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Where have you read this before?

July 22, 2014 9:31 AM
By The LWJ Editors

Today, The News, one of Pakistan's largest newspapers, published this report by Amir Mir on Sanafi al Nasr noting the death of six al Qaeda operatives. An excerpt of the article, titled "Six top al-Qaeda leaders droned in Waziristan," is below:

The al-Qaeda has confirmed that the recent US drone strikes had killed six of its leaders in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, which used to be administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadur -- once considered to be a "good Taliban" by the Pakistani establishment.

These six al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the July 10 drone strike that took place in the Doga Mada Khel village in North Waziristan Agency's Datta Khel area -- a well-known hub of al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e-Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Zil.

Some of the top al-Qaeda leaders killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel also included Mustafa Abu Yazid, the chief operational commander of al-Qaeda and a close aide of Osama bin Laden, who had claimed responsibility for the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi.

Others killed in the July 10 drone strike could not be identified at that time because their bodies were immediately removed from the scene. However, 10 days later, Sanafi al Nasr, the head of al Qaeda's "Victory Committee", who is based in Syria and has close ties with al-Qaeda's general command in Pakistan, has stated that six of his "dearest comrades" were killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.

Nasr, a Saudi national whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, being the leader of the "Victory Committee", is responsible for developing and implementing al-Qaeda's strategy and policies.

If that sounds familiar, it is because The Long War Journal first reported on Sanafi al Nasr's tweets about the six al Qaeda operatives on July 20.

Amir Mir has copied from The Long War Journal. For example, consider our description of Sanafi al Nasr: "As the leader of the Victory Committee, Nasr is responsible for developing and implementing al Qaeda's strategy and policies."

Now here is Mir's description [emphasis added]: "Nasr, a Saudi national whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, being the leader of the 'Victory Committee', is responsible for developing and implementing al-Qaeda's strategy and policies."

Our description of Nasr is not based on open sources, or on anything al Qaeda has reported. Nasr's responsibilities were described to us by US intelligence officials who track al Qaeda closely. In other words, there is no other place Mir could have gotten this information, let alone the exact wording we used, other than from The Long War Journal.

This isn't the first time we have detected Mir doing this. For instance, on April 25, 2013, Mir published a report at The News on Abdullah Adam, al Qaeda's intelligence chief, who was killed in a US drone strike. His report was printed one day after LWJ published an account that noted the reports of Adam's death and also provided a full background on the leader. Amir Mir merely rewrote large sections of LWJ's report and used it as his own, without citations.

And, on Jan. 4, 2013, after the US killed Mullah Nazir in a drone strike, Amir Mir also lifted large sections of LWJ reporting on Nazir and Pakistan's views of the "good Taliban" vs. the" bad Taliban." See this LWJ report from Jan. 3, 2013 to understand where Mir got his "inspiration."

We know for a fact that Mir reads LWJ. For instance, in this piece about the supposed split within the Pakistani Taliban that was published on Dec. 9, 2012, Mir cites and quotes LWJ four times. We encourage him to credit LWJ reporting in the future instead of using it as his own.


Dawn, which originally cited The News as the source of its article on the report of the six al Qaeda leaders who were killed, has now credited LWJ as the source of its report. You can read Dawn's article here.

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AQAP seeks to consolidate power in Hadramout

July 21, 2014 10:31 AM
By Oren Adaki

Fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula reportedly distributed a statement throughout Yemen's eastern Hadramout province yesterday curtailing women's participation in public life. According to the Arabic media, the statement bars women from carrying out basic daily activities, such as going to public markets, a staple in a country like Yemen, without the accompaniment of a "mahram," a male relative whom they could not lawfully marry.

The statement also prohibits women from participating in sports such as soccer as well as from sitting in coffee shops, deemed a "pastime prohibited by Islamic law." Locals in Hadramout said the statement declared that the aforementioned prohibitions would go into effect on the morning of July 21 and that AQAP would take the appropriate measures if sharia is not implemented.

In addition to addressing women's activities, reports claimed that the statement also expressed the group's intention to establish an Islamic emirate in Yemen led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as both the leader of AQAP and as al Qaeda's general manager. AQAP has allotted the people of Hadramout 10 days to study the statement before its fighters return to discuss avenues for the implementation of sharia.

While sharia law is mentioned as the source of all Yemeni legislation in the country's constitution, Islamic law is not explicitly implemented by the state. Yemen's conservative society, however, is shaped by social and religious norms, including precepts drawn from the Islamic legal tradition. AQAP's recent statement, as well as previous statements to the same effect, seeks to replace the republican system of government in Yemen and rule the country exclusively by sharia.

AQAP's newest statement comes as the group is conducting an assassination campaign in lawless Hadramout province. AQAP seems to be carrying out its threat announced in an October 2013 statement that called for targeting anyone "practicing sorcery and witchcraft." At least four people have been killed in Hadramout in the past few weeks on charges of sorcery, including a homeopathic healer killed yesterday in the city of al Shaher.

Hadramout is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and the province has become an AQAP bastion over the past several years. AQAP has regrouped in Hadramout and other provinces after losing control of major cities in Abyan and Shabwa provinces to government forces starting in late spring 2012. In May 2013, the Yemeni government claimed it foiled a plot by AQAP to establish an Islamic emirate in the Ghayl Bawazir area.

AQAP has launched a series of assassinations and complex attacks against Yemeni security forces in the province. In September 2013, a platoon-sized AQAP assault team stormed a base run by the Interior Ministry's paramilitary Central Security Organization in the city of Mukallah. Several soldiers were killed and the base was held by AQAP for days before it was retaken by commandos.

The US began conducting drone strikes in Hadramout in 2012, and has now carried out a total of 15 strikes in the province. On March 6, AQAP retaliated for the killing of AQAP commander Ali Juraym in a drone strike in Al Jawf province by brutally killing a so-called "American spy" in Hadramout.

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Iraqi military says it retakes control of key base in Tikrit

July 21, 2014 8:12 AM
By Bill Roggio

The Iraqi military said it has regained control of Camp Speicher, the large military base just west of the city of Tikrit that was stormed by fighters from the Islamic State late last week. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two Iraqi officials, including a military official on the base, reached by telephone said elite counterterrorism forces backed by Shiite militiamen had secured the base in the wake of the Islamic State attack on Friday.

Since then, militants have intermittently fired on the base's surveillance towers from their positions surrounding it, the official at the base said. But no major assault has taken place since Friday, signaling the special forces have been--at least for 48 hours--successful in their continuing attempts to repel the incursions.

The counterattacks have also proved an important public-relations exercise for an army struggling badly to keep militants from advancing, despite the enlisting of thousands of volunteer Shiite fighters, hundreds of which have joined troops at Camp Speicher, according to local officials.

"Camp Speicher is safe. It is unreachable to the insurgents," said a special-operations brigade leader, identified as Staff General Karim, to Al-Iraqiya TV. He said the suicide bombers were only able to penetrate the base because its watchtowers were so far apart and visibility was made worse on an especially dusty Friday night. "We hope we will be taking new measures in the coming days to further secure the base," he said.

