Syria Spotlight: Islamic State of Iraq v. The Rest of the Insurgency


SUMMARY: Monday’s headlines were seized by a series of local clashes between the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham and other factions in the insurgency.

Tension In Azaz

In Azaz, near the Turkish border, ISIS rejected a cease-fire, negotiated last week after the Iraqi group killed several members of a Free Syrian Army brigade and occupied the town. In subsequent fighting, another FSA member was slain.

A purported statement from ISIS said it was challenging the Northern Storm Brigade because of a series of crimes, including assistance to fleeing regime troops, advocacy of democracy, and collaboration with US intelligence services and Senator John McCain.

Shahba Press reported from an unnamed source that insurgent militaryfactions met in Aleppo to discuss the recent events, at which insurgents criticized ISIS for its repeated breaches of the agreement brokered by Liwa Tawheed. The source said the meeting called for the insurgency to unite against the Assad regime and fight as a united front.

Meanwhile, Northern Storm rebutted the specific allegations of ISIS:

The meeting with John McCain was public (knowledge) and took place after consultation with Sheikh Omar Al Shishani (a Chechen jihadi leader connected with ISIS) who agreed for the meeting to happen.

We could have met him in a secret place without the knowledge of anyone. Had we wanted to betray our religion and our people, we would have met without consulting with anybody.

Our people, you judge.

ISIS also fought with other factions in Hazano in Idlib Province, with claims that six residents died.

There are reports that an ISIS Emir, Abuabdallah Al Libi, was killed in clashes with FSA fighters near the Bab Al Hawa border crossing on the Syrian-Turkey border.

Claims also circulated of Islamic State of Iraq fighters destroying tombs in Al Bab in Aleppo:

In Dana in the northwest, a friendly side of ISIS, with a sign “Al Dana Welcomes You”:


By last night, journalist Jenan Moussa was tweeting:

(Nahrawan was a 7th-century battle between a Sunni Caliph and other Muslims near present-day Baghdad.)

Moussa’s reports bore out the analysis of an EA correspondent earlier in the day:

Still not ready to see a concentrated and coordinated Jabhat al-Nusra/Free Syrian Army attack on ISIS. These are still local events, where ISIS fighters bullied someone.

Over the long haul we’ll see a crackdown on ISIS, but in my opinion, this is still in its early stages.

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  1. Amongst the Syrian Rebels
    Lebanese journalist Rania Abouzeid appeared for 10 minutes on the Dutch TV programme ‘Buitenhof’ on Sunday, She was in the Netherlands last weekend to participate in the Middle East Day ( organised by the Liberal Democrat Party (D66).

    As a correspondent for Al Jazeera, Time, The New Yorker and Foreign Affairs among others, she has directly witnessed the developments in Syria from February 2011 to the present complex civil war. Last month she travelled through northern Syria with the radical Muslim rebels Jabhat al-Nousra. Here she describes her experiences with JAN, ISI, the FSA and the local population, and answers questions about the near future.

    Very interesting interview in English with Dutch subtitles starting from 21 min mark:

    • Thank you for posting this. Though at times hyperbolic – often reducing the narrative to a simple Shia vs Sunni conflict, despite also stating that Suleimani is driven primarily by nationalism – it offers great insight into the minds of the people who have shaped Iran as we know it today, for better or worse.

      The majority of today’s Iranian political and intellectual elite view their struggles against the West as one that started with the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 – what I will call the “statist” view. They see it as struggle against an existing world order in which the imperial West subjugates and exploits southern nations. Thus, to break free from this order, they want to empower the Iranian state and achieve independence, resisting on their way any encroachment by the West. As Khomeinei said, “neither East nor West”.

      On the other hand, the likes of Suleimani, and countless others who form the ideological engine of today’s second generation revolutionaries, have no doubts about when their struggles really began: the “Sacred Defence”, i.e. the war with Iraq. As young Islamic revolutionaries called upon to defend the nation and the revolution, their minds are not focussed on Mossadegh and political intrigue: they have been shaped by their experiences of repelling a bloody invasion that was spearheaded by a foe who labelled his invasion as another Arab conquest of Iran (Saddam Hussein often referred to the Battle of Ghadisiyyah as a justification for invading Iran). They continue to see things squarely as an existential battle, one that is rooted in history and fuelled by a mystical/ideological glorification of Iran. That the West supported Saddam’s invasion has only placed the West in the same category as Saddam, although, as the article demonstrates, the West is seen more as a belligerent latecomer than a natural adversary.

      Thus, their mindset cannot necessarily be defined as statist, at least not in our Westphalian interpretation of it. It is more complex and fluid, and it is definitely not well understood by those of us shaped by the Western worldview (myself included). I would wager that a large proportion of Iranians don’t understand it themselves, explaining why Iranian society is still so traumatized and divided by the revolution.

      Both from a Western and Iranian point of view, it is imperative to understand what drives the likes of Suleimani, in order to heal the wounds that run deep throughout the Middle East. We also need to break free from the intellectual constraints that limit our worldview and reduce our outlook to binary interpretations of events, i.e. good (known) vs. bad (unknown), so that we can see the World through the eyes of others. At the end of the day, beyond the walls of intelligence life is defined.

  2. VDC Press Statement: Adraa Women’s Prison is turning into a Security Branch

    The Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has been informed that Adraa Women’s prison has become similar to syrian security branches in many aspects, especially regarding the way female detainees are treated, the poor health conditions and the lack of nutrition.


  3. Sliding Toward Damascus
    How Syria’s civil war crept into the heart of Baghdad — then went boom.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials say up to 30 suicide bombers a month have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq since early summer, many of them from North Africa and the Persian Gulf states. Iraq is so afraid of Sunni extremist forces that it has built fortified barriers along its border with Syria and has closed the two main crossings with Syria for more than a year. It’s a stark reversal from the past decade, when Syria took in more than a million Iraqis during the height of the sectarian violence.


  4. Pregnant in War, A Growing Women’s Health Crisis
    Marjie Middleton, a midwife working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), spent several months this year on the Syria-Lebanon border. “I was there because MSF recognized that women’s health wasn’t being dealt with appropriately or not at all in the refugee situation,” she said. “They sent me over to assess and open clinics for women’s health. At the time, they had seven clinics open for primary health care, but none provided pre- or postnatal care. So we opened four, dealing specifically with women’s health and pregnancy.” She spoke with Syria Deeply about the mounting health problems faced by Syria’s women.

  5. “Nahrawan was a 7th-century battle between a Sunni Caliph and other Muslims near present-day Baghdad.”

    Not exactly. Nahrawan was a battle fought between Caliph Ali and a force of Kharijites. The Kharijites were the first community of Muslims to split theologically/ideologically from the ‘orthodox’ Sunna, driven by a position of non-compromise and extremely angry that Ali had dared to enter negotiations with Umayyad rebels — namely Muawiya I — instead of slaughtering them in battle. It was a Kharijite who would assassinate Ali two years after the battle of Nahrawan.

    The importance of this name being used by some FSA-affiliated units, I would suppose, is that al-Qaeda and its Takfirist ideology is the closest thing to modern-day Kharijites, and they represent an equal thread today to mainstream Sunni Islam as the Kharijites did back then.

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