The Islamic State is showing signs of strain as it comes under new pressure from U.S.-backed Syrian rebels from the north and east in Syria, and Russian-backed Assad regime forces from the south and west. Defectors from the group are reportedly contacting foreign embassies to try to arrange safe passage from the group, including 150 Western fighters, though they face detention, interrogation, and likely criminal charges. Those that remain behind are subject to the increasing paranoia of the terrorist group’s leadership. The group recently executed 38 of its own members in a purge of suspected moles.
The U.S.-supported push by the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces has drawn Islamic State forces away from fronts in western Syria, allowing Russian-backed Assad regime forces to press their advantage and make gains in Raqqa province. The United States exchanges information with Russia to deconflict its operations in Syria, but U.S. officials deny coordinating directly on the offensive. “In terms of direct coordination of activities on the ground, that is not happening,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters. “I know there have been discussions about changing that, but at this point, our position is the same.”
Deadly Car Bomb Targets Police in Istanbul
A car bomb targeting a police bus in the Vezneciler neighborhood of Istanbul killed 11 people, including seven police officers and four civilians. At least 36 others were wounded in the attack. While no group has claimed credit for the attack, speculation has focused on Kurdish militants who have staged similar attacks in recent months.
- Hundreds of civilians from Saqlawiya, Iraq, show evidence of torture sustained after being captured by Shia militias during the siege of Fallujah, and medical personnel in the area have reported receiving “broken” corpses.
- Countries in the Middle East dramatically increased their imports of small arms between 2012 and 2013, with some Gulf states more than doubling their orders of weapons, according to a new report by the Small Arms Survey; some of those arms were found in other countries in violation of rules on their re-export.
- Less than a week after listing Saudi Arabia on a child rights blacklist for the toll on children its intervention in Yemen has had, the United Nations removed Saudi Arabia from the list pending further review; human rights groups have criticized Saudi Arabia’s removal from the blacklist.
- Turkish Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu said his government still supports the implementation of an agreement reached with the European Union to stem the refugee flow to Europe but threatened to suspend the deal if the EU did not grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens; visa-free travel is included in the agreement but Turkey has not fulfilled certain obligations required by the EU to implement the policy.
- Palestinians voting by text message selected 24-year-old Waad Qannam as the winner of a mock presidential election for a reality show called “The President”.
Arguments and Analysis
“How Ahrar al-Sham Has Come to Define the Kaleidoscope of the Syrian Civil War” (Sam Heller, War on the Rocks)
“Here and elsewhere, Ahrar has made clear that it attempts to draw on the legacy of not just figures like Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, but also Abdullah Azzam, founder of modern transnational jihadism, and the symbols of the Chechen jihad against Russia. In his lecture, [Ahrar al-Sham deputy leader Ali] al-Omar says jihad will continue to the Day of Reckoning, even if it might take different forms beyond military action — political or evangelical struggle, for example. And in his defense of Ahrar’s political engagement, al-Omar references Ahrar’s ‘ceiling’ — the limits of its ability to compromise. It seems safe to say that Ahrar’s ceiling is lower than others’; Ahrar has historically refused to compromise its ‘thawabit’ (fixed principles) in the service of expediency. In many ways, Ahrar al-Sham has fused a specifically Syrian revolutionary character with a Sunni-sectarian pan-Islamism. In much of northern Syria, it is Ahrar that defends journalists, activists, and civil society against predatory jihadists, and over the past several years Ahrar has made serious efforts to integrate itself with the revolutionary political mainstream. Yet while Ahrar al-Sham’s ambitions are Syrian, al-Omar makes clear that Ahrar also views itself as the greater Sunni nation’s bulwark against a Shi’ite onslaught.”
“Roof Knocking and the Problem of Talking with Bombs” (Itamar Mann, Just Security)
“The controversy around roof knocking has so far been cast in legal terms, in the vocabulary of international humanitarian law and specifically with reference to the targeting rules in the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions. While binding and unquestionably important, this legal framework obscures fundamental moral concerns that stem from the way roof knocking conflates communication with bombing. ‘Talking with bombs’ is dangerous; it is symptomatic of a new form of fighting that — for all practical purposes — has given up on the hope to end war.”
-J. Dana Stuster
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images