The news broadcast also showed soldiers firing into the air and declaring victory at the base, as a reporter narrated: "They are killing terrorists and takfiris," using the word for radical Islamists. "The terrorists are terrified here at Speicher, and all over Salahuddin."

The Islamic State claimed last week that it destroyed seven aircraft (likely helicopters) on the tarmac and shot down two more during its assault. The Islamic State said it was in "control of the airport and the base completely" after the attack. An Iraqi official confirmed that at least one helicopter was destroyed at the base and two more were damaged by a suicide bomber.

The Islamic State has also claimed it killed a brigadier and a colonel during the attack, as well as scores of Iraqi troops. Residents in Tikrit told McClatchy last week that captured Iraqi troops were paraded through the city. Iraqi military officials have not commented at all on their own casualties.

Speicher now appears to be contested, despite claims by the Iraqi military to be in full control of the base.

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Iraqi Army comes under attack in Haditha

July 19, 2014 4:59 PM
By Bill Roggio

The Islamic State's Anbar Division released a series of photos that purport to document the overrunning of Iraqi Army bases in the city of Haditha.

Nineteen photographs captioned with "Charging at a number of barracks of the Savafid army in the city of Haditha" were released yesterday on the jihadist group's Twitter feed.

At least one military outpost appears to have been overrun in the attack. The exact location of the base was not disclosed.

The photographs show a convoy of Islamic State technicals, or pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the beds, advancing through the desert, stopping, and taking up position to fire on the outpost. The Islamic State deployed at least one mortar team during the attack.

At one point, a squad of Islamic State fighters is photographed entering the base. The Iraqi combat outpost appears to have been manned by troops. The bodies of several soldiers are shown; one is displayed near a captured US-supplied Humvee.

The city of Haditha and the neighboring towns of Barwana and Haqlaniyah are among the few areas still under Iraqi government control. The Haditha Dam, which controls flood waters south of Haditha and generates power, is said to have been reinforced by several thousand Iraqi troops. The Islamic State is said to control areas in the Barwana district; given the group's ability to attack Iraqi forces in Haditha, that seems likely.

The Islamic State and its allies in Anbar also reportedly control several neighborhoods in Ramadi, the provincial capital. A video released by a jihadist on Twitter earlier this week showed what appeared to be an abandoned Camp Ramadi (the video claimed to be taken in the 5 KM area, which is on the western outskirts of the city). The Al Ta'mim neighborhood, near the 5 KM area, is also said to be controlled or contested by the Islamic State.

Fallujah has been under the control of the Islamic State since January, while Karma and Abu Ghraib fell several months later. The Islamic State took control of Rawa, Anah, and Al Qaim, the border crossing to Syria, after it launched its offensive in mid-June. Last week, the Islamic State routed an Iraqi Army armored column, which included M1 tanks and M113 armored personnel carriers, in the town of Saqlaniyah.

Photographs from the attack in Haditha:

Ten Islamic State vehicles travel in the desert near Haditha:


An Islamic State mortar team opens fire:


Islamic State fighters prepare for their assault:


An Islamic State fighter opens fire from his technical:


An assault team advances on the Iraqi Army outpost. The Iraqi flag is flying as the jihadists assault:


Black smoke rises from the outpost:


An Islamic State fighter stands over the corpse of an Iraqi soldier. Behind him is a captured Humvee:


Islamic State fighters gather outside of what appears to be a small observation post:


An Iraqi soldier who appears to have been shot in the head is on the ground outside a military base. Concrete Jersey barriers, often placed outside military bases, are seen in the background:


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Islamic State stones women to death in Raqqah

July 19, 2014 10:29 AM
By Bill Roggio

The Islamic State's Raqqah Division released photographs of the stoning of a woman in the city of al-Tabaqa. The photographs were published on the jihadist group's Twitter page.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State "applied the first 'stoning to death' judgement on a woman in al-Tabaqa city in the charge of adultery last night in the public souq of Tabaqa, she was stoned to death."

The statement accompanying the photographs reads: "Carrying out the punishment of stoning on a chaste [Arabic: muhsina, in Islamic law this word can mean 'married'] woman, a group of believers attended the stoning #Islamic_State," according to a translation by Oren Adaki.

The photographs are reproduced below. First, an Islamic State official, likely from its sharia court, is shown reading a judgment. Then, a large crowd that witnesses and participates in the stoning is shown. It appears there are more than 100 people in attendance. The last photograph shows a man with a stone in his hand, preparing to throw it. The Islamic State did not show photographs of the woman as she was being stoned to death.

According to the SOHR, the Islamic State conducted a second stoning in the city of Raqqah. The stoning of the second woman was carried out "in a square near the Municipal Stadium, where the IS fighters threw her by stones to death after bringing a pickup full of stones because people refused to participate of stoning."

Photographs from the first stoning:




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Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed reported captured in South Waziristan

July 15, 2014 8:11 PM
By Bill Roggio


Adnan Rasheed (unmasked) is pictured with members of his "death squad." Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

During a raid in South Waziristan, the Pakistani military reportedly captured Adnan Rasheed, a Taliban commander who was broken out of prison in 2012. An al Qaeda commander known as Mufti Zubair Marwat was also arrested in the raid.

Rasheed, Marwat, and two guards are said to have been captured on July 10 in the Shakai valley in South Waziristan, according to Dawn. Rasheed is thought to have been wounded.

Marwat "is the brother of Mufti Sajjad Marwat - an al Qaeda spokesman for Afghanistan and Pakistan," Dawn reported.

The reports of their capture has not been publicly confirmed by the Pakistani military, however.

If Rasheed's capture is confirmed, he will be the first big-name Taliban commander to have been killed or captured by the Pakistani military since it launched an offensive in North Waziristan on June 15. The Pakistan military has claimed to have killed more than 400 terrorists, but has not named any of them.

Rasheed is currently the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.

Rasheed has a long history with Pakistani terrorist groups as well as al Qaeda. He was involved in the Dec. 14, 2003 assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf. A member of the Pakistani Air Force, Rasheed was sentenced to death for his role in the assassination attempt, but the sentence was never carried out. While in prison, Rasheed owned several cell phones and frequently communicated with journalists. He also got married while in prison and fathered a child.

Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered the two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi; Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen; Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami; and Jaish-e-Mohammed. He served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. In addition, Farooqi served as the group's representative to al Qaeda's International Islamic Front, which issued the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the US.

On April 15, 2012, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a successful operation to free Rasheed and nearly 400 prisoners, including an estimated 200 Taliban fighters and jihadists, being held at a prison in Bannu. The operation was directed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the former emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group's former emir for South Waziristan (both Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman were killed by the US in drone strikes). More than 150 fighters assaulted the prison. Rasheed was later featured in a videotape celebrating the jailbreak.

