Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe

Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.

Tom_Large (1)By

Chairman Rohrabacher, Ranking Member Keating and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the threat posed by Islamist foreign fighters returning home to Europe. We have been asked to answer the question, “How are European countries addressing the threat, and how can the US assist in those efforts to thwart future terrorist attacks?” I offer my thoughts in more detail below.

But I begin by recalling the 9/11 Commission’s warning with respect to failed states. “In the twentieth century,” the Commission’s final report reads, “strategists focused on the world’s great industrial heartlands.” In the twenty-first century, however, “the focus is in the opposite direction, toward remote regions and failing states.” A few sentences later, the Commission continues:

If, for example, Iraq becomes a failed state, it will go to the top of the list of places that are breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home. Similarly, if we are paying insufficient attention to Afghanistan, the rule of the Taliban or warlords or narcotraffickers may reemerge and its countryside could once again offer refuge to al Qaeda, or its successor.

Those words were written more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, they still ring true today, not just for the US, but also for Europe. Except, we no longer have to worry about just Iraq becoming a failed state. We now have to contend with a failed state in Syria as well. And Syria is not “remote.” It is much easier for foreign fighters to travel to Syria today than it was for new jihadists to get to Afghanistan in the 1980s. This is one reason that there are likely more foreign fighters in Syria than there were in Afghanistan at the height of the jihad against the Soviets. Estimates vary, but the total number of foreign recruits in Syria easily tops 10,000. A CIA source recently told CNN “that more than 15,000 foreign fighters, including 2,000 Westerners, have gone to Syria.” They “come from more than 80 countries.”

This, of course, is an unprecedented security challenge and one that counterterrorism and intelligence officials will be dealing with for some time to come. It requires exceptional international cooperation to track the threats to Europe and elsewhere emerging out of Iraq and Syria. My thoughts below are focused on what I consider to be some of the key aspects of dealing with this threat.

At the moment, most people are understandably focused on the Islamic State (often called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, or ISIS). There is certainly a strong possibility that some foreign fighters will return from fighting in the Islamic State’s ranks to commit an act of terror at home, either on their own accord or under the direction of senior terrorists.

However, I also want to focus our attention today one of the other significant threat streams coming out of Syria. Al-Qaeda’s official branch in the country, Jabhat al-Nusrah, has experienced al-Qaeda veterans in its ranks. I think they pose more of a near-term threat when it comes to launching catastrophic attacks in the West than do their Islamic State counterparts. And even though al-Nusrah and the Islamic State have been at odds, we should not rule out the possibility that parts of each organization could come together against their common enemies in the West. Indeed, two of al-Qaeda’s leading branches are currently encouraging the jihadists in Syria to broker a truce, such that they focus their efforts against the US and its allies. There is also a large incentive for terrorists in both organizations to separately lash out at the West, portraying any such attacks as an act of retaliation for the American-led bombings.

Read more at Long War Journal

Where Did IS Come From?

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
September 12, 2014

1062The simple answer – and the one you’ll hear most often – is that IS, or Islamic State (formerly ISIS) emerged out of al-Qaida, gathering strength through the ongoing civil war in Syria and unrest in Iraq.

But that’s only part of the story: the rest is based in Europe (and even in America), where governments have continually – if unwittingly – financed programs that breed radicalization in Muslim communities there. Now, more and more of those radical Muslims, most born and bred in the West, are joining IS and its jihad; and in their efforts to prevent it, Europe’s leaders in particular may in fact be strengthening the threat.

In fact, as IS strengthens its grip in Iraq, European Muslim youth are increasingly drawn to join. Following the gruesome horror of IS’s beheadings and executions these past few weeks, the number of Belgian youth heading off to join the terrorist group in Syria increased significantly, according to Belgian security agency OCAP. NotedBelgium’s Nieuwsblad: “The recent increase is striking, and is according to our information partly explainable by the enormous amount of propaganda that ISIS produces on social media. The spread of shocking images, such as the mass execution of 250 Syrian soldiers, and the execution of American journalist James Foley, seem only to send Muslim youth towards radicalization.”

It’s not just in Belgium.

Last week, Dutch officials arrested two families from the town of Huizen as they prepared to join the jihad in Syria, confiscating the passports of all parents and their six children, aged eight months to nine years old. Around the same time, the Dutch-American radical known as Jermaine W successfully departed for Syria with his wife and children. Jermaine, whose father was American, is well known in the Netherlands as a member of Holland’s extremist Hofstadgroep, and as a friend of Hofstadgroep leader Mohammed Bouyeri, the terrorist killer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Jermaine was arrested in 2004 for a letter in which he outlined plans to murder activist and then-Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but was released in 2006 on the basis of “insufficient evidence.”

Many of these European jihadists, like Jermaine, travel with their children, whom they then place in jihadist training camps in the hopes of producing a new, stronger generation of Islamic warriors for the Islamic State. Recent reporting from VICE shows a Belgian father coaching his very young son to kill “unbelievers,” while other children play and train with rifles.

But the problem did not begin with emigration to Syria. It began with the radicalization of these Muslims while they lived on European soil, attended European mosques and joined European programs for Muslim youth – programs frequently created in an effort to prevent such radicalization. But according to a report in Dutch newsweekly Elsevier, many presumably moderate mosques have used government funds to subsidize visits from extremist imams such as Usman Ali, who has given speeches at the Greenwich Islamic Center. Ali’s fee, according to Elsevier, was paid through a €75,000 government subsidy ostensibly aimed at “preventing radicalization.” By 2010, when government subsidies to the center had expanded to €168,000, Ali was serving on its board.

Just who is Usman Ali? Among other things, he is known for showing videos of the 9/11 attacks to children, while preaching “Allah is the Almighty,” (“allahu akbaar”) reports Elsevier. The leader of what has been called a “powerful web of Islamic radicals and terror convicts,” he has also been accused of inspiring Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, in the horrific almost-beheading of British soldier Lee Rigby outside the military barracks in Woolwich, South East London. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ali denied the allegations.

Similar situations abound in the Netherlands, most notably at Amsterdam’s Blue Mosque, which is governed via an intricate web of organizations and finances by the Muslim Brotherhood, owned by the government of Kuwait, and led by Kuwait’s Minister of Religious Affairs. Among the speakers invited there: Khalid Yasin, known largely for being the inspiration for “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Closer to home, the Muslim Association of Canada, which has received funding from the government of Alberta, has in turn financed Hamas and the Islamic Relief and Human Concern International (IRHCI). According to documents uploaded to Point de Bascule, a conservative web site based in Canada, “On its website, Islamic Relief Canada lists eight categories of zakat beneficiaries. These eight categories match exactly the categories listed in the Muslim Brotherhood-endorsed manual of sharia Umdat al-Salik.” The organization also specifically encourages charity for “Muslims waging jihad: those struggling in the path of Allah.”

Western governments likely are not knowingly funding such projects: but as Elsevierpoints out, “German security agencies have warned for years – such as in their annual report for 2007 – that moderate Islamic organizations can breed radical groups. While they do not recruit youths for the jihad, by encouraging a strong ‘Islamic identity,’ they make the risk of radicalization that much greater.”

Now Europe is proposing new solutions to tidy up this mess. Top among them: revoking the passports of those who go to Syria, or who are stopped at the border or en route, as in the case of the two families from Huizen.

But is this really the best answer? The Muslims who make the journey for jihad are already radicalized. They have already turned against the West, and committed themselves to battling against it – violently, and without mercy. Their minds and hearts are with the Islamic State, even as they live in Paris or New York, in Amsterdam or Detroit. Withholding their passports only keeps them where they are – among us, their enemies, the ones they plan to destroy.

The uncomfortable, tragic truth is we helped create their murderous mindsets, their hatred of the West. That was our mistake. We should not make another by keeping them here, inside our own homes. Let them go. And lock the doors behind them.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.

Is Obama’s ISIS Strategy to Make It Someone Else’s Problem?

140907obamaconfusedCenter for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler:

The New York Times is previewing what they say will be President Obama’s strategy for deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), and its newly established “caliphate” during his speech to the nation Wednesday. According to the report, which cites unnamed senior administration officials, the strategy involves a series of air strikes aimed at degrading ISIS’ capabilities, followed by arming and training the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters, and possibly Sunni tribal forces, before utilizing those forces to conduct an armed incursion into ISIS’ Syrian stronghold, in a campaign which the New York Times notes will have “no obvious precedent”, and which the administration forecasts to take approximately three years:

The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation — destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria — might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months. Mr. Obama will use a speech to the nation on Wednesday to make his case for launching a United States-led offensive against Sunni militants gaining ground in the Middle East, seeking to rally support for a broad military mission while reassuring the public that he is not plunging American forces into another Iraq war.

If the New York Times piece does indeed reflect the Obama Administration view (and there is no reason to suggest that it does not), it suffers from a number of potential problems.

Those waiting for a unified Iraqi central government which is more inclusive and alleviates the concerns of Iraq’s Sunni minority may be waiting forever. The degree of influence exerted over the Iraqi government by Iran, and Iran’s need to rely  on Shia militia fighters to bolster defenses of both Baghdad, and importantly, Damascus will make inclusion difficult. The same Iranian IRGC commander Qassem Sulemani, responsible for propping up Assad, was reported to have also personally overseen the retaking the town of Amerli, Iraq from ISIS. Allowing the U.S. to arm Kurdish and Sunni forces, who, having beaten ISIS may go on to finally finish off Assad is not in Tehran’s best interest. And making an inclusive government a requirement means that Iran is given the ability to play spoiler on the plan. I’ve expressed support in the past for arming and training Kurdish troops, but we shouldn’t wait for the Iraqi central government to meet some “inclusiveness” standard before we do so. That can be done now. The Kurds reportedly offered to serve as ground forces against ISIS even before Mosul fell to the jihadists.

Secondly, the assumption by the administration, that Sunni tribes will prefer an Iraqi government under Iranian tutelage to what the New York Times called the “the harsh Shariah law[ISIS] has imposed” may underestimate both the popularity of shariah law, as well as the antipathy towards the Shia militants used by Baghdad to repress the Sunnis. While ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate has been widely rejected in the Islamic world, the Sunni uprising ISIS has led against Baghdad has not. Consider this statement against ISIS’s caliphate, from Muslim Brotherhood shariah jurist Yusuf Al Qaradawi’s International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS):

The IUMS has followed the statements issued by the organization called the “Islamic State” which sprang forth from Iraq, with other Iraqi forces, defending Iraqi Sunnis, and others who were oppressed in that country. We rejoiced over them and we welcomed their mobilization to reject oppression and tyranny in the Earth.”

It may be the case that Sunni forces choose ISIS over an Iranian puppet regardless.

Finally, given the projected timeline of “years” to defeat ISIS, with a 36-month campaign  in Syria commencing only after the arming and training has taken place, and one wonders if the Obama Administration isn’t aware of these flaws in their logic.

Perhaps the real plan is to delay until ISIS is someone else’s problem?

Also see:

Global drive to stop jihadis going to Syria, Iraq

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By Lori Hinnant:

PARIS: New laws make it easier to seize passports. Suspected fighters are plucked from planes. Authorities block finances and shut down radical mosques. And behind the scenes, Silicon Valley firms are under increasing pressure to wipe extremist content from websites as Western intelligence agencies explore new technologies to identify returning fighters at the border.

Governments from France to Indonesia have launched urgent drives to cut off one of the ISIS’ biggest sources of strength: foreign fighters. At the heart of the drive is mounting concern that the organization is training the next generation of international terrorists.

Those fears have gained urgency from the group’s horrific methods: A British militant is suspected of beheading two American journalists, and a Frenchman who fought with the ISIS is accused in a deadly attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium.

With each video that ricochets around social networks, the militants gain new recruits.

Britain has taken a particularly active role in censoring content deemed to break the country’s strict rules against extremist propaganda. U.K. officials recently revealed they have been granted “super flagger” status on sites such as YouTube, meaning their requests to remove videos with grisly content or that encourage terrorism are fast-tracked.

Over the past four years, an Internet-focused counterterror unit of London’s Metropolitan Police instigated the removal of 45,000 pieces of content, the force said last week. ISIS, however, have just as quickly found other, more decentralized platforms.

In the United States, officials are trying to identify potential jihadists by comparing travel patterns with those of people who have already joined the fight, a counterterrorism official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.

A French law to seize passports is being fast-tracked through parliament, and the government is ramping up arrests of increasingly young teenagers making plans for jihad.

That can mean last-minute arrests at the airport, as happened to a 16-year-old girl and her alleged recruiter trying to pass through security in Nice Saturday, and to a man at Australia’s Melbourne Airport who was pulled off a flight last week carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash and ISIS’ black-and-white flag in his luggage.

Britain proposed laws Monday to let police seize the passports of those suspected of having traveled abroad to fight, while the Netherlands is making it easier to strip people of their nationality and go after Internet providers that spread propaganda.

In Bosnia, authorities carried out a major anti-terror sweep Wednesday. They detained 16 people suspected of fighting in Syria and Iraq and recruiting Balkan men to join militants there.

Anti-jihadist efforts are being ramped up in traditionally Muslim countries as well: Indonesia is breaking up meetings of ISIS supporters and seizing T-shirts and other items promoting the group, and Tunisia is shutting down mosques and suspected financiers.

For the radicals who have already reached Syria, the focus of European spy agencies is on trying to identify them when they return. That can mean scouring social media sites for photos of foreign fighters or electronic intercepts for hints of terrorist activity abroad.

Officials are considering the deployment of more advanced techniques like voice recognition to identify suspected jihadis at border control by matching their conversations to those heard on militants’ videos, former U.K. counterterrorism chief Bob Quick told the Associated Press earlier this year.

There is huge interest, he said, in “being able to identify these people at the border.”

The concern is that returning fighters will launch attacks at home. Australia draws on lessons from Afghanistan a decade ago, saying of the 25 citizens who returned to Australia after fighting against Western interests there, two-thirds became involved in terrorist activities back home. Some remain in prison.

“The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament Monday. “People who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law-abiding citizens should they return to Australia.”

A compilation of government estimates shows more than 2,000 people with European passports have fought or are fighting in Syria and Iraq – with most looking to join ISIS.

Read more at Daily Star

 

US-Iranian military, intelligence cooperation in war on ISIS reaps first successes in Syria and Iraq

IraqSyriaBombing

DEBKAfile, Sep. 5, 2014:

At least 18 foreign ISIS fighters including Americans and Europeans were killed Thursday, Sept. 4, in a Syrian air raid of the Al Qaeda-ISIS’ northern Syrian headquarters in the Gharbiya district of Raqqa. The raid caught a number of high Al Qaeda commanders and a large group of foreign adherents assembled at the facilty.

A second group of high ISIS officers were killed or injured in another Syrian air raid over their base in Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that top men of the Islamist terrorist group were holding meetings at both places Thursday to coordinate IS strike plans in Syria and Iraq.  For Syria, these plans center on the Deir a-Zor and Al Qaim areas, while in Iraq, they focus on targets in the east and center of the country.

The twin Syrian air offensive coincided with the opening of the two-day NATO Summit outside the Welsh town of Newport .

The information about the two Al Qaeda meetings at Raqqa and Abu Kamal could have come from only two sources: US surveillance satellites and aircraft or Iranian agents embedded at strategic points across Syria.

Syria does not have the necessary intelligence capabilities for digging out this kind of information. Nor does its air force normally exhibit the surgical precision displayed in the two strikes on Al Qaeda bases.

It is therefore more than likely that they owed their success to the widening military and intelligence cooperation between the United State and Iran in Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama will have taken his seat at the NATO summit to discuss ways of fighting ISIS after word of the successful Syrian strikes was already in his pocket. While they must be credited to top-quality US aerial surveillance over Syria and Iraq, they were undoubtedly made possible by the Obama administration’s deepening military and intelligence ties with Iran.

Many of the allies present at Newport will not welcome these tidings – Britain, Germany and Australia, in particular. They deeply resent being displaced as America’s senior strategic partners by the Revolutionary Republic of Iran, after their long partnership with the US in fighting terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But they will find it hard to argue with success.

On Aug. 31, our military sources reveal, US and Iranian special forces fighting together, broke the 100-day IS siege of the eastern Iraqi town of Amerli, 100 km from the Iranian border, to score a major victory in their first joint military ground action.

Then, Wednesday, Sept. 3, US jets struck an IS base in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, killing its commander, Abu Hajar Al-Sufi, and two lieutenants of the IS chief Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi.
While President Obama has denied having a strategy for fighting ISIS, a working mechanism appears to have been put in place to support a trilateral military offensive against al Qaeda’s Islamist State. The successful attacks in the last 24 hours were apparently made possible by this mechanism: Iranian intelligence collected US surveillance data from the Americans and passed it on to Syria for action.

Also see:

Kurdistan deputy PM: ‘Great imbalance’ between weapons used by Kurdish forces, ISIS

(Go to 8:14 in the video to see interview with Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani)

Fox News:

Kurdistan Regional Government Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani told Fox News’ Bret Baier Wednesday that there is a “great imbalance” between the weaponry used by the Islamic State militants and that of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces, imploring the U.S. to provide the Kurds with advanced weapons.

Talabani said on “Special Report with Bret Baier” that the caliber of the weapons used by the Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is far greater than that of the Kurdish forces.

“There is a great imbalance in the weaponry because ISIS have state of-the-art, U.S.-supplied weaponry that they were able to take with ease from the Iraq armed forces,” he said.

Talabani was referring to the fact that the militant group seized a large arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons from the Iraqi army when the group captured the city of Mosul. In contrast, Talabani said the Kurdish forces are working with decades-old Soviet weaponry previously used in many other battles.

“Our weaponry cannot be compared to the weaponry that ISIS has, but we have the heart, the spirit, the bravery, and we have the dedication required to win this fight,” he said, “if that is coupled with upgraded weaponry, with updated cooperation with our friends and allies in the United States, we will have no doubt eliminate ISIS from Iraq.”

Talabani emphatically insisted that if the U.S. would supply the Kurdish peshmerga security forces with advanced weaponry, the Kurdish troops can be an effective, boots-on-the-ground force to drive out the militants.

“Collectively Iraq, Kurdistan and the United States can do this, can accomplish this mission and drive ISIS from Iraq,” he said. “But this requires decisive action and decisive action now.”

