Posts Tagged ‘Jihadists’

Egypt hangs 15 over attacks on security forces in Sinai Peninsula

December 26, 2017


It is the largest mass execution carried out in the country since six convicted jihadists were hanged there in 2015

Radical Islamists in Egypt dream of turning the most populous Arab country into a religious state. The headband reads: 'No God but God and Mohammed is his messenger.' (AP/Amr Nabil)

Radical Islamists in Egypt dream of turning the most populous Arab country into a religious state. The headband reads: ‘No God but God and Mohammed is his messenger.’ (AP/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptian authorities on Tuesday executed 15 prisoners convicted of attacks on security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula, police officials said.

The men were hanged in two jails where they had been held since military courts sentenced them for the attacks in the Sinai, where jihadists are waging an insurgency, the officials said.

It was the largest mass execution carried out in the North African country since six convicted jihadists were hanged in 2015.

The hangings come a week after the Islamic State group attacked a helicopter with an anti-tank missile at a North Sinai airport as the country’s defense and interior ministers were visiting.

The ministers were unhurt in the attack but an aide to the defense minister was killed along with a pilot.

IS’s Egypt affiliate has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks in the Sinai and also targeted civilians on the mainland.

Egyptian courts have sentenced hundreds to death over unrest since the military ousted divisive Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

But most defendants have appealed and won retrials.


French special forces prepare to battle Sahel militants

December 13, 2017


© France 24 screengrab

Video by Karim HAKIKI Armelle CHARRIER

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-12-13

FRANCE 24 reporters have been following French special forces in the Sahel as they prepare to battle Islamist militants. It’s the first time the French special forces allow journalists to film them during their mission in the Sahel region.

French special forces have been fighting Islamist militants for years in the Sahel, whose porous borders are regularly crossed by jihadists, including affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State. Their missions are secret and the forces do not communicate on the missions’ outcomes. Their goal is to prevent militant and terrorist groups from creating sanctuaries.

Special forces members are deployed in the Sahel for four months. They need to get used to the terrain, to the climate, and to the vegetation – anything that could play a role in their missions. Commandos are flexible and the chain of command is short, so everything can change in the blink of an eye. Operations can be prepared for weeks, or launched in just an hour.

French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a summit in Paris on December 13 aimed at widening support for the G5 Sahel – a regional anti-jihadist force composed of the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.

Click on the video player above to view FRANCE 24’s exclusive report.

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it — “Taliban fighters are living in comfort outside of their country with plenty of drug money.”

December 5, 2017

RT — Formerly Russia Today

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis urges more efforts on counter-terrorism from Pakistan’s government leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir, December 4, 2017. U.S. DoD photo

Washington has urged Islamabad to “redouble” its efforts in fighting terrorists. And while Pakistan insists that “no safe heavens” exist in the Central Asian country, the CIA over the weekend vowed to fight terrorism with or without Islamabad.

On Monday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Pakistan, seeking to convince Islamabad to get onboard with the Trump administration’s “Afghanistan strategy.” In a speech in August, President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan for “sheltering terrorists” and threatened to reduce the aid to the country if it continues to “harbor criminals and terrorists.” While Islamabad has repeatedly rejected such accusations, on Monday Mattis once again called on Pakistan to do more to fight jihadists.

“The Secretary reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” the Pentagon said in a statement after Mattis met with a number of Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir.


US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizing Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism, emphasized the vital role that can play in working with the and others to facilitate a peace process in .

Mattis is the second senior US official, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to have visited the country in recent months as the US revamps its counter-terrorism strategy in the region. Pakistan enjoys certain privileges as one of 16 nations that Washington introduced to a “Non-NATO Major Allies” club. As a member of this group, Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid and access to US military technology. Pakistan may, however, potentially lose such privileges if it diverges from the US course.

READ MORE: US wants Pakistan military force in Afghanistan but won’t pay the cost – former intelligence chief

On Monday, the government in Islamabad reiterated that it does not protect or harbor extremists, less than a week after the Pentagon accused the country of doing almost nothing to fight the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network.

“The prime minister reiterated that there are no safe havens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations,” the Pakistani government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Abbasi also noted that no other country “benefits more” from stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan. He stressed that both the US and Pakistan have “common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the long term stability of the broader region.”

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told Mattis that the Pakistani military and security forces “have eliminated safe havens from Pakistan’s soil,” but added that the Pakistanis are “prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to the Afghan refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers.”

Statements made by Pakistani officials contradict the assessment voiced by the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, who last week accused the Taliban fighters of “living in comfort outside of the country with plenty of drug money.”

Gen. John Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that the US has not seen Pakistan implement any changes, despite being pressured by Trump to do so.

“We are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the Durand Line,” Nicholson said. “The offensive operations against sanctuaries would be in other areas that we’ve identified with the Pakistani leadership on a number of occasions.”

READ MORE: No troop pullout, threats to Pakistan in Trump speech on new Afghanistan strategy (VIDEO)

Reassurance voiced by the Pakistani officials comes just days after Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) explained that the US “will do everything it can to ensure they don’t exist anymore.”

“In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists,” Pompeo said, according to the Voice of America.




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Half of Yazidis kidnapped by IS still missing

December 3, 2017


© AFP | Yazidis women light candles and paraffin torches outside Lalish temple in Iraq to celebrate the Yazidi New Year on April 18, 2017

ERBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) – Around half of the Yazidis kidnapped by the Islamic State group three years ago are still missing, Iraqi Kurdish officials said Sunday.In 2014, IS jihadists killed thousands of Yazidis in Sinjar and kidnapped thousands of women and girls from the religious minority to abuse them as sex slaves.

Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition against IS captured Sinjar from the jihadists in November 2015 before Iraqi security forces took control of the region in October.

A top official with the ministry of religious affairs of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq said that some 6,417 Yazidis were abducted by the jihadists from August 3, 2014.

Up until December 1, 2017, only 3,207 of them have been rescued or managed to flee their captors, said Khairi Bozani.

The remaining 3,210 Yazidis — including 1,507 women or girls — were still either held by the jihadists or considered missing, he told AFP.

The ministry has been following up on the case and its figures show that 2,525 Yazidi children are now orphans while the parents of 220 others were still unaccounted for.

According to Bozani 47 mass graves containing the remains of Yazidis have been found since 2014.

The UN has called the massacres of Yazidis a genocide, arguing that IS had planned them and then intentionally separated men from women to prevent Yazidi children from being born.

The Yazidis are Kurdish-speaking but follow their own non-Muslim faith that earned them the hatred of the Sunni Muslim extremists of IS.

Yazidis believe in one God who created the world and entrusted it to seven Holy Beings, the most important of which is Melek Taus, or the Peacock Angel.

Around 550,000 Yazidis lived in Iraq before the massacres but since then 100,000 have left the country while 360,000 have been displaced and live in Iraqi Kurdistan or across the border in Syria.

© 2017 AFP

Iraq faces tough battle against IS desert hideouts

November 27, 2017


© AFP | Iraqi security forces hold a position as they advance against Islamic State group jihadists in the western desert bordering Syria

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi forces said Monday they face a tough battle against the Islamic State group in deep gorges and other natural hideouts in the western desert along the Syrian border, their last bastion in Iraq.”Our units have cleared 50 percent of the total area of the desert of around 29,000 square kilometres (11,000 sq miles). The first phase is over,” General Yahya Rassoul, spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, told AFP.

“Now our units will proceed to clearing the rest of the desert zones, including Wadi (valley) Hauran,” he said.

“The valley is deep and reaches Syrian territory. The mission is to destroy all the hideouts in the desert and valleys to secure western Iraq’s border with Syria” before soldiers are posted along the frontier, he said.

Wadi Hauran, with 200-metre-deep (650-foot-deep) gorges, is the longest valley in Iraq, stretching 350 kilometres (210 miles) from the Saudi border to the Euphrates River, also reaching the frontier with Jordan.

