Islamic State continues to clash with multiple foes in Aleppo, Hasakah

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Four days after the Islamic State launched a sudden assault on towns and villages in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, the heavy fighting continues. Not only is the Islamic State battling a consortium of rebel groups and jihadists in Aleppo, the “caliphate” is attempting to push into the predominately Kurdish city of Hasakah, which is the capital of the northeastern province with the same name .

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men began to attack Hasakah several days ago, with the Syrian state-controlled news agency, SANA, claiming that the jihadists’ plans had been thwarted by regime loyalists. However, the Islamic State regrouped and began a new round of fighting in the last twenty-four hours.

As part of its propaganda campaign accompanying the battles, the Islamic State released photos showing the execution of two men who were accused of being spies for the the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization that is affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PKK, YPG, and elements from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) drove the Islamic State out of Kobani, another Kurdish-majority city in northern Syria, earlier this year.

One of the photos advertising the execution of the alleged PKK spies can be seen above.

The Islamic State’s decision to seize territory controlled by rebel groups north of Aleppo has set off another major, multi-sided battle. Initially, the “caliphate’s” main target was the Levant Front, a coalition of several factions, and fighters belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

But the decision by Baghdadi’s men to move against the anti-Assad rebels has drawn in other actors, namely the jihadists from the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and Ahrar al Sham, which is linked to al Qaeda.

A number of al Qaeda ideologues and their allies have issued a fatwa saying it is “compulsory” for Muslims from Aleppo and elsewhere to drive the Islamic State’s forces back.

The ideologues note that Syria has witnessed “greatest victories and conquests in recent times,” which have caused “the tyrant Bashar and his allies” to “panic.” They are referring, primarily, to the gains made by the jihadist-led coalition, Jaysh al Fateh (“Army of Conquest”), in Idlib since March.

“The Islamic Nation waited for further victories when suddenly the Baghdadists stabbed the Mujahideen in their backs in Sawran [a town in Aleppo] to stop the advancements made against the regime and to lengthen the lifespan of this tyrant,” the anti-Islamic State jihadists claim, according to a translation published by their supporters online.

Because of this situation, they conclude, “it is compulsory (waajib) to repel their [the Islamic State’s] aggression and defend the lands of the Muslims and it is impermissible to hand over the land of Shaam to them for it has become clear the corrupted beliefs they hold.”

The statement’s signatories include Dr. Sami al Uraydi (Al Nusrah Front’s top sharia official), Abu Sulayman al Muhajir (an Australian al Qaeda sharia official who was dispatched to Syria and serves in Al Nusrah), Al Mu’tasim Billah al Madani (the head sharia official of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and Ansar al Din, both of which are tied to al Qaeda), Abu Qatada al Filistini and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (two pro-al Qaeda thinkers who are also staunch critics of Baghdadi’s organization), as well as Abdullah al Muhaysini (who is, at a minimum, tied to al Qaeda’s international organization). Several others signed the edict as well.

Their fatwa clears the path for Al Nusrah and its jihadists allies to wage war against the Islamic State in Aleppo. And they explicitly condone the sending of reinforcements from other areas in Syria, arguing that if the forces “close by are not sufficient to repel their [the Islamic State’s] attack, then it is compulsory for everyone in the land of Shaam to repel this aggression.”

The Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, Jaysh al Islam, and other insurgents have posted numerous images of their fighters being redeployed to Aleppo to counter the “caliphate’s” men.

The complex battle has even led to renewed allegations that the Assad regime has a de facto alliance with the Islamic State, as Assad’s warplanes have reportedly hit positions standing in the Islamic State’s way in Aleppo. The al Qaeda ideologues echo this claim in their fatwa, pointing out that the Islamic State has effectively run interference for Assad, who has lost key battles over the past two and a half months.

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On its official Twitter feed, the Levant Front has posted images and videos from the ongoing battles. One photo, included on the right, purportedly shows improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that were discovered and defused after the Islamic State had implanted them.

Other videos posted online show rebels belonging to the Levant Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) firing on Islamic State positions north of Aleppo.

The showdown in Aleppo sets up a confrontation between the two competing models for waging jihad in Syria. The Islamic State is uncompromising and operates under the belief that it is the only true authority. The Al Nusrah Front, which answers to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, continues to work with other factions in an attempt to dethrone Assad. Al Nusrah’s strategy reflects al Qaeda’s belief that a true Islamic state cannot be established until after its major opposition is cleared from the land.

Naturally, the Islamic State’s supporters chastise Al Nusrah and its jihadist comrades for working with allies who do not share their radical beliefs.

