamic State from Tikrit appears to stall

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/iraqi-offensive-to-dislodge-islamic-state-from-tikrit-appears-to-stall/article23444248/

Iraqi forces pause in battle to drive Islamic State from Tikrit

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/13/us-mideast-iraq-idUSKBN0M91DR20150313

Shi'ite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi look at smoke from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an Islamic State suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit

A Shia militia column forced to halt their advance after the detonation of a VBIED
Source: Reuters

The move to destroy the Tikrit highway bridge was done to force the advancing Qods Force/Shia Militia/IA units into a “fatal funnel” where they will face even more intense opposition in the form of complex attacks. Setting the nearby oil fields ablaze was likely done to mask the movements of IS units from the view of ISR assets – both American and Iranian – that are attempting to identify for target development. This is indicative of IS commanders possessing formal military experience, no doubt a reflection of Baghdadi’s efforts to recruit members of the Saddam-era military. On the flip side, we fully expect the Qods Force and their Shia proxies to intensify their operations by increasing the brutality of their treatment of the Sunni civilian population in order to “make an example” out of them. In fact, our sources in the country have reported to us that Qods Force commanding general GEN Suleimani – who is the overall commander of this campaign – has passed guidance to the Shia militias involved in the offensive that Ayatollah Khameini issued a fatwa authorizing the “total destruction” of Tikrit and the civilian population – who the Iranian regime views as “heretics that need to be purged from Iraq.” Indeed, there are those in the American intelligence community (IC) who continue with the erroneous thinking that the Iranian involvement in active ground combat operations in Iraq is a “positive thing” (looking at you GEN Dempsey). We submit to them the following video and corresponding reporting that highlights what we’ve been saying throughout the last few weeks (in case they don’t want to take our word for it):

Video shows burning village near Tikrit : “Shiite militias wanted revenge”

http://observers.france24.com/content/20150311-video-shiite-militias-sunni-village-tikrit

 

CNN and the rest of the American media has been reporting that the Qods Force and its proxies are trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the Sunni populace in a bid to put the most positive spin possible for the Obama administration -but they couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, they point to pro-government Sunni tribal forces participating in this joint-endeavor, but what they either fail to understand or willfully leave out of their reporting is the rather nasty fact that the Qods Force is using them as mere “canon fodder.” They’ve also been diverting ammo and other supplies meant for those tribal forces to their Shia proxies instead. So really, just how hard is GEN Suleimani trying to win those hearts and minds there? Keep in mind that a few days before the start of the Tikrit offensive, IS had abducted over 100 of those pro-GOI tribal fighters and the Qods Force didn’t seem to be very concerned nor did they try to save them. In a way the people on the Beltway are correct that Iran wants “stability” in Iraq – they just fail to realize that the Iranian regime views “stability” as an Iraq purged of all “unmanageable” influences. In other words, “all Sunnnis” are viewed as “terrorists.”

Iraq militia leader hails Iran’s ‘unconditional’ support

http://news.yahoo.com/iraqs-top-shiite-cleric-urges-help-militias-battling-105335552.html

Iraqi, allied forces try to win back Tikrit, win over hearts and minds of residents

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/13/middleeast/iraq-isis/

Qods Force-Led Assault Force Meets Heavy Resistance in Tikrit

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5352

11 MAR

The main fight for Tikrit will be a long, hard slog
Source: Reuters

The Long War Journal put out a great piece two days ago that echoes our sentiments that we’ve been voicing since last summer, pointing out that not only will the Qods Force-led campaign will result in a worsened sectarian crisis, but that the regime is angling to use their involvement in Iraq as another bargaining chip to dupe the Obama administration into giving up even more concessions in the already one-sided nuclear deal that’s being negotiated. Their piece is a damning indictment of the rudderless Obama foreign policy that has led to the rise of IS and further entrenchment of the Iranian regime inside Iraq.

Analysis: Iran is No Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/03/analysis-iran-is-no-partner-in-the-fight-against-the-islamic-state.php

longwar

GEN Suleimani on the front-lines in the Tikrit-area
Source: Long War Journal

If you want to see just what the Iranian regime is all about, check out the following:

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Kurdish Insurgency

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4068

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Southeast Insurgency

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2689

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Charm Offensive

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2676

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the “Reformers”

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2635

Inside Iran’s Middle East: the Nuclear Weapons Program

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=2640

The IA will be depending on the Shia militias to hold the terrain they’ve seized and secure the lines of communication (LOCs) while the main force attempts to push deeper into Tikrit itself. The problem with this is that IS has already been receiving reinforcements from Mosul and the Lake Thar Thar-area to begin hitting those LOCs. This dependency on the militias will only increase as it becomes painfully obvious that those “5 new IA BDEs” US advisors are training hasn’t been going as well as advertised. Worse, we have the Sunni civilians – most of whom have no love for IS – not only caught in the cross-hairs of the fighting, but actually being targeted by the very people claiming to be their “liberators.” Apologists claiming that the current foreign policy being implemented by the Obama administration is “the only reasonable plan” are dangerously naive in thinking that the Iranian regime’s involvement is “a good thing.” This is a regime that is brutal to its own people and to the Sunni population in Syria – so what makes them think that Iran is somehow going to be “different” in Iraq? The Qods Force and their Shia proxies are engaging in the same sectarian violence as IS – and the Obama administration just hitched itself to their wagon. Is this the “reasonable plan” the Obama administration’s supporters within the media have been referring to?