Since the Bannu jailbreak, Rashid has featured in several Taliban propaganda tapes. In January 2013, he appeared in a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan video that announced the formation of the Ansar al Aseer. The video also featured Yassin Chouka, a wanted German commander in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Abdul Hakeem, a Russian IMU member.

In March 2013, Rasheed released a video in which he claimed to have formed an assassination squad to kill former President Musharraf. Rasheed said the "death squad" is split up in groups of "fedayeen, sniper team, special assault team, and close combat team." The term 'fedayeen' is often used to describe suicide bombers.

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Abdullah Azzam Brigades launches rocket attacks from Gaza

July 15, 2014 1:53 PM
By Oren Adaki

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB) has taken credit for three separate rocket attacks targeting Israeli locations, the most recent of which took place on Thursday, July 10. In a series of tweets on AAB's Twitter account, the group said that its Yahya Ayyash Brigades launched three rockets at the Israeli city of Ofakim and the Sufa military support site on Thursday night.

AAB began its rocket attacks on Israel on July 7, the first day of Israel's Operation Protective Edge, which is aiming to silence the barrage of rockets launched by Hamas and other jihadi terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. AAB claims to have fired seven rockets on July 7, and 11 more on July 9, in addition to the three rockets launched on July 10.

AAB claimed that the Yahya Ayyash Brigades was responsible for firing the rockets into Israeli territory on all three occasions. Yahya Ayyash was a Palestinian terrorist known as Hamas' top explosives expert before he was killed in January 1996 as a result of a bomb-laden cellphone. According to the IDF, Ayyash, also known as The Engineer, "personally built the bombs used in a number of Hamas suicide attacks which resulted in 439 casualties."

AAB's Twitter messages on July 8 taking credit for its initial rocket attack in response to Operation Protective Edge were the first public confirmation of the link between the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Yahya Ayyash Brigades. The Twitter messages read, "Allah facilitated for your brothers in the Yahya Ayyash Brigades, which belongs to the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, to fire a number of rockets at the Jewish aggressors on the night of Monday, 7-7-14."

Including the three rocket attacks targeting Israel in the past week, AAB has executed a total of six attacks this year, mostly focused on Iranian and Hebzollah locations in its home base of Lebanon. In January and March, AAB's Marwan Hadid Brigades staged joint attacks with the Al Nusrah Front against Hezbollah locations in Hermel. In February, AAB carried out a double suicide bombing at the Iranian Cultural Center in Beirut, killing 129. Notably, an AAB suicide attack also rocked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November 2013 and led to the deaths of 147 individuals.

These pictures tweeted on July 12 show a Yahya Ayyash Brigade fighter on July 10 preparing a Grad rocket intended for the Israeli city of Ofakim:

Azzam july 10.jpg

Azzam July 101.jpg

The following video released by AAB's Al Awzaey Media Foundation on July 9 includes an audio message from the AAB's former leader Majid bin Muhammad al Majid and allegedly shows AAB fighters launching rockets at Israel:

Background on Abdullah Azzam Brigades

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is named after al Qaeda's co-founder and Osama bin Laden's mentor, was formed by Saleh al Qarawi sometime after 2004 as an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, and was tasked with hitting targets in the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories) and throughout the Middle East.

Qarawi is a Saudi citizen and is on the list of 85 most-wanted terrorists that was issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2009. He appears as number 34 on the Saudi list and is identified as Saleh Abdullah Saleh al Qarawi.

Qarawi has been described as a "field commander" by Flashpoint Intel, which published a translation of an interview that was released in April 2010. According to Qarawi, he fought with former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Fallujah (presumably in the two battles in 2004), and was ordered by Zarqawi to form the Abdullah Azam Brigades.

"Allah rewarded me to participate with my brothers in Fallujah, and I came to know the Sheikh Abu Musab al Zarqawi--may Allah have mercy on him--closely, and he assigned me to a job outside of Iraq," he said.

In the same interview, Qarawi said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades is tasked with striking not only in Lebanon, but also elsewhere.

"[The Abdullah Azzam Brigades] are not confined to Lebanon but there are targets that our fires will reach Allah‐willing in the near future ... the Brigades are formed of a number of groups that are spread in numerous places ... and the groups of 'Ziad al‐Jarrah' in Lebanon are only some of our groups, and we rushed to create these groups and announced them because of the urgency of the battle with the Jews and the priority of the initiative at the time and the place, but the rest of the groups are outside Lebanon."

The Ziad al Jarrah Battalion, which operates primarily in Lebanon, is named after Ziad al Jarrah, a Lebanese citizen who was one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. He was the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Shanksville, Penn., after passengers attempted to retake the plane from the terrorist hijackers.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades releases propaganda on a routine basis. In recent years, the group has advocated for the overthrow of the Saudi government and called for an uprising in Lebanon, as well as voiced support for Syrian rebels. The terror group also released a statement immediately after the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

"May Allah have mercy on Osama, the Sheikh of Jihad, the Imam of Piety, the example of asceticism and the model of patience, the pioneer of glory in this age, and the awakener of the Ummah from its slumber," the terror group said in a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The group also said it had been formed "after incitation" by bin Laden.

Groups calling themselves the Abdullah Azzam Brigade have also claimed attacks in Egypt and Pakistan. It is unclear if the groups are linked.

Both the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad claimed they had carried out the July 2005 bombings in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt that killed 88 people and wounded 150 more. The bombings occurred at cafes and markets frequented by foreigners in the Red Sea resort town.

And a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigade claimed credit for the June 2009 suicide assault on the Pearl Continental Hotel in a high-security zone in Peshawar, Pakistan. A spokesman named Amir Muawiya claimed the attack and said the Taliban and al Qaeda shura directed that all future strikes would be claimed by this group. Amir Muawiya is a leader in the Commander Tariq Group, a Taliban faction based out of Darra Adam Khel in northwestern Pakistan. Muawiya is also known as one of several of al Qaeda's "company" commanders in Pakistan.

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US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military

July 14, 2014 8:57 PM
By Bill Roggio

This report from McClatchy describes the US military's initial assessment of the Iraqi security forces and their ability to defend against the Islamic State and its allies as well as push the group out of its strongholds in Anbar, Diyala, Salahadin, and Ninewa provinces. The assessment is "grim," as McClatchy states. At least four Iraqi Army divisions have fallen apart, and the remaining Iraqi units are compromised by poor leadership, or Shia militiamen and Sunni infiltrators. Additionally, the Islamic State has made significant gains in northern Babil, just south of Baghdad.

The initial U.S. assessment, which arrived at the Pentagon Monday, apparently is just as grim. In one of its most alarming findings, according to a Pentagon official, the advisers concluded that while Iraqi troops could defend Baghdad against an attack now, they would be unable to launch the kind of offensive maneuvers required to fend off the insurgents for the long term, leaving the capital at continued risk. The official asked to remain anonymous because he had not been authorized to discuss the report.

The advisers also warned that the majority of Iraqi brigades are infiltrated by either Sunni extremists or Shiite militias, the official said.

The assessment will inform the Pentagon's recommendations to President Barack Obama on possible options in Iraq, though there is no public time line for when such recommendations could arrive at the White House. In the meantime, the assessment teams remain in Baghdad, where they would become advisers to the Iraqi military should the White House authorize that step.

As the Pentagon drafts it recommendations, the size of the Iraqi debacle in June is becoming increasingly clear:

Four Iraqi army divisions have simply disappeared and won't be easily resurrected.

The 2nd Division was routed from Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, on June 9 at the beginning of the Islamic State's advance, and its four brigades have dissolved.

The 1st Division also is basically gone, losing two brigades in Anbar province earlier in the year, then two more during last month's Islamic State onslaught, including one brigade that in the words of the senior Iraqi politician was "decimated" in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

The same is true of Iraq's 3rd Division. The division's 6th and 9th Brigades fled the Islamic State's advance in the north, and the status of its 11th Brigade is unknown. A small unit of its 10th Brigade is still in Tal Afar, but it is trapped by Islamic State forces.

The 4th Division also was routed. Half its members have disappeared -- many suspect they were massacred when the Islamic State captured Tikrit -- and only one small unit is known to still exist, surrounded by Islamists at a one-time U.S. military base near Tikrit known as Camp Speicher.

The Iraqi media -- which has been ordered by the government to release only good news about operations in order to promote morale, with threats of prison for journalists who fail to spin events positively -- asserts that an operation cleared the road between the key Iraqi city of Samarra and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

But the effort in fact appears to have stalled 20 miles outside Tikrit. "It's heavily contested and the army and militias can't make headway," the politician said. "There are too many explosive devices on the road."

Read the entire article. Two additional points below:

1) It is likely that more than four Iraqi Army divisions have dissolved. The 7th Division, based in Anbar, is probably inoperable; the Iraqi government's deployment of 4,000 Shia militiamen to Ramadi is sure proof that both the 1st and the 7th are no longer viable fighting forces. Also, the armored convoy (likely a company or more) in Khalidiyah that was ambushed and destroyed was from the 9th Division (the 9th has M1 tanks), which is further evidence that the two Anbar-based divisions are offline. See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar, from two days ago.

Additionally, the 5th and 12th divisions, based in the Tigris River Valley in Salahaddin province north of Baghdad in Tikrit, are also likely to have been dismantled. Reports have surfaced that Iranian-backed Shia militias are guarding the road from Baghdad to Samarra.

Meanwhile the 17th Division, which is in the Sunni Triangle just south of Baghdad, may have reached its breaking point. It has launched numerous offensives in an effort to retake Jurf as Sakhar since the beginning of the year, only to have failed each time.

2) Read the LWJ report, A protracted struggle ahead for Iraq, which was published by Bill Ardolino and me on June 24. Weeks before the US military's assessment, we noted that the likelihood of the Iraqi military retaking areas lost during the Islamic State's offensive was slim to none absent significant support from the US. The Iraqi military's inability to retake control of Anbar province since the beginning of January should have made that all too clear.

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UN grants aid convoys access to rebel-held areas in Syria

July 14, 2014 4:10 PM
By Lisa Lundquist

In a unanimous decision today, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize "humanitarian aid agencies and their partners" to deliver aid via "routes across conflict lines and as well as four additional border crossings - Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha." The decision addresses frustration within the international aid community that in recent months much of the aid has been sent to areas in western Syria controlled by the Assad regime.

The UN's resolution, which relieves aid organizations of the need to obtain permission from the regime for cross-border deliveries, has been opposed by Syrian officials as infringing upon the nation's sovereignty. Under the new rule, Syrian officials will be informed of the nature of the aid but will not have control over the deliveries.

Problematically, the resolution authorizes the delivery of aid through three border crossings that are currently controlled by Islamist groups, including the Islamic State and the Islamic Front, as reported by the New York Times yesterday.

Of the four crossings mentioned by the UN, the Ramtha-Deraa crossing in the south on the Jordanian border was taken over by al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front in September. The Bab al Salam-Oncupinar crossing on the Turkish border has changed hands several times of the course of the war, but was until recently controlled by the Islamic Front. Similarly, the Bab al Hawa-Reyhanlı crossing, also on the Turkish border, was controlled by the Islamic Front. According to al Jazeera today, however, both of the Turkish border crossings are now controlled by the Islamic State.

The Al Yarubiyah crossing, in Hasakah province on the Iraqi border, which is currently held by Kurdish forces, is in danger of falling to the Islamic State as well. Islamic State fighters have been battering Kurdish YPG forces in the area in an effort to take over the entire northern border region, called Kobani by the Kurds.

Certainly there are grave humanitarian needs in Syria that need to be addressed, which are increasing daily. The latest UN resolution may, however, represent more wishful thinking on the part of the international community than a realistic means of addressing those problems.

Even in areas of Syria under regime control, aid groups have complained that there is little or no monitoring of the distribution once it is inside the country. In mid-May, a report in Reuters said NGOs were deploring the uncertainty as to whether the aid they were sending into Syria was reaching its recipients, due to an almost complete lack of monitoring by the UN, among others:

But the lack of transparency around U.N. deliveries makes that hard to monitor, according to international non-government organizations (NGOs), which wrote to several U.N. Security Council members last month warning a lack of coordination meant assistance was not reaching priority areas.

"I can't know if it's done well or badly as the U.N. hasn't told us exactly who the aid has gone to," said the project manager of one Western NGO, declining to be identified for fear of jeopardizing already fragile relations with the world body.

"It's doubly damaging because there is no accountability, transparency or coordination and all the while Assad is claiming credit (for aid deliveries) and criminalizing anyone who is crossing the border in rebel-held areas."

NGOs complain that despite multiple requests, the United Nations has so far failed to share its methodology in identifying those most in need and monitoring where its aid goes after delivery. Often it does not even disclose what its food aid includes.

And the problem does not consist merely of difficulties in monitoring. As an article in The New York Times observed, also in mid-May:

Cross-border aid is a tricky matter for the United Nations agencies because of a raging debate inside the world body about whether the law allows them to enter Syrian territory without the state's permission. But just trucking in aid from the long northern border with Turkey wouldn't solve the problem. Some two million Syrians are deep inside the country -- and getting food and medicines to them means crossing front lines and then checkpoints manned by numerous armed opposition groups.

So far, a little more than a half-dozen rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, have agreed to let United Nations aid convoys come through their areas, though none of the extremist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, which now dominate several key areas and roads.

If jihadists control the crossings through which the aid will pass, what assurances do the UN and the international community have that the aid will reach the populations for whom it is intended? And even if some aid does trickle down to those persons, isn't there a strong likelihood that it will be used to reinforce the powers of the jihadist group controlling its distribution?

At this point, one can only hope that the overall effect of the new resolution will be positive for the people of the region. In the best-case scenario envisioned by the measure's proponents, it will allow for the provision of aid to two million needy people.

