Report: Foreign Fighters Abandon Islamic State, Flee to Turkey

Sipa via AP Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 27, 2017:

Islamic State militants are reportedly abandoning ISIS as it loses territory and fleeing to Turkey, with foreign recruits leading the retreat.

According to the UK Guardianat least two British nationals and an American citizen have joined the “exodus” from the Islamic State. The American is 46-year-old Kary Paul Kleman of Florida, who surrendered to Turkish border police last week, bringing a Syrian wife and two widows of slain ISIS fighters with him.

The British defectors claimed they were not fighters but settled in Syria to become citizens of the “caliphate.” Kleman moved first to Egypt and Dubai after converting to Islam, then claims to have brought his family to Syria to assist with a “humanitarian effort” that turned out to be a “scam.” He was reportedly trying to reach the U.S. embassy in Turkey when he was arrested by border police.

CNN spoke with a smuggler who said Kleman contacted family members, the CIA, and possibly the FBI to arrange his exit from the Islamic State but apparently didn’t get the help he wanted, so he made a run for the Turkish border on his own.

Turkish prosecutors could seek up to 15-year sentences for these refugees from the Islamic State, while the U.K. could press terrorism charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. It is also possible the authorities will decide the returnees are not a threat.

The Guardian sounds an alarming note about foreign recruits fleeing the collapsing Islamic State and seeking to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries, to take revenge for the defeat of ISIS. There may already be up to 250 such trained terrorist operatives in Europe. Foreign recruits for other extremist organizations active in the Syrian civil war, such as al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, are also a concern.

Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College pointed out to the Guardian that ISIS “projected a narrative of momentum and success” to recruits, and it’s impossible to maintain that narrative when so much of the caliphate’s territory has been recaptured.

The Daily Star quotes Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. John Dorrian of the U.S. Air Force warning that the threat of foreign recruits making it back to their home countries, with the motivation and training to conduct terrorist attacks, cannot be dismissed.

“This is why there has been such a significant effort to isolate places like Raqqa to limit the ability of the enemy to depart Syria and move up into Europe,” Dorrian said.

A knockout punch has not yet been landed against the Islamic State’s Iraqi capital of Mosul. The Independent relates the horrifying story of ISIS militants who disguised themselves as Iraqi officials, drew a crowd of men, women, and children in central Mosul to greet them, and then shot them to “make it clear the area was still under enemy control,” as a Joint Operations Command official put it.

Various estimates suggest there are up to 5,000 foreign recruits still alive in the Islamic State, potentially preparing to return to Europe and the United States.

Also see:

Analysis: ‘Signs of Recovery for the Islamic State’

Henry Jackson Society, by Kyle Orton, April 22, 2017:

The operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, began on 17 October and is now 188 days old. IS was announced cleared from east Mosul on 25 January, and the offensive that began on 19 February to clear the more densely-populated and difficult west Mosul has ostensibly swept IS from sixty percent of that area. Official sources claim IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraqi territory, down from forty percent in 2014. But yesterday, a car bomb struck Zuhur, the first attack of this kind in east Mosul since February, murdering at least four people. This is part of a pattern of attacks that suggests the Mosul operation itself was rushed and more importantly that IS is already recovering in liberated areas.

OUT BUT NOT DOWN

When the Mosul offensive began, there was reason to worry that the timing was more political than it was determined by facts on the ground. Towns like Qayyara and Shirqat, which had been formally cleared of jihadists and were being used as launchpads for the assault on Mosul, were under constant harassment from the rural surroundings. More important is Hawija, which IS continues to hold.

Hawija, a town of about 200,000 people, fell to IS on 16 June 2014, after Mosul collapsed on 10 June and IS swept across northern and central Iraq. Located one-hundred miles south-east of Mosul, and roughly equidistant—forty miles or so—east of Shirqat and west of Kirkuk, with Bayji and Tikrit within sixty miles to the south, Hawija sits in a prime location to cause mayhem behind the lines, and has done so. IS is able to organize attacks from Hawija, and then fall back to safe-haven in the city. Days into the Mosul operation, IS executed a major raid in Kirkuk that killed dozens of people; the jihadists that did not blow themselves up slipped back into Hawija. This has happened despite the Kurdish Peshmerga having imposed a siege last August and blocked the four city gates.

In simple military terms, Hawija should have been cleared before Mosul, and now there are new worries. The recent announcement, which might well prove untrue, that IS’s occupation of Hawija, an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab town, will soon be brought to an end by al-Hashd al-Shabi, the conglomeration of Shi’i militias where Iranian proxies are the backbone, and the Kurdish Peshmerga, would continue one of the worst aspects of the campaign against IS, namely the use of demographically inappropriate forces to cleanse local areas that has meant IS’s military losses are not political losses.

Further to the east in Iraq, on the provincial boundary line between Saladin and Diyala, there is even more trouble as documented in an important recent report by Niqash. IS’s strategic depth is in the rural areas where it rode out defeat after 2008, a lesson it has taken into its foreign wilayats like Libya. The Jalam desert to the east Samarra—abutted by the Hamrin mountains to the north that stretch east into Diyala and west to the Tigris in Ninawa—with ad-Dawr to the south-east of Tikrit is a near-perfect location for IS. It was from the Jalam desert that IS invaded into Samarra in June 2014.

“The difficult terrain and long stretches of unpopulated land that straddle several provinces make this territory excellent for hiding, or for the establishment of secret bases,” Niqash notes. “[T]he IS fighters who are locals know the caves and valleys well and they know it would be very difficult to hunt them down here, if not impossible.” From these bases, IS have already managed to cut the road between Tikrit, the administrative centre of Saladin Province, and Kirkuk City. The area between Hawija and Kirkuk is known as the “death strip”. There have been many small raids, as well as some more significant ones, such as IS demolishing the police station in Albu Khado, which killed a number of people, or the attack on a police station in the village of Nayeb. To the west, there is the mountainous Makhul area, north of Bayji, where IS attacks at will, and the Iraqis are well aware that IS cells are spread all throughout Saladin and Diyala.

One special problem the Iraqis are having is Mutaibij, a remote village about twenty miles east of Duluiyah near the Udhaim River in the Euphrates River Valley. Mutaibij was occupied by Albu Issa tribesmen, who were opposed to IS, and now the village is abandoned. Despite four sweeps, however, the Iraqi Security Forces can never capture or kill any IS members when they move in. It has “become a mysterious place,” says local policeman Ziyad Khalaf. “Every time we raid that village, we don’t find anybody there. Then a few hours later, we are attacked again and we lose men.”

In the west of Iraq, along the Euphrates River Valley, where Anbar Province borders Syria’s Deir Ezzor Province, an IS-held zone the group calls Wilayat al-Furat (Euphrates Province), the terror group now has its centre of gravity. As Raqqa comes under pressure, IS has moved the bulk of its administration to Mayadeen in eastern Syria, seventy miles up-river from al-Qaim, long a main gateway for IS jihadists flowing into Iraq from Syria. “We are always under threat from the Islamic State group,” says an Iraqi border guard. “The danger doesn’t end when we arrive at our barracks. … [W]e are continuously losing men to the IS attacks. There are not enough soldiers or weapons to confront an enemy like this. They know that we are weak and they know the government is negligent.” Unlike the areas mentioned above, this desert wilderness has not yet even been nominally cleared and it remains to be seen if it can be. Until then, IS is able to use this base to strike at areas that have been cleared, like Rutba and Heet and devastated cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, with bombings and assassinations.

HISTORY AS A GUIDE TO THE FUTURE

In 2007-08, IS had been politically isolated and militarily driven from its cities by the Surge and Sahwa. Throughout 2010, the organization’s leadership structure was nearly destroyed. Yet in 2011, the IS movement was into a recovery—so much so it dispatched operatives into Syria to form a secret branch. By 2013, even as it underwent a schism with its Syrian wing, IS had nearly eliminated the Sahwa and launched a campaign of terrorism, particularly against the prisons, that freed important operatives, and seriously destabilized the Iraqi government. The heavy-handed reaction of the government, and its increased reliance on Iran, only fed IS. How had IS recovered in just five years?

