This post constitutes a continuation of the previous posts that comprise the archive of Islamic State administrative documents (cf. here and here) and cannot be expanded further owing to technical issues. Thus, this post begins with Specimen 23A, constituting the 599th specimen in the archives.
Specimen 23A: Return form, office of the affairs of the mujahideen, Shirqat
The brother [...] belongs to the sector of Shirqat/right side [western Shirqat]
May God reward you best.
Official of the office of the affairs of the mujahideen
As I have documented previously, the Jabal al-Summaq area in Idlib province is originally Druze, but inhabitants were forced to renounce the religion twice and convert to Sunni Islam: first in late November 2013 because of pressure from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and then under al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (rebranded at the end of July 2016 as the officially independent Jabhat Fatah al-Sham: hereafter referred to in this post as JFS) in January 2015. Since JFS controls Jabal al-Summaq, with the control being absolute in the villages of the mountain itself (while Ahrar al-Sham also considers the villages on the plain to be within its own zone of influence), there has been a more thorough Islamization program than occurred under ISIS, which withdrew from Idlib province in early 2014 in the face of infighting with rebel factions. The Islamization program has included destruction of shrines and an insistence locals abide by imposed Shari'i regulations, which were reiterated in a speech last year by then Jabhat al-Nusra official- Abu Qatada al-Iraqi- in one of the villages (Kaftin).
Though Abu Qatada al-Iraqi was removed from his position in the Jabal al-Summaq area as his approach was seen as too confrontational, it did not mean a change in the actual Islamization policies. These policies were most recently reaffirmed in a statement distributed in Kaftin by Jabhat al-Nusra that emerged in mid-July 2016 just prior to the rebranding. The original is included below and translated. Note that it also addresses in part internally displaced persons that have come to Kaftin since Jabal al-Summaq is a de facto safe zone (though there have been a number of air-raids recently for multiple reasons). In referring to all inhabitants of Kaftin as Muslims, it is clear there is no recognition of a Druze identity among the original residents.
The Islamic State (IS) has recently announced the death of its official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, first via its auxiliary outlet Amaq News and then through an official posting under Wilayat Halab ('Aleppo Province'). It seems most likely that he was killed in a U.S. strike on the al-Bab area in north Aleppo, the last remaining stronghold in the area amid rebel advances along the border with Turkey. Thus, it is unsurprising that the announcements of his death mention he was 'inspecting' IS military operations in Aleppo. It is also of note that the Wilayat Halab posting describes Adnani as a Husseini (a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's household) and Qurashi (of the Quraysh tribe to which the Prophet belonged). As Charles Lister notes, the bestowal of these epithets on Adnani suggests that he may have been groomed to be the successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (as Baghdadi, in his role as Caliph, also has his reputed Husseini and Qurashi origins trumpeted). Certainly the conception of Adnani as the successor would not be surprising in light of the fact that he had the most recognisable persona in IS as embodied in the speeches he gave.
Over the past few years I have documented numerous militias fighting on the side of the regime in Syria, generally an understudied topic (at least as regards native formations: foreign Iranian-backed Shi'a militias intervening in Syria to support the regime are better covered). Below I compile a list of my articles on the subject, sorted by sub-categories (though there may be overlap in some cases, as the article contents will show). I will add to this list as I write more articles
[Last updated on 4 September 2016]
Syrian Hezbollah/Syrian Shi'i Militias
- Liwa al-Imam Zain al-Abidain
Factions of Suwayda' province
Military Intelligence Branch/Military Security factions
Amn al-Dawla intelligence agency militias
Air Intelligence factions
Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed (The Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed)- named for a companion of the Prophet who helped secure the Muslim conquest of the Levant through the crucial Battle of Yarmouk- is a group linked to the Islamic State (IS) based in the Yarmouk Valley/Basin (Wadi/Hawdh al-Yarmouk) of southwest Deraa province on the border with the Golan Heights. The group was formed in late May 2016 from the following components:
. Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade: LSY)- the main component of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Once aligned with the Western-backed Southern Front, it first established connections with IS around summer 2014 and began overtly displaying affinities with IS after heavy clashes with Jabhat al-Nusra in December 2014, which accused LSY at the time of being aligned with IS even as observers were widely sceptical.