Other Related Articles:

ISIS Shaping Operations Against IA Blunts Mosul OP Before it Starts

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5171

IA Struggling to Avoid Collapse on Multiple Fronts -Mosul OP in Danger of Failing

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=5008

GOI Has Big Plans to Retake the Country From ISIS – But Can They Pull it Off???

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=4565

Tikrit Update as of 22 JUL 14

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=138

State of the Iraqi Air Force and Special Operations Forces

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=69

ISIS: Regained the Initiative in Northern Iraq

http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=3794

UNHCR has 10,000 Syrian refugees in the pipeline for America, but material support of terrorism bar blocking the way

Refugee Resettlement Watch, by Ann Corcoran, March 12, 2015:

Well, what do you know, some international criticism building because the US has not opened its arms (yet!) to mass numbers of Syrian refugees.

But, as I have pointed out on many occasions, Obama’s name is never linked with the criticism as Bush’s was always linked in media blasts every month for probably a year before the Bush Administration opened the spigot for Iraqi refugees (that are now coming in at a rate of over 20,000 a year!).

We have also been pointing out that the refugee resettlement contractors*** have been demanding 12,000-15,000 Syrians a year be admitted. They were getting geared up—finding new towns in which to resettle them—and then a few weeks ago the boom dropped when the FBI testified in the House Homeland Security Committee that there is no way they can properly screen the Syrians.  Of course, there is no way to properly screen the over 800 Somalis entering the US every month now either!

Anne Richard Asst. Secretary of State with UNHCR Antonio Guterres: partners in deciding what third-worlders are coming to your town!

This is interesting news, despite the lifting of the ban on material support, the Obama Administration has yet to apply the lesser screening requirements to Syrians.

By the way, if you saw the record-breaking post on Spartanburg, SC you know that one group World Relief would like to settle in South Carolina is Syrians.

We have resettled around 500 Syrians so far.  Approximately 87% are Muslims.  See where they have been placed in the US in the first three months of FY2015, here.

There is one way to get around this worry over screening Muslims, don’t bring Muslims! 

We could join Canada and say only Christians and other minorities are permitted entry into the US!

By continuing to select Syrians for America, the UN is putting political pressure on our Homeland Security Department to step it up.  There will be much wailing that we couldn’t possibly be so mean as to leave all these people waiting in line!

From The Guardian (emphasis below is mine):

The US is preparing to permanently resettle thousands of the millions of Syrians forced to flee their homes during the country’s four-year civil war. But as the lengthy resettlement process speeds up, some human rights advocates are concerned that certain refugees are being unfairly excluded.  [Once the pipeline is open, and even if the civil war comes to an end, the flow of permanent refugees from Syria will continue for years.—ed]

So far, the US has accepted only tiny numbers of Syrians: 105 in the year to October 2014 and just 36 in the year before that, although it has stepped up admissions with 350 refugees in the past four months.

Last year officials eased the “material support” rule under US immigration law that was designed to prevent terrorist sympathisers from entering the US but instead acted as a dragnet, ensnaring Syrians with no real connection to terrorism.More than a year later, however, advocates say they still have not seen the exemptions applied to Syrian refugee cases.

“What this means is that a lot of people who need protections and who might fall under those ‘material support’ inclusions – by no fault of their own – aren’t getting protection in the US,” said Noah Gottschalk, senior humanitarian policy adviser for Oxfam America. “And that means that a number of people who are among the most vulnerable in the world are being denied protections that they very much need.”

Representatives from a handful of refugee aid groups said they were still waiting for the the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release guidelines on how to apply the rule change. Until then, they said, Syrian refugees applying for residence in the US were at risk of being denied entry for an act as small as selling sandwiches to rebel fighters.  [This is a straw man argument, what refugee in his right mind is going to report on an application for admission to the US that he/she gave sandwiches to rebels?—ed]

“Our main concern at this stage is the absence of that guidance,” said Anna Greene, the policy and advocacy director for US programmes at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).  [The IRC is a contractor looking for more paying “clients” to resettle.—ed]

For those who don’t believe it, here it is again.  The UN is picking our refugees!

The US State Department has received more than 11,000 resettlement applications from Syrian refugees in recent months, the vast majority of which are referrals from the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).