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

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18 Comments

  • Oberron says:

    YPG and PKK are the same organization basically, the leaders are the same and the crimes they commit are the same so call YPG what it is, a terrorist organization devoted to communism. and a communist independent Kurdistan ripped out of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, never mind Kurds are a minority even in Kurdistan. Only PEJAK is separate and aligned with PUK.

    Any event of course Assad will bomb the rebels as they move up in large convoys, free massed targets and if IS cuts the supply lines to the rebels in Aleppo City, he gets the city by default, albeit ruined all to hell and which he has not the money to repair but it helps his propaganda war.

  • mike merlo says:

    Good stuff. I thought ISIS/ISIL was temporarily done with the Kurds, at last for the ‘short term,’ opting to focus on from my vantage what appeared to be more pressing ‘matters.’ Dealing with those parts of Iraq in an arc stretching North & West Baghdad & those parts of Syria exclusive of the Kurdish Zone. Good call Oberron

  • Oberron says:

    //www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/03/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-water-idUSKBN0OJ1TN20150603?utm_source=twitter

    First they used Fallujah Dam to wage war and restrict ISF, now they got Ramadi Dam and further freedom of movement. Or do they.

    Does anyone have USACE documents on the Euphrates River depths? Without it we are going off of speculation. Though if the river drops enough for IS engineers to make temporary bridges or easier fording spots by putting wood plank under the water to hide the crossing sites, that is a big boost to their freedom of maneuver.

    • mike merlo says:

      @ Oberron

      this has as much to do with the strength of current as it does depth. This will also allow ISIS/ISIL to build bridges just below the waters surface & bring vehicles across

  • Alan says:

    It sounds like the enemies of kurdistan are driven by hate, racism and have nothing to do wth religion.God bestowed upon a nation that a kurds are being denied to what is God given right. the oppressed people of kurdistan who have been through genocide,ethnic cleansing, mass deportation to wipe the kurds of their homes and a silent genocide committed by the Turks against the kurds by not allowing to learn in kurdish and let allone the name Kurd is forbidden in all government institution and also denied to wear their cultural clothes that’s clear to everyone it’s a silent genocide to eradicate Kurds. The future is bright for them in some time i hope all nation recognise kurdistan as a beacon of hope for the entire world to what they’ve been through

  • jdc says:

    A promising opportunity for wesyern states to assert themselves. Muxh like the the three sided conflict in the balkans.

  • Hispanic says:

    Do you have the link to the Fatwa?

  • Zakkie says:

    Although many groups are engaged in war against ASAD in Syrian land to wrest the power, but they can not come under single leader or theological-ideological banner. The main thing that keeps them apart is the sectarian divide within Islam and Syrian ground has attracted many rivals from this consortium. The historical marks depict that they are going to remain rivals in face of any attempt of reconciliation.

  • Alex says:

    The parallels between this and the Lebanese civil war are striking, albeit this is on a much larger scale. The Assad family have been pitting religious groups against each other for decades to stay in power, and they finally flew too close to the sun.

  • James says:

    Actually Mike, I don’t cheer lead for Iran. In fact, I especially find their position concerning Israel objectionable. However, if push comes to shove, we are much better off (as well as Israel and the rest of the world) having to contend with Iran, than having to contend with ISIS (at least in the short term).

    You see Mike, the imminent threat doesn’t come from Iran, the imminent threat comes from ISIS. If it were up to me, I’d put boots on the ground all over the place in al Anbar province, and if Baghdad didn’t like, I’d tell them to shove it and dare them to do something about it. To hell with Baghdad. Not only would the Sunnis be willing to fight ISIS, they’d also be willing to fight Baghdad if (and only if) we were there with them.

    Seriously Mike, from reading your comments, I don’t think that you have the foggiest notion who the real enemy is.

    • mike merlo says:

      @ James

      “…put boots on the ground” specially where? & do what for how long?

      Its Crystal Clear who “the real enemy is.” Its the Islamic Internationale of which Iran, ISIS/ISIL & a host of others are part of. Just because particular elements of it are odds with each other in no way preclude’s from the fact the ‘Organic Whole’ is aligned against the US & many others on multiple levels. Is that foggy enough for you

    • irebukeu says:

      If you put ‘boots on the ground all over the place in Anbar without Iraqi acquiescence you had better change the name of the commanding general to Xenophon.

  • Bakunin says:

    Waajib doesn’t necessarily mean compulsory – that would be “fard”. It’s more like “strongly and urgently supported by evidence and consensus”. If the ulema are feeling threatened in their power over Muslims however they will shade the meaning to stray into “compulsory” territory.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    Come on in, fellas! The water’s great! Is that a vortex I see forming?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis