Tag Archives: Terrorism

No end in sight for Iraq’s nights of terror

No end in sight for Iraq’s nights of terror

A victory against ISIL will depend on an inclusive Iraqi government and new national security forces.

Salah Nasrawi

On Monday night, terror descended on the Iraqi capital when gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a shopping mall in a busy, predominantly-Shia area, killing and wounding dozens of people and spreading panic among residents.

An even deadlier attack almost simultaneously killed at least 20 people in the beleaguered town of Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad. A bomb exploded at a cafe, and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle after people gathered at the scene.

The series of attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, was the nightmare scenario that intelligence and security experts have been warning against as peace and stability remain fragile in Iraq.

And, like all bad news, more tragic events followed fast. At least seven Sunni mosques and dozens of shops were firebombed and 10 people were shot and killed in Muqdadiyah the next day in what appeared to be retaliatory sectarian attacks.

For Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the bombings were “a desperate” move by ISIL after “victory [was] achieved” through the retaking of the key western city of Ramadi from the group.

However, what the escalation indicates is that the prospect of the total defeat of ISIL remains far off. ISIL’s decentralised networks in Iraq seem to have become more decentralised and still capable of carrying out large-scale attacks.

There are two sets of factors that explain why the group remains the most significant threat to Iraq: First, its adaptation to new circumstances and methods, and second, the failure of Iraq’s political elite to end the country’s paralysis.

What accounts for ISIL’s ongoing effectiveness in the face of unprecedented onslaught? The answer lies in the group’s ever-changing nature. Since its inception as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organisation has shown a surprising readiness to adapt its mission and tactics.

The group’s capacity for change is manifested by its ability to be more appealing to recruits and attract new allies, making it harder to find and destroy.

Despite a number of military setbacks across Iraq in the past year, ISIL’s manpower and their ability to carry out attacks do not seem to be waning.

The ongoing attacks in Baghdad and other urban centres are the work of enormous sleeper cells adopting new techniques that make them hard to detect.

As for the political deadlock, this week’s violence has confirmed that the country’s stabilisation will depend largely on resolving its lingering communal conflicts and establishing an all-inclusive, power-sharing process to replace the current dysfunctional ethnic and sect-based quota system.

Much of ISIL’s recruitment comes from disgruntled Iraqi Sunni Muslims who feel excluded and marginalised. Without fair and effective political representation, many feel that they are left with few alternatives for addressing their grievances and resort to joining violent groups like ISIL.

Iraq’s security problems also have some roots in the Shia militias, which are making a bad situation worse.

The militias, which were supposedly created and expanded to fight ISIL, are now assuming more power.

The militias’ rise in political stature and their increasing role in policing neighbourhoods are undermining the security establishment and weakening its resolve to carry out its duties and fight terrorism.

This precarious security situation has worsened communal violence and criminality. Armed clashes between tribes and attacks by armed groups – which include murder, kidnapping for ransom, rape and other violent crimes – are now widespread.

For months, residents in Iraq’s main port city of Basra have been complaining of pervasive lawlessness as armed tribesmen fight one another over economic interests and influence.

In Baghdad and other cities, scenes of unidentified, bullet-riddled bodies strewn in the streets are normal sights.

Another bad omen for Iraq that could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s stability is its faltering economy and financial crisis caused by plummeting oil prices.

The general assessment is that low oil prices are likely to persist, and given the fluid situation in Iraq, security could deteriorate to the point of chaos.

The government has halted spending and imposed sever austerity measures, including the elimination of jobs, higher taxes, and salary cuts for public servants and pensioners.

While the security forces will bear the brunt of the decline in revenues, cuts in spending will damage development and could be a precursor of worse things to come. The economic crisis has led to street protests, and emerging troubles are expected to add a new source of instability to the ISIL violence and Iraq’s fractious sectarian system.

If anything, victory in the campaign again such violence will depend on whether Iraq’s feuding factions can agree on an inclusive government and new national security forces that could defeat ISIL and make Iraq safe from the ongoing threat of terror attacks.

Source: Al Jazeera

War against terrorism”: The Jordanian option

War against terrorism”: The Jordanian option
With months of airstrikes failing to dislodge Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, the focus is shifting to Jordan in the war against terrorism by  Salah Nasrawi 
Since the seizure of key Sunni-populated cities by jihadist insurgents and their declaration of an Islamic caliphate in the region last year, much of Iraq has been in flames with dire consequences for the conflict-riven nation, its neighbours and the world.

The Iraqi military, Shia militias, Sunni tribes and Kurdish forces have been trying to drive back the Islamic State (IS) forces but with modest success as most of the territories the group has captured remain under militant control.

Though the insurgency could break the country apart, neither Iraqi nor the US-led international coalition helping in the war against IS seems eager to say when the long-awaited all-out war to eject IS will be set in motion.

Since mid-June, when IS captured Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and made startling advances into other Sunni cities, the areas have been the scene of intense back-and-forth fighting with the Islamic State.

At this point, the fight seems largely aimed to contain the resilient insurgency inside the Sunni-populated areas with little evidence that the liberation of Mosul as well as Tikrit and Fallujah is on the list of urgent priorities of Iraq’s Shia-led government or the Kurdish authorities and the international coalition.

Seen from this perspective, all the parties involved in the fight against IS seem either ill-prepared or unwilling to finish the job of defeating the terror group and are instead resorting to unexplained delaying tactics.

Iraq’s Shia-led government has secured Baghdad and Shia-populated areas by relying heavily on Iranian-backed Shia militias. Shia prime minister Haider al-Abadi has made it clear that he does not want “to go into a war in Mosul in which the aftermath will be unknown.”

On the other hand, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have pushed back IS fighters and are now holding their ground and digging in along a new border line drawn up after seizing large swathes of land following the chaos triggered by the rise of IS.

Kurdistan Region president Massoud Barzani, who has repeatedly pledged to seek a referendum on Kurdish independence from the rest of Iraq, has described the new frontier as being “demarcated in blood.”

As for helping in liberating Mosul, Barzani told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that this “will depend on the degree of preparedness of the Iraqi army. Any advances by our troops from their current positions will require [our] consideration in advance,” he said.

Iraq’s Sunnis, supposed to be the main component in any strategy to defeat IS, are also divided between those loyal to the militant group and those supporting the government. Thousands of Sunni tribesmen are willing to hit back against the militants, but many are not fully on board.

The US-led coalition meanwhile continues to pound IS positions with airstrikes, but with no plans to send in combat troops to fight the group on the ground. US president Barack Obama has described his slow response in Iraq as part of his newly declared “strategic patience” strategy in the region.

In Syria, where the terror group has also occupied large chunks of territory, efforts to push IS back are foundering, and the group is reportedly making important gains despite its bitter defeat in the town of Kobani.

If any conclusion can be drawn from this messy situation, it is that there is no comprehensive strategy to wipe out IS and that even if the militants are defeated or simply degraded there are no concrete ideas on how to reintegrate Sunnis back into the old states of Iraq and Syria.

This is more evident in Iraq as attempts to take back the territories captured by IS and the Kurdish Peshmergas will test the willingness of all the parties concerned to save Iraq as a unitary state.

With the crisis in Iraq and Syria now becoming more serious and threatening the countries’ neighbours and the world at large, the debate is being redirected towards the possibility of sending in combat troops to fight IS.

One argument that is widely being used is that the Iraqi security forces are not prepared to push back IS and therefore that foreign troops may be needed to respond to the threat.

But as the United States continues to dither about how to respond, ideas about the possibility of a regional ground force have started to arise after the brutal murder of a Jordanian pilot by jihadists earlier this month.

The gruesome killing of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of Islamic State militants has unleashed a wave of speculation about an increasing military role for Jordan in the war against IS.

Following the execution of Muath al-Kassasbeh, Jordanian officials have said the kingdom will go after IS militants wherever they are and plans to “wipe them out completely.”

“The blood of martyr Ma’ath al-Kassasbeh will not be in vain and the response of Jordan and its army after what happened to our dear son will be severe,” Jordanian king Abdullah said in a statement. “We will hit them in their strongholds and centres.”

Since the immolation of the pilot, Jordan has stepped up its air force assaults on militant positions, including strikes on militant strongholds inside Iraq.

Jordan’s combative response has prompted some international law experts to speculate that the kingdom’s military actions following the murder of the pilot are probably being conducted beyond the needs of individual self-defence and with a view to a calculation of broader proportionality that in practice means moving towards playing a more robust role in the war.

Though Jordan has not confirmed it is ready to send in ground forces to fight IS, the cry for revenge and such interpretations of the kingdom’s intensified airstrikes have shifted the focus to Jordan.

Some Jordanian officials have already given signals of a possible ground engagement with IS. “We are upping the ante. We’re going after them wherever they are with everything that we have. But it’s not the beginning, and it’s certainly not the end,” Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh told CNN.

The possibility of an increasing Jordanian role in the war was also raised by US envoy John Allen, who told the official Jordanian news agency on Sunday that “there will be a major counter-offensive on the ground in Iraq in the weeks ahead.”

He said “the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that.”

However, the speculation about a greater Jordanian role comes amid talk that the crisis in Iraq and Syria may continue for some time. Some such signs are coming from western leaders, suggesting that the fight against IS could take years.

British prime minister David Cameron told MailOnline, a news Website, last week that the threat posed by the “disease” of Islamist extremism would last for a generation. Former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Jenkins, who retired earlier this year, told the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph that the instability caused by IS could last from 10 to 15 years.

Whispering about an expanded Jordanian role in the Iraqi and Syrian crises has been in circulation for a while. What is significant about the idea is that it comes amid the turmoil that is wracking the region and threatens many of its countries with remapping.

On 30 November, the Lebanese National News Agency quoted Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shia Hezbollah Party, as saying that Jordan may become part of a plan to create “a Sunni region” by taking over parts of Iraq and Syria that are now populated by Sunnis.

Nasrallah warned that Jordan could later annex the territories before the new country was turned into “an alternative Palestinian state,” an old notion promoted by some radical Israeli politicians who want to transfer Palestinians in the West Bank to Jordan in a plan known as the Jordanian Option.

US senator Lindsey Graham has been quoted as saying that “Jordan is now ready to send ground forces into Iraq and Syria” to try to destroy IS. Graham made his remarks before a meeting with king Abdullah before IS announced the murder of al-Kassasbeh.

He said Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations were also on board.

On the surface, the new Jordanian angle looks like another Middle East cloak-and-dagger game, but the question remains of how far the volatile kingdom is ready to go with such a precarious policy at a time when its neighbours are threatened with Balkanisation.

It is not news that Jordan has been under pressure from the United States and other partners in the international coalition to open its borders for military activities against IS in Iraq and Syria. King Abdullah has resisted the pressure for fear that such interference could be destabilising to his kingdom.

Given Jordan’s geopolitical and demographical realities, such a gross manifestation of interference in two of Jordan’s strategic neighbours would present a complicated challenge to the regional order.

Jordan’s army is too small for such an undertaking alone.

Despite the cries for revenge that followed the pilot’s murder, a large proportion of Jordan’s population is believed to be opposed to Amman’s participation in the US-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

A bigger military role against the militants could ignite more voices of dissent, especially among the Islamist bloc.

Worst of all, both Iraq’s Shia-led government and the regime of president Bashar al-Assad in Syria have categorically rejected outside help in battling IS militants.

On Monday, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said Damascus would not accept Jordanian or other foreign ground troops crossing into Syria to fight Islamic State. Any such incursion would be considered a violation of Syrian sovereignty, he said.

*Salah Nasrawi is an Iraqi journalist based in Cairo.

*This story was first published at Al-Ahram Weekly on  Thursday 12 Feb 2015