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Battle to Establish Islamic State Across Iraq and Syria
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant now controls vast stretch of land
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Islamic fundamentalists have opened new fronts in their battle to establish an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria as they launch attacks in cities which were previously under the control of the Baghdad government.

A multi-pronged assault across central and northern Iraq in the past four days shows that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has taken over from the al-Qa’ida organisation founded by Osama bin Laden as the most powerful and effective extreme jihadi group in the world.

Isis now controls or can operate with impunity in a great stretch of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, making it militarily the most successful jihadi movement ever.

Led since 2010 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, it has proved itself even more violent and sectarian than what US officials call the “core” al-Qa’ida, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is based in Pakistan. Isis is highly fanatical, killing Shia Muslims and Christians whenever possible, as well as militarily efficient and under tight direction by top leaders.

In Iraq in the past four days, it has fought its way into the northern capital of Mosul, sent a column of its fighters into the central city of Samarra and taken over Iraq’s largest university at Ramadi, in the west of the country. In addition, it launched devastating bombings targeting Shia civilians in Baghdad that killed at least 52 people.

The creation of a sort of proto-Caliphate by extreme jihadis in northern Syria and Iraq is provoking fears in surrounding countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that they will become targets of battle-hardened Sunni fighters.

The well-coordinated attacks appear designed to keep the Iraqi security forces off balance, uncertain where the next attack will come. They started on Thursday when Isis fighters in trucks with heavy machine guns stormed into the city of Samarra, which is mostly Sunni but contains the golden-domed al-Askari shrine sacred to Shia. Destruction of this shrine by al-Qa’ida bombers in 2006 led to wholesale massacres of Sunni by Shia.

The Isis tactic is to make a surprise attack, inflict maximum casualties and spread fear before withdrawing without suffering heavy losses. On Friday, they attacked in Mosul, where their power is already strong enough to tax local businesses, from family groceries to mobile phone and construction companies. Some 200 people were killed in the fighting, according to local hospitals, though the government gives a figure of 59 dead, 21 of them policemen and 38 insurgents.

This assault was followed by an early-morning attack on Saturday on the University of Anbar at Ramadi that has 10,000 students. Ahmed al-Mehamdi, a student who was taken hostage, told a news agency that he was woken up by the sound of shots, looked out the window and saw armed men dressed in black running across the campus. They entered his dormitory, said they belonged to Isis, told everybody to stay in their rooms but took others away.

One leader told female students: “We will teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” They turned the science building into their headquarters, but may later have retreated. On the same day, seven bombs exploded in an hour in Baghdad, killing at least 52 people.

Isis specialises in using militarily untrained foreign volunteers as suicide bombers either moving on foot wearing suicide vests, or driving vehicles packed with explosives. Often more than one suicide bomber is used, as happened yesterday when a vehicle exploded at the headquarters of a Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the town of Jalawla in the divided and much fought-over province of Diyala, north-east of Baghdad. In the confusion caused by the blast, a second bomber on foot slipped into the office and blew himself up, killing some 18 people, including a senior police officer.

The swift rise of Isis since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became its leader has come because the uprising of the Sunni in Syria in 2011 led the Iraqi Sunni to protest about their political and economic marginalisation since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Peaceful demonstrations from the end of 2012 won few concessions, with Iraq’s Shia-dominated government convinced that the protesters wanted not reform but a revolution returning their community to power. The five or six million Iraqi Sunni became more alienated and sympathetic towards armed action by Isis.

Isis launched a well-planned campaign last year including a successful assault on Abu Ghraib prison last summer to free leaders and experienced fighters. This January, they took over Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, and have held it ever since in the face of artillery and air attack. The military sophistication of Isis in Iraq is much greater than al-Qa’ida, the organisation out of which it grew, which reached the peak of its success in 2006-07 before the Americans turned many of the Sunni tribes against it.

Isis has the great advantage of being able to operate on both sides of the Syrian-Iraq border, though in Syria it is engaged in an intra-jihadi civil war with Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other groups. But Isis controls Raqqa, the only provincial capital taken by the opposition, and much of eastern Syria outside enclaves held by the Kurds close to the Turkish border.

Isis is today a little more circumspect in killing all who work for the government including rubbish collectors, something that alienated the Sunni population previously. But horrifically violent, though professionally made propaganda videos show Isis forcing families with sons in the Iraqi army to dig their own graves before they are shot. The message is that their enemies can expect no mercy.

The violence continued yesterday as at least 18 people were killed in two explosions at the headquarters of a Kurdish political party in Iraq’s ethnically mixed province of Diyala. Isis claimed responsibility.

Most of the victims of Sunday’s attack were members of the Kurdish security forces who were guarding the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party in the town of Jalawla.

The explosions were the latest in a show of strength by militants who in recent days have overrun parts of two major cities, occupied a university campus in western Iraq and set off a dozen car bombs in Baghdad.

Jalawla lies in disputed territory, and is one of several towns where Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga regional guards have previously faced off, asserting their claims over the area. Both are a target for Sunni Islamist insurgents.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq, ISIS, Syria 
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  1. dearieme says:

    And still there are American bloggers who approve of Bush’s attack on Iraq, and reckon its result a victory.

  2. Why pray tell should we care if the Arabs and Muslims become Shariah fanatical Muslims? So long as we can nuke them and Mecca? Which I recommend strongly.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “Norman Ravitch”, why pray tell should someone care about what an idiot with genocidal fantasies thinks ?

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I agree with dearieme. How many Al Qaida were in Iraq before W invaded? None. How many WMDs? None. We are aiding Al Qaida in Syria in their quest to create a pan Islamic region.

  5. I’ve been reading a lot of peoples’ comments and articles about Iraq, now that it is collapsing, and I am amazed that nobody seems to have understood that the only Lesson to be learned from Iraq (and Afghanistan, and Libya, and Syria, and Vietnam, and in the near future Ukraine) is EMPIRE!

    This current Disguised Global Empire HQed in our former country, like all Empires, is; illegal, illegitimate, immoral, looting, lying, militarist, deceitful, murderous, propagandist, co-opting, spying, elitist, hierarchical, war-mongering, plutocratic, oligarchic, autocratic, authoritarian, totalitarian, “inverted totaliatarianist” [Wolin], destructive of our environment, unsustainable, poisonous, death-spiraling, existential, etc., etc., etc.

    But of all the features of all previous and lesser Empires, this first “truly Global Empire” (and last Empire on earth) is most significant in being the only Empire to have so perfectly leveraged its wannabe global power and scope to actually achieve Global Empire in reality — and it has achieved this most clearly by being better at being DISGUISED than any previous Empire ever dreamed!

    Best to the 3-5% of the truly informed vanguard of Americans (within the 99%) in this fast expanding ‘Pro-democracy Anti-Empire’ educational and non-violent revolutionary movement (in the Green Party) against this deceitful and Disguised Global EMPIRE, which is “Occupying” our country and yet can’t so easily be identified, by the propagandized and deluded majority, as wearing Red Coats, Red Stars, nor funny looking Nazi helmets —- quite YET!

    Liberty, democracy, justice, and equality
    Violent (‘Vichy’ disguised fascist)

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    MC Fox

    US is not helping the terrorists ‘to create a pan Islamic region.’ US is destabilizing the region with the help of these CIA trained terrorists, to topple the government. Then use its own stooges to kill and destroy the one that helps evil empire to topple the former government. Don’t you know what is happening in Libya? All these riots, protests and killing directed by the evil empire and their puppets. All these war criminals must be arrested and executed. They have killed millions of Muslims for their “world government”. The ‘journalists’ embedded with them are war criminals as well.

  7. America has its choice – stay loyal to the Israeli Zionists and make permanent enemies throughout the Islamic World or become a party for justice for Palestine annoying a few neocons (who are incapable of gratitude anyway) and thereby regain the respect of the World. To me, this is a no-brainer, but then we are being led by people who act inhumanely

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I think this is all misreporting and misleading. There is no Al Queda and people like Cockburn, who must be working with one of America’s famous “agencies” must know better.

    These are Sunni Muslims, reclaiming their land from Shiite Muslim control. That they have help from Tribal leaders, civilians and foreign fighters ought to be understood. Don’t give the label Al Queda to every goddamn thing.

    When the dust settles a bit. A battle between the civilians of these areas and the more radical elements who are helping them now will begin, with the Sunni’s being the victors because this is their base and they are not rooted in fundamentalism. They are SECULARLY oriented compared to the Shiite who pretend to be the government in Iraq.

    This is better for the stupidest people on Earth, the Americans. This weakens Iranian influence in Iraq. The Americans invaded, gave control to the Iranians and now they are back to square 1 with this overthrow of the Iraqui Government. Stupid, stupid, stupid….the American Way.

    Done the same in Egypt, Libya, Ukraine and on and on.

    Pathetic American leadership of Bush and Obama.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    {This is better for the stupidest people on Earth, the Americans. This weakens Iranian influence in Iraq. The Americans invaded, gave control to the Iranians and now..}

    Not much can say except YOU ARE a sectarian racist and dumb at the same time. Why your CIA trained terrorists do NOT ATTACK ISRAEL idiot? The head of Arab states fund the wars for the West to expand their influence killing millions, so these petty ‘leaders’ can stay in power. The Arabs give $$, put their behind in the service of Israel/US, and shed blood of Muslims (Shiites as well as Sunnis) for the interest of the evil empire. You cannot find anyone more stupid than these CIA trained terrorists. Look at Libya, look at Syria, look at Sudan, look at Somalia, yet you the dumb never learn because you are so petty and hateful of Shiite which is coming from the evil of all, the house of Saudi terrorists. Money is not going to save stupid people, rather destroy them all, the sooner, the better.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    what you say makes no sense – the ISIL clearly want a caliphate, is more like Iraq’s taliban than anything secular, and from what I’ve read the CIA’s been paying others to fight ISIL

  11. Telling us all about how they kill in war, this tells us nothing of value, absolutely nothing for who has ever equaled the Western powers for their brutal imperialism and wars of plunder?

