The Ratline Manual

As infiltration from the Syrian Ratline into Iraq continues, another jihadi’s guide to entering Iraq from Syria has surfaced. Evan Kohlmann provides a translation of The New Road to Mesopotamia, which was purportedly written by a jihadi named Al-Muhajir Al-Islami.

The guide is an interesting window into the operations of the enemy. Al-Islami covers many aspects of the passage to Iraq. The main points discussed are the entry points into Iraq, why these entry points are conducive to successful infiltration, the actions of the Syrian government, the finances of the jihadis and the sophistication of their operations.


The author outlines the three main areas of entry into Iraq: the Habur (near Zakhu), Tal Kujik and Sinjar border crossings north in the Mosul region, the Qusaybah/Qaim entry point in western Anbar, and the southern crossing at Al Tanf/Ar Rutbah near the Jordanian border [see detailed map]. The northernmost (Habur) and southernmost crossings (Al Tanf) are deemed to dangerous to use, while the crossing in Qaim is the most frequently used.

The Mosul and Qaim crossings are desirable due to the cooperation of many local tribal groups and their cross border relationships. The Qaim crossing is especially attractive due to the favorable terrain, “the close ties of these people to Islam and their Arab traditions”, the concentration of villages along the border and “the enormous hatred towards the Syrian regime, and especially towards the ruling elite.”

While Syria serves as a main transit point, the jihadis are distrustful of the Syrian government and Syrian religious leaders in particular.

Do not trust any Imam in Syrian mosques because they are all employees of the Syrian government, which openly fights against the religion of Allah. It is impossible for people living there to attend prayers at the mosques without having the Syrian intelligence sweeping through the place. These Imams are either Sufis or fighting against Allah and his prophet. They write their daily reports and submit them to the oppressive Syrian [security] forces. The majority of the people who are arrested while trying to cross the border are those who were betrayed and turned in to the Syrian intelligence apparatus  Do not approach the Salafist youths inside the mosques because they are always watched in there. Try to meet up with them outside the mosques while maintaining a sufficient distance.

Al Islami’s account of the on again, off again operations of the Syrian police squares with that of Syrian jihadi Abu Ibrahim. Syria also provides valuable cooperation by knowingly issuing orders to ignore obvious signs of terrorists looking to enter Iraq.

When you enter Syria, do not hesitate to offer bribes to the police because they are used to it. However, recently, the government ordered the police not to stop any vehicle coming from the Persian Gulf region.

Finally, the individual finances are openly discussed. Lodging tips, food prices and such are brought up. There is a contradictory warning to not carry too much money, while exhorting them to bring money for their brethren in Iraq. For example the statement “It is recommended to enter the city using a car and do not carry large sums of money” is followed by “do not forget to bring some money with you for your mujahideen brothers in Iraq, especially on your second visit  I have heard that one of our mujahideen brothers in Iraq was forced to sell his weapon in order to raise some money.”

Al-Islami paints a picture of an insurgency that to a significant degree relies on the financing, transportation and knowledge to come from the individual fighter, not from an organized support structure. While Al-Islami’s guide is by no means fully representative of the insurgency and al Qaeda operations, it certainly helps diminish the theory of the Syrian ratline being comparable to the sophisticated Ho Chin Minh trail.

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


  • Iraq Reviews says:

    The Ratline Manual

    [Source: The Fourth Rail] quoted: There is a contradictory warning to not carry too much money, while exhorting them to bring money for their brethren in Iraq. For example the statement “It is recommended to enter the city using a car and do not carry …

  • leaddog2 says:

    The questions is: Can this movement be stopped?
    I suspect the answer is:
    ONLY by taking out Syria’s Bathist party and permanently exterminating all Islamist or semi-Islamist rats.
    What do you think?


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