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Australian cleric who claimed to join Islamic State captured in Philippines

July 11, 2014 8:11 AM
By Bill Roggio

According to reports, Musa Cerantonio, the radical Australian cleric who claimed he traveled to Syria and joined the Islamic State, has been arrested in Cebu in the Philippines.

The Philippines' national chief of police confirmed that Cerantonio was arrested at his apartment, and said he will be deported to Australia, where he is wanted by the Australian Federal Police, SBS/APP reported today.

"Cerantonio was arrested at the request of the Australian government and will be deported because Canberra has canceled his passport, making him an illegal alien," Naharnet reported.

A video claiming to show Cerantonio being taken out of an apartment in handcuffs by Philippines police was posted on YouTube by Millatu Ibrahim AU (Australia), a Salafist group that includes a banner flown by al Qaeda and the Islamic State in its banner. The video is titled "Musa Cerantonio arrested by kuffar [unbeliever] in Philipines [sic]."

Cerantonio had announced on Twitter on July 1 that he was traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State, and said two days later that he had arrived in the country. He did not update his Twitter page after July 3.

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Social Media Jihad: Zawahiri on how to build an Islamic state

July 10, 2014 4:05 PM
By Thomas Joscelyn

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 3.06.52 PM.png

While some jihadists are growing impatient waiting for al Qaeda's response to the Islamic State's declared caliphate, one senior al Qaeda leader on Twitter decided to remind his comrades what Ayman al Zawahiri previously had to say about building an Islamic State.

The al Qaeda leader known as Sanafi al Nasr [see here and here for more on al Nasr] tweeted the banner above yesterday. It contains the following quote from Zawahiri:

And know, Oh dear loved ones, that we have called, still call, and will - with Allah's permission - continue to call on everyone to work to establish a Muslim government in Sham ... and they will choose whomever satisfies them - among those people who meet the legal [sharia] conditions - as their leader. Whomever they pick is our choice as well, and we do not want anyone to impose himself on them because we seek to return the rightly guided caliphate upon the platform of prophecy that rules according to sharia, propagates the shura, spreads justice, protects rights, and confronts aggression.

It appears that this quote was taken from an audio message released by Zawahiri in January. Zawahiri did not specifically address any of the warring jihadist factions in Syria in his January message, but instead called for reconciliation while implicitly criticizing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's (ISIS) practices.

Within hours of the initial release of Zawahiri's message, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini released a reconciliation initiative aimed at uniting the rival jihadist groups against Bashar al Assad's regime. Muhaysini specifically cited Zawahiri's address in his initiative. However, on Jan. 27, the ISIS rejected Muhaysini's proposal. And so, in early February, al Qaeda's general command disowned the ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State.

On Jan. 23, shortly after Zawahiri's message was released, I cited the same quote shown in the banner above and reported:

Zawahiri's remarks in this regard are identical to those made by the head of the Al Nusrah Front, Abu Muhammad al Julani, during an interview that aired on Al Jazeera last month [in December 2013]. Julani said that Zawahiri and al Qaeda's central leadership have "given us a large margin to decide on our own" how things go inside Syria. Zawahiri "always tells us to meet with the other factions," Julani said. "We will not impose a ruler on the people," Julani added, as al Qaeda only seeks "the implementation of sharia and any ruler should be committed to the rules of the sharia and qualified for that."

Interestingly, there have been allegations that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has required jihadists who pledge allegiance to him and ISIS to also acknowledge Baghdadi as the new "caliph" or Islamic ruler.

Earlier this month, a senior jihadist ideologue known as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, who is imprisoned in Jordan, issued a statement criticizing this requirement. Maqdisi denounced ISIS' fatwas, which "obligate Muslims to make a grand pledge of allegiance to Baghdadi as a caliph." Maqdisi also explained that such fatwas lead to the shedding of Muslim blood and incite jihadists to "to disobey the authorities' orders, particularly the orders of Sheikh Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri."

Zawahiri's words in January were a not-so-thinly veiled rebuttal to Baghdadi's claims. As you can see from the reporting at the time, Baghdadi was already arguing that he was the new caliph. This makes the Islamic State's declaration in late June entirely unsurprising.

Although al Qaeda's senior leaders haven't yet officially responded to the Islamic State's caliphate claim, Zawahiri's January message provides a preview of one argument they are likely to make. According to al Qaeda, the new caliph is supposed to be selected through consultation (shura), not unilaterally declared by one party. Jihadists who are part of al Qaeda's network have already been making this argument on Twitter.

And so has Sanafi al Nasr, who reposted Zawahiri's words just yesterday.

Oren Adaki, a research associate and Arabic language specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contributed to this article.

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Suicide bomber kills 4 ISAF troops, 12 Afghans in Parwan

July 8, 2014 11:14 AM
By Bill Roggio

The Afghan Taliban claimed credit for today's suicide attack in Parwan province that killed 16 people, including four Coalition soldiers, two policemen, and 10 civilians. The suicide bomber apparently targeted a military convoy as it passed an area where civilians were gathered.

In a terse press release, the International Security Assistance Force confirmed that four soldiers were killed in "an enemy forces attack":

Four International Security Assistance Force service members died as a result of an enemy forces attack in eastern Afghanistan today.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

The nationality of the ISAF soldiers has not been disclosed, but Reuters reported that the four ISAf personnel were Czech.

The Taliban claimed the attack in a statement released at Voice of Jihad, their official website. The Taliban identified the suicide bomber as "a Mujahid of the martyr unit of the Islamic Emirate, Abdullah, resident of Ghazni province," and said he "detonated his explosive-filled belt at approximately 8:00 am local time, targeting the convoy of the Special Forces in Charikar city, the capital of Parwan province and killing as many as 15 foreign aggressors with wounding a dozen more."

The Taliban and their powerful sub-group, the Haqqani Network, as well as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Hizb-i-Islam Gulbuddin, and al Qaeda, are all known to operate in Parwan province. These groups and others are known to coordinate operations as part of what the US military used to call the Kabul Attack Network.

In January, the Taliban claimed to have carried out the Jan. 17 suicide assault on a Lebanese restaurant to avenge the Jan. 15 raid by ISAF and Afghan forces in Parwan province that targeted a senior Taliban leader who had significant ties to the Haqqani Network.

The IMU has also carried suicide attacks in Parwan province. Most recently, the IMU claimed credit for the Oct. 18, 2013 suicide attack that targeted an ISAF convoy in the province.

A few years earlier, the IMU, al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban executed a suicide assault on Bagram Airbase in Parwan, on May 10, 2010. The assault was led by Bekay Harrach, a dual-hatted IMU and al Qaeda leader from Germany. Harrach is thought to have been killed during the attack.

An IMU commander known as Abbas Mansoor admitted in 2011 that the IMU carried out the Bagram Airbase assault in conjunction with other groups. "We were not the only organizers of this operation; rather, it was done in coordination and cooperation with other jihadi groups," Mansoor said. "Twenty best sons of the Ummah were chosen for the team. There were Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Pashtuns, and Afghans."

The network of allied jihadist groups continues to coordinate operations throughout Afghanistan as the US and NATO continue to withdraw forces and transfer control to Afghan security forces. As we have seen in Iraq over the past year, the rapid transfer of control to ill-prepared local security forces has disastrous consequences.

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Islamic State's 'caliph' speaks at Mosul mosque

July 5, 2014 10:50 AM
By Bill Roggio

The newly-formed Islamic State released a video of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the group's emir, who has been named Caliph Ibrahim. The 21-minute video (above) shows Baghdadi, also known as Abu Du'a, speaking at the Grand Mosque in the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, which was captured by the jihadist group on June 10.

In the short sermon, Baghdadi urges Muslims to wage jihad and plays the role of the humble servant. Translation below is from the SITE Intelligence Group:

I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility. I was placed as your caretaker, and I am not better than you. So if you found me to be right then help me, and if you found me to be wrong then advise me and make me right and obey me in what I obey Allah through you. If I disobey Him then there is no obedience to me from you. I do not promise you, as the kings and rulers promise their followers and congregation, of luxury, security, and relaxation; instead, I promise you what Allah promised His faithful worshipers.

As Baghdadi walks up to the pulpit, he appears to struggle a bit, as if he had recently been injured. Although Baghdadi was rumored to have been injured months ago in Syria, the reports were never confirmed.

Baghdadi, who leads the jihadist group that controls vast areas in both Iraq and Syria, was previously thought to have been residing in the Syrian city of Raqqah, which is also under the control of the Islamic State.

The video is the first to show Baghdadi, who previously has not appeared in public. The sermon is the second statement by Baghdadi that has been released by the Islamic State in the past five days.

On July 1, the Islamic State released a statement from Baghdadi in which he "issued 'a special call' to religious workers as well as for 'people with military, administrative, and service expertise, and medical doctors and engineers of all different specializations and fields,'" according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

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AQAP attacks government complex in Baydah

July 3, 2014 10:07 AM
By Oren Adaki

At dawn today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters attacked the local government complex in Baydha as well as the residence of the provincial deputy governor. A local security source told the Yemeni newspaper Aden al Ghad that suspected AQAP militants carried out an armed assault this morning on the house of the provincial deputy governor, Sinan Halqoum, in Baydah City. Two of the attacking militants were reportedly killed during clashes with the government complex's security forces. Other reports claimed that three of the attackers were killed in the confrontation.

A spokesman for the Yemeni armed forces, Brigadier Sa'id al Faqih, told the Yemeni media that three special forces soldiers were wounded while defending the government complex in Baydah.

Today's attack is reminiscent of an AQAP attack in April during which militants assassinated the then deputy governor of Baydah, Hussein al Dayan. AQAP has routinely targeted Yemeni political, military, and intelligence officials, especially since Yemeni state forces recaptured territory that AQAP held between 2011-2012. Baydha province has become an AQAP stronghold ever since increasing numbers of militants migrated there after being expelled from neighboring Abyan province during the Yemeni military counteroffensive in 2012.

The Yemeni military has been engaged since late April in an ongoing offensive to root out AQAP militants from their strongholds, particularly those in the southern provinces. According to an AFP report, 374 Yemeni soldiers and other security force members have been killed since January in the violent clashes with AQAP militants in the south and with Shiite Houthi rebels in the northern provinces.

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Is the Pakistani military really targeting the Haqqani Network?

July 1, 2014 10:32 AM
By Bill Roggio

Pakistani military officials are now claiming that the North Waziristan operation, which began on June 15, will target the Haqqani Network. Sorta. Reuters reports on a press briefing with a general and government official. A cursory read of the report might lead you to conclude that yes, the Pakistani military is now indeed serious about squaring off against the Haqqanis. But see the following excerpt from the Reuters report:

But Major General Asim Bajwa said all civilian residents of North Waziristan, a mountainous region on the Afghan border, had left and the military would target anyone still there.

"They cannot escape," he told a press briefing. "It's very clear that those who left inside are only terrorists."

Nervous laughter rippled around the room as Bajwa faced aggressive questioning about whether the military was pursuing the Haqqanis or allied Taliban commanders who stage attacks inside Afghanistan but leave Pakistani forces alone.

Although Bajwa did not refer specifically to the Haqqanis, he promised that the military would go after "terrorists of all hue and color" and there would be no discrimination between Taliban factions.

Abdul Qadir Baloch, the minister for states and frontier regions and a close ally of the prime minister, was more blunt.

"Haqqani or no Haqqani ... no one who tries to terrorize in Pakistan will be allowed. Our government has been saying time and again that the soil of Pakistan will not be allowed to be used against anyone," he said.

Note how General Bajwa can't even bring himself to name the Haqqani Network. He does promise to target "terrorists of all hue and color," but if you don't consider the Haqqanis to be terrorists, that solves that problem.

Also note how Minister Baloch claims that "no one who tries to terrorize in Pakistan will be allowed" [emphasis mine].

That carefully crafted statement gets to the heart of the "good Taliban" vs. "bad Taliban" issue. The Haqqanis (and Hafiz Gul Bahadar's Taliban faction) are good Taliban because they don't advocate "terrorizing" the Pakistani state. And they were given ample time to clear out of North Waziristan before the military launched its operation.

The simple reality is that if the Pakistani military and intelligence service were serious about dismantling the Haqqani Network, they wouldn't need to launch a massive operation to do so. The top leaders of the Haqqani Network are known to operate in Pakistan's major cities, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate knows just where those leaders reside.

As we've noted at the onset of the operation, the real target of this operation is the "bad Taliban" - the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and "foreigners."

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Pakistani military says 'ground operation' in North Waziristan has begun

June 30, 2014 9:56 PM
By Bill Roggio

The Pakistani Army said it started its ground offensive in the Miramshah area of North Wazirsitan earlier today. The Inter-Services Public Relations branch issued a press release stating that a "House to House search of Miramshah town is being carried out by infantry troops and special service group."

The military claimed it killed 15 "terrorists" while its forces "recovered underground tunnels and IEDs preparation factories inside the so far cleared area."

In the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, the military has executed "integrated fire of Artillery, Tanks and other heavy weapons ... on terrorist's concentrations ...."

The military now claims that 376 "terrorists" and 17 soldiers have been killed since Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched.

Despite the use of "Artillery, Tanks and other heavy weapons" in populated areas, the military claims that no civilians have been killed.

Additionally, the military has identified only one "terrorist" killed during the operation - a local Taliban leader in Miramshah known as Commander Umer. The military also claimed it captured an al Qaeda explosives expert but has not named him.

Many of the areas targeted in the operation are administered by the "good Taliban" - the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group - and yet not a single Haqqani or Bahadar commander has been identified as killed or captured.

For more information on Pakistan's recent military operation in North Waziristan and "good Taliban" vs. "bad Taliban", see LWJ and Threat Matrix reports:

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Twin AQAP attacks hit Hadramout airport and military headquarters

June 30, 2014 11:33 AM
By Oren Adaki


Seyoun Airport's control tower following the AQAP attack (Source: Mukallah Today).