When it comes to the Syrian insurgency, one of the biggest dilemmas facing its backers has been the role of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Despite its affiliations, the group has been widely viewed by the insurgency as an important military partner in many (but by no means all) of the zones of conflict since it first came on the scene publicly in 2012. Jabhat al-Nusra's fortunes have varied over time- for instance, it lost all of its assets in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir az-Zor to the Islamic State by summer 2014- but it has survived notions of a total collapse. Today, its main base is in the northwestern province of Idlib, and with the breakdown of the U.S.-Russia brokered 'cessation of hostilities' this year, Jabhat al-Nusra has played a leading role in fighting in Latakia and south Aleppo countryside, spearheading alongside Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham the coalition known as Jaysh al-Fatah, which was first set up in 2015 and led the routing of the Assad regime from Idlib province.
Readers of this blog will have known that a long-standing interest of mine has been the structure of Islamic State (IS) administration, focusing primarily on internal documents. To mark the start of Eid, IS has released via its central media outlet al-Furqan Media a video on the very subject, entitled 'Structure of the Caliphate'. Below are some observations of mine:
1. The list of 'wilayas' ('provinces') of the Islamic State in the above screenshot is particularly interesting. In total, IS counts 35 wilayas: 19 inside Iraq and Syria and 16 outside of Iraq and Syria. Most notably, despite widespread speculation of IS gearing up towards announcing a new wilaya in the Philippines and claims that IS is now operating as a wilaya in the Philippines, there is no mention of the Philippines as a wilaya. Nor is there any mention of Tunisia, Indonesia, Somalia and Bangladesh: countries where IS has also claimed operations. The last real expansion on the geographic stage on the international level was the Caucasus wilaya a year ago.
In my view, the lack of new wilaya announcements reflects an IS strategy of avoiding wilaya announcements because they lack credibility without realisation of governance and administration on the ground akin to the system in place in IS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria. With the exception of Libya (though this too is now in doubt with the attacks on the IS stronghold of Sirte), the wilaya projects abroad have been disastrous in so far as achieving administration on the ground (Arabic: tamkeen). Internal dissent in IS (which I will discuss in a later post using some unseen internal documents) long recognized this problem, and advised against wilaya announcements and that allegiance pledges should be taken secretly. While the latter point has not been heeded, IS now seems more cautious in translating allegiance pledges into the creation of new provinces.
'Qamat al-Dawla' ('The Dawla Has Arisen'- in reference to the Islamic State) was a nasheed produced by Ajnad Media and released in mid-January 2016. Whereas a number of Islamic State nasheeds use straightforward classical Arabic ('We will move forth to excellence' being a good example), this one is particularly interesting for what is often termed Bedouin Arabic in form and language: terminology used generically to refer to the Arabian Peninsula. A somewhat comparative case is the nasheed 'Oh Son of Yemen' that notably contains the phrase 'وش علامك' ('what you want/seek', in reference to the Houris of paradise).
Many native Arabic speakers would in fact find nasheeds like 'Qamat al-Dawla' difficult to understand. A more precise definition of the language of 'Qamat al-Dawla' is offered by a reader @3bdulelah, who pinpoints the language of this nasheed as Qasimi dialect (from the Qasim region in central Arabia).
Below is my translation of the nasheed (see here for original).
The ongoing fighting in the Yarmouk Valley in southwest Deraa on the border with the Golan Heights between Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (LSY) and Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (HMI) on one side versus southern FSA factions and the southern Jaysh al-Fatah on the other is more or less at a stalemate. While the latter have succeeded in reversing the gains of LSY and HMI, pushing deeper into the Yarmouk Valley has proven more difficult but life has become increasingly difficult for Yarmouk Valley residents with rebel bombardment and price hikes through siege conditions. Until now, there has also been the question of why LSY and HMI have not formally united. A statement declaring a merger of HMI under LSY last month turned out to be fake. I myself have speculated that this may be because HMI has wanted to preserve an identity independent of LSY, which is clearly linked to the Islamic State (IS) and has undoubtedly tried to pull HMI into its orbit.
In my analysis on the infighting in Deraa province for Jihadology, I noted that although Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (the Islamic Muthanna Movement- HMI) is actively at war with rebel factions in the western Deraa countryside and is cooperating with the Islamic State [IS]-linked Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade- LSY) in this regard, there have been no indications of infighting further east between the Deraa al-Balad (southern Deraa city) HMI contingent and rebel forces, as the contingent in the city pledged only to fight the regime. In addition, I speculated that perhaps we would see a fragmenting of HMI between the western and eastern halves.
This prediction has been vindicated in a new statement issued by the Deraa al-Balad contingent of HMI announcing its defection from HMI and the formation of a new Katibat al-Murabitun (Sentinels Battalion). Thus, the question now arises: what next for HMI, which is now confined to the west Deraa countryside? Speculation continues that the group is linked to IS, but HMI leader Abu Ayyub, speaking to al-Jazeera, has denied this claim: