Sunday, January 12, 2014

Euphrates corridor: Jihadis, and territorial gains, metastasizing

... what we have here is an emerging trend, whose course is not set in stone, but whose potential impact is very far-reaching.  The basic element of the trend is Sunni jihadis gaining control of territory in the Middle East, as they are currently doing in Iraq and Syria.  Peter Bergen had a CNN piece on this on Wednesday, 8 January (which Jim Geraghty noted in his Morning Jolt dispatch). ...
The Middle East is on the brink of becoming a playground for guerrillas.  They won’t all be under the direction of the top al-Qaeda leadership.  That won’t mean they are not Salafi fanatics, terrorists, and a danger to civil society.  It won’t mean they have meaningful differences with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.  It will, on the other hand, mean that their presence and intentions have the potential to raise the geopolitical stakes on multiple vectors radiating out from the “Great Crossroads.”

One such group is the Chechens who figure prominently in the al-Qaeda-backed “ISIS” group in Syria: the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.”  This is sometimes rendered “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” in English, because that’s what it refers to.  Its political vision includes the territory of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel (as well as Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, of course).  The Chechens didn’t start the group, by any means, but they have joined forces with it.  ISIS, in turn, has figured prominently in the fighting in Anbar Province in Iraq, as well as in northwestern Syria.  (See MEMRI for additional background on the Chechens in ISIS, including their motivations.)
Two comments for now on ISIS and territory.  First, ISIS has yet to put together gains of contiguous territory across a wide area.   (See Map 1.)  For now, that will limit ISIS to a career of guerrilla harassment and destabilization, which is unquestionably bad, but not the same problem as ISIS being able to consolidate gains, expand operationally, and contemplate political power on a broad scale; i.e., in competition with state governments and armies.
That said, ISIS does have a presence among other groups of fighters in a strategically significant position: al-Bukamal (or Abu Kamal), on the border of Syria with Iraq, in the governorate of Deir az-Zor.   From this town, the Euphrates River makes a natural line of communication to Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar Province in Iraq.
Rebels hold the Euphrates valley in eastern Syria, but some of the most significant fighting between rebel groups has taken place in Deir az-Zor, upriver from al-Bukamal.  Basically, there is a slowly coalescing fight on among the jihadis, for control of this all-important corridor between Syria and Iraq. ... [See rest at links] 
J.E. Dyer
CDR, USN (Ret.)
Hemet, CA

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