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Jabhat Fateh al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s Ace in Syria Rebranded

On July 28, 2016 Jabhat al-Nusra declared that it was rebranding itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This maneuver was announced by the group’s commander Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, who in a spirit of apparent transparency revealed his identity after years of anonymity, dressed as and quoting Osama bin Laden. The decision is a significant shake up within the Syrian[…]

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Turkish State and Society in Precarious Position

The attempted coup d’etat against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as little surprise to some observers of Turkey. And apparently, it was not a surprise to Erdogan himself. E.U. officials have suggested that prior to the recent unrest, the Turkish government had already drawn out a list of those it wanted to purge after any attempted coup. This does not signify a false[…]

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ISIS’ Reversion into an Insurgency: 4 Reasons Why it Doesn’t Really Matter

On May 21st, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani stated in a much hyped message that the much heralded Islamic State “does not fight to keep territory.” Initially one might be tempted to say that this sort of statement undermines the movement’s own message, strategy and heralds the beginning of the end. The Iraqi Army and[…]

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Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra: “Nice and Respectable” Jihadism

“So it looks like gold. It looks beautiful from the outside, but on the inside, it is nothing.” – “Gold Plated Attraction”  (Al-Qaeda’s view of ISIS)   J.M Berger’s recent article in the Atlantic, ISIS Is Not Winning the War of Ideas, correctly asserts that Islamic State ideology does not have mass appeal. If it[…]

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Killing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

It’s hard to believe that Saudi Arabia, currently heading up the UN Human Rights Commission, started 2016 with the beheading of 47 prisoners. When was the last time the head of a global human rights commission executed 47 people in one day? The crude symbolism of who was executed and who wasn’t was supposed to[…]

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Sure, Talk with ISIL. Just Choose the Right Topic

Terrorists At The Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace received a glowing review from Fareed Zakaria. In his latest Washington Post column he distilled the book’s thesis as follows: “Terrorism is a reflection of an underlying political problem that almost always needs to be addressed politically.”  He went on to argue that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq[…]

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ISIL’s Adaptive, Evolving Tactics: Regional & Global Implications

The triple attacks at a chemical plant in France, a beachside resort in Tunisia and a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait, happened as Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani as-Shami implored ISIL sympathizers to perform jihad during Ramadan. ISIL fighters also re entered the outskirts of the town of Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) and reportedly massacred over two hundred[…]

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Is Lebanon Prepared to Repel the Islamic State?

On June 9th, Hezbollah met the “Islamic State” on the battlefield and for the first time ever the clash took place on Lebanese soil. Both Dae’sh and Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) have a presence in the Qalamoun region along the Lebanon-Syria border—and have long aspired to make inroads into Lebanon in order to attack[…]

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How to Truly Defeat ISIL

In 2011, it was widely assumed that the so-called “Arab Spring” would render groups like al-Qaeda irrelevant, as dissidents would find that they could achieve their goals for reformation through the ballot box rather than needing to rely on violence. I was one of the early and consistent cynics of this thesis. It seemed clear[…]

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National Security Strategy: From South Park, Colorado to Washington D.C.

In the Comedy Central television series South Park, the boys discover a cartel of gnomes who steal people’s underwear. Over the course of the episode it’s revealed that these seizures are part of their business plan which goes:   Step 1: Collect Underpants → Step 2: ? → Step 3: Profit   The punchline, of course, is[…]

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Al-Baghdadi’s Manufactured Miracles

There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again. – George W. Bush   On April 21st, The Guardian reported that the leader of Dae’sh or Islamic State, was allegedly seriously injured in air-strikes which[…]

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Maintaining the Status Quo ≠ Advancing U.S. National Interests

In the wake of the nuclear parameters framework agreement, the Obama administration is facing criticism for mishandling American relations with countries in the Arab world. As David Rothkopf argues in Foreign Policy, “although [Obama] raised hopes of a new, better era in regional relations…ultimately, his only real efforts to change relations ‘for the better’ in[…]

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ISIS Losing Ground in Iraq–But What Would a True Victory Look Like?

As SISMEC has previously explored, Dae’sh was able to gain so much territory in Iraq and Syria by targeting areas which were extremely vulnerable. They have so far performed extremely poorly in direct combat with well trained, equipped and prepared armed forces. In fact, Dae’sh armies in Iraq may be getting stretched thin by the[…]

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ISIS’ Expedition Into Central Asia: A Spoiler or Boon for the Taliban?

Al-Qaeda concerned itself with establishing the “base conditions” for the Caliphate through its various franchised affiliates (i.e. AQIS, AQAP, AQIM, etc.). Other Islamist movements speak about establishing an Islamic State but are essentially national Islamist movements (such as the Chechen Islamists, Palestinian Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Ansar al-Sharia franchises); these groups are pan-Islamist[…]

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ISIS and the Escalation Game

ISIS distinguishes itself from other jihadist organizations, particularly its progenitor al-Qaeda, by positioning itself as the group that will do what other groups are unwilling or unable to do. There is a clear dialectic wherein other terror organizations will commit an a heinous act that receives widespread media coverage; ISIS will then try to divert[…]

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CIA Drone Campaign Demonstrates Need for Greater Intelligence Oversight, Accountability

A year ago SISMEC pointed out that, although most of the victims of U.S. drone strikes have ostensibly been “militants,” the White House definition of “militant” is extremely vague (generally, any fighting-aged male). Moreover, the purpose of the program isn’t to target any and all possible combatants, but instead to eliminate high-value targets from international terror[…]

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The “Islamic State” and the “Bewildered Herd”

Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays were masters at understanding how images and rhetoric could be manipulated in order to trigger certain psychological responses from the public. They perfected this craft over the course of World War I, while serving as advisers to President Wilson. Bernays served on the Committee for Public Information (Creel Committee), tasked with turning[…]

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Trajectories of the “ War on ISIL ”

Assessing ISIL’s Local Threat (Musa al-Gharbi) From its inception, ISIL has seized and focused on areas which are ill-defended and where the government presence is generally minimal and largely unwelcome. These areas also tend to be rural and sparsely populated e.g. North (East) Syria, Western Iraq, small areas in North Lebanon)—allowing ISIL to quickly occupy[…]

a Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against Islamic State targets in Syria from the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea.

10/14/2014 “ISIS & the US: Narratives and Meanings”

SISMEC will be taking part in a brownbag session on contemporary events in Iraq and Syria–with a particular focus on U.S. policies for combatting ISIS. Date: 10/14/2014 Time: Noon-1:30 Place: San Pedro Room (Student Union Memorial Center) Co-Sponsors: The UA College of Arts, Letters and Sciences; the UA Center for Middle East Studies The panel will include:[…]