Quick!  US taxpayers, hide your wallets!

Don’t worry, terrorist men won’t get in because we are only planning to bring economically needy women, children, senior citizens and sick and disabled people!

Richard (Anne Richard, Asst. Secretary of State for PRM) said the US intended to accept thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. She said she did not anticipate security being an issue with the Syrians the UNHCR was referring to the US, as the majority were widows, women and children, elderly people and people with debilitating medical conditions.

Read it all.

*** The federal refugee contractors have been lobbying for up to 15,000 Syrians a year for the US.

***

Great 8/31/2014 interview of Ann Corcoran with Ginni Thomas at Daily Caller:

***

South_Carolina_NSAS

Ann Corcoran will be participating in the Border Insecurity and Illegal Immigration Panel at The South Carolina National Security Action Summit this Saturday, March 14

photo2-150x150Ann Corcoran was educated at Rutgers and Yale Universities and is a conservative grassroots activist who was busy raising children and rescuing senior horses on her farm in Western Maryland in 2007, when she learned that the Virginia Council of Churches had been quietly dropping off Muslim refugees from Russia (among others) in Hagerstown, the county seat of Washington County, Maryland. To help keep track of what she learned and to help others around the country with the same concerns, she began writing the Refugee Resettlement Watch blog, which has now become the go-to place on the internet for anyone wishing to understand the UN-federal government initiative to “change” cities large and small across 49 states. This is a legal immigration program that is in desperate need of reform.  Mrs. Corcoran also reports on refugee and asylum seeker problems world-wide with a special concern for what is happening to Europe as migrants from the Middle East and Africa flood European countries. Soon to be released by the Center for Security Policy: ‘FEDERAL IMMIGRATION POLICY, REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT AND THE HIJRA TO AMERICA.’  By Ann Corcoran 

ISIS Crosses River in New Attacks on Assyrian Villages in Syria

20150307144423AINA News, March 7, 2015:

Hasaka, Syria (AINA) — ISIS crossed to the northern side of the Khabur river in the Hasaka province of Syria At 2 A.M. this morning and launched fierce attacks on several villages. ISIS fighters crossed through the village of Tel Maghas and Tel Nasri and began fighting with Kurdish and Assyrian fighters near the Arab village of Rgouba, which is near Tel Maghas, where Kurdish fighters maintain a checkpoint.

Heavy weapons and troops are streaming from the ISIS stronghold at Mount Abdul Aziz for a major assault on the entire area. The Syriac Military Council has asked for international aid.

ISIS appears to be pushing to take control of Tel Tamar, a strategic town in the area.

The villages of Rgouba Tel Maghas and Tel Nasri briefly fell under ISIS control but were recaptured by Kurdish and Assyrian fighters after Syrian regime planes bombed bombed ISIS positions in Tel Shamiran, Oja and other locations.

There is intense street fighting in Tel Nasri. 17 Assyrian fighters are reportedly surrounded in Tel Maghas.

ISIS heavily shelled the towns of Tel Tamar, Tel Nasri, Tel Hafian, and Tel Maghas.

News of the release of the Assyrian prisoners appears to be false and may have been disinformation put out buy ISIS in advance of these attacks.

The fighting continues.

Also see:

ISIS Is Running Short of Recruits

Defeat on the battlefield and a wave of deserters is weakening the caliphate’s ability to fight. THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Defeat on the battlefield and a wave of deserters is weakening the caliphate’s ability to fight. THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

Newsweek, BY MONA ALAMI, 3/4/15:

As the pressure on the Islamic State (ISIS) mounts against the backdrop of coalition attacks and a Kurdish offensive in Syria’s Raqqa region, militant recruitment has become a pressing matter for the radical organization, which has lost many fighters in clashes around Iraq and Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, out of 1,800 people killed during the Kobani battles, 70 percent belonged to ISIS. On February 14, 132 fighters died across Syria, including 44 ISIS militants.

Given mounting losses, ISIS expansion has relied on a two-pronged recruitment approach: targeting foreigners looking to join the new caliphate and enlisting members of the local population. While the foreign recruitment strategy appears successful, local recruitment faces growing obstacles in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has relied on a powerful branding strategy, diffusing violent images on social media, YouTube and Twitter. The organization has released several documentaries boasting its military exploits such as the “Flames of War,” featuring heroic jihadists and gruesome footage of bombings and executions.

This systematic glamorization of violence has allowed the terror group to attract foreign recruits. In January, a new study by International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria had reached about 20,000.

ISIS’s local recruitment approach has been described in Idarat al Tawahosh,(The Management of Savagery), a book written by Abu Bakr Naji in 2004, which ISIS has adopted. Naji argues that the first step for recruitment is “the creation of organizations to improve the management of the areas under our control.”

