Meet Abu Omar: Al Qaeda busted him out of Abu Ghraib. Now he has gone to fight in Syria. ... Abu Omar is one of the al Qaeda members who escaped during the Abu Ghraib prison break. He says six of his former cellmates have also made it to Syria. "Many more are on their way," he says in a strong Iraqi Arabic accent. "Everybody wants to go for jihad to Syria." ... Abu Omar sees the Syrian war as much more than a struggle against a brutal dictator. For him, it's a war against unbelievers, and its ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic government that transcends the borders of the modern Middle East. "Syria and Iraq are the same struggle to us," he explains. "Both governments in Iraq and Syria are run by unbelievers, so we will fight both. Syria is currently very weak and close to falling into the hands of the mujahideen [jihadists]." ... Abu Omar spent 26 months imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, which gained notoriety in 2004 after shocking pictures were published of American guards torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. He was imprisoned on terrorism-related charges, but claims he is innocent of any crime. According to him, the experience of being locked up in Abu Ghraib led to his radicalization. "When I was in prison I met a lot of ISIS inmates," he says. "They convinced me of their ideas. Their ideology of creating a caliphate is the best, and I decided to join them in their fight."
ISIS is mysterious in part because it is so many things at once. It combines Islamic piety and reverence for the prophet and his companions with the most modern social-media platforms and encryption schemes; its videos blend the raw pornographic violence of a snuff film with the pious chanting of religious warriors; the group has the discipline of a prison gang (many of its recruits were indeed drawn from U.S.-organized prisons in Iraq), but also the tactical subtlety and capacity for deception of the most skilled members of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services, who were also pulled into the ISIS net. It appears less brittle than al-Qaeda because its members care less about religious doctrine and organizational hierarchy. As has been said of the Episcopal Church (forgive the comparison), ISIS is solid at the core but loose at the edges. ... What is ravaging the Middle East right now is obviously deeper than ISIS. It has become commonplace over the last year to observe that we are witnessing the collapse of the post-Ottoman order—that the “lines in the sand” conjured in 1916 by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot are being blown to dust. But we haven’t reckoned with how the insurgents perceive that process. ISIS has religious, psychological, and technological faces. But in some fundamental respects it is an anti-colonial movement that takes as its reference point Islam’s pre-colonial conception of power—an Islamic state, a Sunni caliphate. Even if ISIS is crushed, this idea of “our caliphate” is likely to persist, and return.
- Also: Popular Mechanics - Year One: Inside the Air War Against ISIS < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - Syria oil map: the journey of a barrel of Isis oil < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - ISIS Finances Are Strong < 5min
- Also: BBC - Inside Mosul: What's life like under Islamic State? < 5min
- Also: Vocativ - How ISIS Turned Looting Into Big Business < 5min
Early on, Ibrahim’s nickname was “The Believer.” When he wasn’t in school, he spent much of his time at the local mosque, immersed in his religious studies; and when he came home at the end of the day, according to one of his brothers, Shamsi, he was quick to admonish anyone who strayed from the strictures of Islamic law. ... Now Ibrahim al-Badri is known to the world as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ruler of the Islamic State or ISIS, and he has the power not just to admonish but to punish and even execute anyone within his territories whose faith is not absolute. His followers call him “Commander of the Believers,” a title reserved for caliphs, the supreme spiritual and temporal rulers of the vast Muslim empire of the Middle Ages. Though his own realm is much smaller, he rules millions of subjects. Some are fanatically loyal to him; many others cower in fear of the bloody consequences for defying his brutal version of Islam. ... Since Baghdadi’s sudden emergence from obscurity in 2014 as the monster who ordered and broadcast on YouTube the beheading and even burning alive of those he deemed his enemies, news articles and books have traced his radicalization back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although the American invasion fed the fire and enabled it to spread, in fact, his radicalization began much earlier, ignited by an unlikely but highly volatile mixture of fundamentalism, Saddam Hussein’s secular totalitarianism, and his own need to control others. ... there is evidence that several of Baghdadi’s family members, perhaps even his father, were Salafis—adherents of an extreme, puritanical form of Sunni Islam widely practiced in Saudi Arabia and throughout much of the Middle East, including Iraq, where it has deep roots. ... Saddam’s creation of new jobs teaching the scripture may have influenced Baghdadi’s academic career. Unable to study law at the University of Baghdad as he wanted because of his middling grades in high school—he nearly failed English—Baghdadi studied the Quran there instead. ... Baghdadi’s master’s thesis was a commentary on an obscure medieval text on Quranic recitation. His task was to reconcile various versions of the manuscript. While tedious, it involved little imagination and no questioning of the content—a perfect project for a dogmatist. ... Radical jihadist manifestos circulated freely under the eyes of the watchful but clueless Americans. ... The growing unrest in Syria in 2011 played directly into their hands. Presented with an opportunity to inject violence into what had been a peaceful revolt, Baghdadi sent one of his Syrian operatives to set up a secret branch of the Islamic State in the country that year. The branch, later known as the Nusra Front, initially followed the Islamic State’s playbook by attacking civilians as part of a clandestine terror campaign to sow chaos. The hope was that the Islamic State would be able to capitalize on that chaos in order to make its first land grab.
- Also: Council on Foreign Relations - Backgrounders: The Islamic State 5-15min
- Also: Bloomberg - The Doomsday Ideology of Islamic State's Leader < 5min
- Also: The Chronicle of Higher Education - The Ties That Bind Jihadists 5-15min
- Also: Business Insider - An ISIS defector explained a key reason people continue joining the group < 5min
- Also: The Daily Beast - Meet the Islamic Fanatic Who Wants to Kill ISIS < 5min
- Also: Al-Jazeera - ISIL sells its oil, but who is buying it? < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Why ISIS Has All the Money It Needs < 5min
Most young Kurds had not expected another war. At least, not the one brought by ISIS. Only a couple of years before, Iraqi Kurdistan had been thriving. The Americans had deposed Hussein, the Kurds’ most hated enemy, in 2003, opening the way for Kurds to establish control over their mountainous, Switzerland-size territory. Though they remained part of Iraq, they essentially created a protostate of their own. Investment, development, and oil-fueled optimism (Kurdistan sits atop vast oil deposits) were soon transforming the region. Skyscrapers rose over Slemani, the “Paris of Kurdistan,” and Hewler, the Kurdish capital, attended by shopping malls, luxury-car dealerships, and gelato cafés. Universities were built. Something like universal health care was established. Promoters even dreamed up a slogan to lure tourists and businesses: “Kurdistan, the Other Iraq.” And while Arab portions of the country seethed in those years, some five million Kurds entered what many call a golden decade. ... Kurds have a distinct culture and language, but except for a few historical moments of self-rule, they’ve always lived under the shadow and control of a larger culture—Persian, Arab, Ottoman, Turkish. Today some 25 million Kurds are believed to live in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran (though the true size of the population is unknown), and it’s often suggested that they are the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation. This may be true, but it hints at unity. There really isn’t any. ... From region to region Kurds speak different dialects and support hyper-local and often fractious political parties, and even if given the chance, they probably wouldn’t try carving a greater Kurdish state out of those diverse lands.
Over the course of our more than 15 meetings with Abu Ahmad, we questioned him intensively about his knowledge of the jihadi group and his bona fides as one of the “soldiers of the caliphate.” Over a period of 10 months, we spent more than 100 hours with him. He patiently answered our questions on everything from how he ended up with the Islamic State, how the organization is organized, and the identity of the European foreign fighters within the group. Our interviews would go on for six hours a day, in week-long stretches. ... Abu Ahmad agreed to speak to us, he explained, for several reasons. Although he is still with the Islamic State, he doesn’t agree with everything the outfit does. He is attracted to the organization because he views it as the strongest Sunni group in the region. However, he is disappointed that it “has become too extreme,” blaming it for doing such things as crucifying, burning, and drowning its opponents and those who violate its rules. ... Abu Ahmad would soon sour on aspects of the jihadi group. First, the Islamic State has not brought jihadis together; on the contrary, tensions have risen with other groups, and he worried that “the rise of ISIS led to the breakup with the Nusra Front and the weakening of unified jihadi forces in Syria.” ... Secondly, while some of the foreign fighters were men who led truly religious lives in Europe, he discovered another group that he took to thinking of as the “crazies.” These were mostly young Belgian and Dutch criminals of Moroccan descent, unemployed and from broken homes, who lived marginal lives in marginal suburbs of marginal cities. Most of these crazies had no idea about religion, and hardly any of them ever read the Quran. To them, fighting in Syria was either an adventure or a way to repent for their “sinful lives” in Europe’s bars and discos. ... Baghdadi, the most wanted man in the world, drank either Pepsi or Mirinda, an orange-flavored soda.
- Also: Foreign Policy - How the Islamic State Seized a Chemical Weapons Stockpile - Part 2 5-15min
- Also: Foreign Policy - The Greatest Divorce in the Jihadi World - Part 3 5-15min
- Also: BuzzFeed - Inside The Real US Ground War On ISIS 5-15min
- Also: ProPublica - As ISIS Brewed in Iraq, Clinton’s State Department Cut Eyes and Ears on the Ground 5-15min
- Also: Washington Post - The tiny pill fueling Syria’s war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers < 5min
- Also: The New Yorker - Trafficking in Terror 5-15min
- Also: Newsweek - The New Monument Men Outsmart ISIS < 5min
Most importantly, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his passport, the man conceded that his name was not actually Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei. It was Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. Moreover, he admitted that he was not actually Iranian: He had been born in Takhar, Afghanistan, and lived in Kabul with his wife and four children. ... Most importantly, they knew that the man arrested in Gaziantep was neither Muhammet Reza Reanjbar Rezaei nor Abdulrahman bin Yar Muhammad. And he was certainly not a refugee en route to Europe. ... the man in Gaziantep police custody was best known as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, and he was on a desperate mission to reassert al Qaeda’s authority over its rebellious affiliate in Iraq. ... The Islamic State’s so-called caliphate would not be declared until 2014, but that is not when the group established an Islamic state. Indeed, just one day before Abd al-Hadi’s arrest, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Its mission was to govern territory and ultimately re-establish the caliphate. ... Al Qaeda’s leadership, hiding in the tribal lands of Pakistan far from Iraq, was not consulted. The announcement was therefore a deep challenge to al Qaeda’s authority and foreshadowed the violent, public divorce between the jihadi organization and what would become the Islamic State.
Ask any Iraq War veteran about Jersey, Alaska, Texas, and Colorado and you will be surprised to get stories not about states, but about concrete barriers. Many soldiers deployed to Iraq became experts in concrete during their combat tours. Concrete is as symbolic to their deployments as the weapons they carried. No other weapon or technology has done more to contribute to achieving strategic goals of providing security, protecting populations, establishing stability, and eliminating terrorist threats. This was most evident in the complex urban terrain of Baghdad, Iraq. Increasing urbanization and its consequent influence on global patterns of conflict mean that the US military is almost certain to be fighting in cities again in our future wars. Military planners would be derelict in their duty if they allowed the hard-won lessons about concrete learned on Baghdad’s streets to be forgotten.
1. Still brooding about his loss of the popular vote, Donald Trump vows to win over those who oppose him by 2020. ...
2. The combination of tax cuts on corporations and individuals, more constructive trade agreements, dismantling regulation of financial and energy companies, and infrastructure tax incentives pushes the 2017 real growth rate above 3% for the U.S. economy. Productivity improves for the first time since 2014.
3. The Standard & Poor’s 500 operating earnings are $130 in 2017 and the index rises to 2500 as investors become convinced the U.S. economy is back on a long-term growth path. ...
4. Macro investors make a killing on currency fluctuations. ...
5. Increased economic growth, inflation moving toward 3%, and renewed demand for capital push interest rates higher across the board. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield approaches 4%.
6. Populism spreads over Europe affecting the elections in France and Germany. ...
7. Reducing regulations in the energy industry leads to a surge in production in the United States. Iran and Iraq also step up their output. ...
8. Donald Trump realizes he has been all wrong about China. Its currency is overvalued, not undervalued, and depreciates to eight to the dollar. Its economy flourishes on consumer spending on goods produced at home and greater exports. Trump avoids punitive tariffs to prevent a trade war and develops a more cooperative relationship with the world’s second largest economy.
9. Benefiting from stronger growth in China and the United States, real growth in Japan exceeds 2% for the first time in decades and its stock market leads other developed countries in appreciation for the year.
10. The Middle East cools down. ...
The SWAT team was created in 2008 and, in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, conducted raids in Mosul to arrest high-value terrorism suspects. After the American withdrawal from the country, in 2011, the unit hunted down insurgents on its own. ... In the areas it controls, ISIS typically offers Iraqi security forces a kind of amnesty by means of an Islamic procedure called towba, in which one repents and pledges allegiance to the Caliphate. But the SWAT team was not eligible for towba. ... Aside from martial aptitude, there were two principal requirements for recruits: they had to have been wounded by ISIS or its Islamist precursors—either physically, by bullets and blasts, or psychically, by the death of a loved one—and they had to crave revenge. ... For them, the Mosul offensive was merely the continuation of a war that they had been fighting most of their lives. When the men referred to older terrorist groups that had wounded them or killed their relatives—Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Jaesh al-Mujahideen, or obscurer offshoots—they always called them Daesh, the Arabic term for ISIS, even though ISIS, in most cases, did not yet exist. ... The unit was small and lacked logistical support: there was no one to bring them food, water, ammunition, or extra weapons, let alone reinforcements. They didn’t have their own medics, intelligence officers, mechanics, engineers, or bomb technicians. They had no mortar or artillery teams (or any contact with units that did have them). No one on the SWAT team was authorized to request air support. None of the American advisers embedded with the various military divisions seemed to know that the unit existed.
The bloody battle to wrest Mosul from ISIS was the world’s largest military operation in nearly 15 years. ... As Iraq looks to rebuild, and tens of thousands of Moslawis return to their homes—or what’s left of them—ISIS is still holding onto territory south and west of Mosul. ... If the U.S. military has learned anything about Iraqi insurgencies over the past 15 years, it’s that violence will likely return to Mosul, as it has on occasion in Baghdad—which the group never seized. ... On top of that is the ISIS presence in Syria, where an entirely separate large-scale operation has been progressing for months. The target: the group’s de facto headquarters in Raqqa. Beyond that, ISIS also maintains strongholds south of Raqqa in the Euphrates River city of Deir Ez-Zour, and some 200 kilometers west, around the ancient city of Palmyra. ... Which is all to say: the battle for Mosul may soon be over, but the war against ISIS — already a generational conflict — is far from finished.
- Also: The New York Times - The Living and the Dead 40min
- Also: Reuters - After Mosul, Islamic State digs in for guerrilla warfare < 5min
- Also: National Geographic - Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS (Video) > 15min
- Also: Wired - How Anarchist Bitcoin Coder Amir Taaki Wound Up Fighting ISIS in Syria 5-15min
- Also: The New York Times - Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram 5-15min