One year on, IS ex­tends global reach

Lesotho Times - - International -

BEIRUT — The Is­lamic State group’s so-called caliphate en­tered its sec­ond year Mon­day with the ji­hadis ex­pand­ing their ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq and their global reach by claim­ing to be be­hind at­tacks in Tu­nisia and Kuwait.

The ex­trem­ist group headed by Abu Bakr al-bagh­dadi an­nounced on 29 June last year that it was re­viv­ing a form of Is­lamic gov­ern­ment known as the caliphate, pledg­ing it would “re­main and ex­pand”.

In the year since, it has gained more ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq de­spite an at­tempted coun­ter­at­tack sup­ported by a Us-led coali­tion air cam­paign.

It has also at­tracted a string of af­fil­i­ates — in Egypt, Libya, Ye­men, Pak­istan and else­where — and sought to pro­ject fear on an in­ter­na­tional scale.

Last week, the group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in Tu­nisia in which 38 peo­ple, mostly for­eign tourists, were killed at a sea­side re­sort.

And it said it was be­hind a sui­cide bomb at­tack against a Shi­ite mosque in Kuwait that killed 27 peo­ple.

The Is­lamic State group also ap­peared to be the in­spi­ra­tion for an at­tack in France in which a man rammed his van into a gas fac­tory and be­headed his boss.

“It’s not clear that these ac­tions are cen­trally planned or co­or­di­nated by IS,” said Yezid Sayegh, a se­nior as­so­ciate at the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­ter think tank.

“That said, we may be see­ing the start of a long cam­paign con­ducted by IS mem­bers or sym­pa­thiz­ers who have been trained and then sent back home to their coun­tries to take their own ini­tia­tive in plan­ning and con­duct­ing at­tacks, depend­ing on their abil­i­ties, re­sources, and op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

The three at­tacks came days af­ter Is­lamic State spokesman Abu Mo­hamed al-ad­nani urged sup­port­ers to seek “mar­tyr­dom” dur­ing the holy fast­ing month of Ramadan.

The group has inspired fear and hor­ror with its rule over ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq, where mass killings and bru­tal ex­e­cu­tions have be­come its hall­marks.

The Is­lamic State group con­trols about 50 per­cent of Syria’s ter­ri­tory, though much of it is un­in­hab­ited, and per­haps a third of Iraq.

In Syria alone, it has ex­e­cuted more than 3,000 peo­ple in the year since an­nounc­ing its caliphate, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor­ing group said Sun­day. Nearly 1,800 of them were civil­ians, in­clud­ing 74 chil­dren, it said. They in­clude more than 200 peo­ple killed in the Syr­ian Kur­dish town of Kobani dur­ing an at­tack by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants last week, and over 900 mem­bers of the Sunni Mus­lim Shai­tat tribe who were killed in 2014 af­ter op­pos­ing the ji­hadi group.

There are no re­li­able fig­ures in Iraq, but the group is be­lieved to have ex­e­cuted thou­sands there, in­clud­ing as many as 1,700 mostly Shi­ite re­cruits at the Spe­icher mil­i­tary base near Tikrit.

Thou­sands more have died bat­tling the ex­trem­ists in Syria and Iraq, in­clud­ing Syr­ian rebels and gov­ern­ment forces, Kur­dish fight­ers in both coun­tries, and Iraqi gov­ern­ment troops and Shi­ite mili­tias.

But few of those forces have had much suc­cess against the group, with the Iraqi Army in par­tic­u­lar fac­ing crit­i­cism for aban­don­ing ter­ri­tory to Is­lamic State mil­i­tants dur­ing a push by the group in mid2014.

Iraqi gov­ern­ment forces have “no clear com­mand struc­ture,” said Zaid al-ali, au­thor of “The Strug­gle For Iraq’s Fu­ture.”

“Clearly Bagh­dad should have enough forces at its dis­posal to con­trol ter­ri­tory, but not all the anti-is forces take their in­struc­tions from Bagh­dad,” he added.

In Syria, only Kur­dish forces backed by the U.s.-led coali­tion have been able to ef­fec­tively tackle the group, with an­a­lysts say­ing op­po­si­tion forces and the regime ap­pear to lack the weapons or the re­solve to fight the ji­hadis.

Even the anti-is­lamic State coali­tion, which is car­ry­ing out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and train­ing Iraqi troops on the ground, has had lim­ited suc­cess. It has helped ground forces push the Is­lamic State group from Kobani and Tal Abyad in Syria, and Tikrit and Diyala province in Iraq.

But the group has con­tin­ued to score shock­ing vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing the re­cent cap­ture of Syria’s an­cient town of Palmyra and the tak­ing of the Iraqi city of Ra­madi in midMay.

“The in­ter­na­tional mo­bi­liza­tion against ‘Daesh’ has been min­i­mal,” said Sayegh, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the group.

“But it may be that they can­not do more, be­cause the re­turn of 150,000 U.S. troops to the bat­tle­field is out of the ques­tion.”

Ul­ti­mately, an­a­lysts say the Is­lamic State group’s suc­cess is as much the re­sult of po­lit­i­cal prob­lems as it is mil­i­tary short­com­ings.

The Is­lamic State group has emerged be­cause of “the fail­ure of Syria and Iraq and the sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions in them, as well as cor­rup­tion and decades of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule,” Sayegh said. — AFP

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