[Editorial Note: This is not a "best of," only a roundup of significant pieces. See here for an introduction to this roundup series]
How to Defeat ISIS (4 January, 2016) James F. Jeffrey argues that “Once Washington treats “defeating ISIS” and “the aftermath” as two separate, albeit linked, operations, then the cost and benefits of using U.S. ground troops to defeat ISIS can be soberly assessed.”
What did we achieve in the fight against ISIS in 2015? (5 January, 2016) Haid N Haid examines the impact of the war against ISIS in 2015 and how the latter successfully adapted its strategies and tactics to minimize its losses.
‘I went to join Isis in Syria, taking my four-year-old. It was a journey into hell’ (9 January, 2016) Sophie Kasiki is one of the few women to escape from Raqqa, the stronghold of Islamic State.
ISIS member behind deadly Istanbul suicide blast, PM says (12 January, 2016) The suicide bomber who killed at least 10 foreigners Tuesday in a popular central Istanbul tourist area belonged to ISIS, officials said
Ruqia Hassan: the woman who was killed for telling the truth about Isis (13 January, 2016) The 30-year-old Kurdish woman from Raqqa risked her life by openly criticising the regime on Facebook. Her friends, family and fellow activists remember her determination to tell the world the grim truth about life in Syria.
Dozens killed by Islamic State in `massacre` in Syria city of Deir ez-Zor (16 January, 2016) UK-based monitoring group claims 85 civilians have been killed while state media says as many as 300 died in ISIS onslaught.
Hundreds may be dead after ISIS abductions in Deir Ezzor (18 January, 2016) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday 17 January, 2016, that at least 400 civilians--including families of pro-regime fighters--had been abducted by ISIS during the latest fighting and taken to the surrounding countryside.
Islamic State frees 270 of 400 people kidnapped from Syria`s Deir al-Zor (19 January, 2016) The civilians released will remain in Islamic State-run villages in Deir al-Zor .
Deir Ezzor: Facing a `Double Blockade` From All Sides (19 January, 2016) ISIS militants and the Syrian government are battling for control of the capital as Syrian citizens are faced with a “double blockade”.
Aleppo: Rebels Take Ground from ISIS, Army of Revolutionaries (20 January, 2016) Rebel forces seize towns of Alqamiya, Yani Yaban and Zeraa following heavy fighting on Sunday.
`Resistance Of A Million` In IS-Held Raqqa (24 January, 2016) A Syrian activist tells Sky News that the civilian population in Islamic State`s self-proclaimed capital are shunning the group.
Joe Biden Presses for Expansion of Turkey’s Role in Fighting ISIS (24 January, 2016) In Istanbul, the initiatives, pushed by Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday 23 January 2016 in more than seven hours of meetings with Turkish leaders, are designed to expand Ankara’s role in the fight against Islamic State. It also backed Turkey’s fight against the PKK.
Dutch parliament now backs bombing IS targets in Syria (26 January, 2016) A majority of MPs now support the involvement of Dutch armed forces in bombing IS targets in Syria. Dutch bombers are currently involved in missions over Iraq but the government has so far resisted calls for a direct role in Syria.
The United States Is Waging 2 Contradictory Wars in Syria (26 January, 2016) James Carden writes that the US funding and support are simultaneously aiming to topple Assad, and to destroy ISIS—and those goals are in conflict.
ISIS Bombings in Homs Kill 19, Injure Over 100 (27 January, 2016) Homs governor says death toll expected to rise following Tuesday’s bombings in Zahraa district.
Syrian Kurds plan big attack to seal Turkish border: source (28 January, 2016) The Syrian Kurdish YPG group and its local allies have drawn up plans for a major attack to seize the final stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border held by ISIS fighters, a YPG source familiar with the plan said on Thursday 28 January, 2016.
We are Syria’s moderate opposition – and we’re fighting on two fronts (29 January, 2016) Asaad Hanna, a member of the Free Syrian Army Northern Division`s political office, writes that President Assad and Islamic State are two sides of the same coin. Whenever we, the Free Syrian Army, make advances against the regime, Isis steps in.
Islamic State Group to Create Naval Force, Says NATO Commander (30 January, 2016) The NATO official said the Islamic State group wants a powerful navy to carry out “terror” attacks in the Mediterranean Sea.
ISIS claims responsibility for deadly blasts in Damascus suburb (31 January, 2016) ISIS claimed responsibility for a triple bombing Sunday 31 January, 2016 that killed at least 45 people and injured more than 100 others in a Damascus suburb, according to a statement circulating online.
Ukraine plans to join fight against Isis means troops could come up against Russian forces in Syria (31 January, 2016) According to The Independent, Ukraine has drawn up plans for a potential military contribution to the fight against Isis in Syria in a move that could also put its troops against Russian forces in the Middle East.
ISIS pushed back in Iraq, Syria, but a threat in Libya: Kerry (2 February 2016) An international coalition is pushing back Islamic State militants in their Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, but the group is threatening Libya and could seize the nation`s oil wealth, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said.
How Saudi Arabia sending ground forces into Syria will have huge ramifications on the civil war (5 February 2016) While the soldiers are intended to fight Isis, they may find themselves clashing with Iranian ‘volunteers’ and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in what is a highly combustible situation.
Isis has been thwarted militarily. But now it could seize chance to advance (13 February 2016) In Syria, Islamic State has failed to reclaim Idlib and western Aleppo, but the military landscape is changing – probably to the benefit of the extremists.
Saudi Arabia sends troops and fighter jets to military base in Turkey ahead of intervention against Isis in Syria (13 February 2016) Saudi officials have stated that they want to fight Isis and see President Bashar al-Assad removed.
Turkey pledges to send ground forces to fight Islamic State in Syria (13 February, 2016) Turkey will supply ground forces to an anti-Islamic State coalition in Syria and will allow Saudi Arabian strike missions against the militants from its air bases, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview.
America’s policies are failing its regional allies (14 February 2016) The U.S. has prioritized the appearance of progress in Syria over its allies and actually defeating the Islamic State.
If the Syria ceasefire fails, Isis will be the least of the west’s problems (15 February 2016) Michael Clarke writes that the prospect of Russian and Iranian forces putting a vengeful Assad back in control of a broken country is now all too real.
The current chaos in Syria may help the Islamic State (16 February 2016) “U.S. and Russian reach an agreement calling for a ‘cessation of hostilities’ between the major parties fighting in the five-year conflict.”
ISIS smiles big at Russia’s offensive in Syria (18 February 2016) Joyce Karam writes while Moscow’s battle-plan could succeed in the short term in handing military victories to Assad and pro-Iranian groups, it is a recipe for a counterterrorism disaster in the long run, and one that largely benefits ISIS.
ISIL objectives focus of UpFront special episode (20 February, 2016) World`s leading experts on armed group exchange views on what the fighters strive to achieve with their global attacks.
Azaz: the border town that is ground zero in Syria`s civil war (20 February, 2016) Held by anti-Assad rebels, seized by Isis, bombed by Russia and now eyed by the Kurds, the fate of Azaz has implications far beyond Syria’s borders.
Dozens Killed In Blasts In 2 Syrian Cities; ISIS Claims Responsibility (21 February, 2016) ISIS group has claimed responsibility for multiple bombings on Sunday, which left at least 140 people dead in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs.
ISIS launches attacks after ceasefire starts in Syria (27 February, 2016) A U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire brought relative calm to parts of Syria for the first time in years on Saturday despite numerous ceasefire breaches, but the war against ISIS, continued as the extremists launched a surprise attack on a northern border town.
Army`s Delta Force begins to target ISIS in Iraq (29 February, 2016) CNN has learned that Delta Force plans to replicate the strategy that Special Operations forces used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ash Carter told reporters that he fully expects the U.S. to play a greater role in assisting the Iraqi military`s effort to retake Mosul.
Policy and Reports
Taking the October Dam: Syria’s Kurds Keep Hitting the Islamic State (28 December, 2015) According to Aron Lund, if the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) “ step across the river [the Euphrates] and start moving on Manbij, or even seek to link up with Assad’s forces in Kweiris, the Islamic State’s forces in Aleppo will be trapped in a three front war.”
Report: Syria`s al-Nusra `more dangerous` than ISIS (26 January, 2016) New report says al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, al Nusra Front, is "more dangerous to the U.S. than ISIS" in the long term.
Report on Mass Graves of Yazidis in Sinjar (30 January, 2016) Matthew Barber, Executive Director of Yazda (a Yazidi humanitarian and advocacy organization founded after the attempted genocide of the Yazidis by IS on Aug. 3, 2014) provides a full report on the mass graves in Sinjar.
The Islamic State Will Survive America’s Military Onslaught (11 February, 2016) In a new report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon predicts the ranks of the Islamic State will swell in 2016.
How Syria Activists in Raqqa Are Resisting ISIS (16 February, 2016) Joey Ayoub writes about `Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently‘ (RBSS) and Syrian activists who are resisting ISIS in Raqqa, the city that was dubbed ‘the capital of ISIS.’
The U.S. must act in Libya before the Islamic State grabs more territory (17 February, 2016) The Editorial Board of The Washington Post write a statement about the situation in Libya and ISIS supporting that the "United States and its allies could conduct airstrikes against Sirte and help a Libyan protection force that has been trying to guard oil facilities."
ISIS`s Campaign in Libya: January 4 - February 19, 2016 (19 February, 2016) ISIS is executing a sophisticated, multi-front campaign against Libya’s oil facilities, demonstrating the organization’s growing capability abroad. President Obama reportedly ruled out significant military intervention against the group as of February 18. The administration opted to continue intermittent strikes against ISIS leaders in Libya instead, such as the strike on an ISIS leader in western Libya on February 19.
Syrian army, allies advance against Islamic State in eastern Aleppo - reports (20 February, 2016) Syria`s army and allies, backed by Russian air strikes, recaptured 18 villages from Islamic State fighters in eastern Aleppo province on Saturday (20 February), a monitoring group said.
Sudden retreats don’t mean that ISIL is defeated (21 February, 2016) Hassan Hassan talks about ISIS’s logic of withdrawal, why they are losing so much territory to the Kurds and believes IS are playing a game that is not simply about military capabilities.
The Battle of School Curricula (1): Oppression and Mayhem (21 February, 2016) This article addresses the ways in which Syrian curricula became a battlefield of influence and control, the impact of which is yet to be seen.
How ISIS recruits children, then kills them (22 February, 2016) First database of ISIS child soldiers exposes tactics of terror leaders. Most of the children are from Syria, and were killed in Iraq, a new report says. It`s estimated there are 1,500 child soldiers fighting in ISIS ranks.
Economy and Agriculture
ISIS Oil (3 December, 2015) Vijay Prashad reports on ISIS oil and the tanker routes from Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
5 Things to Look For With ISIS in 2016 (28 December, 2015) Paul D. Shinkman provides key clues may indicate whether the Islamic State group can continue its reign of fear.
Economic `tsunami` undermines war against Islamic State in Iraq - Kurdish deputy PM (16 January, 2016) Iraq`s Kurdistan region is in danger of being drowned by an economic "tsunami" as global oil prices plunge, its deputy prime minister said, warning it could undermine the war effort against Islamic State.
ISIS cuts its fighters` salaries by 50% (19 January, 2016) Wartime pressure on the Islamic State is forcing it to slash its fighters` salaries by half, according to documents leaked from inside ISIS territory.
`Islamic State` and economy force Kurds out of Iraq (14 February 2016) People are leaving Iraq`s autonomous Kurdistan en masse. The reasons range from the rise of the "Islamic State" to issues as comparatively mundane as the economy. Birgit Svensson reports from Irbil.
Reflections on ISIS and al-Qaida
Experts weigh in: Is ISIS good at governing?
“As we wind down another year in the so-called Long War and begin another, it’s a good time to reflect on where we are in the fight against al-Qaida and its bête noire, the Islamic State. Both organizations have benefited from the chaos unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings but they have taken different paths. Will those paths converge again or will the two organizations continue to remain at odds? Who has the best strategy at the moment? And what political changes might happen in the coming year that will reconfigure their rivalry for leadership of the global jihad?”
To answer these questions,Will McCants have asked some of the leading experts on the two organizations to weigh in over.
Experts Weigh In: What is the future of al-Qaida and the Islamic State? (part 1) (7 January, 2016) Barak Mendelsohn, an associate professor of political science at Haverford College and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), contrasts al-Qaida’s resilience and emphasis on Sunni oppression with the Islamic State’s focus on building a utopian order and restoring the caliphate.
Experts weigh in (part 2): What is the future of al-Qaida and the Islamic State? (28 January, 2016) Clint Watts, a Fox fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “offers ways to avoid the flawed assumptions that have led to mistaken counterterrorism forecasts in recent years.”
Experts Weigh In (part 3): What is the future of al-Qaida and the Islamic State? (24 February, 2016) Charles Lister, a resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, examines “the respective courses each group has charted to date and whether that`s likely to change”.
Experts weigh in: Is ISIS good at governing?
“The recent ISIS-claimed attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Egypt indicate the organization wants to take the fight to its enemies abroad. One reason might be that all is not well in ISIS-land. The nascent state in Syria and Iraq has lost around 25 percent of its territory and tens of thousands of fighters in the year since America and its allies began to their campaign to defeat it. While the state still endures for now, it`s under tremendous pressure because of the costs of ceaseless war.”
To explain the troubles ISIS faces at home, Will McCants have asked “a group of scholars to comment on its governance over the past years and speculate on what they might face in the year ahead”.
Experts weigh in: Is ISIS good at governing? (part 1) (20 November, 2015) Mara Revkin, a J.D./Ph.D. student at Yale who studies governance and lawmaking by insurgent groups such as ISIS, examines “how opinions towards ISIS have changed since it captured Mosul more than a year ago”
Experts weigh in (part 2): Is ISIS good at governing?(3 February, 2016) Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Jihad-Intel research fellow at the Middle East Forum, “argues that internal documents show increasing challenges for the Islamic State”.
Experts weigh in (part 3): Is ISIS good at governing? (9 February, 2016) Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, provides a historical perspective, analyzing the extent to which ISIS has lived up to its own standards of governance.
Experts weigh in (part 4): Is ISIS good at governing? (17 February, 2016) Kamran Bokhari, a fellow with George Washington University`s Program on Extremism, argues that “security—namely defending territory—is the foremost governance objective of ISIS in the short term”.
Experts weigh in (part 5): Is ISIS good at governing? (7 March, 2016) Quinn Mecham, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University, focuses on “the need to provide alternative, positive models of governance for the populations living under ISIS control”.
Experts weigh in (part 6): Is ISIS good at governing? (22 March, 2016) “Nelson Kasfir, Professor of Government Emeritus at Dartmouth College, and Zachariah Mampilly, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Africana Studies at Vassar College, compare ISIS’s governance choices with how other armed groups have governed civilian populations.”
Documentaries, Special Reports, and Other Media
In Raqqa, a spate of Islamic State executions of women raises questions about why (9 December, 2015) Ammar Hamou and Maria Nelson report on the execution of Ruqia Hassan, a female citizen journalist by ISIS in Raqqa. “Ruqia Hassan was the fifth journalist to report on the Islamic State reported killed since October, as those who dare to speak out against IS policies continue to find themselves targeted both inside and outside Syria.”
Why the U.S. Can’t Make a Magazine Like ISIS (11 January, 2016) “How can the U.S. government better counter ISIS propaganda? As the State Department overhauls its counter messaging program, Will McCants and Clint Watts examine what makes ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, so successful, and the obstacles to the U.S. government producing a publication that effective.”
First on CNN: Pentagon releases video of U.S. bombing `millions` in ISIS cash (16 January, 2016) The American Department of Defense released declassified video from its January 11 bombing of an ISIS cash depot in Mosul, Iraq.
The Front Lines: On the border of ISIS territory, Iraqi civilians fight for their survival.(18 January, 2016) Luke Mogelson reports for the The New Yorker about the Iraqi civilians various experiences and survival strategies from the borders of ISIS territories.
ISIS defectors: Why they sometimes walk free (28 January, 2016) “Kurdish news channel K24 this week broadcast an interview with Marlin Stivani Nivarlain a 16-year-old Swedish girl who had just been rescued from ISIS in northern Iraq. In the video clip, Nivarlain tells the interviewer that her time with ISIS was "really a hard life" and explains how she went about trying to secure her escape.”
U.S. Commandos Expand Anti-ISIS War into Libya (29 January, 2016) Elite troops are already laying the foundation for a new front against the Islamic State group’s ambitions.
ISIS`s Regional Campaign: February 2016 ISIS continued to develop its regional presence despite setbacks in Iraq and Syria in February. The organization launched spectacular attacks to weaken security in Iraq and Syria as it faces territorial losses, declining revenue, and decreased foreign fighter inflows in both countries.
Jihadology Podcast: al-Qaeda’s Franchising Strategy(2 February, 2016) Barak Mendelsohn discusses his new book, The al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and Its Consequences. In this book, Mendelsohn investigates “how organizations expand; why AQ decided to branch out and the strategy behind that decision; AQ choices on where to expand; and Case studies on AQ’s different branches.”
ISIS Sanctuary Map ISIS continues to face military pressure on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. In response ISIS is heightening efforts to consolidate control along the Euphrates River Valley, and is also expanding its attack zones in western Syria and eastern Iraq. ISIS remains unchallenged in its core terrain.
Syria Conflict Interactive Map (1 February 2016) An interactive map of Syria and the dispersion of opposition forces, ISIS forces, and regime forces/allies.
US-led airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – interactive (10 February 2016) An interactive map showing ISIS-controlled areas that have been targeted by the coalition’s air campaign since late summer 2014.
عامانمنحكمداعشللمدينةالضائعة (January 15, 2016) Ali Ayd reflects on the changes that have affected al Raqqa under the rule of ISIS since 2013.
داعش يبيع عقارات المسيحيين في مزاد علني بالموصل (16 January, 2016) ISIS sold the properties of the Christians in Mosul in auctions in order to increase the group income.
«داعش» يوسّع رقعة سيطرته في دير الزور (19 January, 2016) ISIS achieved advances in Deir ez-Zor killing dozens of Syrian soldiers and imprisoning 400 persons of their families members.
هجمات باريس: تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية يبث فيديو للمهاجمين أثناء التجهيز (25 January, 2016) ISIS has released a gruesome new propaganda video that purports to show final messages from the Paris attackers.
سكان الرقّة.. تحت الإقامة الجبريّة! (27 January, 2016) This article reports on movement restrictions that ISIS impose on people in Al-Raqqah, Syria.
السعودية تجّهز مع حلفائها آلاف الجنود للتدخل بسوريا (6 February 2016) Saudi Arabia is training 150 thousand soldiers to possibly enter to Syria to fight ISIS.
المحاكم الشرعيّة في سوريا ومدى قربها من تحقيق العدل (11 February 2016) Sharia courts founded by armed groups in Syria are currently the sole judicial power in the areas outside the regime’s control.
بالفيديو: كاميرا CNN في الصفوف الأولى من معركة الجيش السوري مع داعش (15 February 2016) CNN films this report on the frontlines of the Syrian regime army’s battle with ISIS.
السلفية الجهادية والماركسية اللينينية وعالم اليوم (20 February 2016) Yassin al-Haj Saleh compares between Salafist jihadist (specifically ISIS) and Marxism-Leninism and applies this comparison to the politics of today.
سقوط الشدادي السورية.. تسليم وتسلّم بين "داعش" والوحدات الكردية؟ (21 February 2016) Amin Mohammad analyzes the politics of ISIS group to withdraw from Al-Shaddadah town in southern Al-Hasakah Governorate and the recent gains by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Books and Publications
The Islamic State lexical battleground: US foreign policy and the abstraction of threat (January 2016) This article suggests that President Obama`s consistent references to the extremist Sunni group as ‘ISIL’ is not a trivial matter of nomenclature. Instead, the Obama administration`s deliberate usage of the ISIL acronym frames the public perception of the threat to avoid engagement with the requirements of strategy and operations. Both the labelling and the approach could be defended as a response to the unique challenge of a transnational group claiming religious and political legitimacy. However, we suggest that the labelling is an evasion of the necessary response, reflecting instead a lack of coherence in strategy and operations—in particular after the Islamic State`s lightning offensive in Iraq and expansion in Syria in mid-2014.
“Flexible” capital accumulation in Islamic State social media (12 January 2016)
This article explores online social media produced by the neo-jihadist group “Islamic State” (IS) from a political-economic perspective. Using a framework developed by anthropologist David Harvey, it examines how IS social media operates within depoliticised neoliberal environments characterised by “flexible” regimes of capital accumulation. It explicates how IS acquires political-economic capital by evoking “spectacle”, “fashion” and a “commodification of cultural forms”. Drawing from Christian Fuchs’ informational theory, the article also considers the roles of agency and competition in accumulation processes where “knowledge and technology reinforce each other”. By revealing how IS both constitutes and is constituted by its flexible approach to social media, the article seeks to illuminate avenues for better understanding neo-jihadist ideations.
“Why Would Anyone Sell Paradise?”: The Islamic State in Iraq and the Making of a Martyr (13 January 2016) This article examines the battlefield associated with the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI; now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]) suicide attack “Operation Rabi bin Amir.” In examining the ISI-produced recruitment video, many features of extremist rhetoric become apparent including the constitutive, instrumental, and mythic functions of battlefield videos. By focusing on the account of one attack, this rhetorical analysis shows the transformation of actual events into a mythic account of martyrdom that can be circulated on the Internet ad infinitum in order to recruit members to ISIS.
Stuart Hall, the British multicultural question and the case of western jihadi brides (January 2016) This article explores Stuart Hall’s approach to what he calls the ‘multicultural question’. It identifies what we can take forward from Hall’s work by bringing a productive and politically useful form of Cultural Studies to bear on multi-ethnic societies that are riven by problematic and sometimes violent responses to difference. In the light of Hall’s practice of thinking theory in relation to specific social issues and theorizing through case studies, the article looks at how one might approach the question of the appeal of Islamism to young western Muslims, increasing numbers of whom are leaving their homes and communities to pursue jihad or, in the case of women, to marry Islamist jihadi fighters in Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State`s (ISIS, ISIL) Magazine: Dabiq
“All of the issues of the Islamic State`s glossy propaganda magazine `Dabiq,` named after a key site in Muslim apocalypse mythology can be found here.”
Or you can download the last issue (Issue 13) from here:
“The thirteenth issue of the Islamic State`s propaganda magazine is called The Rafidah: From Ibn Sa`ba to the Dajjal. Rafidah is a pejorative term for Shi`ite while the Dajjal is an antichrist figure in Muslim eschatology. The magazine opens by praising the San Bernardino attacks which killed 14 people in California. It goes on to attack Saudi Arabia`s legitimacy and heavily criticize the history of Shiite Islam in Iran. Jihadi John received a full two page obituary in the recurring section `Among the Believers are Men` and the `To Our Sisters` section provides advice on the correct way to mourn a martyred husband.”