Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’

In this undated file image posted by the Raqqa Media Center in Islamic State group-held territory on June 30, 2014, fighters from the Daesh group ride tanks during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center, File)
Updated 13 October 2018
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Daesh reverting to insurgency after losing ‘caliphate’

  • The world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, it still has long arms to strike
  • Clashes this week in the Syrian village of Sousah left more than two dozen fighters on both sides dead

BEIRUT: After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, Daesh has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say — a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham Al-Hashimi, a Daesh expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring a “caliphate” across large areas of both countries.

Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

There are concerns, however, that while Daesh may never be able to recreate the kind of territorial hold it once had, it is trying to latch on to new territory.

One of the group’s deadliest attacks since the collapse of the supposed caliphate came in late July, when dozens of masked Daesh fighters stormed the southern city of Sweida and nearby villages inhabited by members of Syria’s Druze minority, gunning down more than 200 people and kidnapping about 30, mostly women and children.

The ambush shook the community, which had stayed on the sidelines of Syria’s seven-year civil war and took many by surprise, raising fears that as the militants are on the retreat, they will try to regroup in remote pockets of territory like this once quiet corner of the country.

Last month, Daesh fighters stormed the northern Iraqi village of Gharib, killing three villagers and wounding nine after residents refused to collaborate with them and give them supplies such as food and ammunition. Last week, Daesh attacked the village of Saadiyeh, south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing three and abducting one.

The group regularly stages attacks in villages in the provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and Kirkuk and elsewhere, targeting local officials or police because they work for the state.

Iraqi military spokesman Big. Gen. Yahya Rasoul said this week that security forces have begun a broad operation in the western province of Anbar that borders Syria to take out Daesh sleeper cells.

Analysts warn that this could be the beginning of a new resurgence of the group similar to the one that preceded their rise in 2010, after many thought the group’s predecessor had been defeated during the US surge there in 2007.

Hassan Hassan, senior research fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, wrote in a recent article that Daesh has been able to undergo an orderly transition from caliphate to insurgency without fracturing.

Last month, US-backed Syrian fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces began a final push to retake Hajjin, the last pocket held by Daesh on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River near the Iraq border. They have had to advance slowly as the extremists rely on mines, snipers fire and suicide attacks in defending their positions.

Clashes this week in the Syrian village of Sousah left more than two dozen fighters on both sides dead as Daesh fighters took advantage of a sandstorm and bad visibility to attack SDF positions.

It’s not clear how many militants are still fighting with Daesh. A UN report released in August said Daesh has up to 30,000 members distributed roughly equally between Syria and Iraq, and said its global network increasingly poses a threat.

The UN report said that despite the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the militant group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 56 min 28 sec ago
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.