The White House on Saturday reported that the second-in-command of the Islamic State jihadist group has been killed in a US airstrike in northern Iraq.
The National Security Council has identified the slain militant as Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Haji Mutaz, adding that he was IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s senior deputy. According to US forces, Hayali was killed, along with an IS “media operative” known as Abu Abdullah, on 18 August in a strict that targeted a vehicle near the city of Mosul. The White House has described Hayali as a member of IS’ ruling council, adding that he was “a primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria.” The White House further disclosed that Hayali “…supported ISIL operations in both countries and was in charge of ISIL operations in Iraq, where he was instrumental in planning operations over the past two years, including the ISIL offensive in Mosul in June 2014.” Like many senior Iraqi jihadists, prior to joining IS, Hayali had been a member of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi faction, with sources indicated that he was reportedly a former Iraqi officer from the era of Saddam Hussein.
This however is not the first time that US officials have announced Hayali’s death. In December, while speaking to reporters, US defense officials disclosed that Hayali was one of several senior figures who was killed in coalition strikes. At the time, officials provided another of his pseudonyms, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani.
Exactly a year ago, the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group launched its sweeping offensive that resulted in the jihadist group overrunning large areas of territory in Syria and in Iraq and which has led to the death of thousands and displaced millions of people.
With 12 months of bloody conflict, it is likely that the situation will continue before the IS gains can be reversed. Speaking at the end of the G-7 summit in Germany on 8 June, United States President Barack Obama disclosed that when it comes to IS, “we don’t yet have a complete strategy” adding that the reason why there isn’t a complete strategy so far is that “it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. The details of that are not yet worked out.” He did note that the Pentagon is currently busy drawing up plans in consultation with the Iraqis, and that once a plan can be signed off on, the details will be made public. This comment is similar to one he made back in August, when he stated, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/IS). Since his comments, the US and a coalition of allies have launched more than 4,000 airstrikes in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, however they have been unable to prevent key cities from falling to the jihadists. Furthermore, six months after the US began training Iraqi troops to fight IS militants, Iraq’s forces are often unable to match the jihadists. The US has trained around 7,000 Iraqi soldiers in a series of six-week training camps however none of those 7,000 were deployed in unsuccessful effort to defend Ramadi. President Obama has indicated that the US is “going to have to improve” training for Iraqi forces, leaving open the possibility of deploying additional American military trainers. Currently there are around 3,000 American troops deployed in Iraq.
Some Key events in the Conflict:
9: IS-led offensive begins in Iraq’s second largest city Mosul.
10: Mosul falls while the surrounding province of Nineveh follows as multiple Iraqi security forces divisions collapse. Then-premier Nuri al-Maliki, announces that the Iraqi government will arm citizens who volunteer to fight.
11: Tikrit, a major city located north of the capital Baghdad falls to IS.
13: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, calls on Iraqis to take up arms against the militant group.
IS claims to have executed 1,700 mainly Shiite recruits, releasing photos of the killings.
29: IS declares a cross-border Islamic “caliphate” in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
2: IS launches a renewed northern offensive, which drives Iraqi Kurdish forces back and which targets minority groups with mass killings, rape and enslavement.
Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are besieged on Mount Sinjar. This draws international concern and prompts calls for intervention.
8: The United States begins air strikes in Iraq. An international coalition follows suit.
17: Maliki steps aside and is replaced by Haider al-Abadi
19: IS says it has beheaded US journalist James Foley, releasing a graphic video of the killing which results in international condemnation.
Similar shocking beheadings take the lives of journalists Steven Sotloff, Kenji Goto; aid workers David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassing, and Goto’s friend Haruna Yukawa.
22: Shiite militiamen gun down seventy people in what is an apparent revenge attack at a Sunni mosque in Diyala province.
23: The Anti-IS air campaign expands to neighbouring Syria.
25: Abadi declares first significant government victory in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, which is located near Baghdad.
29: IS executes dozens of Albu Nimr tribesmen. More mass killings follow.
14: Iraq forces recapture the strategic town of Baiji however it is later lost again to IS militants.
25: Witnesses and Sunni leaders accuse Shiite militiamen of executing over seventy residents in Diyala province.
26: Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaida announces that Diyala has been “liberated” from IS.
3: IS video shows Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh being burned alive in a cage after he was captured in Syria in December.
26: IS releases video of militants destroying ancient artefacts in a museum in Mosul.
2: Iraq launches massive operation to retake Tikrit from IS>
5: Iraq indicates that IS has begun “bulldozing” the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud. IS later releases a video of militants smashing artefacts before blowing up the site.
31: Abadi announces that Tikrit has been retaken. However the victory is marred by pro-government forces who burned and looted dozens of houses and shops.
5: IS releases video of militants destroying artefacts at the ancient city of Hatra, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
17: IS seizes Anbar capital Ramadi, which along with the capture of Palmyra in a Syria a few days later, signal its most significant
On Wednesday, Iraq’s Defence Ministry reported that Abu Alaa al-Afari, second in command of Islamic State, had been killed in an air strike in country’s north. The Ministry’s website shows footage of what an air strike on the “Martyrs Mosque” in the village of al-Iyadhiya near Tel Afar. The ministry said Afari was killed in a coalition attack on a mosque, where he was meeting with other militants.
However US Central Command has vehemently denied that a coalition air strike had hit the mosque, and said it could not confirm any claims that the deputy commander had been killed.
The Iraqi government has previously announced the death of Islamic State militants who had not been killed. Recent reports suggested that IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had been incapacitated by an air strike in the same region of Iraq. The Pentagon has also denied those reports.
In Turkey, foreign ministers of NATO nations met to examine how to fight Islamic State. The ministers met in Antalya discuss, among other things, instability in in Syria and Iraq, where IS controls broad swaths of territory. US Secretary of State John Kerry said his NATO counterparts wanted to see a clearer defense agreement with Gulf Arab states to fight terror ahead of a summit that President Barack Obama will host at Camp David on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a branch of Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bus attack in Karachi, Pakistan on Tuesday. Men on motorbikes followed bus, which was carrying men, women, and children of a minority sect of Ismaili Muslims. The bikers fired on the bus with automatic weapons as it travelled through the city. When the bus stopped, gunmen forced their way on board and killed dozens of commuters at close range. The six gunmen killed 45 people and injured 13. It was the deadliest single sectarian attack in Pakistan since the suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in southern Shikarpur district killed 61 in January.
A survivor from the shootings said the gunmen began a systematic execution once on the bus. “They want to target us because we are not Muslims according to most people in Pakistan,” he said. Ismaili Muslims are part of an international community of Shia Muslims who follow the Aga Khan, a Europe-based spiritual leader and business tycoon. In Pakistan, many citizens hold to a strict interpretation of the Muslim faith, and consider Ismailis, Ahmedis, and other minority sects of Islam to be “un-Islamic”. To members of Islamic State or other Sunni-based terrorist groups, anyone who does not adhere to their strict and radical brand of Islam is considered heretical.
Both Islamic State and a Pakistani Taliban splinter group rushed to claim responsibility. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on Twitter accounts that described the Ismaili victims as “infidels”. Further, printed leaflets left near the scene of the attack also claimed it was the work of ISIS. The message said that the attackers were avenging, among other things, the “torture of Sunni women by the army” and the “killing of our fighters by the Karachi police”.
However, Jundullah, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, also rushed to claim responsibility. A spokesman for the group said, “These killed people were Ismaili and we consider them [non-Muslim]. We had four attackers. In the coming days we will attack Ismailis, Shias and Christians.” Some Pakistani Taliban militants have pledged allegiance ISIS, however it is believed that the group’s presence in Pakistan is small.
Karachi is two years into an operation to target criminal gangs and terrorists in the city. The government of Sindh, the province of which Karachi is the capital, responded to the attacks by announcing the suspension of senior police officials and promising financial compensation for the families of victims.
15 April– Falih Essawi, the deputy head of Iraq’s Anbar Provincial Council, has stated militants from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could be “hours away” from taking the key city of Ramadi. Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province. Essawi said it is unclear how long government troops can hold their front line, adding that security is “collapsing rapidly in the city.”
ISIS was dealt a major blow earlier in April when Iraqi troops recaptured Tikrit. Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi said that after the recapture of Tikrit, the next military mission would be to clear ISIS militants from Anbar. Despite this announcement, ISIS fighters have intensified their offensive in Anbar province.
ISIS took control of southern routes into Ramadi in 2014. Over the weekend, the militants captured its northern routes and several districts in the city. An assault that included suicide and car bombs killed 10 Iraqi security forces and wounded the head of the Iraqi military operations in Anbar, General Qassim al-Muhammadi.
Earlier today, ISIS made advances in three eastern areas: Albu Soda, Albu Ghanem and parts of Soufiya. In Soufiya, the militants bombed a police station and took over a power plant. Heavy fighting near the provincial capital caused residents to flee from three villages after they were captured by ISIS fighters. Departing residents said that in the east, fighting is now two kilometres away from local government buildings.
Essawi has called for reinforcements from the Iraqi government for and the US-led coalition, just a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with President Barack Obama in Washington to seek more support for the fight against ISIS. In recent weeks, the US military has carried out multiple airstrikes against ISIS targets in the region.
On Sunday, ISIS targeted the headquarters of an Iraqi Army brigade stationed in the Thar Thar area. The region, northwest of Baghdad, is strategic. ISIS control of Thar Thar allows them a logistical supply line between the Anbar and Salahaddin provinces. The assault marks the second time in as many months that the group has captured Iraqi military headquarters in the region. The attack has been confirmed in the Iraqi media. Reports suggest that the assault began with three suicide bombers attacking the headquarters.
The Anbar Province covers nearly 140,000 square kilometres of land, extending from the Euphrates in the east to borders with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia in the west, northwest and southwest. The vast, mostly desert region is home to approximately 1.5 million people. The province has major highways which link it through Baghdad, as well as Amman and Damascus. Clearing the area of ISIS fighters will be difficult and costly, but the recapture of the province will cut ISIS supply routes to Mosul, and strain the group’s communication lines with eastern Syria. Iraq is acutely aware of the repercussions of ISIS falling into the hands of Ramadi. It is a strategic imperative.
In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has metastasised into one of the most horrific fighting groups of this century. The group has become renowned for rampant murder, the pillaging of villages and cities, widely publicised beheadings, the theft of oil and artefacts, and more recently of human organs.
Since they appeared on the world stage, ISIS has come to remind many of a combination of the worst villains Hollywood has ever imagined. More terrifying, the group’s combination of savvy marketing and recruiting, has resulted in numerous would-be fighters attempting to travel to ISIS strongholds to join the group.
The Debate: What does ISIS want?
ISIS seeks to form a caliphate that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. Their ideology has sparked numerous debates on whether they are a political group with a religious foundation, or a religious groups with a political foundation.
There is no denying that ISIS perceives themselves as an Islamic group; it’s in their name. However ISIS has modified their interpretation to create their own version of Islam. Their brand of Islam is a combination of fundamentalism similar to Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, but it is coupled with “violent Salafism” which deviated from evangelical Salafism in the 1960s and 70s. Further, the group has enacted a series of its own rulings or “fatwas” that are often in direct contradiction to Islam (for example, the burning of humans is strictly forbidden in ever interpretation of Islam—except for that which is held by ISIS).
ISIS has based its ideology on an apocalyptic message. Their magazine, Dabiq refers to a city in Syria that is said to be a site of great fighting during Armageddon (Malahim). The magazine states, “One of the greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders will take place near Dabiq.” However the mention of this end-times battle is not found in the Qur’an. It is believed to be in one of the “lesser” Hadiths. This is an important point: in Islam, the Hadith is a collection of stories recounted of the prophet Muhammad. Each Hadith, over time, has been studied carefully to determine whether it can be verified and whether it is consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. Greater Hadiths are those which have extensive historical and scholarly evidence to support them. Lesser Hadiths have limited evidence to support them.
Despite their religious ideology, at the core of ISIS beliefs is an equal mix of political ideology. ISIS conducts itself as a state; collecting taxes and implementing its own version of judicial law and social controls. It grew out of region wide crisis in Iraq and flourished in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Here too, their political ideology has been the source of great debate. Some argue that US intervention was responsible for the creation of ISIS; others argue that former Iraqi President Nouri al Maliki institutionalised sectarian division in the nation, instigating a violent response among militant Sunni groups which already existed in the nation. The political goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni Islam to a place of (at least) equality, and their political message initially gained the support of non-militant Sunni Muslims who were marginalised by the nation’s government. In addition, ISIS often calls for the erasure of the Sykes-Picot lines which, in 1916, divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control or influence.
The question of what ISIS really wants has made it difficult to know how to deal with them. ISIS governs itself as an extreme Islamic caliphate, organises like a modern state, and fights like a guerrilla insurgency.
Impact of Global Politics
ISIS is believed to have amassed over 200,000 fighters, with potential members coming from as many as 90 nations. As stated earlier, ISIS has developed a savvy social media presence, and nations are stopping people on a near daily basis from travelling to the region.
Despite a US led coalition of forty nations that have agreed to fight ISIS, the battle against the terrorist group has become. However since the initiation of the coalition in August 2014, ISIS has continued to grow.
In part, ISIS has thrived because of the complexity of international politics. The main fighting forces on the ground are the Kurdish Peshmerga, who belong to a political movement known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has sought an autonomous Kurdish state in parts of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government reached its zenith in 2005 when the PKK conducted a series of bombings, leading them to become a designated terrorist group in Turkey, the United States, NATO, and the European Union. The EU Court removed its status as terrorist organisation in April 2008. However, the designation by the US and Turkey has brought with it problems of arming the PKK; the only group that has successfully battled ISIS on the ground.
To add to the complexity, another nation that has a vested interest in defeating ISIS is Iran, which is on the US “enemies” list. As such, Iran, with over 500,000 active troops, is not a member of the coalition. Iran has been facing heavy sanctions that have been put in place by the west; the US has taken the lead in negotiating nuclear reduction in Iran. The US believes that Iran could use nuclear infrastructure to build weapons which could be a direct threat to Israel. Iran maintains that the facilities are part of their energy infrastructure.
In Iraq, the Iraqi military fell apart with alarming speed when ISIS first came onto the scene. It has been reported that when ISIS militants sought to overtake a region, the generals left first, leaving the soldiers uncertain of what to do; and so they left as well. Under Maliki, it is believed that the Sunni members of the army were unhappy to fight for a nation that had alienated them. With a new president in place, the 350,000 member army is currently being trained by Western forces in order to engage in battle against ISIS. However in the meanwhile, Shiite militias have been remobilised to fill the vacuum, however their presence has left Sunni Muslims in a precarious situation.
The Syrian army is believed by many to be the most likely to contain the ISIS threat. In early February, Syrian forces together with the Kurdish fighters repelled an ISIS advance in north-eastern Syria. However, Syrian troops have been divided between fighting in a protracted civil war and fighting ISIS forces. This has decreased their ability to focus on a single target.
Why are more Arab ground troops not involved?
ISIS has overtly stated that they seek to gain ground in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, ISIS has established a presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and along the Libyan coastline. In mid-February, Egyptian conducted airstrikes against ISIS positions in Derna, Libya, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals. Shortly after the airstrikes, Egyptian President Sisi called for a joint Arab military force to tackle extremist groups in the region, and called for a United Nations mandate for foreign intervention in Libya. Sisi’s call raises an important question: why have Arab nations —particularly those at greatest risk from ISIS— not sent in ground troops to fight ISIS?
In short, many Arab militaries have not acted as fighting forces for some time. For example the Egyptian army had not engaged in ground war since the three-day border war with Libya in 1977. Further, the Egyptian military has not been deployed to a foreign nation since the North Yemen civil war of the 1960s, where it was defeated. The story is similar for many militaries in the region. Another problem arises from the history of Arab cooperation in defence. Divisions along political lines (Turkey and the Kurds, for example), prevent full trust and therefore full cooperation. Western analysts espouse hope that the GCC Peninsula Shield, a 40,000-strong force made up of countries in the Persian Gulf, will be deployed to fight ISIS, however the group is designed to prevent political unrest in existing regimes. It is a force for suppression, not battle. The GCC Peninsula shield was most recently deployed to quell unrest in Bahrain in 2011. Their targets were unarmed, disorganised civilians. It is unlikely that they are prepared to engage in battle against armed, methodical militants.
This does not mean that the battle against ISIS cannot be won. However it will require renewed training of security forces, the updating of weaponry, and the combined efforts of both Middle Eastern and Western forces. The biggest advantage that ISIS has is the political divides that keep forces from uniting. As long as nations around the world debate whether to send forces, or to interfere on sovereign land, or base their involvement on political conditions, ISIS will continue to thrive.