Western inattentiveness was certainly part of it: the belief the Surge was a done deal rather than a process to be maintained. The political disengagement after 2009 allowed the worst, most sectarian and authoritarian instincts of the Iraqi Prime Minister free rein, polarizing the Sunni community, and IS reaped the benefits of that. IS did also realize it had made mistakes; it reassessed some tactics, especially in dealing with the tribes, though maintained remarkable continuity in ideology.

Still, the major part of the answer to IS’s resilience lies, as Craig Whiteside has written, in its deeply bureaucratic structure and strategic outlook that gives it the ability to wage a Mao-style revolutionary warfare. IS has proven capable of moving through the three stages: an infiltration and building stage by terror and inducement; expansion with terrorist and insurgent tactics; and then into the decisive phase of governance and state administration. Just as importantly, IS can move back through the stages when necessary. [emphasis added]

This means IS’s loss of territory should not be seen as the sole measure of how this war is going. What is needed in a revolutionary war is legitimacy over the long-term; if military defeats contain political victories, they can be absorbed, which is why IS has chosen simply to retreat in most areas before the attacks on its capitals. Fallujah was a classic case: IS held about two-thirds of the city; after evidence of atrocities by the Shi’a militias appeared, giving IS a political win, it pulled out within five days. The U.S.’s narrow focus on defeating IS, with the mistaken emphasis on when IS is defeated rather than how, has meant supporting Iranian-run Shi’a militias in Iraq and the PKK in Syria, playing into IS’s hands, legitimizing the group even as it loses territory, and assisting IS becoming a global movement that can mobilize its supporters abroad for external attacks.

The holding of a specific territory has never been the basis of IS’s legitimacy. Over the last year, IS has crystallized this view that the caliphate is more a cause than a destination, presenting the impending loss of its twin capitals, Mosul and Raqqa, as merely one stage in a cycle, part of the travails of the believers—a gift from god, indeed—to purify the herd before final victory. After inflicting terrible losses on the infidels, the jihadists will “retreat into the desert” temporarily, as they did last time only with hideouts stretching into Syria this time as well, and come back stronger, IS says. Given the conditions—no major U.S. troop presence on the ground; massive destruction, displacement, and persecution in the Sunni areas; heightened sectarianism; dysfunctional political systems all across the Fertile Crescent—IS’s belief that trends are on its side even more than in 2008 cannot be dismissed as self-serving delusion. In some areas those trends toward IS’s recovery are already becoming a reality.

UTT Throwback Thursday: IRAN is Still a Threat

Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, April 6, 2017:

President Jimmy Carter’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, said “(Ayatollah) Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint.”

As a result of the U.S. administration being soft-hearted, soft-minded, and naive, Iran launched an Islamic revolution, and on November 4, 1979 52 American hostages were taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days until President Reagan’s Inauguration Day.

The following month, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

President Obama’s administration appeased Iran and provided it billions of dollars in violation of federal law.

This was done despite the recognition by the U.S. government that Iran is the most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism in the world, continues to aggressively pursue nuclear weapons, and makes it’s desire to destroy the United States and Israel clear.

Iran’s constitution states:  “In the organization and equipping of the countries (sic) defense forces, there must be regard for faith and religion as their basis and rules. And so the Islamic Republic’s army, and the corps of Revolutionary Guards must be organized in accordance with this aim. They have responsibility not only for the safeguarding of the frontiers, but also for a religious mission, which is Holy War (JIHAD) along the way of God, and the struggle to extend the supremacy of God’s Law in the world.”

The Iranian constitution then quotes Koran 8:60 which is:  “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of God and your enemies, and others beside.”

This is the same Koranic quote referenced on the International Muslim Brotherhood’s logo.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah – a designated terrorist organization – reports to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah kisses the sleeve of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a sign of respect and deference.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stands with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah under a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini.

From the Congressional Record dated October 4, 2002:  “Prior to September 11, Hezbollah, through its terrorist wing, the Islamic Jihad Organization, had killed more Americans, by far, than any other terrorist organization in the world. The bombing of U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, numerous other brutal kidnappings and murders of Americans.”

From the 9/11 Commission Report:  “In June 1996, a truck bomb demolished the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and wounding hundreds.  The attack was carried out primarily by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had received help from the government of Iran…In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between Al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support – even if only training – for action carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.  Not long afterward, senior Al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives…The relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier…Senior managers in Al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah…Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah.  Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior Al Qaeda figures after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan…In October 2000, two future muscle hijackers Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait…In November (3 other muscle hijackers) traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran.  An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran…There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of Al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

Additionally, senior Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his family lived in Iran.

FBI officials testified in February 2002 “FBI investigations to date continue to indicate that many Hezbollah subjects based in the United States have the capability to attempt terrorist attacks here should this be a desired objective of the group.”

CIA Director George Tenet testified in February 2003 “Hezbollah, as an organization with capability and worldwide presence, is [Al Qaeda’s] equal, if not a far more capable organization.”

A July 28, 2011 U.S. State Department press release reads:  “The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the designation of six members of an al-Qa’ida network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qa’ida facilitator, operating under an agreement between al-Qa’ida and the Iranian government.”

In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security – Iran’s primary intelligence agency – for providing material support to Hezbollah and Hamas (TERRORIST organizations), for providing Al Qaeda operatives with documents (passports, ID), facilitating Al Qaeda’s movement in Iran, and providing weapons and money to Al Qaeda in Iraq during the war there.

Approximately one week ago, U.S. Central Command Commander General Votel testified before Congress that “Iran posses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world.”

It is high time the United States government destroy Iran’s ability to wage war at all levels, including Hezbollah’s operations in Lebanon, Iran, and their cells here in the United States.

State lists 5 terrorists linked to Islamic State, al Qaeda

Anjem Choudary (right)

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, March 31, 2017:

Yesterday, the US Department of State added four jihadists linked to the Islamic State and another tied to al Qaeda to the list of specially designated global terrorists. The five terrorists come from Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The most infamous is Anjem Choudary, the British Islamist who is directly linked to Omar Bakri Muhammad, and who has formed several radical Islamist organizations, such as Al Muhajiroun, Al Ghurabaa, and Islam4UK, all which have been banned in Britain. He is currently serving a 66 month long prison sentence in Britain for providing support to the Islamic State. Choudary is one of the more prominent Islamists who operate with near-impunity in London.

Another terrorist mentioned, Sami Bouras, is very likely the same individual who, according to Mathias Vermeulen, was jailed twice in Tunisia, once in 2003 and again in 2010. Bouras is a Swedish citizen who originally is from Tunisia. He sought asylum in Sweden after being released from prison in 2006. State described him as “a member of AQ and who has been involved with planning suicide attacks.” However State did not indicate where Bouras was operating.

State’s brief descriptions of the five terrorists who were designated on March 30 is listed below.

El Shafee Elsheikh traveled to Syria in 2012, joined al-Qa’ida’s (AQ) branch in Syria, and later joined ISIS. In May 2016, Elsheikh was identified as a member of the ISIS execution cell known as “The Beatles,” a group accused of beheading more than 27 hostages and torturing many more. Elsheikh was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer.

Anjem Choudary is a British extremist with links to convicted terrorists and extremist networks in the UK, including the proscribed Al-Muhajiroun group. In September 2014, Choudary was arrested for pledging allegiance to ISIS and for acting as a key figure in ISIS’ recruitment drive. He was sentenced to prison in September 2016. Choudary has stated that he will continue his recruitment activities from prison.

Sami Bouras is a Swedish citizen of Tunisian descent who is a member of AQ and who has been involved with planning suicide attacks.

Shane Dominic Crawford is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and is currently believed to be a foreign terrorist fighter in Syria carrying out terrorist activity on behalf of ISIS, including acting as an English language propagandist for the group.

Mark John Taylor is a New Zealand national who has been fighting in Syria with ISIS since the fall of 2014. Taylor has used social media, including appearing in a 2015 ISIS propaganda video, to encourage terrorist attacks in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Elsheikh, Choudary, Bouras, Crawford, and Taylor have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism. Designations expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and other governments.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

Islamic State Leader Baghdadi ‘Flees Mosul’ as Iraqi Forces Advance

AP Photo/Militant video, File

Breitbart Jerusalem, March 9, 2017:

(AFP) — Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to lead the battle against Iraqi forces advancing in the city.

With Iraqi troops making steady progress in their assault to retake Mosul from the jihadists, a US defence official said Baghdadi had fled to avoid being trapped inside.

It was the latest sign that IS is feeling the pressure from twin US-backed offensives that have seen it lose much of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, the defence official said Baghdadi had left Mosul before Iraqi forces seized control of a key road at the beginning of this month, isolating the jihadists in the city.

“He was in Mosul at some point before the offensive…. He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar,” a town to the west, the official said.

“He probably gave broad strategic guidance and has left it to battlefield commanders.”

Baghdadi, who declared IS’s cross-border “caliphate” at a Mosul mosque in 2014, in an audio message in November urged supporters to make a stand in the city rather than “retreating in shame”.

Iraq launched the offensive to retake Mosul — which involves tens of thousands of soldiers, police and allied militia fighters — in October.

After recapturing its eastern side, the forces set their sights on the city’s smaller but more densely populated west.

– ‘Ran away like chickens’ –

In recent days Iraqi forces have retaken a series of neighbourhoods in west Mosul as well as the provincial government headquarters and a museum where IS militants filmed themselves destroying priceless artefacts.

The military said Wednesday they had also taken the infamous Badush prison northwest of Mosul where IS reportedly executed hundreds of people and held captured Yazidi women.

On Thursday Iraqi forces were “combing the city centre area to defuse (bombs in) homes and shops and buildings,” Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir al-Mohammedawi of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division told AFP.

Forces were also “searching for snipers in the city centre,” Mohammedawi said.

The area is located on the edge of Mosul’s Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced houses that could see some of the toughest fighting of the battle.

“Currently there is no order from the operations command to advance toward the Old City. We will advance when this order is issued,” Mohammedawi said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule in Mosul.

Those who did manage to escape the city said the jihadists were growing increasingly desperate.

Abdulrazzaq Ahmed, a 25-year-old civil servant, was seized by jihadist fighters as they retreated from the neighbourhood of Al-Mansur.

“We were used as human shields” said Ahmed, who managed to escape along with hundreds of other civilians to Iraqi police waiting outside the city.

Rayan Mohammed, a frail 18-year-old who was once given 60 lashes for missing prayers, said the jihadists were scrambling in the face of the Iraqi offensive.

“They ran away like chickens,” he said.

– Marines deployed to Syria –

West Mosul is the most heavily populated area under IS control and along with Raqa in Syria the last major urban centres it holds.

In Syria, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been advancing on Raqa. Earlier this week its forces reached the Euphrates River, cutting the main road to the partly IS-held city of Deir Ezzor downstream.

A US official said Wednesday that a Marine Corps artillery battery had been sent into Syria to support the battle for Raqa — joining some 500 American special operations fighters who have been training and assisting the SDF.

The United States has been leading a coalition since mid-2014 carrying out air strikes against the jihadists in both Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish troops and their rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and driven IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.

Russian-backed government troops have meanwhile swept eastwards from Syria’s second city Aleppo and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.

The US defence official said IS was now looking beyond the seemingly inevitable losses of Mosul and Raqa.

“I don’t think they have given up on their vision of their caliphate yet,” the official said.

“They… are still making plans to continue to function as a pseudo-state centred in the Euphrates River valley.”

About 15,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, including some 2,500 in Mosul and Tal Afar and as many as 4,000 still in Raqa, the official said.

***

Exclusive video: Iraqi forces near Mosul mosque where IS group leader declared ‘caliphate’

***

Also see:

The Truth Behind Media’s New Favorite Euphemism: ‘Muslim-Majority Countries’

Breitbart, by John Hayward, March 9, 2017:

Both versions of President Trump’s executive order have been caricatured as a “Muslim ban,” even though they applied to only six or seven specific countries, leaving 90 percent of the world’s population out of the mix.

The fallback euphemism is to say that Trump is “banning” immigration (they never say it is conditional and temporary) from several “Muslim-majority” countries. This is also misleading because those countries are not merely inhabited by a majority of Muslims. They are Muslim countries, period. They all have some form of Islamic law written into their legal codes.

With Iraq removed from the equation, the remaining nations affected by the order are Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. The original executive order did not list the affected nations; it merely referred to Obama-era legislation that named them as nations of particular concern. The revised version of the order does name the affected nations because it explains why each of them is on the list.

The first version of the order did not mention Islam at all. The revised version does, but only to explain why the first order did not because this is not a “Muslim ban”:

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion. While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion. That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities — whoever they are and wherever they reside — to avail themselves of the USRAP in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

Islam is not a “minority religion” in any of the six countries named by the order. In fact, all six of them officially incorporate Islamic sharia law into their legal codes.

Of the six, Iran is an outright Islamic theocracy. Its Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah, a top-ranking Muslim cleric. Iran’s legal code is explicitly based on sharia, with a smattering of civil ordinances thrown in. Iranian courts have been known to invoke sharia for such judgments as requiring a woman to be blinded in retribution for throwing acid in a victim’s face.

Iranian law nominally has some protections for religious minorities, but the absolute supremacy of Islam is not questioned. Observers have reported that religious freedom is growing steadily worse in the theocracy.

Libya is the most complex of the six nations to classify, because it does not have a functioning central government at all, following Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous intervention – a fact the mainstream media prefers not to dwell on. “Libya’s post-revolution legal system is in flux and driven by state and non-state entities,” as the CIA World Factbook tactfully puts it.

The capital city of Tripoli was seized by an Islamist coalition, with the Muslim Brotherhood a major player. Another is Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist Islamic militia. The presence of “sharia” in its name is not a coincidence; they declared Libya an Islamic “caliphate” in 2014.

There has been success in the battle against Libyan ISIS, but al-Qaeda is still a major player. U.N.-backed unity governments tend to include a lot of people from the more extreme wings of Libyan politics. They have to because Islamists are a powerful political force in the country.

Another major force in chaotic Libya is widely described as a “secularist,” General Khalifa Haftar. Some observers wonder just how “secularist” he really is, especially if he gains control of the country and has to make deals with the powerful Islamist elements he is currently fighting.

Haftar is an old Qaddafi hand, and while the late dictator is remembered as a brutal and mercurial secularist loathed by hardline Islamists in Libya, he was sometimes given to Islamist sentiments of his own. For instance, Qaddafi once declared Islam was the only universal human religion and said, “all those believers who do not follow Islam are losers.” He named his son and once-presumed successor Saif al-Islam.

Libya’s future is a question mark, but it is highly disingenuous to describe even its present state as merely “Muslim-majority.” The interim Libyan constitution of 2011 begins with the invocation of “Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” states that Islam is the official religion of the country, and declares “sharia shall be the main source of legislation.” Until and unless a different constitution is put into effect by an internationally-recognized national government, Libya is a Muslim nation.

Somalia officially imposed sharia law through its Cabinet in 2009. “Islamic Sharia is the only option to get solutions for the problems in this country,” one minister declared. Less than 0.1% of the population follows a religion other than Islam.

The Somali government banned Christmas celebrations in December 2015, because “having Muslims celebrate Christmas is not the right thing,” as a top official put it. He likened Christmas celebrations to apostasy and said they are “not in any way related to Islam.” Foreigners were graciously allowed to celebrate Christmas in their homes, but even hotels were instructed to prevent guests from holding celebrations.

The al-Shabaab terrorist organization thinks the central government is not Islamist enough and imposes an even harsher sharia code on the sizable portions of the country it effectively controls. Many of the people living under al-Shabaab control have told interviewers they support its legal code.

Sudan is officially an Islamic state with a sharia legal code. Even the leaders of breakaway South Sudan, which want to return to a common-law system on the British model, have been struggling to purge sharia from the legal system.

Sudan, like Somalia, is not “majority Muslim” – it is about 96% Muslim, and the 3% Christian minority is brutally persecuted, despite some nominal legal protection for other religions. World Atlas notes that “some interpretations of the Muslim Law in the country fail to recognize or accept apostasy and marriages to non-Muslims,” and concludes that “Sudan leads the world as the most difficult country for Christians since freedom of religion or belief is systematically ignored.”

Syria is an uncomfortable case, as some religious minorities say they fared much better under the Assad dictatorship. Some Syrian Christians bluntly refer to Bashar Assad as their “protector” and have similar hopes for the intervening Russians. Of course, critics of the brutal Syrian regime argue that Assad’s alliance with Christians is purely cynical, and even accuse him of inflaming the Christian fear of Muslims for political gain.

Assad’s government is nominally secular, while even most of the “good guy” rebels supported by Western powers practice Islamic law through sharia courts. Syrians in contested areas complain that different sharia courts loyal to various factions, from “moderates” to hardcore al-Qaeda Islamists, issue conflicting verdicts.

At the height of the rebellion, many Syrians expressed a desire to replace the Syrian Arab Republic with an Islamic state. Then they found themselves saddled with the Islamic State, which may have led some of them to reconsider. However, there are still calls to impose sharia across Syria, portraying it as an instrument of peace and justice.

Having said that, the constitution of the “secular” Syrian Arab Republic explicitly requires the president to be a Muslim, and requires that “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.” This was true of both the older constitution and the revised document prepared in 2012.

The same article declares “the State shall respect all religions, and ensure the freedom to perform all the rituals that do not prejudice public order,” but there is no question: Syria is a Muslim nation, not a “Muslim-majority nation.” Islam enjoys a privileged position in its legal code that Western liberals would not tolerate without comment from any other religion.

Yemen practices a mixture of sharia law and common law in what passes for its central government – which, of course, was overthrown by the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim insurgency supported by the Iranian theocracy. The internationally recognized Yemeni government has said the Houthis want to transform Yemen into a caliphate ruled by lineal descendants of Mohammed.

Even Houthi spokesmen who strongly disagree with that characterization have said they think “sharia should be one of the main sources of the law in Yemen, not the only source.”

The large portions of Yemen controlled by al-Qaeda are noted for the strict rule of Islamic law, including the oppression of women. Al-Qaeda regards the failure to strictly obey sharia as “debauchery.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen explicitly declares it to be an Islamic state, and stipulates “sharia is the source of all legislation.” Islam is unambiguously named as the official state religion. Denouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death. Over 99% of the population is Muslim.

Iraq: Even though it is no longer listed in Trump’s executive order, it should be noted that Iraq is an explicitly Islamic nation, according to its 2005 constitution. “Islam is the official religion of the State and is a fundamental source of legislation,” Article 2 declares. “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

Religious freedom is nominally protected, as long as the supremacy of Islam is acknowledged by all: “This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice such as Christians, Yazedis, and Mandi Sabeans.”

Some Iraqi clerics agitate for stricter adherence to sharia law, which introduces the dangerous question of whether Sunni or Shiite law should reign supreme.

The incorporation of Sharia law into the legal codes of these countries occurs to a degree that would revolt the American Left, if any religion except Islam was involved. Rest assured that no one in today’s mainstream media would describe, say, 15th-century Spain as a “majority Catholic” nation.

For that matter, they do not seem inclined to describe Israel as “majority Jewish”; they simply refer to it as a “Jewish state.” Israel is, in fact, only about 75% Jewish. A recent effort supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to formally define Israel as a Jewish state failed, in part due to concerns that it could lead to discriminatory policies against the Arab population.

Its legal code includes extensive protection for religious minorities, and there are Muslim and Druze members of its parliament. Last November, one of them staged the Muslim call to prayer during a parliamentary session to protest a bill that would prevent all places of worship from using loudspeakers to summon their worshipers, because it was seen as unfairly targeting mosques.