The U.S. has provided small arms and mortars to the Kurds, but has not armed them directly. A defense official told Fox News Wednesday that the U.S. is not planning on changing its policy.

“The Department of Defense has not provided direct arms to the Kurds and has no plans to do so in the future,” the official said.

Kurdish Civilians: ‘ISIL is Afraid of Us’

 

Washington Free Beacon, By Stephen Gutowski:

As President Obama struggles to create strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), Vice News went into the trenches with what may be the only effective boots currently on the ground: the Kurds.

Fresh off its series inside the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorist group, Vice interviewed Kurds pushing back against the terrorists’ advance on the other side of the battle lines. The Kurdish fighters they interviewed on the outskirts of Kirkuk in northern Iraq are defiant and confident.

“Our comrades are well trained; they’re professional,” a PKK district commander identified as Agid said. “That’s why ISIL is afraid of us.”

Civilians living in the frontline city remain concerned about ISIL, however.

“We are under threat from terrorist groups,” a local Kurdish villager said. “They consider us infidels.”

Like ISIL, the United States has declared the Kurdish PKK a terrorist group. Many of the fighters insisted they are nothing like ISIL.

“Unlike ISIL, our ideology views are not based on terror,” a masked PKK fighter said. “We haven’t slaughtered anyone, nor have we oppressed any other group.”

“We consider Turkmen, Sunni Arabs, and Shiites as our people,” Agid said.

Since President Obama has refused to commit any significant American ground force to fighting ISIL, the PKK and other Kurdish fighters may shoulder the burden of the fight against the most active terrorist group.

Original ISIS Video: Exclusive Analysis CIA Gary Berntsen

 

Breitbart:

The first minute of the infamous ISIS has never been shown on any major news outlet … until now. Also, exclusive extended interview with former CIA Station Chief Gary Berntsen.

On three separate occasions, Berntsen led several of CIA’s most important counter-terrorism deployments including the United States’ response to the East Africa Embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

Berntsen is one of the CIA’s most decorated agents receiving awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal in 2000 and in 2004 the prestigious Intelligence Star (only a few dozen CIA officers have received this award-most posthumously).

Follow The United West on Twitter @TheUnitedWest

HANNA: The Ethics Of Fighting With Terrorists

militantTruth Revolt, by Rachael Hanna, Aug. 9, 2014:

The United States is supporting, funding, and arming “terrorists.” Not through back channels, middlemen, Swiss bank accounts or CIA covert operations, but openly and publicly. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was designated as a foreign terrorist organization on October 8, 1997 by the U.S. Department of State after thirteen years of insurgency, including bombing attacks and kidnappings, against Turkish military personnel and citizens. Aside from its use of terrorist tactics, the PKK found itself on the wrong side of the strategically crucial alliance between the United States and Turkey. Now, however, the United States is actively supporting the PKK rebels in their fight against the Islamic State (IS). Additionally, the United States is arming the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to combat IS; these two political parties were classified as “Tier III” terrorist organizations for their role in the armed uprising against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, although Senator John McCain introduced a Senate amendment last November to have these groups removed from the terror list.

For months now, news headlines have updated the world on the Islamic State’s terrifyingly swift march through Iraq, as militants captured the major cities of Tikrit and Mosul and approached Baghdad and Erbil, where the United States retains military bases. Thousands, most notably the Christians of Mosul and the Yazidis trapped on the Sinjar Mountains, have been slaughtered or forced to flee their homes by IS militants. The Iraqi army failed to stop the onslaught of the Islamic State, even after the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters joined forces with them. But now, IS’s conquests have temporarily stalled in Iraq, due largely to the guerrilla fighters of the PKK, who have allied with the Peshmerga, their long-time rivals, to take back the Mosul dam with the aid of U.S. air strikes. This is good news for the embattled Iraqis and for the United States, which has suffered a loss of international respect for failing to intervene in the civil war and protect persecuted religious minorities sooner. However, these new Kurdish allies may create a legal problem for the United States concerning its terrorism laws.

A Troubled History

The U.S. government has a history of arming controversial rebel groups, beginning with its global mission to prevent the spread of communist ideology in the aftermath of World War II and continuing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with groups fighting against Islamic extremists and dictators. Major operations include those in Honduras, Chile, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and now Iraq.

Some of the most infamous rebel groups to receive U.S. support were the Contras, groups of guerrilla fighters working to overthrow the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. In 1981, the Reagan Administration began financing and arming the rebels. This policy became controversial, not only because of the entanglement in the Iran-Contra Affair, but also because the Contras allegedly engaged in serious and frequent human rights abuses, including attacking and murdering non-combatant civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Unsurprisingly, the Contras were never listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, but under current U.S. law, the group likely warranted the designation; 18 U.S. Code § 2331 defines “international terrorism” as:

violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

Around the same time, on the other side of the world, the United States was arming another group of rebel fighters—the mujahideen of Afghanistan. Beginning in 1979 and continuing through the 1980s until the collapse of the Soviet Union, mujahideen fighters received weapons and training from the CIA to push back Soviet forces and topple the communist government in Kabul. Unlike the U.S.-backed Contras, the mujahideen successfully drove out the Soviets, and liberated Afghanistan from communism. The ideology that succeeded this regime was even worse.

Dealing with the Consequences

From the U.S.-trained and -armed mujahideen sprung Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, responsible for the 9/11 attacks and deaths of more than 2,200 American soldiers and an estimated 20,000 Afghan civilians in the ground war in Afghanistan. A similarly dangerous and potentially more deadly situation is now unfolding with the Islamic State. Stalling in Iraq, IS has turned its attention to a renewed offensive in northern Syria, using U.S. Humvees captured from the faltering Iraqi army to transport militants and weapons across the border. Armed with American weapons, IS has increased its fighting capabilities and emboldened its fighters, which has added the brutal and tragic beheading of American journalist James Foley to its death toll.