The Islamic State jihadist group has controlled most of the valley in Anbar province since 2014, setting up arms depots and resupply posts.

Troops and paramilitaries launched the desert offensive on Thursday aiming to inflict a final defeat on IS.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he will not proclaim victory until the jihadists have been cleared from the western desert bordering Syria.

With new chief negotiator, Syria opposition poised for Geneva peace talks

November 26, 2017


© Xu Jinquan/Pool/AFP | High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Nasr al-Hariri arrives for a new round of negotiations with Special Envoy of The UN Secretary-General for Syria during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva on July 14, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-11-26

Syria’s main opposition group selected a new chief negotiator on Friday ahead of a new round of United Nations-backed peace negotiations with the Damascus government set to kick off next week.

Nasr Hariri said the opposition was going to Geneva on Tuesday to hold direct talks and was ready to discuss “everything on the negotiating table”.

The UN will be trying to revitalise its flagging Syria peace process, buoyed by the prospect of hosting a unified opposition delegation in Geneva for the first time.

The UN-brokered talks to end the war that has killed more than 340,000 people since 2011 have achieved little through seven previous rounds, leaving them overshadowed by separate diplomatic pushes led by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, who describes himself as a “chronic optimist” and highlights incremental progress where others see stalemate, has voiced hope that this eighth round will mark the first “real negotiation”.

For that to happen rival sides will need to overcome the hurdle that has derailed past discussions: the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

De Mistura, typically a cautious diplomat, has bluntly told the main opposition High Negotiations Committee that its demand for Assad’s ouster may no longer be tenable.

In September, he said the HNC needed to be “realistic” and realise “they didn’t win the war”. Those comments infuriated the opposition.

But the UN envoy’s position is supported by facts on the ground.

Backed by Russian military support, Assad’s government has regained control of more than half the country, while the rest remains carved up between rebel factions, jihadists and Kurdish forces.

Assad role hurdle

The announcement of Hariri’s selection as chief negotiator came at a summit in Riyadh where, a day before, the opposition stuck by its demand that Assad play no role in an interim period, despite speculation that it could soften its stance because of the Syrian president’s battlefield strength.

The opposition groups met to seek a unified position ahead of Geneva.

Hariri replaces hardliner Riyad Hijab, who led the HNC at previous negotiations but abruptly quit this week, hinting that the committee under him had faced pressures to make concessions that favoured Assad.

Preparing for the next round of Geneva talks, De Mistura met on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow was working with Riyadh to unify the Syrian opposition.

For many years, Western and Arab countries backed the opposition demand that Assad leave office. But since Russia joined the war on behalf of Assad’s government it has become increasingly clear that Assad’s opponents have no path to victory on the battlefield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a congress of the Syrian government and opposition to draw up a framework for the future structure of the Syrian state, adopt a new constitution and hold elections under UN supervision.

But he has also said that any political settlement in Syria would be finalised within the Geneva peace talks process overseen by the United Nations.

Parallel diplomacy

The opposition has long been suspicious of the parallel diplomatic track pushed by Russia, which before the proposed Sochi congress included talks in Kazakhstan, and has insisted that political dialogue should only take place in Geneva.

Hariri said Sochi did not serve the political process and called on the international community, including Russia, “to concentrate all our efforts to serve the political process according to international resolutions in Geneva under UN auspices”.

Alaa Arafat, who represents the “Moscow Platform” political grouping, though, said he would attend Sochi and urged others to go too, reflecting lingering tensions within the diverse opposition.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, who opened the summit on Wednesday pledging his country’s support for unifying the opposition, praised the creation of “one negotiating team that represents everyone”.

Asked if there was any change in position towards Assad’s future, he told reporters that Riyadh continued to support a settlement based on the UN-backed process at Geneva.

“We support the positions of the Syrian opposition. We have from the beginning and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Syria’s six-year-old civil war has forced millions to flee in the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

IS not dead yet but ‘caliphate’ dream probably dead for now — “Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria”

November 18, 2017


© AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida | Members of the Iraqi forces cheer as they carry an upside-down flag of the Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul on July 2, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Its “caliphate” has imploded, its de facto capitals in Iraq and Syria have fallen, and hundreds of its fighters have either surrendered or fled.The Islamic State jihadist group may not be dead yet but its dream of statehood has already been buried, analysts say.

No one in IS “will now think of imposing ‘the territory of the caliphate’,” said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi specialist on extremist movements.

In 2014, self-proclaimed IS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ruled over seven million people in a territory as large as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.

This new “territory of Islam” — Dar al-Islam in Arabic — attracted thousands of jihadists from around the world, many accompanied by their wives and children.

The city of Raqa became the de facto Syrian capital, while Baghdadi made his only public appearance in a mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and once a major Middle East trading hub.

In all of the cities the jihadist group controlled, the black banner of IS flew above the buildings of a new administration.

Courts, hospitals and other official bodies even issued birth or marriage certificates or verdicts and other decrees on IS letterhead.

But less than four years after its sweeping offensive stunned the world, IS has lost almost all of the territory it controlled along with the precious income from oilfields that funded its activities.

“In the course of recent battles, especially Mosul, a huge number of jihadis have died,” said Kirk Sowell, publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics.

“Subsequent to that defeat, many others have surrendered or simply fled the country or are trying to melt into the population.”

According to the US-led coalition fighting IS, the jihadists have lost 95 percent of the cross-border caliphate they declared in 2014.

– Ever-tightening noose –

Hashemi said that after suffering such heavy losses, “even what might remain of IS would not think of returning” to the idea of ??military and administrative control of territory.

And the routed group has been confined in Iraq to “four percent of the territory: wadis, oases and desert areas” without any population, along the porous border with Syria where it has also been cornered into an ever-tightening noose.

In addition to the Syrian and Iraqi armies, the remaining jihadists face myriad forces backed by Russia, the United States or Iran, often at odds with each other over their differing regional interests.

“The caliphate project ran up against geopolitical realities,” according to Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

As a result, “the international jihadi galaxy is likely to revert to its previous strategy of de-territorialisation and revert to strikes against the ‘distant enemy’ in the West or Russia to show it must still be reckoned with,” he added.

There is already a figurehead waiting in the wings.

IS was born of the ashes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda before it, and Hashemi said that despite the “caliphate” going down in flames, a new organisation is beginning to emerge.

“Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria” where jihadist groups still occupy many areas, he said.

These fighters — “the most indoctrinated and most disciplined” — have since September been forming the “Ansar al-Furqan group, led by Hamza bin Laden”, the son and would-be heir of Osama bin Laden.

The younger bin Laden has become active as an Al-Qaeda propagandist since his father’s death at the hands of US special forces in 2011 in Pakistan.

In January, the United States added Hamza bin Laden to its terrorist blacklist.

His father may be dead, but the bin Laden name continues to attract recruits, Hashemi said.

by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida

Tribal justice awaits returning Iraqis who joined IS — “Everything we owned, we sacrificed everything for the people of Iraq.”

November 13, 2017


© AFP / by Sleimane al-Anbari | No longer anywhere to hide for IS: Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi advance on Al-Qaim in Anbar province on November 3, 2017
AL-OBEIDI (IRAK) (AFP) – In the unforgiving deserts of Iraq, there is just one way to deal with defeated members of the Islamic State group who try to come home — tribal justice.

No pardons are possible among tribes which have agreed among themselves to treat with the utmost severity those members who became jihadists.

As for the families of IS members, many have already fled, fearing reprisals.

The former army commander for operations in the western province of Anbar, where IS once held sway after a sweeping offensive across Syria and Iraq in 2014, told AFP returning jihadists face short shrift.

“The Bumahal and the other tribes have agreed to adopt a common stance” on the issue, said General Ismail Mehlawi, himself a Bumahal.

In the vast Sunni region where tribal law prevails, the tribes have addressed the thorny question of what to do about any relatives who pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed IS “caliphate”.

“They’ve all fled to neighbouring Syria,” say residents of Al-Obeidi village in the heart of what was the last jihadist bastion in Iraq, which has just been retaken by Iraqi forces.

But if any return or are discovered in the area, they “will be treated with severity”, Mehlawi said.

“No pardon will be possible,” said the moustachioed Iraqi whose home was dynamited by members of his own tribe who had joined IS.

“We will punish them as prescribed by God so justice is done to the tribesmen who have been wronged” during the jihadist occupation.

The cycle of revenge has already begun in Al-Obeidi, said a security official in the Al-Qaim region whose 150,000 inhabitants belong to around half a dozen tribes.

– Acts of vengeance –

“A week ago, Busharji fighters blew up the house of a member of their tribe who had joined IS” and who was himself accused of blowing up homes in Al-Obeidi, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Before destroying his home, the tribe shunned him, leaving the former IS man unprotected in a country where tribal law often takes precedence over the law and the courts.

Mohammed al-Mohammedi heads the municipal council in Hit near the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi.

He told AFP that several months ago, he was approached by families demanding “the expulsion of relatives of jihadists”.

Despite the authorities being aware of what was happening, this has not prevented acts of vengeance from taking place.

“One jihadist’s house was destroyed by explosives, another was burned down and stun grenades have been thrown at the homes of other families whose relatives joined IS,” Mohammedi said.

The perpetrators of the attacks were never identified.

But afterwards, several families moved out in a scenario mirrored in other places including Iraq’s second city Mosul which IS also occupied before it was retaken.

“The families of jihadists can’t live here because it creates tensions,” said Mohammedi.

Another senior tribal official in the Ramadi region, Sheikh Awad al-Dalma of the Budalma, has drawn up a list of more than 250 names.

These are of “267 terrorists from the Budalma, Bushaaban, Budhiab and Janabin tribes” he said were guilty of “murders or destruction of houses”.

– History of anti-extremism –

As for the Bumahal tribe, Sheikh Mohammed Sattam said “just two members joined IS in 2014. One was killed and the other fled and is now being sought.”

“We will keep fighting whoever joined IS,” he added, wearing the military uniform of a tribal combattant.

Several Anbar province tribes boast of having a long history of battling jihadists.

When another extremist Sunni group, Al-Qaeda, staged bloody attacks in Iraq in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, tribal fighters took up arms.

A number of their members also hold senior positions within the Iraqi armed forces.

When IS proclaimed its “caliphate” across Syria and Iraq in 2014, several Iraqi Sunnis — in a country that is two thirds Shiite — decided to pledge allegiance to the jihadist group.

But Bumahal fighters, along with members of other tribes, formed Sunni units within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a motley coalition of Shiite militias and local fighters determined to drive IS out of Iraq.

Such was the case with Faisal Rafie, Kalashnikov assault rifle in hand.

Behind him in a swirling sandstorm are piles of rubble — what is left of houses the jihadists blew up in Al-Obeidi.

Today, those who lost their homes are demanding justice.

“The IS terrorists destroyed our houses and stole everything from us because we were fighting against injustice and terrorism,” Rafie said.

“Everything we owned, we sacrificed everything for the people of Iraq.”

by Sleimane al-Anbari

Prepare Yourself for Jihad 3.0 — The U.S. needs to focus on defeating the ideology.

November 4, 2017

Radical Islamic terrorists will revive their movement.

The rental truck used in Tuesday’s New York terror attack.
The rental truck used in Tuesday’s New York terror attack. PHOTO: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York City, committed by an immigrant from Uzbekistan, is a reminder that radical political Islam won’t end with the recent defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa.

Just as the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan soon after 9/11 did not mark the end of al Qaeda, extremist forces in the Muslim world will continue to resuscitate themselves in other forms, in other theaters. If al Qaeda was Jihad 1.0 in our era, and ISIS was Jihad 2.0, we should now prepare for Jihad 3.0. Islamism will continue to be a U.S. national-security concern for years to come.

The New York attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, did not match the standard profile of a jihadi terrorist. He was likely self-radicalized, did not overtly belong to a major terrorist group, and would not have been denied entry under President Trump’s “travel ban” due to his country of origin.

In trying to re-create an Islamic state, radical Islamists draw inspiration from 14 centuries of history. It is important to understand the various Muslim “revivalist” movements, involving various degrees of violence and challenges to the global order of the time. Contemporary radicals often reach into the past to find models for organization and mobilization

It is not a coincidence that al Qaeda (literally “the base”) tried to establish itself first in Sudan before finding a home in Afghanistan. Both Sudan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region had experienced jihad against European powers resulting in short-lived Islamic states in relatively recent times.

ISIS’ choice of Syria and Iraq to declare a caliphate was also a function of the Islamist reverence for historic precedents. Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), and Baghdad was the base of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).

In Sudan, Muhammad Ahmad declared himself Mahdi (“the reviver”) and established an unrecognized state from 1885-99 before being defeated by the British. The Mahdists terrorized locals, persecuted religious minorities (notably Coptic Christians), revived the slave trade, and challenged Egypt and its protector, Britain. The death of the movement’s founder in 1885 did not mark the end of jihad.

Eventually, the British defeated the Mahdists militarily with an Anglo-Egyptian force. They also used traditional religious and tribal structures and institutions to challenge Mahdist ideology. Today the Mahdists exist as a Sufi order rather than an extremist group.

Similarly, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area became the base for the jihad movement of Syed Ahmed Barelvi in 1826. Just as Osama bin Laden moved from Saudi Arabia, giving up a comfortable life, Syed Ahmed came from northeastern Indian nobility. He mobilized funds throughout the subcontinent, moved it through the hawala system, and bought arms to use against the British-aligned Sikh empire along the border of modern-day Afghanistan.

Although he was killed in 1831, ending his short-lived Islamic state, Syed Ahmed’s followers continued their random stabbing campaign against the British for another 70 years. Driving cars or trucks into crowds is today’s equivalent of that terrorist campaign.

Eventually, the British deployed military and intelligence means to defeat the jihadists. They also discredited the terrorists’ beliefs by supporting Muslim leaders who opposed radical ideas.

In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire had less success in dealing with the Wahhabis, who fought the empire for control over the Arabian Peninsula through much of the 19th century. After creating the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the Wahhabis modified their approach to international relations, though not their theology. Al Qaeda and ISIS manifest the more radical beliefs of the Wahhabis and, though opposed by the modern state of Saudi Arabia, can be construed as a continuation of their Wahhabi teaching.

The U.S. is not capable of whole-scale changes to Islamic theology, nor is it in America’s purview. And portraying the contemporary struggle as a battle with Islam risks making the world’s Muslim population—1.8 billion people—Islamic State’s recruiting pool.

Islam means different things to different people and has been practiced in many ways among various sects across the world and throughout time. The doctrine of jihad is open to interpretation, much like the Christian notion of “just war.” Muslims who consider Islam a religion, not a political ideology, and who pursue piety, not conquest, remain important partners for the U.S.

The U.S. must re-evaluate its alliances in the Muslim world based on whether or not partners encourage extremism. Saudi Arabia’s recent avowal to teach moderation in religion, emulating the United Arab Emirates’ campaign against radical Islamism, deserves American support, as does Morocco’s decision to work with the Holocaust Memorial Museum to educate its people about the Holocaust and teach tolerance.

On the other hand, Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s decision to include jihadi teachings in its school curriculum indicate their support of radicalism.

Above all, the U.S. must focus on defeating radical Islamist ideology, not just its periodic manifestation in terrorist attacks.

Mr. Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., 2008-11.

Appeared in the November 3, 2017, print edition.

Iraq forces assault last IS bastion, advance on Kurds

October 26, 2017


© AFP/File | Iraqi troops storm a building in the town of Anna during the first phase of their drive up the Euphrates valley against the Islamic State group on September 22, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi troops launched an assault on the last Islamic State group bastion in the country on Thursday even as the Kurds said Baghdad’s forces had attacked their fighters near the border with Turkey.

There had been fears that the bitter dispute that has raged between the Baghdad government and Iraqi Kurdish leaders since they held a referendum for independence last month would hamper the campaign against the jihadists.

But federal troops and allied paramilitaries pressed ahead with a threatened drive up the Euphrates valley towards the Syrian border in a bid to retake two Sunni Arab towns that have been bastions of insurgency since soon after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The US-led coalition battling IS said it was “the last big fight” against the jihadists.

Iraqi forces have retaken more than 90 percent of the territory IS seized in the country in 2014, with the jihadists now confined to a small stretch of the valley adjoining some of the last areas they still hold in Syria.

“The heroic legions are advancing into the last den of terrorism in Iraq to liberate Al-Qaim, Rawa and the surrounding villages and hamlets,” Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said in a statement from neighbouring Iran where he is on a state visit.

“They will all return to the arms of the motherland thanks to the determination and endurance of our fighting heroes,” he added.

“The people of IS have no choice but to die or surrender.”

Al-Qaim has been renowned as a bastion of Sunni Arab insurgency for years.

Coalition troops carried out repeated operations with names like Matador and Steel Curtain in 2005 to flush out Al-Qaeda jihadists.

The town lies at the heart of a wealthy agricultural region and was once a railhead for the phosphate mining centre of Akhashat in the desert to the south.

In the era of Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaim’s huge chemical factory treated uranium to feed Iraq’s nuclear programme.

But American air strikes in 1991 and then United Nations inspections transformed the factory into a metallic skeleton.

Coalition commanders are convinced that Al-Qaim will be IS’s last stand in its ambitions to territorial control of the cross-border caliphate it proclaimed in 2014.

On the Syrian side of the border, Russian-backed government forces have been pushing down the Euphrates valley while US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters have been attacking the jihadists from their stronghold in the north.

The launch of the offensive against IS’s last Iraqi redoubt comes with thousands of Iraqi federal troops and militia engaged in an operation to reassert federal control over thousands of square kilometres (miles) of territory long disputed with the Kurds.

– Oil pipeline in Baghdad sights –

On Thursday, federal troops and allied paramilitaries stepped up that operation, assaulting Kurdish forces in a disputed oil-rich area of Nineveh province in the far north near the Turkish border, Kurdish authorities said.

“As of 6 am (0300 GMT), Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed PMF (Hashed al-Shaabi — Popular Mobilisation Forces) are shelling peshmerga positions from Zummar front, northwest Mosul, using heavy artillery,” the top defence body of the autonomous Kurdish regional government said.

“They are advancing towards peshmerga positions.”

Parts of Nineveh province north and east of Iraq’s second city Mosul are some of the last areas that Kurdish forces still hold outside their longstanding three-province autonomous region.

Kurdish leaders have long argued that their historic Kurdish majorities mean that they should be incorporated in their autonomous region and had taken advantage of the chaos of the war against IS to wrest control of many of them.

But now they have been pushed out of the whole of Kirkuk and Diyala provinces, losing the rich oil fields of Kirkuk in a massive blow to the autonomous region’s finances and its dreams of economic self-sufficiency.

The Zummar district lies close to the course of a strategic oil export pipeline linking the Kirkuk fields with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan that fell into disuse during IS’s lightning sweep through northern and western Iraq in 2014.

The Iraqi prime minister visited Ankara on Wednesday and discussed its reopening with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We are ready to provide any kind of support to allow the operation of the pipeline,” Erdogan told a joint news conference after their talks.

To the anger of Baghdad, Ankara had allowed the Kurds to open an alternative export pipeline through its territory to export oil from Kirkuk and other areas it then held.