ISIS applied this technique initially following its surge in June. The groups managed everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques in Raqqa. One activist admitted at that the time that the organization had been doing “massive institutional work.”

A second recruitment tool imagined by Naji was the manipulation of tribal antagonism in favor of the organization. ISIS attempted to mobilize Arab crowds ahead of the battle of Tel Hamis in Syria last year using flagrant anti-Kurdish discourse. In accordance with Naji’s recommendation to use money or power as incentives, activists in Raqqa report that ISIS offered cash andsabaya (female slaves) to local tribal leaders to encourage them to swear allegiance.

Indoctrinating local populations and its youth was another cornerstone to Naji’s manifesto. Since its inception, ISIS has imposed religious and military training on children in the Raqqa province. The same activists report that the group uses two training camps—Sharea Ashbal and Maahad Ashbal al-Khilafa—to indoctrinate and train children.

According to a Syrian Human Rights Committee report in August, at least 800 children under 18 had been recruited by ISIS. Other reports highlight the more than 30 kids fighting with ISIS in Kobani. An ISIS defector said that militants targeted the young to break down traditional authority structures: alliance to the family and to the tribe.

While these strategies succeeded initially, they appear more difficult to maintain in the wake of the continuous coalition, Kurdish and Shia militia attacks on ISIS. The counteroffensives have killed many militants and disrupted the transfer of goods between regions under the organization’s control. Naji’s governance tool appears to be faltering as residents of ISIS-controlled areas increasingly complain of rising food and fuel prices and declining services. The price of staples such as bread has also risen significantly and basic products have become scarce.

ISIS has since resorted to aggressive means for youth recruitment, triggering resentment in some areas. One Iraqi activist notes that the organization often recruits children without the knowledge or approval of their families, leading to a drop in school attendance. A wave of conscription among youth in Mosul, Hawija, and Kirkuk in Iraq has in some cases led to kidnappings to coerce families to provide them with fighters (although reports could not be independently confirmed).

ISIS militants also arrested forty ex-fighters in the Nusra Front and rebel factions from the village of Abriha and town of al-Sahil and trained them in Shariah camps before sending them to battlefronts. Syrian activists said that ISIS also began forcing male members of foreign families that had come to live in the Islamic State, but did not want to fight, to participate in battles.

As a result, ISIS has suffered increased defections in Syria, particularly after the fall of Kobani. Militants have tried to return home or join other groups. ISIS executed 100 jihadists who attempted to defect. Defections have left the organization possibly facing a shortage of willing martyrs.

Other reports point to ISIS police arresting 400 fighters in Raqqa for not reporting for duty. The same Iraqi activist reported that the organization banned truck drivers from transporting ISIS fighters to limit desertion. In both Raqqa and Mosul, the transit of residents in and out of the city has been closely monitored.

Decreasing human resources may account for ISIS repositioning across areas under its control. ISIS had to transfer in late December 800 Chechens, Afghans, and Syrians with their families to the city of Tel Affar (31 miles west of Mosul), which was scene of heavy fighting. The number of ISIS checkpoints and patrols also dwindled in the Syrian border town of al-Bokamel in January with troops possibly funnelled into Iraq.

ISIS relies heavily on the loyalty of both its muhajireen (foreign fighters) base and ansar (local supporters). While the organization’s successes bolstered its appeal among foreign fighters, warlords and tribes whether in Syria or Iraq, new losses may be starting to chip away at its aura of power.

The rate of recruitment has dropped by more than half in February (only 54 recruited) compared with January 2015. Compare this figure to June 2014, when nearly 6,000 fighters had joined ISIS.

Growing defections, rising tensions, and declining local recruitment puts added pressure on ISIS and provides the U.S.-led coalition and the Baghdad government with a window of opportunity to degrade the organization. But in Iraq, other social, political and economic reasons account for local support of ISIS. Naji’s tactic using tribal antagonism to breed organizational loyalty may not have had enough time to sink in, but for many Sunnis—particularly in Iraq—no credible alternative to ISIS has emerged.

The Iraqi government will need to take concerted steps to diffuse sectarian tensions and present itself as that alternative. ISIS also benefits from the use of both Syrian and Iraqi territory according to its military needs. The anti-ISIS coalition will need a more comprehensive approach in Syria if it hopes to win the day.

Mona Alami is a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center currently reporting from Iraq. She is a French-Lebanese journalist and based in Beirut. Follow her on Twitter @monaalami. This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council’s website.

US-Backed Syrian Group Disbands – But Were They Ever Truly “Moderate” to Begin With?

March 3, 2015 / /

Surprise, surprise, Harakat Hazm (HH) – one of the US government’s favorite factions challenging the Asad regime in Syria – has completely collapsed after being routed by al-Nusra at one of their last remaining bases in Atarib. After the group was routed and announced its dissolution, al-Nusra began taking inventory of the new toys they seized such as TOW anti-tank missiles, night-vision optics and anti-air missiles – all courtesy of the Obama administration. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter since the group had been giving a lot of what they were receiving from the US to al-Nusra over the last 8 months. HH has been touted as being one of the last real “moderate” entities in the country. The problem with that is this statement is inaccurate, and only goes to show just how dangerously naive the Obama administration’s views are in this fight.

Syria: al-Qaeda Nusra Front ‘seizes’ hi-tech weapons after defeat of US-armed Harakat Hazm rebels
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-us-armed-harakat-hazm-rebels-disband-al-qaeda-nusra-front-captures-base-weapons-1490075

Main U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Disbanding, Joining Islamists
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/01/main-u-s-backed-syrian-rebel-group-disbanding-joining-islamists.html?via=desktop&source=twitter

Obama wants $500M to train, equip Syrian rebels
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/white-house-release-money-train-syria-rebels.html

reuters

Source: Reuters

We first wrote about HH’s alliance over the past year with some less than “moderate” groups back in our 20 JUL 14 piece titled “This is Why We Need to Avoid Giving Weapons to Anti-Asad Rebels.” The not-so-convenient truth is that HH had been actively conducting joint-operations with al-Nusra and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) and Islamic Army. HH, SRF and the Islamic Army were all established to put a “moderate” face on the Syrian rebels – although in actuality no such group exists. Over the past year HH had worked closely with SRF, whose leader, Jamal Marouf, has admitted to sharing weapons with al-Nusra and stated that “fighting al-Qaida (AQ) is not our problem.” Mutual ally and Islamic Front leader Zahran Aloush is a known Salafist who is all about waving the AQ flag on the battlefield. No, that man is not a “moderate,” and neither are any of the other groups we mentioned above. in fact, Aloush had participated in a joint-operation with al-Nusra in the attack on Adra in DEC 2013, which led to over 40 civilians being massacred. As for the Islamic Front, well, they were a subordinate organization under the al-Nusra banner but switched over to ISIS when the feud between the two jihadist organizations kicked into high-gear.

This is Why We Need to Avoid Giving Weapons to Anti-Asad Rebels
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=76

Islamists kill 15 Alawite and Druze civilians in Syria -activists
http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/12/12/syria-crisis-adra-idINDEE9BB0AR20131212

Chief of Syrian Revolutionaries Front says al Qaeda is ‘not our problem’
http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/04/chief_of_syrian_revolutionary.php

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 7.17.56 PM

Zahran Aloush: Syria’s biggest Hello Kitty fan
Source: kwout.com

The following excerpt from the LA Times article titled “Syria Rebels, Once Hopeful of U.S. Weapons, Lament Lack of Firepower” is quite revealing:

“Inside Syria we became labeled as secularists and feared Nusra Front was going to battle us,” Zeidan said, referring to an Al Qaeda-linked rebel group that has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. Then he smiled and added, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.”

Syria rebels, once hopeful of U.S. weapons, lament lack of firepower
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-harakat-hazm-20140907-story.html#page=1

By now some of our readers are probably thinking, “you can’t judge HH on what others do” – and you would be justified in those thoughts. Both the Obama administration and Senators John McCain and Lyndsey Graham have praised HH as being a “model for the type of group the US should be supporting.” Specifically, they’ve been praising HH as being a “secular” organization. However, the truth behind the group’s formation and history is very different than what has been sold to the msm and the American people. HH’s formation actually predates the Islamic Front and involves the establishment of the Harakat Zaman Muhammad (of which it was a part of) under the Quranic verse “And fight against disbelievers collectively. [9:36]” The effort involved the recreation of the al-Farouq Brigades (you know, the guys who force non-Muslims to pay the “jizya” or “tax” in the territories they seize) in a new form under new leadership for the purpose of uniting all Islamist groups in Syria at a later stage.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB – the Grandfather of the modern Sunni terrorist btw) put its full support behind the group, but the lack of a prominent face was an obstacle. The two individual who would fill this role are Aloush and Ahrar al-Sham Movement leader Hasan Aboud aka “Abu Abdullah al-Hamwi.” The idea at the time was for the movement to be “the lead” in the fight against the Asad regime and the Islamic State (IS) in Northern Syria. The Harakat Zaman Muhammad organization would later become what we know today as “HH” with Bilal Atar and Abdullah Awda as the “faces” of the organization to the west. The decision to change the name to “Harakat Hazm” was made by the MB leadership to give the entity a “secular” appearance so as to look more appealing to the west. In other words, the group wasn’t “secular” at all, and was really just the armed-wing of the MB that once again fooled a clueless Obama administration. Aside from the US, HH also received substantial assistance from Turkey and Qatar – who were likely the ones American weaponry were being funneled through.