While airstrikes in Iraq have been instrumental in the pushback against IS, President Obama has yet to authorize additional strikes in Syria; for now, America’s solution to the carnage wrought by IS is largely to fight terrorists with other terrorists. It goes without saying that IS must be stopped as quickly and effectively as possible. With an estimated 20,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, the PKK are by far the most experienced and well-trained group to lead a counter-ground attack against IS in northern Iraq and Syria, especially with American air support. After three decades of insurgency with Turkey, PKK rebels are battle-tested and well organized, whereas the Peshmerga and other Kurdish fighters have far less experience and have proven unable to take IS head on. The PKK’s support of besieged minorities and civilians against IS has spurred a lobbying effort in the United States to have the group taken off the State Department’s terrorist organization list. Since a cease-fire agreement with Turkey in March of 2013, the PKK has largely aborted the use of terrorist tactics; however, the group has launched several attacks against Turkish security forces in recent weeks, which could undermine peace negotiations and the recent attempt to declassify it as a terrorist organization.

Fighting in the Grey

It is difficult to determine whether the Contras should have been designated as a terrorist group or whether the United States should have been more cautious about arming the Afghan mujahideen; even hindsight isn’t 20/20. Supporting the PKK may well turn out to be a brilliant strategic move if it leads to the destruction of IS. Nonetheless, in this moment, the PKK is a terrorist organization, and that may put the United States government in a legally grey area. 18 U.S. Code § 2339B states, “Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

This section of the law would seemingly prohibit the United States from supporting the PKK, but a later section of the same law states, “No person may be prosecuted under this section in connection with the term ‘personnel’, ‘training’, or ‘expert advice or assistance’ if the provision of that material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization was approved by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Attorney General. The Secretary of State may not approve the provision of any material support that may be used to carry out terrorist activity.” This is the exception. As long as the “material support” provided by the United States is not used in a terrorist act, the U.S. government, with approval from both the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, can support foreign terrorist groups. Currently, the PKK is working to defeat IS; killing armed combatants is a legitimate act of war, not terrorism, so it seems that the United States is not acting illegally. However, there is a possibility that arms provided indirectly to the PKK through the Iraqi army and other Kurdish groups could eventually be turned against Turkish security forces and civilians, the latter of which would be an act of terror against a U.S. ally.

A Country Without a Moral Conscious?

What do these situations and potential scenarios mean for U.S. terrorism laws? The point is not whether the United States might entangle itself in grey areas of the laws concerning terrorism; it likely already has. The real question is, do these laws hold any weight? Do they have anything meaningful to contribute to the country’s foreign policy principles and decisions? The United States has chosen not to label groups as terrorist organizations if it is politically inconvenient or would get in the way of a greater policy objective; it provides funding and arms to rebel groups it cannot control, and who have often turned against the United States at a later date; most recently, it is using terrorists to fight other terrorists. If not illegal, this part of American history at least presents a moral predicament, one that we are actively dealing with in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq. Laws are fundamentally impositions of morality on society, but if the laws we write do not create a guiding moral framework, and instead allow us to do what is most convenient, expedient, or politically popular in the moment without serious regard to a higher set of common ethical principles, then where does a secular society based on the rule of law derive its morality from?

Last year, President Obama, now infamously, said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria constituted a moral red line that, once crossed, would result in severe consequences for the Assad regime. This ended up being an empty threat when proposed airstrikes against Syrian military targets failed to gain support on either side of the aisle in Congress. The decisions that need to be made regarding policy in Middle East are complicated, and they are rarely black or white. But that is the entire point of having a strong set of moral principles—you stick to them even when the choices are difficult or unpopular, or when cutting corners might be easier. The question is, what set of moral principles does the United States have, and do its leaders have the backbone to uphold them?

Rachael Hanna ’16 is an Associate World Editor for the Harvard Political Review. Follow her @rhanna213.

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Iraq’s Jihad: Past as Prologue

plus ça change…

American Thinker, By Andrew G. Bostom, June 8, 2005: 

We are now in the middle of a full—blown Jihad, that is to say we have against us the fiercest prejudices of a people in a primeval state of civilization.

Gertrude Bell, Baghdad, Iraq, September 5, 1920

Gertrude Bell (Wikipedia)

Gertrude Bell (Wikipedia)

 

The carnage in Iraq continues——much as Bell described 85 years ago——despite Saddam Hussein’s removal, and capture, along with many of his former high ranking administrators.  And this bloody contemporary “insurgency” is also a jihad—waged by jihadists of two ilks: Al Qaeda types (like Zarqawi) united with so—called “secular” Baathist jihadists. This is hardly surprising as Baathist Arabism is deeply rooted in Islam, and bears no resemblance to Western conceptions of secularism. (Other than perhaps Saddam Hussein’s expensive ‘secular’ wardrobe—as Fouad Ajami once uttered on live television, doing his best Saddam impersonation, to a stunned Dan Rather: ‘You wear pants…I wear pants!’).

Indeed, the very founder of the Baath Party, Michel Aflaq, was a Greek Orthodox Christian who converted to Islam, and declared emphatically, ‘Islam is to Arabism what bones are to the flesh.’ (For an enlightening discussion of the Baathism is secularism canard, see this blog by Professor Frank Salameh  , Monday May, 9, 2005, ‘The Myth of Arab Nationalism’). The Baathists just added another incendiary element to Iraq’s long brewing cauldron of sectarian strife, which was so apparent during the British attempt at statecraft during the 1920s, through early 1930s.

It is edifying to review that experience through the writings, and unfulfilled hopes of the British diplomat, Gertrude Bell. One wishes that a careful reading and thoughtful discussion of Bell’s detailed analyses were a required exercise for all our policymaking elites and chattering classes. Regardless, Bell’s narrative sounds eerily familiar as the cast of characters—from the 1920s, versus the present—seems quite literally frozen in time: Shi’ites led by the very same Sadr family; irredentist Sunnis educated in the Wahhabi tradition; Kurdish ‘separatists'; and the indigenous, pre—Islamic community of Assyrian Christians, soon to be preyed upon, primarily by their traditional Kurdish Muslim enemies, joined by the other Muslim communities.

Fond Foolishness Redux — Iraq Through Gertrude Bell’s Prism

Gertrude Bell (1868—1926) was a brilliant archaeologist and explorer, who traveled extensively in the Middle East, later becoming a British intelligence officer and diplomat in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Due to her unparalleled knowledge of the Middle East, Bell was made part of the delegation to the Paris Conference of 1919, and worked subsequently with British officials attempting to create the modern state of Iraq from three disparate ethnic and religious vilayets (i.e., Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra) of the collapsed Ottoman Empire.

Bell, perhaps the most important female Civil Servant in the entire British Empire during this period, also persuaded Winston Churchill to appoint Faisal, the recently deposed King of Syria, as the first King of Iraq. Her letters written from Baghdad, excerpted below, were originally published in a compilation, ‘The Letters of Gertrude Bell’, [Volume II, New York, 1927]. Bell’s brief, worried comments about the Assyrians foreshadowed their terrible plight, within seven years of her death.

In the last years of her life, Gertrude Bell created, and was the first Director of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum; she died in 1926, and may have committed suicide. Bell’s utopian dreams for Iraq, what the historian Elie Kedourie termed her ‘…fond foolishness…thinking to stand godmother to a new Abbasid Empire…’,  went unfulfilled. Indeed, one of her worst fears was realized: Muslim violence directed against the Assyrian Christian minority.

Read more at American Thinker

Iraqi Sunnis who fought al-Qaeda not keen to quell ISIS

Tribal fighters carrying their weapons pose for photographs during an intensive security deployment to fight against ISIS in the town of Haditha, northwest of Baghdad. (File photo: Reuters)

Tribal fighters carrying their weapons pose for photographs during an intensive security deployment to fight against ISIS in the town of Haditha, northwest of Baghdad. (File photo: Reuters)

By Dina al-Shibeeb, Al Arabiya News, Aug. 29, 2014:

While Iraqi Sunni tribes were crucial in defeating al-Qaeda in 2005, they have not shown the same determination in battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite reports of them fighting the militant group.

Political observers say this is due to the disfranchisement of the Sunni population by outgoing Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“Malki’s government and its Iranian allies suppressed the Iraqi Sunnis so much that ISIS was able to sweep through Sunni areas without much resistance at first because of resentment toward the premier,” Walid Phares, an advisor to the U.S. Congress on the Middle East, told Al Arabiya News.

“ISIS is taking advantage and seizing more land, power, and eliminating Arab Sunni moderates in Iraq,” Phares said.

Michael Pregent, an adjunct lecturer at the National Defense University in Washington, said the central government broke its promise to integrate 90,000 Sunnis who fought al-Qaeda into the security apparatus, and provide them with jobs.

“They helped get rid of al-Qaeda, but the government fired all of them and put a lot of their leaders in jail,” Pregent, a former U.S. Army officer who was embedded with Iraqi Kurdish forces, told Al Arabiya News.

“The problem is that the government viewed them as a threat” because of the number of Sunni fighters, he added.

Phares said: “ISIS knows that the only possible threat against them, short of an all-out international ground campaign, is an uprising by [Sunni] tribes.”

Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, head of the Dulaim tribe, on Saturday urged Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government, despite designated Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi being considered more moderate than Maliki.

Hatem also called on Sunni authorities to fight Shiite militias.

Similarly, on Aug. 17 the Revolutionary Tribal Council called for the formation of regional guards to protect Anbar province.

It called on the international community to label “crimes by Shiite militias as terrorism,” and to “confront” them “the same way they are confronting ISIS in Kurdistan and Mosul.”

However, Sunni leader Ahmed Abu Risha has vowed to take revenge on ISIS for killing his nephew Mohammed Khamis.

Abu Risha said fighting ISIS was a “duty,” taking a similar stance to that of the central government in Baghdad.

Abu Risha met with the head of the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, on Thursday, and both confirmed the importance of forming a government.

Analysts predict that Sunnis will turn on ISIS.

“Soon, ISIS will start oppressing [Sunnis] as well,” Phares said. “Sunni moderates will rise, but chances are that ISIS will meet them with extreme violence.”

The unlikely alliance between ISIS and remnants of late President Saddam Hussein’s regime seems to be unravelling.

On July 14, Reuters reported clashes between ISIS and the Naqshbandi Army, led by Saddam loyalists, which killed at least 12.

“ISIS is now targeting the Naqashbandis, and is trying to disarm them. ISIS is acting strategically. They’re pre-empting,” said Phares.

Pregent said ISIS “relies on intimidation, fear, services, rewards and punishments, and tacit support from the disenfranchised Sunni population to thrive. I believe ISIS sheds as many supporters as it gains when it moves into new areas.”

Phares said: “Despite its power, ISIS is still small in size compared to the large mass of Arab Sunni tribes.

“What is needed at this point is for a Sunni area to be liberated from ISIS but not taken by Baghdad’s forces. This could become the basis of a possible liberation later.”

The militant group is already showing some “cracks,” said Pregent.

“ISIS is no longer travelling from town to town with their convoys. They’re losing their propaganda war… there is no footage since the start of U.S. airstrikes of ISIS rolling into Sunni towns in victory parades – those days are gone.”

In Search of a Strategy

U.S. President Obama addresses reporters ahead of national security council meeting at the White House in WashingtonNational Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Aug.30, 2014:

Is it better to have no strategy or a delusional strategy?

The question arises, of course, after President Obama’s startling confession on Thursday that he has not yet developed a strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-rooted terrorist organization still often called by its former name, ISIS – an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham refers to Greater Syria.

You may have noticed that President Obama calls the group ISIL, preferring the acronym that refers to the Levant to the one referring to al-Sham. After all, anything that invokes Syria might remind you of red lines that turned out not to be red lines and the administration’s facilitation of the arming of “moderate rebels” who turned out to include, well, ISIS. The fact is that the president has never had a Syria strategy, either — careening from Assad the Reformer, to Assad the Iranian puppet who must be toppled, to Assad who maybe we should consider aligning with against ISIS — ISIS being the “rebels” we used to support in Syria . . . unless they crossed into Iraq, in which case they were no longer rebels but terrorists . . . to be “rebels” again, they’d have to cross back into Syria or cruise east to Libya, where they used to be enemy jihadists spied on by our ally Qaddafi until they became “McCain’s heroes” overthrowing our enemy Qaddafi.

Got it?

No? Well, congratulations, you may have caught mental health, a condition to be envied even if it would disqualify you from serving as a foreign-policy and national-security expert in Washington. In either party.

The Islamic State’s recent beheading of American journalist James Foley is not the only thing that captured Washington’s attention of late. The Beltway was also left aghast at the jihadist’ rounding up of over 150 Syrian soldiers, forcing them to strip down to their underpants for a march through the desert, and then mass-killing them execution style.

Shocking, sure, but isn’t that what the GOP’s foreign-policy gurus were telling us they wanted up until about five minutes ago? Not the cruel method but the mass killing of Assad’s forces. Nothing oh nothing, we were told, could possibly be worse than the barbaric Assad regime. As naysayers — like your faithful correspondent— urged the government to refrain from backing “rebels” who teem with rabidly anti-American Islamic-supremacist savages, top Republicans scoffed. It was paramount that we arm the rebels in order to oust Assad, even though “we understand [that means] some people are going to get arms that should not be getting arms,” insisted Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Turns out that quite a lot of people who shouldn’t have gotten arms have gotten quite a lot of arms. And that is because Syria is not the only place as to which Republicans urged Obama to ignore federal laws against arming and otherwise supporting terrorists. They did it in Libya, too.

We have several times documented here that influential Republicans led by Senator John McCain were champions of Moammar Qaddafi before they suddenly switched sides — along with President Obama — in campaigning to oust the Libyan regime they had only recently treated (and funded) as a key American counterterrorism ally. The resulting (and utterly foreseeable) empowerment of Islamic supremacists in eastern Libya directly contributed to the Benghazi Massacre of four Americans on September 11, 2012; to the rise of the Islamic State and the expansion of al-Qaeda franchises in Africa, all of which were substantially strengthened by the jihadist capture of much of Qaddafi’s arsenal; and to what has become the collapse of Libya into a virulently anti-American no-man’s land of competing militias in which jihadists now have the upper hand.

The disastrous flip-flop was no surprise. When Mubarak fell in Egypt, Senator McCain stressed that the Brotherhood must be kept out of any replacement government because the Brothers are anti-democratic supporters of repressive sharia and terrorism. He was right on both scores . . . but he soon reversed himself, deciding that the Brotherhood was an outfit Americans could work with after all — even support with sophisticated American weaponry and billions in taxpayer dollars. The Brothers were in power because, in the interim, McCain’s good friend Secretary Clinton pressured Egypt’s transitional military government to step down so the elected “Islamic democracy” could flourish. When the Brothers took the reins, they promptly installed a sharia constitution, demanded that the U.S. release the Blind Sheikh (convicted of running a New York–based terror cell in the 1990s), rolled out the red carpet for Hamas (the terror organization that is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch), and gave free reign to terrorist leaders — including the brother of al-Qaeda’s leader and members of the Blind Sheikh’s Egyptian jihadist organization — who proceeded to foment the violent rioting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo the same day as the Benghazi Massacre.

I could go on, but you get the point. While ripping Obama for having no Islamic State strategy, Republicans are now reviving the inane strategy of supporting the illusory “moderate Syrian opposition.” Those would be the same forces they wanted to support against Assad. The only problem was that there aren’t enough real moderates in Syria to mount a meaningful challenge to the regime. The backbone of the opposition to Assad has always been the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most effective fighters against the regime have always been the jihadists. So we’re back to where we started from: Let’s pretend that there is a viable, moderate, democratic Syrian opposition and that we have sufficient intelligence — in a place where we have sparse intelligence — to vet them so we arm only the good guys; and then let’s arm them, knowing that they have seamlessly allied for years with the anti-American terrorists we are delegating them to fight on our behalf. Perfect.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to have no strategy against an obvious threat to the United States. But at least with Obama, it is understandable. He is hemmed in by his own ideology and demagoguery. The main challenge in the Middle East is not the Islamic State; it is the fact that the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda forebears have been fueled by Iran, which supports both Sunni and Shiite terrorism as long as it is directed at the United States. There cannot be a coherent strategy against Islamic supremacism unless the state sponsors of terrorism are accounted for, but Obama insists on seeing Iran as a potential ally rather than an incorrigible enemy.

Moreover, the combined jihadist threat is not a regional one merely seeking to capture territory in the Middle East; it is a global one that regards the United States as its primary enemy and that can be defeated only by America and its real allies. This is not a problem we can delegate to the basket-case governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the “moderate” Syrian “rebels.” Yet the Obama Left’s relentless indictment of American self-defensive action in the Middle East has sapped the domestic political support necessary for vigorous military action against our enemies — action that will eventually have to include aggressive American combat operations on the ground.

But the GOP should take note: The jihad is not a problem we can delegate to the Muslim Brotherhood, either. We will not defeat our enemies until we finally recognize who they are — all of them.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, was released by Encounter Books on June 3.

 

 

 

Partnering with Syria’s Assad Against ISIL Will Preserve His Rule

Bashar AssadBy Daniel Wiser:

An alliance between U.S. forces and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to eliminate Islamic militants would play right into the hands of the brutal authoritarian leader, experts say.

Reports indicate that Assad helped facilitate the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the jihadist group that now controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria and recently beheaded American journalist James Foley.

The International Business Times reported over the weekend that U.S. intelligence agencies have provided Assad’s forces with information—using the German intelligence service as an intermediary—that would help them target ISIL leaders in airstrikes. Agence France Presse (AFP) then reportedon Tuesday that the United States was offering intelligence to Syria through Iraqi and Russian agents.

Foreign drones conducted surveillance over eastern Syria on Monday, according to a Syrian human rights group, while Syrian warplanes targeted ISIL in the same region on Tuesday.

Both White House and State Department officials have vigorously denied the reports.

“As a matter of U.S. policy, we have not recognized” Assad as the leader of Syria, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. “There are no plans to change that policy and there are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also tweeted: “Claim in this story that US is sharing intel with the Assad regime is false.”

While U.S. officials publicly deny that they are partnering with Assad against ISIL, some foreign policy experts are pushing the Obama administration to do so. The terrorist group has attracted thousands of foreign fighters who could return to Europe or the United States and launch attacks, U.S. intelligence officials say.

Other experts warn that allying with Assad would preserve his grip on power despite the administration’s long-stated goal of urging him to step down.

Frederic Hof, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former adviser on Syria for the Obama administration, wrote recently that Assad appears to have formed a tacit alliance with ISIL to defeat more moderate rebels also battling his government.