According to Yemeni security officials, fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) carried out an attack on Seyoun Airport in Hadramout province in eastern Yemen on June 26. The strategically significant city of Seyoun, the second-largest city in the lawless province, and was also targeted last month, when it was stormed by AQAP on May 23.

Three Yemeni soldiers who had been stationed at an airport entrance used for both civilian and military purposes were reported killed in the recent attack. The AQAP assault team took control of various sections of the airport and managed to seize the flight control tower.

The attack took place as a civilian airplane was landing at the airport. According to the Yemeni military, the plane was evacuated and its passengers were escorted to safety. Some news sources claimed that nine civilians were killed in the attack on the airport, but this figure could not be confirmed.

The Yemeni military claimed on June 26 that it had killed six AQAP fighters during a counterstrike on the militant-held airport.

AQAP fighters also carried out another attack in Seyoun at the same time as the airport attack, targeting the headquarters of the Yemeni first military region. A suicide car bomber drove into the military headquarters and killed five soldiers. Local officials in Hadramout said the bombing was likely intended to serve as a diversion from the main assault on the airport, preventing the military from reinforcing its troops there.

In related news, on June 28, clashes lasting for about an hour were reported in Seyoun between Yemeni soldiers and AQAP militants. The Yemeni military claimed that two soldiers and four AQAP militants were killed in the fighting, and that three soldiers were wounded.

President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi addressed the Yemeni people over the weekend, in a speech timed for the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and pledged to continue the fight against AQAP. According to Al Riyadh, Hadi said that "our national and religious duty forces all of us to be hand in hand and of one heart in combating terrorism and eradicate its grave scourge, because or wide battle against terrorism continues."

Hadi added that "Yemen, in its military and people, is fighting terrorism on behalf of the world," and said Yemen's ongoing offensive against AQAP has "aborted the terrorists' plan to establish an international training camp in Yemen."

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Iran's stance on Iraq: neither new nor improved

June 30, 2014 11:20 AM
By Behnam Ben Taleblu

Things have escalated severely in Iraq. Despite the full court-press by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS/DAASH/now simply IS) south towards the capital, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, according to the BBC, "has rejected calls for a national salvation government to help counter the offensive by jihadist-led Sunni rebels." Thus far, ISIS has scored impressive gains in Iraq, which include the takeover of an oil refinery at Bayji, the biggest in the country. Then came news that two border checkpoints were snatched up by ISIS.

Slowly, the United States has upped its support. President Barack Obama already declared that America will be sending "up to 300 military advisers" to Baghdad, as reported by CNN. This news followed reports that three American naval vessels, the USS George HW Bush, the USS Philippine Sea, and the USS Truxtun, are headed to the Persian Gulf. To date, roughly 90 of the aforementioned advisers have touched down in Iraq, according to the American Foreign Press Service. What's more, Secretary Kerry recently wrapped up a visit to Iraq where he said, "Iraq faces an existential threat and Iraq's leaders have to beat that threat with the incredible urgency that it demands."

That "threat" however, is codified slightly differently by Iraq's neighbor, Iran.

The newest developments in Iraq have produced a splattering of opinions by Iran's political and military leadership about everything ranging from US intervention to ISIS and its origins. Iranian officials and commentators have been producing their own analysis about Iraq's crisis and what it means for the region.

In reference to the resurgent theme of possible Iranian collaboration with the US, Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, the Chief of Staff of Iran's Armed Forces, recently put a nail in that coffin. On June 18, Fars News Agency reported that he said, "There is no need for the presence of Iranian forces in Iraq, and the collaboration of Iran and America will never happen and makes no sense at all." To add fuel to the fire, on June 22, Kayhan quoted Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei as saying: "We strongly oppose the intervention of Americans or others in Iraq's domestic affairs and do not approve of it since we are sure the government and nation of Iraq and the religious sources of emulation [Marja'iyat] of this nation have the capability to end this sedition [Fitnah] and God-willing [Inshallah], they will finish it."

Critiquing ISIS on the other hand, Firoozabadi got creative, injecting sectarian historical narratives at a time that requires the calm and strategic hands of ecumenicalism. He likened the group's outlook to "the ignorance of the Bani' Umayya," a historical reference that derides the Arab Bani' Umayya tribe, which constituted a caliphate housed in Damascus known in history textbooks as the Umayyad Dynasty (roughly 661-750 AD). In Shiite history, a prominent branch of the Umayyad family helped fan the Islamic Civil War against Ali ibn Abu Talib (the last "rightly guided" Caliph/first Imam of Sh'ism) and slaughtered the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Husayn bin Ali (the third Imam of Shiism) in Karbala, Iraq.

Many in the West may have glossed over these points, but in their essence, they help propel today's sectarian conflict.

Moreover, despite what we know today about the origins and evolution of ISIS/IS in Iraq, Firoozabadi does not see its rise as such. According to Fars, he exclaimed that, "DAASH is an Israel[i] and America[n] movement for the creation of a secure border for the Zionists against the forces of resistance in the region ...." Unfortunately, this view has not been confined to Firoozabadi alone. Iran's former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recently asserted that ISIS was foreign-sponsored, noting that "the unwavering support of hidden hands to this group by some regional countries and [countries] out of the region ...." Even Iran's Supreme Leader chimed in, saying: "That which has occurred in Iraq is not a Sunni-Shi'ite war, but rather with the dominant system's [Nezam-e Solteh (another name for the US)] use of the residues of Saddam's regime as the main axes and fanatic Takfiri elements as infantry, it attempts to upset the stability and tranquility of Iraq and threaten the country's territorial integrity."

On June 25, in what can only be ascribed to the Islamic Republic's attempt to impose its definition of unity upon Iraq, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the Deputy Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), touted that "Shi'ites and Sunni's of Iraq will be transformed into a great power against America and arrogance." He further proclaimed that "the people of Iraq have reached the point that they must rely on their inner power and America is not a good base of support for them." Unity in Iraq remains a key theme for Iran. The Iraqi-born Iranian politician Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, who currently serves as the Guardian Council's Vice-Chairman, added to that sentiment by saying: "[T]he division of Iraq is not acceptable to the government[s] of Iraq and Iran and only benefits America. The people of Iraq must preserve their unity."

But Iran is not only speaking about events in Iraq; it appears to be taking action. The New York Times ran a piece on June 25 describing everything from Iranian surveillance drones to the Islamic Republic's vast provision of "military equipment and supplies" to Iraq. On June 24, ABC News reported that the Air Force of Iran's oldest state ally in the region, the Syrian Arab Republic, allegedly bombarded parts of Anbar province.

Just prior to these developments, one analyst did note a paradox of strategic import. On June 18, Sa'adollah Zaraei claimed: "If the Americans remain in a state of silence, and don't come to the aid of the government of Iraq, the small veins of the relationship between Baghdad and Washington will tear, and the relationship between Tehran and Baghdad will become stronger, hence, America is trapped is a great historical contradiction."

There is a kernel of truth to that statement. The American public in general is seeking to turn away from the endless conflicts in the Middle East, and specifically the turmoil in Iraq. But to US adversaries like Iran, the future of Iraq is seen as increasingly tied to Iran's ability to change outcomes, establish narratives, and perhaps even attempt to project power.

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ISIS announces formation of Caliphate, rebrands as 'Islamic State'

June 29, 2014 6:44 PM
By Bill Roggio

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, the jihadist group that spans both Iraq and Syria, is no more. Today, the group, which controls vast areas of the two countries, announced the formation of the Caliphate, changed its name to the Islamic State, and named Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (a.k.a. Abu Du'a) as its caliph. Baghdadi is now to be referred to as "khalifah Ibrahim."

You can read the full text of the announcement, here. The lengthy statement largely defends the Islamic State's decision to announce the formation of the Caliphate, a controversial move that is sure to send shockwaves throughout the jihadist world. Below is a short excerpt from the announcement:

Therefore, the shūrā (consultation) council of the Islamic State studied this matter after the Islamic State - by Allah's grace - gained the essentials necessary for khilāfah, which the Muslims are sinful for if they do not try to establish. In light of the fact that the Islamic State has no shar'ī (legal) constraint or excuse that can justify delaying or neglecting the establishment of the khilāfah such that it would not be sinful, the Islamic State - represented by ahlul-halli-wal-'aqd (its people of authority), consisting of its senior figures, leaders, and the shūrā council - resolved to announce the establishment of the Islamic khilāfah, the appointment of a khalīfah for the Muslims, and the pledge of allegiance to the shaykh (sheikh), the mujāhid, the scholar who practices what he preaches, the worshipper, the leader, the warrior, the reviver, descendent from the family of the Prophet, the slave of Allah, Ibrāhīm Ibn 'Awwād Ibn Ibrāhīm Ibn 'Alī Ibn Muhammad al-Badrī al-Hāshimī al-Husaynī al-Qurashī by lineage, as-Sāmurrā'ī by birth and upbringing, al-Baghdādī by residence and scholarship. And he has accepted the bay'ah (pledge of allegiance). Thus, he is the imam and khalīfah for the Muslims everywhere. Accordingly, the "Iraq and Shām" in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration.

We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah's authority and arrival of its troops to their areas. Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, as reported by 'Abdūs Ibn Mālik al-'Attār, "It is not permissible for anyone who believes in Allah to sleep without considering as his leader whoever conquers them by the sword until he becomes khalīfah and is called Amīrul-Mu'minīn (the leader of the believers), whether this leader is righteous or sinful."

News of the formation of the Islamic State is being celebrated on pro-ISIS Twitter feeds. In the Islamic State-held city of Raqqah in Syria, jihadists reportedly celebrated in the center of the city:

In addition to the announcement of the establishment of the Islamic State, the jihadist group released videos, including one titled "Breaking of the borders," which featured Islamic State military commander Omar Shishani (the Chechen) and Abu Muhammad al 'Adnani, the group's official spokesman. The two men celebrate the capture of a base on the border as well as the confiscation of a large amount of military equipment.

In a second video, titled "The End of Sykes-Picot," a Chilean member of the Islamic State discusses the destruction of the border between Iraq and Syria. He speaks in English, and raises the flag of the Islamic State over the outpost.

The videos are of a piece to herald the establishment of the Islamic State.

Al Qaeda has yet to respond to the announcement by its erstwhile branch. Al Qaeda disowned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham after it attempted to take over the jihad in Syria and overrule the Al Nusrah Front, which was established by ISIS and al Qaeda.

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Desperately seeking moderate Syrian rebels

June 28, 2014 8:43 AM
By Lisa Lundquist

Following the news that the Obama administration, in a sudden about-face, is asking Congress for $500 million to train and equip "vetted" members of the "moderate" Syrian opposition, The Associated Press yesterday published a list, headlined "Syrian rebels likely to receive US aid." The list raises more questions than it answers -- two of the listed groups have been designated by the US as terrorist organizations.

The five groups listed as potential recipients of the additional US military aid are, in the order in which they appear: the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council; breakaway factions such as Harakat Hazm, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front led by Jamal Maarouf a. k.a. Abu Khaled, and the Islamic Army headed by Zahran Alloush; the Islamic Front; the Al Nusrah Front; and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS).

We can breathe a sigh of relief as at least, according to the AP article, the US won't be giving the aid to Al Nusrah, or, although the article doesn't expressly say so, to the ISIS. But that relief is short-lived if you look at the rest of the list.

The Free Syrian Army has been in considerable disarray for months, and yesterday The Telegraph reported that Syrian National Coalition prime minister Ahmad Tomeh announced that the SNC has "decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government's financial and administration committee for investigation." Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir, the FSA's chief-of-staff, has been sacked, and the SNC has called for its "revolutionary forces on the ground" to thoroughly revamp the FSA's command structure.

As for breakaway groups such as Harakat Hazm, Syrian Revolutionaries Front, and Islamic Army, all of which are fairly recent creations arguably established in part to put a more "moderate" face on the Syrian rebels, there is no evidence that they can be relied upon to operate independently of, or avoid sharing arms and supplies with, the hardcore Islamist forces that dominate the rebel ranks on the battlefields.

And there is evidence to the contrary. The Harakat Hazm works with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, whose leader, Jamal Marouf, has admitted to sharing weapons with Al Nusrah and said that fighting al Qaeda is "not our problem." [See LWJ report, The shadowy flow of US weapons into Syria, and Threat Matrix report, Chief of Syrian Revolutionaries Front says al Qaeda is 'not our problem.'] Zahran Alloush, a Salafist leader in the Islamic Front whose forces have flown the black flag of al Qaeda, is not known as a moderate. His Army of Islam faction participated with Al Nusrah in the sectarian attack on Adra in December, in which as many as 40 civilians were massacred.

And finally, with regard to the Islamic Front, described by AP as "an alliance of seven powerful conservative and ultraconservative rebel groups that merged in late November," the article states that some of the aid could go to factions within the Islamic front, but likely "not to ultraconservative factions such as Ahrar al-Sham."

The problem with wishful distinctions like this is that they ignore the realities on the ground. As the most powerful of the Islamic Front's constituencies, Ahrar al Sham would likely be free to take any supplies it wanted from those given to other factions within the Islamic Front. And similarly, but in a larger sense, the battlefield alliances of the Islamic Front, which fights in all of Syria's provinces, are both fluid and varied, embracing both FSA rebels and uncompromising Islamist fighters from groups such as Al Nusrah, with which it frequently partners. Indeed, the only group with which the Islamic Front seldom, if ever, collaborates is the ISIS.

Perhaps you read to the end of the AP article with the wistful hope that some other deserving groups might appear on a subsequent page. But that was the end of the list.

And if you have been following the war in Syria closely, you probably also recognize that indeed, there are no significant independent, moderate fighting groups in Syria to support at present. Those that do exist must coexist with the prevailing Islamist forces, with all that entails.

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