Harakat Hazm: America’s new favorite jihadist group
http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/19874

The moderate rebels: A needle in a haystack
http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/moderate-rebels-needle-haystack

In addition to forcing non-Muslims to pay the jizya (which is pretty much protection money), HH’s friends the al-Farouq Brigades is also the organization that engages in eating the hearts of their enemies (doesn’t every moderate?):

 

It was sometime at the end of last summer that HH and al-Nusra had a falling out, which of course resulted in the group’s eventual disbandment. In SEP 14 HH began to show signs of moving towards the IS sphere of influence when they condemned US military airstrikes targeting IS positions in Northern Syria. By then, the group had started to experience mass defections to al-Nusra and IS. Here’s the official statement (from our friends at the Counter Jihad Report):

HH_statement

Lack of reliable partners in Syria poses daunting challenge to U.S.
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-islamic-state-challenges-20140924-story.html

You can find more HH info on the Counter Jihad Report’s website:

http://counterjihadreport.com/tag/harakat-al-hazm/

The Obama administration’s support provided to HH is a damning indictment of the lack of competence in the foreign policy and national security-arenas endemic from top to bottom. Not one person in the administration fully understands the nature of the threat nor do the individuals considered “Middle East subject matter experts” appear to know the difference between a jihadist and an actual moderate. Ironically, the Asad regime is the most moderate faction in Syria. Most people don’t realize that Asad married a Sunni woman and that Sunnis and Christians are represented throughout the government. In fact, the reason Asad remains in power is due to the Sunnis – the real moderates – who remained loyal to the regime. The same can also be said for the US government’s failure to provide adequate support to other moderates such as Jordan, Egypt, Libyan GEN Khalifa Haftar and the Kurdish factions.

But we’re not advocating an alliance with Asad. Far from it. We’re saying that the current situation was created by an Obama administration that was clearly in over its head when it supported the “Arab Spring,” the Islamists/jihadists driving the movement and the “moderates” that would later rise in places like Libya, Egypt and Syria. Had the Obama administration not supported the Arab Spring or pulled out of Iraq when it did all this would have likely never materialized. Unfortunately, the administration’s current rudderless IS strategy has only led to the violence in the region escalating to the point where we’re now faced with an IS that is spreading into Gaza, North Africa and the AF/PAK region like a cancer metastasizing in a weakened body. Now we have no choice but to put boots on the ground with a lax ROE and the full support to do what’s necessary to defeat this enemy – and the longer we put it off, the worst its going to get for all involved. Especially for our military. The world is burning, and President Obama is doing his best impersonation of Nero…

Links to Other Related Articles:

Obama’s ISIS Strategy: Failed Before it Started

Another Reason Obama’s ISIS Strategy Has Already Failed

The Asad Stratagem

Syrian Army Takes Advantage of US Airstrikes in Counter-Offensive

Islamic State Strength Underestimated: Already Eclipsed Al Qaida As Primary Threat

Also see:

ISIS Hammers Christian Towns in Syria for Third Day

REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS

REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS

Breitbart, by Katie Gorka, Feb. 25, 2015:

Today marks the third day in ISIS’ latest offensive against a string of Christian towns and villages in northeast Syria. According to Aziz Mirza, with the Syriac Cultural Association, speaking from Qamishli by phone today, ISIS is continuing to push forward in trying to take control of this predominantly Assyrian Christian region.

Mirza said an estimated 350-400 people are missing from 12 different villages, but it has been very difficult to confirm those numbers because all cell phones appear to be confiscated. When relatives have tried calling, members of ISIS answer the phones, Mirza said.

Kurdish and Christian fighters have been working together for the past year and half to protect this area from ISIS. The Christian fighters, who operate as the Syriac Military Council, had forces in 3 villages: Tel Hormizd, at the southern end of the Khabur valley, Tel Shamiram, at the northern end, and Tel Tawil on the northeast flank. The SMC and Kurdish (YPG) forces had been there since Feb 7, but with the pre-dawn attack that was launched on February 23rd, ISIS has now retaken control. So far, the Syriac Military Council has lost four fighters with another 12 deaths suspected but not yet confirmed.

ISIS is currently focusing its efforts on the town of Tel Tamar, which is the regional center. Yesterday, ISIS set off three car bombs just outside the barricades protecting Tel Tamar, near where the Syriac Military Council forces and Kurdish forces are headquartered. There were no casualties. Mirza also said that fighting ebbed somewhat on Tuesday because of heavy rains, but today, February 25, it was back at full force.

In a separate phone call, Sewerios Malke from the Syriac Military Council confirmed that ISIS is still trying to take control of the region and that they are trying to cross the Khabur river. The Kurdish and Syriac forces have been able to hold them back so far but it is uncertain how much longer that can last. He estimates the number of ISIS fighters at several thousand.

