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Islamic State Terrorist Group’s Forces falling apart? Iraqi and Kurdish Commanders See Cracks in Jihadist Discipline

Some extremists are withdrawing from the fight unilaterally, not under orders from their superiors to do so

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Iraqi special forces soldiers move on foot through an alley on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 4, 2016. Heavy fighting erupted in the eastern neighborhoods of Mosul Friday as Iraqi special forces launched an assault deeper into the urban areas of the city and swung round to attack Islamic State militants from a second entry point to the northeast. VOA

Bashiqa (Iraq), November 6, 2016: While there are no signs that the Islamic State group’s forces are falling apart in northern Iraq under the pressure of the offensive on Mosul, the militants’ last major urban stronghold in Iraq, commanders of both Kurdish and Iraqi military units have told VOA they see cracks emerging in jihadist discipline, indicating the resolve of some militants is weakening.

The picture is not totally uniform, according to the commanders in charge of the Iraqi-Kurdish assault. Some extremists are withdrawing from the fight unilaterally, they say, not under orders from their superiors to do so. This contrasts with other jihadist withdrawals that are clearly tactical.

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“It often depends on the determination of the local IS emir,” says Kurdish General Nuraddin Tatarkhan, who commands the seventh peshmerga division, which has encircled the town of Bashiqa, 24 kilometers from Mosul.

“It really depends, also, on individual fighters,” Tatarkhan said. There is no widespread panic among jihadists, he adds, but suggests their resistance will crumble in the face of the much larger forces ranged against them.

Men are held by Iraqi national security agents, to be interrogated at a checkpoint, as oil fields burn in Qayyarah, south of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 5, 2016. VOA
Men are held by Iraqi national security agents, to be interrogated at a checkpoint, as oil fields burn in Qayyarah, south of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 5, 2016. VOA

Militants’ staged withdrawals

Iraqi and Kurdish commanders have noticed a pattern developing across all fronts in northern Iraq: The first village on a front line is the hardest to recapture from the jihadists, with the second succumbing more easily.

That was seen last week in Mosul when IS resistance was fierce for four days in the eastern district of Gogjali, the first neighborhood inside the city limits overrun by soldiers from Iraq’s elite Golden Division. Then Friday Iraqi soldiers forced their way into the adjacent district of Samaha much more quickly than they had expected, encountering lighter resistance than they had faced all week in Gogjali.

This pattern is being dictated by top IS commanders, the top ranks of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces believe. They add, though, that other Islamic State withdrawals appear to be the result of decisions taken by local emirs or, in some cases, by individual fighters from small units where discipline has collapsed. IS resolve seems to deteriorate more quickly when no foreign members of the terror group are present.

Fierce resistance from Chechens, Kazakhs

“Resistance is much fiercer when there are Chechens, Kazakhs or Central Asians” present among the fighters, Tatarkhan says.

FILE - This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who released a new message late Wednesday, encouraging his followers to keep up the fight for the city of Mosul. VOA
FILE – This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who released a new message late Wednesday, encouraging his followers to keep up the fight for the city of Mosul. VOA

Islamic State’s leader and self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke nearly a yearlong silence last week with a 31-minute audio recording urging his forces to remain firm in the face of the three-week-long offensive on Mosul, the city where he announced to the world that his caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq had been established.

“Know that the value of staying on your land with honor is a thousand times better than the price of retreating with shame,” Baghdadi said. “This war is yours. Turn the dark night of the infidels into day, destroy their homes and make rivers of their blood.”

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The audio recording prompted some Western analysts to speculate that Baghdadi might be trying to stave off his forces’ collapse. U.S. officials say they see no evidence of panic among the jihadists, but the picture on the ground appears more mixed and confused.

Displaced Iraqis, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, meet their relatives in Khazir Refugee Camp, east of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 5, 2016. VOA
Displaced Iraqis, who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, meet their relatives in Khazir Refugee Camp, east of Mosul, Iraq Nov. 5, 2016. VOA

Civilians tell of their escape

Displaced civilians have confirmed to VOA that not all IS fighters are standing their ground, or appear to be in a rush to embrace “martyrdom” on the battlefield.

“Only two Daesh fighters remained in the village. They said to us, ‘You can go,’ and everyone ran,” 33-year-old Khaleel said.

Civilians in his village, Abu Jerbua, did not hesitate, Khaleel said. They seized the moment and dashed toward government lines as fast as they could.

In an interview later in the packed Khazir Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he and his family have found refuge, Khaleel described conditions in his village just before he left: “There were heavy airstrikes and a lot of militants were killed. Others just fled.”

“Most of the militants were Iraqis, with some Syrians,” he said. “The Iraqis were not from our area, they were strangers from Anbar [province], mainly.”

Casualties from airstrikes

Abu Jerbua, just south of Bashiqa, had a population of about 500 people before fighting began, but there have been civilian casualties.

“Two whole families died when their houses collapsed on them after being hit in the airstrikes,” Khaleel said.

As for Mosul itself, there are a lot of foreign, non-Iraqi fighters there, he added, “I have seen them with my own eyes.”

His wife gave birth in a hospital in Mosul a few months ago, Khaleel said, and there was a foreign woman who he thinks was European in the neighboring bed, also giving birth.

In contrast to the flight by IS militants from Abu Jerbua, extremists in other villages appear to be much more disciplined and organized, rounding up men and boys and herding them to Mosul.

But in the village of Qaryat Bir Hallan, 20 kilometers east of Mosul, Sarheed, a villager, says he “saw fear in the faces of Daesh fighters.”

The Mosul offensive. VOA
The Mosul offensive. VOA

Militants panicked under fire

Sitting in a tent in the Khazir camp with his family as a sandstorm darkened the sky outside, the 42-year-old school janitor said he tried to keep his teenage sons in their home at all times during the past two years, out of fear that IS would try to recruit them as “cubs of the caliphate.”

“When the offensive started, the militants in our village were afraid,” Sarheed said. “On the second day there was a lot of disorder and they seemed to be panicking, running all over the place.”

As Sarheed described the chaos, his 61-year-old father, an Iraqi army combat veteran from the Iran-Iraq war who lost his leg in 2006, raised his hands to heaven.

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Elsewhere on the front lines, Iraqi and peshmerga fighters say they are encountering total commitment from the IS militants.

“We have not captured any Daesh fighters,” said one peshmerga commander. “How can you capture militants who want to die? Many of them have suicide vests on.”

Even when a neighborhood or village is seized from IS, Iraqi and peshmerga forces are often surprised by militants infiltrating back in, especially at night, to launch hit-and-run attacks.

IS militants evaded government forces and sneaked back into Qayyarah to mount just such a raid; 13 of the extremists were killed, the Iraqis said. (VOA)

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Indians Missing in Mosul: V.K. Singh in Iraq to Co-ordinate Search Opertion

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V.K Singh will co-ordinate search operation for 39 Indian
V.K Singh will co-ordinate search operation for 39 Indians who went Missing in Mosul. IANS

New Delhi, October 27: After the government sought DNA samples from the next of kin of the 39 Indians Missing in Mosul, Iraq three years ago, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh is again visiting the country to seek an update.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveeh Kumar said on Friday that Singh’s visit “is to talk to people”.

“He has met a range of people in Iraq. And also to get an update on the 39 missing Indians in Iraq,” Kumar said in his weekly media briefing here.

He said that on Thursday Singh was in Mosul city where the Indians went missing.

Last week, the families of the 39 Indians were asked to provide their DNA samples but no reason was provided, the kin said.

It was in June 2014 that the 39 Indians, mostly from Punjab, went missing in Mosul town when it was overrun by the Islamic State. Their families continue to hope the men are alive but also fear the worst.

Singh had visited Iraq in July too in this connection.(IANS)

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Iraqi Army continues Offensive on Islamic State to Regain Hawija, Anbar

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IS clamed territory Hawija in Iraq
A black sign belonging to Islamic State militants is seen on the road in Al-Al-Fateha military airport south of Hawija, Iraq.

The Iraqi army and its allied Shi’ite militias continue to press for the last pockets of Islamic State in Hawija and Anbar.

In a news conference held in Geneva, on 3rd October 2017, U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke, said that an estimated 12,500 civilians have fled their homes in Hawija since the start of the Iraqi operation on September 21 and nearly 78,000 people could still be trapped in their homes as the fighting reaches densely populated areas.

Hawija

Hawija is a Sunni-majority city in the al-Hawija district with a population of about 100,000. It had a population of 500,000 before IS took control in mid-2014 as many residents fled the violence.

Iraqi army and allied Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces claim the fight for Hawija has entered its final stages as they recently gained a strategic foothold in the district by capturing an air base from IS on Monday. The base, known as Rashad air base, is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Hawija and serves as a training camp and logistic base for IS in the region.

Anbar

In western Iraq’s Anbar province, where the Iraqi army launched a separate offensive last month against IS, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said it has identified more than 8,500 newly displaced people, raising the number of displaced in the province to more than 54,000 since January 2017.

“People newly displaced from their homes often arrive dehydrated, suffering from hunger and thirst,” said IOM’s Hamed Amro. “Many require psychosocial support and need medical care. Some have chronic illness and exacerbated conditions due to a long-term lack of care, and others suffer from malnutrition. We have also received a few trauma cases.”

Commanders on the ground say IS has set fire to oil wells and has forced civilians who remained to serve as human shields to inhibit airstrikes. (voa)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

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Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)