Equivalent stunts are unwise for members of religious minorities in “Muslim-majority nations,” including the six listed in President Trump’s executive order.

In conclusion: all of the nations mentioned in both versions of President Trump’s executive order are Muslim countries, period. Every single one of them has Islam as the state religion and bases its legal code on sharia. Not a single one of these countries is a “Muslim-majority” nation that practices full and complete religious pluralism under a secular government.

Iraqi army controls main roads out of Mosul, trapping Islamic State

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Reuters, by Stephen Kalin, March 1, 2017:

U.S.-backed Iraqi army units on Wednesday took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in Islamic State’s hands, trapping the militants in a shrinking area within the city, a general and residents said.

The army’s 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul’s Syria Gate, the city’s northwestern entrance, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone.

“We effectively control the road, it is in our sight,” he said.

Mosul residents said they had not been able to travel on the highway that starts at the Syria Gate since Tuesday. The road links Mosul to Tal Afar, another Islamic State stronghold 60 km (40 miles) to the west, and then to Syria.

Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.

If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 from the city’s grand old Nuri Mosque.

The U.S.-led coalition effort against Islamic State is killing the group’s fighters more quickly than it can replace them, British Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the Combined Joint Task Force said.

With more than 45,000 killed by coalition air strikes up to August last year, “their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” he said on Tuesday in London.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syria stronghold in neighboring Syria, within six months.

The closing of the westward highway meant that Islamic State are besieged in the city center, said Lt General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, the deputy commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), deployed in the southwestern side.

Units from the elite U.S.-trained division battled incoming sniper and anti-tank fire as they moved eastwards, through Wadi al-Hajar district, and northward, through al-Mansour and al-Shuhada districts where gunfire and explosions could be heard.

These moves would allow the CTS to link up with Rapid Response and Federal Police units deployed by the riverside, and to link up with the 9th Armored Division coming from the west, tightening the noose around the militants.

“Many of them were killed, and for those who are still positioned in the residential neighborhoods, they either pull back or get killed are our forces move forward,” Saidi said.

Two militants lay dead near the field command of the CTS, in the al-Mamoun district which looked like a ghost town. A few hundred meters away, a car bomb was hit by an air strike.

STRAFING FROM ABOVE

The few families who remained in al-Mamoun said they were too scared to leave as the militants had booby-trapped cars.

Women cooked bread over outdoor ovens while men gathered on street corners as helicopters flew overhead strafing suspected militant positions further north

One of two buses parked nearby had its roof shorn off. Residents buried a 60-year-old woman who was killed on Tuesday when she stepped on an explosive device while trying to flee.

Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be in Mosul among a remaining civilian population estimated at the start of the offensive at 750,000.

They are using mortars, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight the offensive carried out by a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

About 26,000 have been displaced from western Mosul, often under militant fire, according to government figures. The United Nations puts at more than 176,000 the total number of people displaced from Mosul since the offensive started in October.

Thousands more streamed out, walking through the desert toward government lines during the day, crossing over a deep trench which appears to have served as an Islamic State defense, some waving white flags.

Among them a boy shot in the leg was limping alongside a cart carrying an older woman, while another was pushed in a wheelchair. Old people asked why there was no cars or buses to pick them up and take them to the displaced people centers.

A man said he spent 11 days hiding in his house with no food, no water and no idea of what was happening outside.

“The archangel of death would have come for us if we stayed any longer,” he said.

Aid agencies put the number of killed and wounded at several thousands, both military and civilians.

Army, police, CTS and Rapid Response units forces attacking Islamic State in western Mosul are backed by air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition, including artillery. U.S. personnel are operating close to the frontlines to direct air strikes.

Federal police and Rapid Response units are several hundred meters only from the city’s’ government buildings.

Taking those buildings would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city and help Iraqi forces attack militants in the nearby old city center where the al-Nuri Mosque is located.

Military engineers started preparing a pontoon that they plan to put in place by the side of the city’s southernmost bridge, captured on Monday. Air strikes have damaged all of its five bridges.

***

Also see: