Islamic State Advances to Within 9 Miles of U.S. Troops at al-Ain Base in Iraq
Posted on Feb 14, 2015
By Juan Cole
The Jordanian newspaper al-Dustur [Constitution] reports that Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) has captured the al-Anbar city of al-Baghdadi in western al-Anbar Province.
Twenty-five Daesh commandos, some of them with suicide bomb belts, then threw themselves at the outskirts of the al-Ain military base about 9 miles away, where 300 US troops are stationed. That attack was beaten off, but there were fears for the safety of the big US contingent of trainers and special forces personnel at the base.
A US General Kirby maintained that the Daesh advance was not significant and that it is rare it gains a new town. But in fact, Daesh has been expanding its territory in western Iraq, even in the face of US bombing raids. The major Iraqi town it has lost in al-Anbar Province is Jurf al-Sakhr in the far south of the province near the capital.
That the Daesh extremists could take a town so near an Iraqi base, not so far from the capital, raises questions yet again about the competency of the Iraqi army.
The Iraqi government rejected the idea of foreign infantry troops being stationed in al-Anbar, and tried to shoot down allegations that the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad was not very interested in the fate of strongly Sunni al-Anbar.
Tony Abbott says the new name deprives the group of legitimacy, but why do its members hate it and what makes naming them so complicated?
Monday 12 January 2015 17.56 AEST
Tony Abbott has announced that from now he will refer to the Islamic State group as “Daesh”, on the grounds that the terminology deprives the group of legitimacy among Muslims.
“Daesh hates being referred to by this term, and what they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me,’’ the Australian prime minister told the Herald Sun.
“I absolutely refuse to refer to it by the title that it claims for itself [Islamic State], because I think this is a perversion of religion and a travesty of governance.”
Western leaders and media have struggled for a consistent terminology to identify the group, which was initially known in English as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), then the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) and subsequently often simply as Islamic State (IS). Al-Sham is often translated as Syria but can also refer specifically to Damascus or even the entire Levant region.
“Islamic State” is near enough a literal translation from the group’s name in Arabic, Al Dawla al-Islamyia, yet the original is more of a religious concept than a political one. Our translation is misleading because it implies a western conception of bureaucratic statehood.
The Arabic equivalent relates to the Qur’anic ideal of a universal Islamic community or umma, united by faith and spirituality, and bound in religious terms by sharia. No matter what term the media use, English cannot adequately capture that meaning.
In that light, Abbott’s insistence on “Daesh” seems like a canny workaround. He, like the French president, François Hollande, is essentially saying: you don’t get to name yourselves. It solves the problem both of legitimacy and of semantically flawed translations.
Daesh is also an acronym, but of the Arabic words that mean the same as Isis: Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham.
As such, it loses all meaning in non-Arabic contexts. With Daesh – or Da’ish, with the emphasis on a long “e” – the Islamic association is nowhere to be found. Abbott manages to further neuter the term by mispronouncing it “Dash”. Perhaps this itself is a subtle power move.
It is not just the lack of the word “Islamic” in the new term that frustrates Isis. In adopting the term Abbott joins many Arabic speakers who also use Daesh.
In Arabic, the word lends itself to being snarled with aggression. As Simon Collis, the British ambassador to Iraq told the Guardian’s Ian Black: “Arabic speakers spit out the name Da’ish with different mixtures of contempt, ridicule and hostility. Da’ish is always negative.”
And if that wasn’t infuriating enough for the militants, Black reports that the acronym has already become an Arabic word in its own right, with a plural – daw’aish – meaning “bigots who impose their views on others”.
France has a special relationship with terrorism. It is the only country to draw specific, rather than general, threats from ISIS. It is the only country to take on a terrorist organisation and expel it from a country, and it is the only country to brag recently about having none of its citizens in the hands of hostage-takers.
The United States and its allies, including Australia, have taken a fairly laissez-faire approach towards ISIS, aimed at containing rather than expelling it. Even during my visit to neighbouring Iran in November last year, the general feeling was that the government there did not seriously intend to eradicate ISIS, because it wasn’t in its interest to do so. However, France demonstrated in 2013 that with the right coalition, a great degree of confidence and a certain amount of belief, terrorist armies can be defeated even in remote, hard-to-reach places.
France’s engagement in its former West African colony Mali, alongside Malian and African Union troops, engendered a tremendous amount of hatred against it in the world of Islamist radicalism. At the time, al-Qaeda-linked militants had hijacked a local ethnic rebellion in an attempt to form a state in one of the more remote and poorly governed parts of Africa. The fact that France, a former colonial ruler with a history of brutality in the region, was invited to assist by Mali’s military dictatorship and achieved its aim quickly placed a large dent in the morale and self-belief of those who have faith in radical religious-nationalist ideology.
In the past year, ISIS has shocked the world with its speed and brutality. A neo-colonialist army with soldiers drawn from all corners of the globe, this previously obscure group has managed to dominate many parts of Iraq and Syria through military success, as well as by exploiting its reputation for causing fear and sectarian division. France refers to ISIS by the Arabic acronym “Da’ish”, rather than Islamic State, so as to disassociate the group from Islam. That is something ISIS hates and for this reason it has declared that the “filthy” French hold a special place among its enemies.
While some have considered the attack in Paris to be aimed at Europe, the result of foreign fighters returning from the Middle East or of poor integration policies, the question that remains unanswered is why has France specifically drawn such attention from terrorists? Anti-Muslim groups held huge rallies in Germany at the weekend but it was France that dealt with three impromptu terrorist attacks in December.
Even the target itself, Charlie Hebdo, which had published satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, is a specifically French target. After all, these cartoons were published originally in Denmark in 2005, where the main reaction was protests from the Danish Muslim population, who felt they were being unfairly treated by mainstream Danish society. It was only a few months later, when Charlie Hebdo published these cartoons in a special issue, that outrage boiled in many Muslim countries.
Muslim attitudes towards blasphemy are the same as other religious groups. Additionally, the accusation of blasphemy, particularly insulting the prophet, has a long history of being the result of ulterior motives. The 17th century Armenian chronicler, Arakel of Tabriz, documented a dozen or so Christian “martyrs” in his lifetime in the Ottoman and Iranian empires, the majority of whom were executed when a disgruntled neighbour accused them of insulting the prophet. Similarly, several blasphemy trials in Pakistan over the past decade have boiled down to disputes over land between the accuser and the accused. The fact that a French publisher is the target of this well-organised attack and not the original Danish publisher demonstrates that this justification is window dressing for a deeper dispute between the French and Islamic militants.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be dragged into pointless debates about whether Islam or Western culture are responsible, since these debates serve the interests of those who benefit from division. As the response to the Martin Place attack last month demonstrated, people are drawn together by their common humanity. Attacks like these are not aimed only at the West, but at anyone who doesn’t accept the ideology of the attackers, whether Muslim or not. Let us not forget that ISIS’s primary aim is to first “purify” Muslims.
Dr James Barry is an Associate Research Fellow at Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, researching the role of Islam in Iranian foreign policy.
German journalist Jurgen Todenhofer risked his life to embed with ISIL fighters in Iraq [Jurgen Todenhofer/Al Jazeera]
German journalist Jurgen Todenhofer, 74, embedded with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and spent 10 days in Mosul in northern Iraq with its fighters.
Todenhofer is the first western reporter to do so and live to tell about it.
ISIL has vowed to kill anyone who does not convert to Islam and has not welcomed foreign journalists. So how did Todenhofer survive travelling through ISIL-controlled areas?
|Jurgen Todenhofer, German journalist|
Al Jazeera: How did you find the right person to make contact with ISIL?
Jurgen Todenhofer: We wrote to all the German jihadists we could find on Facebook, there were more than 80 of them. I asked them if I could interview them about the reasons why they left Germany and so on. We got 15 answers … and one of them told me that he is not allowed to speak for ISIL but that he can put me in touch with someone from the media department.
For seven months I was in discussion with this person, at least 20 hours of discussion. During these discussions we spoke about ideological problems, war situations and the assassination of James Foley. We also spoke about the guarantee. I said I’ll go to the country only if I get a realistic guarantee of safety.
|Maybe this was their way to open a door to the West, or to show that they took the first step, because killing journalists is not a very intelligent strategy.|
I could not know if this stamp on the agreement was a real one and it is difficult to find out. It could have been fake. In the end, after several discussions, I trusted him and I didn’t see any reason why they would spend so many months in discussion with me just to get me and then to cut my head. That was not logical.
Maybe this was their way to open a door to the West, or to show that they took the first step, because killing journalists is not a very intelligent strategy.
They knew that I had made very negative comments on them before. They knew I had met Assad. I told them clearly that ‘I am not on your side,’ and they said, ‘Yes, that is not our problem, we don’t care about your opinion, we want you to tell what you have seen here, not the opinion that you had beforehand.’
Al Jazeera: How did they impose censorship?
Todenhofer: There was a huge sense of censorship. Sometimes we weren’t allowed to film. For example, in the car, they did not want us to film because they didn’t want attention drawn to us. At the end they controlled all the photos. They took all 800 photos we took and deleted 9 for very valid reasons. One, for example, is that they say the families of the ISIL fighters in the photos could be in danger if the photo gets out.
Al Jazeera: What was the most difficult discussion or uncomfortable issues?
Todenhofer: Everything was uncomfortable. Sometimes there was no food or water, like the last day we had nothing to eat. It was very simple because they chose houses where nobody thinks they are or may be. They have to hide because there are American bombs out there.
One of the most difficult situations was in Mosul when a drone identified some who were with us, and the bomb came down.
It was also very unpleasant when we returned to Raqqa after some days in Mosul. We were three days late and two days before that, when we were supposed to be there, our apartment where we lived was destroyed by Syrian bombers. No more windows, no more doors. There was glass everywhere. We knew that if we were back in time, we would have been dead.
Crossing the border at the end was also extremely scary. A few days before we were to cross, there was some shooting and at the end, close to the border, you have to run about 1,000m to cross the border with all your clothes and equipment in order to get to safety. Running 1,000m is very far when you’re running for your life and there are gun towers.
As far as our meetings with the ISIL fighters were concerned, the discussions were very hard. I have read the Quran many times and I always asked them about the value of mercy in Islam. I didn’t see any mercy in their behaviour. Something that I don’t understand at all is the enthusiasm in their plan of religious cleansing, planning to kill the non-believers… They also will kill democrats because they believe that they put the laws of human beings above the commandments of God.
These were very difficult discussions, especially when they were talking about the number of people who they are ready to kill. They were talking about hundreds of millions. They were enthusiastic about it, and I just cannot understand that.
Al Jazeera: What did you come back with that you can pass on?
Todenhofer: I had three strong impressions of ISIL. The first one was that ISIL is much stronger than we think. They have conquered an area which is bigger than Great Britain. Every day, hundreds of new enthusiastic fighters are arriving. There is incredible enthusiasm that I have never seen in war zones.
Secondly, the brutality of their religious cleansing is on another level. And thirdly, I think the strategy of the western countries is completely wrong. With our bombardment, we have never been successful. We have not been successful in Afghanistan; we have not been successful in Iraq. They are a terror-breeding programme. We had much fewer terrorists before 2001 and these bombardments, which killed hundreds of thousands of people have created terrorists and increased terrorism.
Al Jazeera: How would you suggest to best counter them?
Todenhofer: We have to treat them a fair way, to see them as equal; as compatriots. Secondly, we should stop our bombardments, we have nothing to bombard in the Arab world; it is not ours. Thirdly, I think only Sunni Iraqis can defeat the ISIL. They have done this once before. In 2007, they fought them down, but then ISIL was much weaker. But this is the only possibility.
But the Sunnis in Iraq are discriminated against and excluded from society and that is a big mistake made by the old and the new government. As long as these Sunnis are not integrated, they will not fight against ISIL, but if the Iraqi government and if the American government would arrange the integration of the Sunni Iraqis … then they would be ready to fight ISIL.
So I say western countries will not defeat IS. Only Arabs, only Sunni Iraqis, can defeat them. But this is a long way away.
RAAF fighter aborted air strike on Isis target to avoid killing civilians
Australian Super Hornets pulled out of an air strike on an Islamic State target in Iraq when the risk of killing civilians became too high, defence officials have revealed.Johnston said an Australian combat “package” of F/A-18F Super Hornets had tracked a target on the first night of the missions, with plans to fire on it, but the risk of collateral damage was too high.
Daesh will keep it that way.