Iraqi gains re­veal huge scale of IS arms in­dus­try

Con­veyor belt for car bombs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

QARAQOSH, Iraq:

Fac­to­ries churn­ing out tens of thou­sands of mu­ni­tions and an en­tire street turned into a con­veyor belt for car bombs: ad­vances by Iraqi forces around Mo­sul have laid bare the scale of the Is­lamic State group’s arms in­dus­try.

In the more than two years since it seized con­trol over swathes of the coun­try, IS es­tab­lished a sprawl­ing and highly or­ga­nized sys­tem that ex­perts say no other in­sur­gent group has matched.

The ca­pa­bil­ity has se­ri­ously boosted the threat from the group as it battles fe­ro­ciously to cling to ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria-and the fresh in­tel­li­gence could now prove vi­tal in coun­ter­ing its plots to carry out attacks on the West.

Iraqi army dem­iner Hashim Ali picked his way care­fully through the rub­ble as he ex­plained how IS trans­formed Mart Sh­mony street in Qaraqosh, some 16 kilo­me­ters (10 miles) south­east of Mo­sul, into a pro­duc­tion line of death af­ter seiz­ing the town in 2014 and forc­ing the mainly Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion to flee.

Once it was a bustling thor­ough­fare of car work­shops and stores sell­ing Turk­ish fur­ni­ture, but for the ji­hadists it of­fered all they needed to make the ar­mored car bombs they use to blow up civil­ians and slow ad­vanc­ing Iraqi troops.

In one build­ing they stripped the ve­hi­cles, in the neigh­bor­ing one they cut the metal plates for ar­mour. A few doors down they made the ex­plo­sives. Just up the road they loaded the bombs into the car. “These peo­ple are not stupid, they are very well or­ga­nized,” Ali told AFP. “If you give them more time then they al­ways find ways to surprise you.”

Nearby the rem­nants of a pickup truck with a metal plate welded to its front stood in­side a for­mer fur­ni­ture shop dev­as­tated by an air strike from the US-led coali­tion back­ing Iraqi troops. In towns, vil­lages and dis­tricts re­taken from IS the pat­tern was re­peated.

AFP vis­ited a num­ber of sites where the group can­ni­bal­ized ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture to cre­ate their own im­pro­vised arms fac­to­ries. In a for­mer ce­ment plant in the town of Areej the lathes in a cav­ernous hall had been put to work man­u­fac­tur­ing mor­tars and rock­ets. Moulds for shells lay on ta­bles and un­fin­ished cas­ings lit­tered the floor.

At an­other lo­ca­tion nearby, part of an aban­doned gas stor­age fa­cil­ity was strewn with the deadly im­pro­vised explosive de­vices IS pro­duced there. The white pow­der of home­made ex­plo­sives spilled out of large bombs that the group had not had time to lay in the path of the ad­vanc­ing Iraqi troops.

‘Some­thing else’

“In terms of scale, plan­ning, cen­tral­ized command and con­trol and the precision to which they are man­u­fac­tur­ing, this is some­thing else,” James Be­van, di­rec­tor of Con­flict Ar­ma­ment Re­search, a UK-based group which in­ves­ti­gates arms flows around the globe, told AFP. “I can’t name an­other armed group that man­u­fac­tures on such a scale and with such a de­gree of co­or­di­na­tion.”

Be­van and teams from his or­ga­ni­za­tion have been on the ground in Iraq cat­a­logu­ing the ex­tent of IS arms pro­duc­tion. Their find­ings, de­tailed in a re­port re­leased yes­ter­day, show a so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem that pours out tens of thou­sands of stan­dard­ized mor­tars, rock­ets and ex­plo­sives on an “un­prece­dented scale” and un­der strict qual­ity con­trols.

While the raw ma­te­ri­als for shell cas­ings and mis­siles come from scrap metal and spare parts in the cities that IS have cap­tured, the ex­plo­sives and pro­pel­lant are made from pre­cur­sors mostly pro­cured in bulk from the open mar­ket in Tur­key and di­verted through Syria.

As proof of their high stan­dards the fi­nal IS prod­ucts are of­ten painted a military green, branded with the group’s logo and packed into spe­cially made crates to be dis­patched to the var­i­ous fronts it is fight­ing on.

Lessons for West?

On the bat­tle­field the weapons they man­u­fac­ture them­selves have proven an im­por­tant way for IS to sup­ple­ment their flow of fac­tory-made arms seized from gov­ern­ment forces or rebel groups in Iraq and Syria. Com­manded by for­mer Iraqi military and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, the group has fought con­ven­tional cam­paigns with the help of its own im­pro­vised weaponry. But now, as the group faces in­creas­ing frag­men­ta­tion with the ter­ri­to­ries it con­trols un­der pres­sure from var­i­ous of­fen­sives, the in­tel­li­gence be­ing gleaned could prove in­valu­able for coun­ter­ing its threat be­yond its shrink­ing heart­land. “This will be crit­i­cal for fu­ture ef­forts to counter the spread of this group,” said arms ex­pert Be­van. From France and Bel­gium to Egypt and Tur­key the group and its af­fil­i­ates have al­ready car­ried out bloody ter­ror attacks in a string of coun­tries across the globe. Ear­lier this month the Europol po­lice agency warned that IS where evolv­ing their tac­tics to at­tack soft tar­gets in Europe and could use the deadly car bombs they have em­ployed to devastating ef­fect in Iraq and Syria.

“If you look at the Iraq and Syria the­atre as a hot­bed for the devel­op­ment of more and more so­phis­ti­cated im­pro­vised de­vices then it is prob­a­bly un­par­al­leled,” Be­van said. “If and when Is­lamic State is pushed out of Mo­sul and pushed out of large parts of Syria its fight­ers will dis­perse and that means its bomb-mak­ers will dis­perse too.”—AFP

QARAQOSH, Iraq: This file photo taken on Novem­ber 26, 2016 shows am­mu­ni­tion and mor­tar launch­ers con­fis­cated from Is­lamic State (IS) group ji­hadists, af­ter Iraqi forces re­cap­tured it from the group.—AFP

QARAQOSH, Iraq: This file photo taken on Novem­ber 7, 2016 shows soldiers of the Iraqi army dis­play­ing weapons con­fis­cated from the Is­lamic State (IS) group ji­hadists.—AFP

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