“By reportedly conducting airstrikes on ISIS positions in eastern Syria, the Assad regime is begging for readmission to polite society by attacking the very forces whose existence it has facilitated over the years,” Hof said. “Yet it is doing so in a selective way that preserves its de facto collaboration with ISIS in western Syria against the nationalist Syrian opposition.”

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels say their opposition movement is now on the verge of collapseas both Assad’s forces and ISIL militants converge on one of their last strongholds in the northwestern city of Aleppo.

That appears to have been Assad’s strategy all along, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.

Syrian intelligence assisted militants in al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—the precursor to ISIL—with travel across the Syrian border into Iraq as long as they pledged to only attack U.S. troops during the Iraq War, according to the Journal. Assad’s regime also released several high-level terrorist detainees in May 2011 that would later lead to jihadist groups, including ISIL.

Additionally, ISIL sold crude to Assad’s government as militants seized oil-rich provinces in northern and eastern Syria, according to a January report in the New York Times. Both Syrian forces and ISIL have also cooperated in the fight against nationalist rebels in Aleppo.

“When the Syrian army is not fighting the Islamic State, this makes the group stronger,” Izzat Shahbandar, a former Iraqi lawmaker and ally of Assad who met with him in Damascus, told the Journal. “And sometimes, the army gives them a safe path to allow the Islamic State to attack the FSA and seize their weapons.”

“It’s a strategy to eliminate the FSA and have the two main players face each other in Syria: Assad and the Islamic State,” Shahbandar added. “And now [Damascus] is asking the world to help, and the world can’t say no.”

read more at Washington Free Beacon

Also see:

Kurdish Female Warriors On The Front Lines Fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria

kurdish-womenjpgBreitbart, by DEBRA HEINE, Aug. 24,2014:

A  notoriously fierce segment of the Kurdish security forces are striking terror into the hearts of ISIS terrorists – female fighters. The Jihadists have no problem slaughtering defenseless women but they don’t like facing armed female warriors in battle — because they don’t believe they’ll go to heaven if they’re killed by one of them.

The first official female unit was formed in 1996 when women began combat training in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime. They’ve earned a  reputation for bravery and skill in the battlefield – so much so Peshmerga women are sometimes compared to Amazons.  You could call them the Kurdish Peshmerga’s First Cavalry Amazon Battalion.

Via PBS News, the all female unit’s commander, Col. Nahida Ahmed Rashid, said “more women are enlisting today to defend Iraq’s Kurdish region from Islamic State extremists.”

And these soldiers don’t only swell the fighting ranks; they’ve recently become a part of front-line strategy.

“The jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven,” one female soldier said.

Women are also involved in Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State’s advances in Syria. Some 30 percent of the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) there, which also fights against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, are female.

Such soldiers join up not simply to defend their cities from invading armies, said the commander of the first all-woman PYD brigade, but from the extremist ideas they would carry with them.

“I believe in a greater cause, which is protecting our families and our cities from the extremists’ brutality and dark ideas,” she said. “They don’t accept having women in leadership positions. They want us to cover ourselves and become housewives to attend to their needs only. They think we have no right to talk and control our lives.”

Kurdish female partners

Here is a documentary of the women fighters of Kurdistan:

How Iraq’s black market in oil funds ISIS

ISIS sells $3M of black-market oil daily

ISIS sells $3M of black-market oil daily

By Luay al-Khatteeb:

London (CNN) — Luay al-Khatteeb spoke to CNN about the impact of ISIS’ march through northern Iraq, and the militant group’s control of some oil fields. He explained how they used the oil fields to raise funds, and how it could impact global prices. This is an edited version of the conversation.

How much of Iraq’s oil market do ISIS control?

ISIS control just a few marginal fields in Iraq’s north, but they are enough to fund the terrorist group’s self-sufficiency.

A month ago, the ISIS–controlled oil market in Iraq was reported to be worth $1 million a day. Now, with expansion, further control of oil fields and smuggling routes, the market is believed to be raising at least $2 million a day.

This could fetch them more than $730 million a year, enough to sustain the operation beyond Iraq.

ISIS have been battling over Baiji and the refinery is still under siege. However, if ISIS succeed in capturing it, the refinery would be very difficult to operate without capable and technical staff.

One important factor for the stability of global markets: ISIS is not yet in the south of Iraq, where the country’s true oil bounty lies. Capturing the southern assets of the country would be mission impossible for the group.

The territory is far from fault lines, and is dominated by Shia, which makes dominating the region difficult for the Sunni militant group.

What do ISIS do with the oil they get?

ISIS smuggle the crude oil and trade it for cash and refined products, at a reduced price. They also have their own small and rudimentary refineries in Syria.

Refined oil is returned to ISIS for selling locally, in Iraq and Syria. ISIS also use the oil in their own warfare.

ISIS controls smuggling routes and the crude transported by tankers to Jordan via Anbar province, to Iran via Kurdistan, to Turkey via Mosul, to Syria’s local market and to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where most of it gets refined locally.

Turkey has turned a blind eye to this and may continue to do so until they come under pressure from the West to close down oil black markets in the country’s south.

ISIS’ oil will remain limited to these black markets, and the group will have no chance to establish a sophisticated pipeline network. Fixed distribution networks are complex, require investment and can become targets by the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga.

What is ISIS’ ultimate aim and how does oil wealth play into it?

At present, ISIS are trying to establish a self-sufficient state and a capital in what is known as the “Sunni triangle” (west and north Iraq), and oil production will be part of this.

They want to be self-sufficient, expand their territorial control, recruit more jihadists — with focus on extremists with foreign passports — and extend their operations, to eventually launch attacks on Western countries.

ISIS declared its Caliphate by turning Iraq and Syria into a hub to attract extremists. They are aiming to take over the Arabian Peninsula as their epicenter to launch attacks globally.

If this happens, they will be in control of a region that holds 60% of world’s conventional energy reserves and produces 40% of global oil and gas production.

And the only way to do it is by attracting the masses of jihadists and extremists from all over the world to eventually outnumber the locals, which will endanger global security and economies.

Read more at CNN

Luay al-Khatteeb is visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, focusing on the geopolitics and political economy of the GCC and Iraq. He is the founder and director of the Iraq Energy Institute and serves as senior adviser to the federal parliament of Iraq for energy policy and economic reform.