Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus

A Kurdish fighter walks by a wall bearing a drawing of the flag of Daesh group in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, in the Nineveh Province, on November 13, 2015. (AFP/ File photo)
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Updated 14 June 2020

Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus

  • Terror group has been involved in kidnappings and ambushes in rural areas along the Iraq-Syria border
  • Availability of fighters and cash makes Daesh well positioned to threaten Iraq and Syria for years to come

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: An uptick in attacks in Iraq by suspected Daesh militants since the beginning of this year is stoking fears that the militant outfit is regrouping and could again threaten the country’s stability.

On May 28, Daesh spokesperson Abu Hamza Al-Qurayshi released a recording on the messaging app Telegram, saying that the terror group’s fighters will “start to increase their attacks against the Crusaders since the US has withdrawn from Iraq.”

“Greater punishment against Crusaders is coming once the caliphate achieves the victory and is established once again,” Al-Qurayshi said, according to the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

Earlier in May, hundreds of acres of wheat and barley cropland in Iraq’s disputed Kirkuk province went up in flames.

Daesh claimed responsibility for some of the fires. Around the same time, it released a propaganda video vowing to free fellow members from Iraqi jails.

Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Citing the US Central Command, the most recent Pentagon Inspector General report, which covers the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, warned that Daesh is “regrouping and reforming” in the mountains of Makhmur in northern Iraq, which is inside the disputed territories between Iraq and the Kurdistan region.




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

According to the report, the US also expects Daesh “to seek to re-establish governance in northern and western areas of Iraq.”

On May 17 the Iraqi military launched an operation to force Daesh out of its sanctuaries. However, if past efforts of this kind are any indication, it is unlikely to inflict long-lasting damage on the group.

Since 2017, Daesh has reverted to the role of lethal non-state actor — as it was before it conquered one-third of northern Iraq in June 2014 and declared the establishment of a “caliphate.”

“Daesh has posed a threat to Iraq, in its various forms, since 2003 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Michael Knights, a military and security affairs specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.

“It is now part of the Iraqi landscape, like a resilient weed or virus.”




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

Knights and Alex Almeida, who monitor Daesh’s activities, have detected a 13 percent increase in the militants’ attacks in Iraq this year over the previous year —  at least 566 in the first three months of 2020, compared with 1,669 during the entire 2019.

According to Knights, Daesh is again using strategies that worked in the past, including jailbreaks and extorting farmers by threatening to burn their crops.

“In terms of attack metrics, Daesh is back to 2012 levels, but is still only a third of 2013 levels, and it will take more than a year of growth at the current rate to reach 2013 levels of attacks,” he said.

“Also, the insurgency is different at a qualitative level. Today’s Daesh is not really present in the cities, and so far they have turned away from mass-casualty attacks on civilians.”

Nevertheless, the group still poses a threat after transferring its strength from Syria back into Iraq over the past 12-18 months.

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“The movement is still very weak compared with its old self in 2017 or 2013, but it is recovering slowly,” Knights said.

He said that if Iraqi and Kurdish forces fail to cooperate quickly, then Daesh “will soon be able to control small villages and rural areas in daylight, and parts of towns at night.”

However, Thomas Abi-Hanna, a global security analyst with US-based geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, believes Daesh is a long way from being able to capture and control large swathes of territory as it did in 2014.

The group’s activities today more closely resemble those of the 2011-12 period.

“Iraq’s latest offensive against Daesh is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the group’s trajectory,” Abi-Hanna told Arab News.




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

“Iraqi security forces are riddled with weaknesses and are unable to firmly hold and control the rural areas where Daesh operates,” he said.

As a result, Daesh is “well positioned” to threaten Iraq and Syria for years to come since it still has thousands of fighters and hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal.

“While Daesh is not on the verge of being able to seize territory, attacks and other operations the group has launched will threaten civilians and security forces, damage crops and infrastructure, hurt Iraq’s already ailing economy and undermine stability in the country,” Abi-Hanna said.

He believes the surge in attacks is a sign of Daesh’s renewed strength, especially in light of partial coalition military drawdowns from areas where the group is active, Iraq’s internal political crises and the coronavirus pandemic that is consuming most of Baghdad’s attention.

“The attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The group has recently been conducting night-time raids, multi-pronged coordinated assaults and suicide bombings, marking a notable uptick from the typical drive-by shootings, mortar attacks and roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) it had done in previous months,” Abi-Hanna said.




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

Joel Wing, author of the “Musings on Iraq” blog, said that Daesh released a video in May announcing that it was launching a new campaign in Iraq. This followed statements in March by the group vowing to exploit the pandemic.

“The uptick in attacks actually began in April and continued into May, marking the first time Daesh has had two months of increased operations since January-February, 2019,” Wing told Arab News.

“The second week of May had the most incidents since the third week of October 2018, showing renewed strength,” he said.

Since Haider Al-Abadi, the-then prime minister, declared victory over Daesh in Iraq in December 2017, five months after government forces ejected its fighters from Mosul, the group has “focused on preserving its leadership and rebuilding its cadres.”

As a result, Iraq suffered the lowest number of attacks since the Iraq War that began in 2003.




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

Now, however, Daesh “appears to be flexing some of its new muscle,” Wing said.

He said that the present Daesh campaign differs from previous manifestations since the group is now “a completely rural phenomenon.”

“It has virtually no cells operating in cities carrying out attacks,” he said. “There is not a continuous wave of car bombs that it once carried out or even suicide bombers.”

Wing said that Daesh’s present campaign appears to be aimed at “establishing military control over the countryside, driving people out of rural villages via threats, attacks, burning crops and so forth, so that they might be converted into bases and training camps, and threatening others to pay taxes.”

It is yet to be seen if Daesh can sustain this campaign or whether attacks will decline in a few weeks.

“Either way it will be a sign of how much the group has been able to rebuild so far,” Wing said.

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@pauliddon


Lebanon to send remarks on US draft on maritime border with Israel

Updated 56 min 27 sec ago

Lebanon to send remarks on US draft on maritime border with Israel

  • Draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect
  • Israel would receive a share of revenues

BEIRUT: Lebanon will send its comments on a US proposal to delineate its maritime border with longtime foe Israel to the American official mediating talks by Tuesday, a top Lebanese official said on Monday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a written draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
The three would pull together their concerns on the draft to send to Hochstein within 24 hours and would not respond officially to the proposals until their queries were addressed, said Elias Bou Saab, Berri’s deputy and the main pointperson for the file in Lebanon.
“The devils are in the details, but the devils are now small,” said Bou Saab, speaking to journalists after the top officials met.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.
Few other details have been made public, but Bou Saab said on Monday that the arrangement secures all of Lebanon’s rights in relation to Qana and Mikati said that the draft included “all essential matters.”
Bou Saab said he expected a response by Hochstein by the end of the week, and said only then could Lebanon prepare an official response.
Israel has said its own legal experts are also reviewing the draft before it can be approved.
Israeli media reported that the cabinet will meet on Thursday to approve the deal, but no session is formally scheduled.
A senior Israeli official told Reuters that it was not yet clear when the government would take that step, as it awaited word of Lebanon’s response.
“If they come back with changes — other than small, technical things — it may not be done by Thursday,” the official said.
A top Lebanese source briefed on the negotiations said that if an agreement is reached, it would come into force via a ceremony in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura.
The mechanisms are not clear, but Aoun said there would be “no partnership” with the Israeli said.
While the company carrying out the exploration in Qana has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE and a top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Israel’s energy ministry confirmed that its director-general Lior Schillat, who also heads Israel’s negotiating team, was in Paris for discussions on Monday.
TotalEnergies declined to comment. 


Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

Updated 03 October 2022

Rights group: Israel holding 800 Palestinians without trial

  • The number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year
  • Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants

JERUSALEM: Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.
The group, HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities, said that 798 Palestinians are currently being held in so-called administrative detention, a practice where the prisoners can be held for months, do not know the charges against them and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
The group said the number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in response to a spate of attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants without revealing sensitive intelligence. Rights groups and Palestinians say it is an abusive system that denies freedom without due process, leaving some Palestinians for months or even years behind bars with no evidence against them made accessible. Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
“Administrative detention should be an exceptional measure but Israel makes wholesale use of this detention without trial,” said Jessica Montell, HaMoked’s executive director. “This has to stop. If Israel cannot bring them to trial, it must release all administrative detainees.”
HaMoked said the figure was a new peak in a growing wave of administrative detentions which began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people. Those attacks sparked the Israeli raids that have killed some 100 Palestinians, many of them said to be militants or local youths out to protest the incursion into their cities or towns, but civilians have also died in the violence.
The Israeli military says some 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested during that time including those held in administrative detention. It says the raids are necessary to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks against Israelis. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel’s 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state.
The raids have been met by an uptick in shooting attacks in the West Bank. On Sunday, the military said an Israeli soldier and a motorist were lightly wounded in two separate incidents.
The last time Israel held as many administrative detainees, in May 2008, also coincided with an increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has since established some 130 settlements there, home to 500,000 settlers. The Palestinians want the territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for independent state.


Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

Updated 03 October 2022

Iran’s Khamenei says protests were ‘planned’, blames US

  • Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology, where riot police confronted students
  • Footage shows shooting and screaming being heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night

DUBAI/PARIS: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday protests over the death of a woman in police custody were planned and not staged by “ordinary Iranians,” in his first comments on unrest that has swept the country since Sept. 17.
In comments reported by state media, Khamenei said the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini “deeply broke my heart,” calling it a “bitter incident.”
But he said “some people had caused insecurity in the streets,” saying there had been planned “riots.” 

“This rioting was planned,” he told a cadre of police students in Tehran. “I say clearly that these riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
He added of the protests: “Such actions are not normal, are unnatural.” 
He expressed strong backing for the security forces, saying they had faced injustice during the protests. 

Earlier, Iranian students have clashed with security forces at a top Tehran university amid the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, state media and rights groups said Monday.
Kurdish Iranian Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on Sept. 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes, sparking Iran’s biggest wave of protests in almost three years.
Concern grew over violence at Sharif University of Technology overnight where, local media reported, riot police confronted hundreds of students, using tear gas and paintball and carrying weapons that shoot non-lethal steel pellets.
“Woman, life, liberty,” students shouted, as well as “students prefer death to humiliation,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported, adding that the country’s science minister later came to speak to the students in an effort to calm the situation.
The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights posted video apparently showing Iranian police on motorcycles pursuing running students in an underground car park and, in a separate clip, taking away detainees whose heads were covered in black cloth bags.
In other footage, shooting and screaming can be heard as large numbers of people run down a street at night, in footage AFP has not independently verified.
“Security forces have attacked Sharif University in Tehran tonight. Shooting can be heard,” IHR said in a Twitter message Sunday.
In another video clip, a crowd of people can be heard chanting: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! We are all together!” IHR said the footage was taken at Shariati metro station in the capital Tehran on Sunday.
The New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran said it was “extremely concerned by videos coming out of Sharif University and Tehran today showing violent repression of protests + detainees being hauled away with their heads completely covered in fabric.”
Mehr news agency said that “Sharif University of Technology announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday.”
Since the unrest started on September 16, dozens of protesters have been killed and more than a thousand arrested. Members of the security forces have been among those killed.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid — ministry

Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid — ministry

  • Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli soldiers of using excessive force against the Palestinian people
  • Palestinians see night raids as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.


Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

Updated 03 October 2022

Israel military kills 2 Palestinians during West Bank raid: Ministry

  • The identities of the two men were not immediately known

TEL AVIV: The Israeli military shot and killed two Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank early Monday, Palestinian officials said.
The military alleged that the men tried to ram their car into soldiers, a claim that could not be independently verified. Palestinians and rights group often accuse Israeli troops of using excessive force against Palestinians, who live under a 55-year military occupation with no end in sight. Israel says it follows strict rules of engagement and opens fire in life-threatening situations.
The military said soldiers were attempting to arrest a suspect in the Jalazone refugee camp near the city of Ramallah when the two Palestinians allegedly attempted to run over soldiers with their car. The soldiers opened fire on the car, the military said.
The Palestinian Civil Affairs Authority, which coordinates on civilian issues with Israel, said the military shot and killed the two men. Their identities were not immediately known.
Israel has been carrying out nightly arrest raids in the West Bank since the spring, when a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed 19 people. Israel says its operations are aimed at dismantling militant infrastructure and preventing future attacks. The Palestinians see the nightly incursions into their cities, villages and towns as Israel’s way of deepening its occupation of lands they want for their hoped-for state.
The Israeli raids have killed some 100 Palestinians, making this year the deadliest since 2016. Israel says most of those killed have been militants but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also been killed in the violence. Hundreds have been rounded up, with many placed in so-called administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold them without trial or charge.
The raids have driven up tensions in the West Bank, with an uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis. They have also drawn into focus the growing disillusionment among young Palestinians over the tight security coordination between Israeli and the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, who work together to apprehend militants.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in some 130 settlements and other outposts among nearly 3 Palestinians. The Palestinians want that territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for their future state.

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