According to a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release, U.S. and coalition military forces have carried out airstrikes in the Khabur River region where this fighting is going on. Between 8 a.m. yesterday (Feb 24) and 8 a.m. today (Feb 25), local time, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft conducted nine airstrikes in Syria:

  • Near Hasakah, three airstrikes struck an ISIL vehicle.
  • Near Kobani, six airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units, an ISIL fighting position and destroyed six ISIL fighting positions.
AINA Media

AINA Media

However, both Malke and Mirza asserted that there were no airstrikes in the Khabur region, only further south, 22 kilometers below Qamishli. The stark contrast between the stories of hundreds or even thousands of ISIS fighters attacking villages, taking as many as 400 hostages, and three U.S. airstrikes in the same region that struck only one vehicle, suggests the U.S. may be missing the target.

Some have argued that without troops, or at least advisors, on the ground, there is insufficient intelligence to guide airstrikes. In addition, representatives of the Syriac forces have been making the case in Washington for the past several years that their location in Syria made them particularly vulnerable to attack by ISIS and they could be key players in the fight against ISIS. They were therefore lobbying to be included in the equipping and training of opposition forces in Syria. The State Department has confirmed that the Syriac forces were not included in the first round of training.

Katie Gorka is the president of the Council on Global Security. @katharinegorka.

Also see:

War on Christians: ISIS Goes on Church-Burning and Kidnapping Spree in Syria

Fighters from ISIS parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armoured vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, last year. ISIS militants have abducted at least 70 Assyrian Christians in Syria. (Associated Press)

Fighters from ISIS parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armoured vehicle in Mosul, Iraq, last year. ISIS militants have abducted at least 70 Assyrian Christians in Syria. (Associated Press)

Breitbart, by Katie Gorka, Feb. 24, 2015:

After the reports of attacks against Christian in Syria, Katie Gorka, President of the Council on Global Security, spoke directly to representatives of the Assyrian community currently under attack:

Around 4:00 in the morning on Monday, February 23rd, an estimated 1500 ISIS fighters attacked a series of Christian towns in northeast Syria, burning churches, taking as many as 90 hostages, and forcing hundreds to flee from their homes.

According to reports from the Syriac Military Council, a Christian self-defense organization, when ISIS fighters attacked the town of Tel Shamiram, they separated out the men, around 50 of whom they have taken into the mountains, and approximately 90 women and children are being held prisoner in the village by ISIS militants. Some residents were able to flee and they are currently sheltering in churches in Al-Hassaka and Al-Qamishli. According to one source, ISIS has taken 30 Christian young women and plans to distribute them as concubines in the town of Shadadeh.

Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, has made several recent visits to Washington, D.C. warning of the potential for these attacks and asking for U.S. support. He said Hassaka would no doubt be targeted because it separates ISIS in Syria from ISIS in Iraq. Ishak said that the Syriac Military Council had about 1100 troops, but weapons for only 500. The area is being defended by militia that include the Syriac Military Council (MFS), Christian police (Sutoro), the Khabur Guards, and the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG).

His Grace Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, Diocese of California, spoke earlier today with the Assyrian Bishop in the area where the attacks have taken place. Bishop Royel reported the following:

I was in contact around 3:00 a.m. this morning with our bishop who is in Hassaka. Over 400 families from the region of Khabour fled to Hassaka. They were brought to the cathedral. Bishop Afram Athneil received them. Initially they were housed in the church hall and in the bishop’s residence. Now they have been put up in homes in Hassaka and Qamishli. Qamishli is under the control of the government but Hassaka is not. The biggest fear is that ISIS is going to overrun the city of Hassaka which is where many Christians are now seeking protection. ISIS is attacking there because the Christians are there and Arab and Kurdish militia are there.

According to Bishop Afrem, the fighting began around 4:00 am Monday morning in the town of Tel Talmar, which is the regional center. The fighting became very intense and ISIS systematically began to take village by village along this 35 kilometer stretch of the Khabour River, all of which are populated by Assyrian Christians. In Tel Shamiram, 50 families have been taken out of their homes, the women and children are being kept in the school, and the village church has been burned. ISIS is saying they want to use the Christians as pawns in exchange for detainees.

In another village, Tel Hormizd, about 12-14 villagers were kidnapped and taken out of the village and nothing has been heard from them. The church there has also been burned down. 200 people were fleeing by car and bus from another village which the Bishop did not want to name in order to protect their flight. Tel Goran was also taken by ISIS and the fighting is currently heavy.

Bishop Royel has said the people of the region are desperate for help and he is asking American churches and Christians to condemn these latest actions of ISIS and to call on President Obama for immediate help to the region.

It is alleged that the Obama Administration did not include Christians from the north eastern region of Syria that is now under attack in its first round of training programs to train and equip the so-called moderate opposition forces. Whether Christians will be included in future training initiatives has not been determined.

Humanitarian assistance to the Christians under siege in northeast Syria can be donated through the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (ACERO).

Katie Gorka is the president of the Council on Global Security. Follow her at @katharinegorka.

Also see:

Islamic State Torches Churches, Takes 200 Christian Hostages, Western Forces Present Do Nothing

By Raymond Ibrahim, Feb.24, 2015:

In the early hours of Monday, February 23, Islamic State fighters attacked several Christian villages along the Khabur River in north eastern Syria. As many as 200 Christians—including women and children—were taken hostage.  Their families fear that they will either be sold as slaves and/or raped, or simply massacred, as many other Christian hostages of the Islamic State have been—most recently the 21 Coptic martyrs in Libya.

Several churches were also torched or damaged during the jihadi raid, including the church in Tel Hurmiz, one of the oldest churches in Syria, the Mar Bisho church in Tel Shamiran, the church in Qabr Shamiy and the church in Tel Baloua.

And, perhaps worst of all,this raid “brought to light deplorable conduct on the part of other persons,” namely the West.  According to Archbishop Hindo:

I wish to say quite clearly that we have the feeling of being abandoned into the hands of ISIS.  Yesterday American bombers flew over the area several times, but without taking action. We have a hundred Assyrian families who have taken refuge in Hassakè, but they have received no assistance either from the Red Crescent or from Syrian government aid workers, perhaps because they are Christians. The UN high commission for Refugees is nowhere to be seen.

BREAKING: Islamic State Attacks Assyrian Christian Villages in Northern Syria, Taking Captives and Torching Churches

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Feb. 24, 2015:

Breaking news late yesterday and this morning bring reports of an assault by the Islamic State in Northern Syria targeting Assyrian Christian villages along the Khabour River that began early yesterday morning. Other reports indicate that ISIS has taken captives and torched several churches, including one of the most ancient churches in Syria, and hundreds fleeing the area downriver to Hassake. ISIS is meeting resistance from Christian and Kurdish militias.

European Syriac Union rights activist and journalist David Vergili reports:

Assyrian Christian villages along the Khabour river in the Hassake region are under heavy attacks of ISIS. Hundred of people left the region and number of women and children have been kidnapped by ISIS. Clashes continue between MFS, YPG against ISIS.

On Monday around 5am ISIS carried out an attack on the Assyrian villages in the Khabour region leaving casualties and another exodus of Christians from the region. ISIS attacks are concentrated in the Khabour villages of Til Hirmis, Til Shamiram, Qabre Shamiye and Til Khebish. Local sources confirm that there are ongoing clashes in all front lines against ISIS. Various reports suggest casualties of civilians and burning of churches.

A Demand For Action, another Christian rights organization, published this map to show the area of activity:

B-l9kYKVEAAjdkg-e1424777712342

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reported late last night of captives taken and churches torched by ISIS (Warning: graphic images at link):

ISIS has abducted dozens of Assyrian men, women and children, including 12 from Tel Hurmiz, 15 from Tel Goran. They have been brought to Jabal Abdul Aziz. The residents of the villages of Tel Shamiran (approximately 50) and Tel Jazira (about 40) are being held captive in their own villages by ISIS.

According to a report by Newsweek, ISIS will use the Assyrian hostages for a prisoner swap with Kurdish fighters.

A number of churches have been destroyed, including the church in Tel Hurmiz, one of the oldest churches in Syria, the Mar Bisho church in Tel Shamiran, the church in Qabr Shamiy and the church in Tel Baloua.

The Newsweek report referenced above cited threats made against the lives of the captured Christian villagers if a prisoner exchange doesn’t happen:

The terrorist organization demanded a prisoner exchange with Kurdish fighters; they are seeking the release of ISIS members in exchange for the villagers. The exact number of prisoners ISIS is looking to swap for is not known. They have threatened the lives of the village men, estimated to be more than 100, if the swap does not go through.

A Reuters report published this morning provides a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that ISIS has taken at least 90 captives and notes the strategic importance of the area for Kurdish and Christian militias, as well for ISIS:

Syrian Kurdish militia have renewed their assault on the militants, launching two offensives against them in northeast Syria on Sunday, helped from U.S.-led air strikes and Iraqi peshmerga who have been shelling Islamic State-held territory from their side of the nearby border.

This part of Syria is strategically important in the fight against Islamic State because it borders territory controlled by the group in Iraq, where last year the ultra-hardline group committed atrocities against the Yazidi community.

Tel Tamr, a town near the Assyrian Christian villages where the abductions occurred, has witnessed heavy clashes between Islamic State fighters and the Kurdish YPG militia, the Observatory said.

Here are some related tweets with information on refugees and the militia response to the ISIS attack. Follow David Vergili and A Demand For Action on Twitter for updates.

civilians fleeing Tell Hamis

Assyrians flee Khabour

save Assyria tweet

Christian fighter

Christian militia

Read more