    So, what type of economy do they run? Capitalism being slavery by and for the high achiever upper half of society, they owning all the wealth and enslaving the lower half by manual labor at poverty wages. And so, what say you?

  12. ... says:

    The amount of stupidity in this comments section is truly amazing. So let me clear up a few things for you.

    1. Al-Qaeda is NOT a front for the CIA, get that out of your heads right now! You need to use your brain and think, if Al-Qaeda was a front for the CIA then why the hell has America (including the CIA) been spending the last decade furiously trying to destroy Al-Qaeda.

    2. Bush did not kill a million civilians in Iraq, Al-Qaeda did when they intentionally stirred up a sectarian war and intentionally committed massive civilian massacres. It would take an enormous amount of bombing to kill a million civilians in Iraq, you realize that even in Vietnam only 70,000 North Vietnamese civilians died right with way more deaths in South Vietnam who were our allies, stop blaming the U.S for all civilian casualties when the vast majority were committed by terrorists.

    3. An Islamic theocracy under Al-Qaeda is not something that can just be ignored. Remember 9/11, that was committed when Al-Qaeda had no central government, no real resources, no fame until achieved, and less operatives than today. Imagine how big an attack could be planned if Al-Qaeda had access to TWO countries full of oil, guns, ammunition, explosives, and manpower. Basically, all the resources they need to strike the U.S over and over again.

    So please put an end to all your conspiracy theories and extreme anti-american bullshit and think about how dangerous of a situation we truly are in.

  13. Comments here show the utter ignorance and tendency towards paranoia of our public. We need to become less concerned when these deadly, medieval Muslim enemies act up. Let them exterminate one another, the best solution.

  14. Art M says:

    To those who don’t believe Al-Qaeda is a CIA front please allow me a piece of advice: before you re-stick your head in the sand, remember to practice the magic incantation where you click your heels together 3 (three) times before you begin to repeat “There’s no place like home. “.

  15. baker says:

    Norman is likely a zionist settler who would much rather get rid of all his neighbors then be at peace with them. Its because of this guys mentality which Israel and Neocons share which led to the Iraq war and started groups like those in Iraq. Its hilarious to see this idiot continue to quiver with fear and type his nonsense form his basement, cowards never change.

    As for the other guy we have been killing Iraqis for over 30 plus years with sanctions which killed half a million IRaqis, than our war in the 90s which killed many more and this current invasion. INtervention is the reason for these recent developments.

  16. Baker is an idiot!
    Obama may also be an idiot, but his plan is to coordinate the saving of Shiite Iraq (1/3 of it or so) with Iranian help. Obama wants better relations with Iran and this is part of the plan. The Kurds are getting their land and independence. The Sunnis will have an Al Quaeda type regime, like it or not. Iraq will disappear. 95 years ago it was created by imperialistic Brits and Frenchmen. It has no reason for being. Half of Syria will join with Sunni Iraq. The remnant of Syria will join perhaps with Lebanon and become a new state. Everything is up for grabs.
    Netanyahu must be wondering what to do next. He has relations with the Saudis and something will be done between them, no doubt.

  17. dmaak112 says:

    Mr. Cockburn, as with the majority of those reporting on the ISIS, omits that the very birth let alone its success was a direct outcome of the decision by the US and its Mideast and European allies to overthrow Bashar al-Asad. From the very beginning, the West painted a far different picture of the rebels. Their distinctive beards and their references to the Alawites as apostates should have sounded alarms. But so committed were we bring about one more Arab regime change we fomented and aided the very people we have been at war with for the last thirteen years. Those who championed the war on terror do not want the public to connect the dots. We are aligned with Arab monarchs that provide the funds that support schools that have produced radical Islam. Whereas Asad’s Syria was secular, our Arab friends have not exited the Middle Ages. ISIS is our creation. Every dollar and weapon sent to feed the rebels in Syria only strengthen the likes of ISIS.

  18. […] reports about Iraq like this one, I can’t help but return to the old formulation I liked to use back in the Bush days. […]

  19. Cato says:

    These “battle-hardened” jihadists will fall to pieces if they choose to attack Turkey (or Iran, for that matter). The damage they can do is limited to West Asia, and to Arab countries. Terrible for those places, of course, but not really a sustainable threat–in the end, the jihadists are just a bunch of backwards, delusional losers, and despite their willingness to die, are not the match to professional, technologically sophisticated, soldiers.

  20. The one thing I am CERTAIN of is: ISIL isn’t “in control of” any particular territory.

    At the moment, they are the best operated gang in the territory.

    Raise your hand if you think that an outfit which operates by using crazy foreigners as kamakazis, is going to be able to set up an operational municipal government?

    Kamikaze attacks by crazy foreigners is a terrifying tactic. But at the end of the day, it is the same as WWII-Germany’s Enigma machine…. just predictable enough to be stopped.

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