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Islamic State Says It Will Rise Again
Al-Naba 317 has a number of IS attack reports from around the world. Particular emphasis is given to Africa: a major report covering all of page four and part of page five is from Nigeria, where IS says it killed “dozens” of soldiers in a series of raids that included a “martyrdom attack” (suicide bombing), and on page seven IS gloats over killing a Mozambiquan soldier and burning “dozens of houses” belonging to “infidel Christians”. IS’s war with Christians in Africa has been a prominent theme in their propaganda recently.
IS’s celebrates attacks in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Shi’is, and in Pakistan against the police. The Naba reports on attacks in Iraq against official security forces emphasise those that hit the Hashd al-Shabi, the Iranian-controlled militia conglomerate. There is notice of an attack against the PKK in eastern Syria, and IS says it burned some construction vehicles in Rafah, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Contractors have been warned against undertaking projects on behalf of the military government, Al-Naba says. Pages ten and eleven are given over to ideological essays.
The most interesting article in Al-Naba 317 is the main editorial on page three,
“Here it is, the fourth year is upon us since the Crusader alliance announced its delusional claim of victory over the Islamic State”, begins Al-Naba, a “false victory” that caused the Crusaders’ agents to dance with joy. By Al-Naba’s reckoning, these “people of apostasy and deviance openly declared” that IS did nothing wrong, except follow the true faith. They “hated the Islamic State because it imposed on them the rules of Islam and its tolerant teachings that order them to do good and forbid them to do evil, thus preventing them from practicing their lusts and following their whims.”
This rogues’ gallery, Al-Naba goes on, ranged “from the Rawafid [Iran] and their militias in Iraq, to the Nusayris [Asad regime] and their militias in Syria, and from the atheist Kurds [PKK] in the east of Syria to the Awakening factions [rebels] and [opposition] parties in the west.” And “how are these regions today?!” Al-Naba asks rhetorically. “They lost their security after losing their faith!” Once the “armies of infidels” had replaced IS, it left these areas “lamenting” their fortune during the days when they were ruled by the jihadists’ “mercy”.
Al-Naba contends that “there is no way to salvation and happiness in this world, except by following the path of truth that the soldiers of the Islamic State have walked for two decades, the path of monotheism of God Almighty and jihad in His cause, for that is the only way in which the word of God is supreme and the word of those who disbelieve is subordinate. It is the only way that preserves the sanctities, honour, and dignity of the Muslims and guarantees them a dignified life under the [protective] shade of the shari’a.”
Al-Naba stresses that IS’s project is derived from just two sources: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. All the other projects—whether they fought IS under the banner of “liberation”, of “fighting outsiders”, or “eliminating terrorism”—are declared to be forms of jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) that “only bring the people corruption of religion and the world”. The “puppets and agents who took over areas under the cover of Crusader warplanes” are said to have done nothing to improve the lot of the populations they now rule. The “four years without shari’a rule” brought only “humiliation and deprivation”, Al-Naba says.
Iran and Russia now rule over Syria, Al-Naba notes, and the Sunnis are marginalised. The PKK bet on the American-led Coalition, and IS taunts them, saying there is no better faction for outsiders to pick up and drop at will, yet which will still be “thankful” whenever they are picked back up.
The harshest ridicule is reserved for the (Sunni) Syrian rebel groups—what IS calls “Awakening” factions, in reference to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq who turned on IS in the mid-2000s and worked with the U.S. to suppress the jihadists. These are groups “still looking for a father to belong to, yet everyone continues to disavow them” and refuse to claim paternity, says Al-Naba. The rebels have tried to attach themselves to many states, and “made all kinds of concessions to them, including dispensing with ‘Islam’ in their names and even in their slogans”: they presented themselves as “brothers” to the impious governments of Qatar and Turkey, as “Salafists” to the Saudis, and as “democrats” to the Pentagon—and none of it did them any good.
Al-Naba reiterates that the areas where the “bliss of shari’a”—that is, rule by IS—has ended, security and “good” living have been lost. Instead of fighting alongside the Islamic State, people opted for “self-preservation over preserving the religion” and ended up with corruption and humiliation.
In concluding, IS offers praise for those who came from around the world to join its caliphate: they obeyed their Lord and established His will on earth. Al-Naba says that IS is far from annihilated, sheltering in “small communities between the urban areas and the desert”, the hinterland IS has always used, cultivating the faith and preparing once again for jihad to “restore the light” of Islamic rule to the cities.
The themes of the editorial—military setbacks as irrelevant, sticking to the correct ideology as the means to success, IS as the only protector for the Sunnis—have been standard tropes of IS’s messaging for more than a decade and reflect its strategic outlook. When IS emerged from the Iraqi jihadist underground in 2003, its founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), set out to goad the Shi’is into a sectarian war that would force Sunnis to seek shelter in IS’s arms. And Al-Khalayleh’s successor, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), spelled out, time and again, after the Surge had seemed to defeat IS in 2007-08 that the jihadists would prevail so long as they kept practicing the correct doctrine; the rise of IS after 2014 is seen by the group as vindicating him.
There is no reason to think IS has changed its outlook. IS now also has the memory of the caliphate to motivate its troops—it has shown it was possible—and this form of nostalgia can be reinforced by the political opportunities IS has this time around because of the misguided way the Coalition took apart the caliphate, namely displacing the jihadists with elements of the Iranian Revolution and the PKK. There is exhaustion in the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria, but that will not last forever: the memory of IS’s regime will fade and resentment at the sectarian nature of their new overlords will rise, providing IS with openings.
Moreover, just as IS was able to take advantage of the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, it would capitalise on any Western withdrawal from Iraq and Syria now. IS took a strategic decision in late 2017 to give up the caliphate and revert to insurgency, a process that had already begun in some areas, preserving its forces for a time when conditions are more favourable. IS has been able to sustain this guerrilla war and there are suggestive signs in eastern Syria and northern Iraq that IS is capable of more, even if it desists for now, while U.S. drones and jets patrol the skies over the Fertile Crescent.
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