MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INTEL BY MEIR AMIT INTELLIGENCE & TERRORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Spotlight on Global Jihad (January 9-15, 2020)

Highlights of the events

  • On January 12, 2020, a ceasefire agreed upon between Turkey and Russia entered into effect in the Idlib region. Even after the ceasefire was declared (January 13 and 14, 2020), military friction continued between the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the Syrian forces. In the ITIC’s assessment, it is highly doubtful whether the ceasefire will survive for long because the fighting forces on the ground have no real interest in maintaining it over time. At a summit in Moscow, held by intelligence officials from Russia, Syria and Turkey, Syrian representative Ali Mamlouk declared that Syria was determined to continue fighting against “terrorism” until the liberation of the entire Idlib region and the application of Syrian sovereignty there.
  • In Iraq, there was a meeting of senior commanders from the Popular Mobilization (the umbrella framework of Shiite militias), which examined the continuation of the campaign against ISIS following the killing of Qassem Soleimani and of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization). At the meeting, it was decided that the extensive security activity against ISIS would continue in close coordination with the Iraqi security forces. In the ITIC’s assessment, this decision may reflect an Iranian decision to continue the campaign of the Iraqi Shiite militias against ISIS, even after Soleimani’s death. However, on the ground, the Shiite militias operating as part of the Popular Mobilization continued their counterterrorism activity against ISIS and the Iraqi security forces.
  • In Niger, ISIS operatives attacked a Niger army base near the border with Mali. The Niger army sustained about 100 fatalities. In Pakistan, a terrorist blew himself up at the Taliban headquarters near Quetta (the capital of Balochistan). According to ISIS’s announcement, 20 people were killed and more than 40 were wounded. In the rest of ISIS’s provinces abroad, including Nigeria and the Sinai Peninsula, routine attacks continued.
Idlib region
Overview

On January 8, 2020, operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham mounted a local attack and took control of four villages about 20 km northeast of Maarat Nu’man. In response, Syrian army forces fired artillery and Russian and Syrian fighter jets carried out a series of airstrikes. On January 12, 2020, a ceasefire agreed upon between Russia and Turkey entered into effect. At that time, the Russian and Syrian airstrikes stopped. However, the following day (January 13, 2020), the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham continued its military activities against Syrian targets (artillery, antitank and sniper fire). In the ITIC’s assessment, it is highly doubtful whether the ceasefire will survive because both the Syrian army and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, the two main sides fighting on the ground, have no real interest to maintain it.

Offensive initiative by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Maarat Nu’man area
  • On January 8, 2020, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the rebel organizations initiated an attack against the Tiger Forces under the command of Col. Suhail Hassan in the rural area northeast of Maarat Nu’man. It was reported that the forces of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham with massive artillery support had taken over four villages in the area of Maarat Nu’man (Khotwa, January 8, 2020).

Control zones in the Maarat Nu'man area (updated to January 8, 2020). Green: the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other rebel organizations; Red: the Syrian army; Turquoise: area taken over by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham on January 8, 2020; Red dotted line: the Aleppo-Damascus highway (M5); circle with the Turkish flag: Turkish supervision post (Khotwa, January 8, 2020)
Control zones in the Maarat Nu’man area (updated to January 8, 2020). Green: the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and other rebel organizations; Red: the Syrian army; Turquoise: area taken over by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham on January 8, 2020; Red dotted line: the Aleppo-Damascus highway (M5); circle with the Turkish flag: Turkish supervision post (Khotwa, January 8, 2020)

  • The Syrian army dispatched reinforcements to the scene of the attack and fired massive artillery at the rural area of Maarat Nu’man (Ibaa, January 10, 2020; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, January 9, 2020). Syrian and Russian aircraft carried out a series of airstrikes (Edlib Media Center, January 8, 2020).
Ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey in the Idlib region

On January 12, 2020, a ceasefire entered into effect in the Idlib region. The ceasefire was agreed upon in the meeting that took place on January 8, 2020, between the Russian and Turkish presidents (Anadolu News Agency; Sputnik News, January 12, 2020). As in previous agreements, it is doubtful whether the current ceasefire agreement, in which Turkey has the greatest interest, will be maintained for a long time. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (the dominant rebel organization) is not party to the agreement and it is highly doubtful whether it has any interest in a ceasefire in view of the achievements of the Syrian forces (which have reduced the area controlled by the rebel organizations). In the ITIC’s assessment, the Syrian army strives to complete the removal of the rebel organizations from the Idlib region, so it also does not have any real interest in maintaining the ceasefire.

  • On the ground, on January 13 and 14, 2020, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham continued its local military activity, which included artillery fire north of Maarat Nu’man; firing antitank missiles at Syrian army forces west of Aleppo; nighttime sniper fire (by the thermal sniper shooting company) at Iranian-affiliated militiamen; and clashes with the Syrian army east of Maarat Nu’man. On the other hand, the Syrian army fired artillery at Maarat Nu’man, and Syrian and Russian fighter jets carried out airstrikes (January 14, 2020). All these activities indicate that fighting on the ground continues, in spite of the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement.

Thermal sniper shooting company of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham shooting at “Iranian occupation militias” (i.e., militias handled by Iran). The shooting took place west of Aleppo, while militiamen were trying to evacuate the bodies of their operatives (Ibaa, January 13, 2020)
Thermal sniper shooting company of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham shooting at “Iranian occupation militias” (i.e., militias handled by Iran). The shooting took place west of Aleppo, while militiamen were trying to evacuate the bodies of their operatives (Ibaa, January 13, 2020)

Appeal to residents of the Idlib region to evacuate the area controlled by the rebels
  • On January 12, 2020, the Syrian Army General Headquarters distributed leaflets asking residents of the Idlib region to evacuate the area. As of January 13, 2020, residents of the region were asked to arrive at three humanitarian crossings opened by the Syrian regime (Al-Hobait, about 50 km south of Idlib; Abu ad-Duhur, about 40 km southeast of Idlib; and Al-Hader, about 20 km south of Aleppo). Medical teams and means of transportation will await them at the crossings, and from there they will be transported to safer areas. The Syrian Aid Center in Hmeymim will supervise the three crossings (Khotwa, January 12, 2020).

The Syrian army calls on residents of the Idlib region to evacuate the area controlled by the rebels (Edlib Media Center, January 12, 2020)
The Syrian army calls on residents of the Idlib region to evacuate the area controlled by the rebels (Edlib Media Center, January 12, 2020)

  • On January 13, 2020, it was reported that dozens of civilians left the areas controlled by the rebels and moved through the Al-Hader humanitarian crossing (SANA, January 13, 2020). However, there are still no indications of a large-scale departure of civilians from the areas controlled by the rebel organizations. In the ITIC’s assessment, the appeal to the residents to evacuate the Idlib region was intended to prevent escalation of the refugee problem in the event of a Syrian attack to take over Idlib, the stronghold of the rebel organizations and the Syrian army’s strategic target.
The Syrian representative at the Moscow summit: Syria is determined to liberate the entire Idlib region
  • On January 13, 2020, a Syrian, Russian and Turkish meeting took place in Moscow with the participation of senior intelligence officials. The Syrian side was represented by Maj. Gen. (Liwa) Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, while the Turkish side was represented by Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The Russian side was represented by several senior intelligence officials (SANA, January 13, 2020). The Syrian News Agency reported that Syrian representative Ali Mamlouk demanded from Turkey “to fully and immediately withdraw” from Syrian territory. As to the Idlib region, according to Mamlouk, Syria is determined to continue fighting against “terrorism” (i.e., the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the other rebel organizations) until the liberation of the entire Idlib region and the application of Syrian sovereignty there (SANA, January 13, 2020).
The Euphrates Valley
The area of Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal
  • Prominent ISIS activity this week was an ambush for a Syrian army convoy southwest of Al-Raqqah. In addition, the activation of IEDs and targeted killings continued. Following are ISIS’s main activities (mainly according to the organization’s claims of responsibility):
    • On January 13, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked SDF fighters about 50 km northeast of Deir ez-Zor. One SDF fighter was wounded (Telegram, January 13, 2020).
    • On January 13, 2020, an “agent” of the SDF Intelligence was targeted by gunfire in Al-Hawaij, 4 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. He was killed (Telegram, January 13, 2020).
    • On January 11, 2020, an IED was activated against a tanker carrying oil for the Syrian regime, on the road leading to the Al-Omar oil field, about 20 km east of Al-Mayadeen. The tanker, belonging to Al-Qaterji, a Syrian MP and commander in the Homeland Defense Forces, went up in flames (Telegram, January 12, 2020).
    • On January 11, 2020, a parked motorcycle was detonated in Hajin, 25 km north of Albukamal, against the deputy chairman of the local council of the SDF forces. The deputy chairman and one of his escorts were wounded (Telegram, January 11, 2020).
    • On January 11, 2020, hand grenades were thrown at the house of a commune chief in the village of Harijiya, about 40 km northeast of Al-Mayadeen. There were no casualties. A vehicle was damaged (Telegram, January 11, 2020).
    • On January 10, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle on the road leading to the Al-Tank oil field, about 50 km north of Albukamal. Five SDF fighters were killed (Telegram, January 10, 2020).
    • On January 8, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF armored vehicle in Al-Jaradi, about 20 km southeast of Al-Mayadeen. An SDF commander and his security guards were killed (Telegram, January 8, 2020).
Al-Raqqah area
  • On January 11, 2020, a Syrian army convoy was ambushed near the Al-Rasafah area, about 40 km southwest of Al-Raqqah. Several Syrian soldiers were killed or wounded. ISIS operatives seized weapons and ammunition (Telegram, January 13, 2020).

The ambush area in Al-Rasafah (Google Maps)
The ambush area in Al-Rasafah (Google Maps)

A Syrian army vehicle in flames (Telegram, January 13, 2020)    ISIS operatives shooting at a Syrian army convoy.
Right: ISIS operatives shooting at a Syrian army convoy. Left: A Syrian army vehicle in flames (Telegram, January 13, 2020)
  • On January 14, 2020, an IED was activated against an SDF vehicle west of Al-Raqqah. The passengers were killed or wounded (Telegram, January 14, 2020).
The Iraqi arena
ISIS activity

ISIS continued its activity in Iraq at low intensity. This was probably due to incidents related to the killing of Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and the stormy weather. The following are highlights of ISIS’s activity in the various Iraqi provinces this week (according to ISIS’s claims of responsibility).

Al-Anbar Province

  • On January 8, 2020, ISIS operatives attacked an Iraqi army headquarters about 300 km west of Ramadi. The forces exchanged fire. Nine soldiers were killed or wounded (Telegram, January 9, 2020).
  • On January 8, 2020, several mortar shells were fired at Popular Mobilization compounds on the road between Al-Qaim and Akashat, near the Iraqi-Syrian border (Telegram, January 9, 2020). No casualties were reported.
  • On January 13, 2020, an Iraqi army headquarters was attacked near the Al-Walid border crossing, at the border between Iraq and Syria (near the tri-border area of Iraq, Syria and Jordan). According to ISIS report, five soldiers and an officer were killed. According to the Iraqi media, an officer with the rank of captain was killed and three Border Police fighters were wounded (Telegram; Al-Sumaria, January 14, 2020).

Al-Walid crossing, between Iraq and Syria (Google Maps)
Al-Walid crossing, between Iraq and Syria (Google Maps)

Diyala Province

  • On January 8, 2020, a commando compound was targeted by sniper fire about 60 km north of Baqubah. Two commandos were killed (Telegram, January 9, 2020).

Salah al-Din Province

  • On January 8, 2020, an IED was activated against an Iraqi army foot patrol about 70 km south of Kirkuk. Two soldiers were killed. An officer and two soldiers were wounded (Telegram, January 10, 2020).
  • On January 8, 2020, hand grenades were thrown at an Iraqi army watchtower about 30 km southwest of Baqubah. One soldier was wounded (Telegram, January 10, 2020).
  • On January 11, 2020, a Popular Mobilization force, in cooperation with Iraqi Federal Police, mopped up a number of areas including forests, fruit gardens, rivers and canals south of Samarra (about 100 km northwest of Baghdad)
    (al-hashed.net, January 11, 2020).
Counterterrorist activities by the Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization

The Popular Mobilization: The extensive security activity against ISIS will continue

On January 13, 2020, commanders of the Popular Mobilization (the umbrella framework of Shiite militias) held a meeting at the headquarters of the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization (i.e., Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed along with Qassem Soleimani). At the meeting, they examined the security and military priorities of the Popular Mobilization forces. At the meeting, it was decided that the extensive security activity would continue and that “quality” operations would be carried out against ISIS operatives. It was also decided to continue to fortify the defense positions and to defend the borders against infiltration [by ISIS operatives] (al-hashed.net, January 13, 2020).

  • The decision by the Popular Mobilization commanders emphasized the need to intensify the coordination with the Iraqi security forces. Support for the decisions of the Iraqi Parliament and Prime Minister on the removal of foreign forces from Iraq was also expressed (al-hashed.net, January 11, 2020). However, on the ground, the militias operating in the framework of the Popular Mobilization continued their counterterrorism activity against ISIS.

Meeting on security and military priorities held by the Popular Mobilization commanders at the headquarters of the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization. On the chair in the middle there is a photo of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in the US attack on January 3, 2020 (al-hashed.net, January 13, 2020).
Meeting on security and military priorities held by the Popular Mobilization commanders at the headquarters of the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization. On the chair in the middle there is a photo of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in the US attack on January 3, 2020 (al-hashed.net, January 13, 2020).

Nineveh Province

  • The Iraqi army carried out a security operation called Promising Peace, during which they spent two days combing an area about 30 km north of Baghdad. They located a hiding place of ISIS operatives containing IEDs, weapons and ammunition (@SecMedCell Facebook page of the Iraqi government, January 10, 2020).
  • Other incidents are as follows:
    • On January 12, 2020, Popular Mobilization forces exposed a hiding place containing an ISIS workshop for manufacturing weapons about 90 km southwest of Mosul. They found over 100 IEDs, explosive belts, weapons, and a large quantity of military equipment. This hiding place served as the main headquarters for carrying out attacks in sectors in the southern and western Nineveh Province (al-hashed.net, January 12, 2020).
    • On January 11, 2020, Iraqi Federal Police intelligence teams detained two ISIS operatives in Baghdad (Iraqi News Agency, January 11, 2020).
    • On January 14, 2020, a force of the Al-Anbar Operations Directorate combed the area of the Rutba District, about 280 km west of Ramadi (west of the Al-Anbar Province). Three ISIS operatives were detained. Another force apprehended an ISIS operative making his way from Ramadi to the Rutba Desert (Iraqi News Agency, January 14, 2020)

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS BEST IDEA : Counter Iran with an independent Kurdistan !

by Diliman Abdulkader and Tiffany J. Howard   | January 16, 2020 12:00 AM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

The death of Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani placed the entire Middle East, if not the world, on edge. Iran’s recently growing stronghold only demonstrates that it is time for the United States to support an option that will counter Iranian power and chaos: an independent Kurdistan. In the past, the U.S. relied on its allies to help balance power in the Middle East. Israel remains a strong American ally but needs our help to deter Iran’s blatant power grabs. Previously, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon acted as buffers between Iran and Israel. But Iran has actively sought control in each of these three countries in order to create a land bridge between itself and Israel. Today, Iran controls Lebanon’s Hezbollah and props up Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar Assad, using him as a puppet.

Despite America’s history and presence in Iraq, Iran’s influence there, too, is undeniable. Iran was behind the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iran orchestrated the Iraqi parliament’s vote to expel U.S. troops. And Iran is responsible for the attacks on American service members in Iraq at the al Asad air base and in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS COMMENTARY : SOLEIMANI´S SAVIOR  BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA

Report –  Obama Granted Amnesty to Soleimani in Iran Deal –  By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz January 12, 2020 , 11:45 am

A report in July 2015 in the British news service The Telegraph revealed that on page 86 of the annex of the newly agreed upon Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, was an interesting clause granting amnesty to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed last week in a drone strike. The Telegraph’s  Defence Editor, Con Coughlin, was astounded at the revelation, describing Soelimani (spelled Gasem Soleymani in the JCPOA) as “one of the world’s leading terrorist masterminds.”

“For a decade a more he has been the driving force behind an array of Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, from Hizbollah to Hamas, which have orchestrated a reign of terror throughout the Middle East,” Coughlin wrote. “Thanks to Mr. Obama’s scandalous capitulation to Tehran, Mr. Suleimani has overnight gone from being one of the world’s most wanted terrorists to the White House’s newest best friend.”

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INVESTIGATION : Congress Seeks Investigation Into Pro-Iran Lobby Group Tied to Tehran Regime

NIAC long accused of serving as Iran’s U.S. lobbying arm –   Adam Kredo – January 14, 2020 2:10 PM THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON

Congressional leaders have petitioned the Trump administration to investigate a pro-Iran lobbying organization that has long faced accusations of acting as the Islamic Republic’s unregistered mouthpiece in America, according to official communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

A group of senators has requested that the Trump administration investigate the National Iranian American Council, or NIAC. The council, a pro-Tehran advocacy group with deep ties to the Iranian regime, played a key role in the Obama administration’s pro-Iran “echo chamber,” which misled Congress and the American people about the terms of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

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 MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : WHILE THE EUROPEANS ARE TALKING – Iran could have a nuclear bomb in two years – Intelligence assessment

 ANNA AHRONHEIM   JANUARY 14, 2020 20:23 JERUSALEM POST

At the same time, Israel has a window of opportunity to increase its operations against Iranian entrenchment in the Middle East due to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.

If Iran continues its nuclear program at the rate it is now, it is estimated that Tehran will be capable of producing enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb by this spring and a missile capable of carrying a nuclear bomb within the next two years.Over the past year, Iran has gradually lifted all limits on its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS ANALYSIS BY Sinem Adar  – Repatriation to Turkey’s “Safe Zone” in Northeast Syria

Ankara’s Goals and European Concerns  – SWP Comment 2020/C 01, January 2020, 4 Pages

Following the US decision to withdraw troops from Northeast Syria and upon separate agreements with the US and Russia, Ankara established what it calls a safe zone in the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. Even if spanning a smaller territory than envisaged, Turkey aims with its safe zone to impede Kurdish autonomy in Northern Syria, on the one hand, and to return refugees who have increasingly become a domestic policy challenge for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP thereafter), on the other hand. Turkey’s plan for repatriation signals that its interests align with European interests in refugee return. Given concerns about the safety of refugees, voluntary nature of return, and Ankara’s attempts at demographic engineering, Europeans should not support a Turkey-led repatriation to Syria without conditions.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS REVELATION  :  Iran keeps concocting fake news on downed jet

 

By Stephen Bryen – ASIA TIMES 14 Jan 2020 –  Iran continues to tell false and deliberately misleading stories about the downing of Ukrainian Airline’s Flight PS-752, including the story that a nervous missile operator “with only six seconds” to decide, mistakenly shot down the jet. Tehran says the operator thought he was shooting at a cruise missile.

Every modern air defense system consists of at least three parts: the missile firing unit that contains the air defense missiles; an acquisition radar that searches a broad area to provide early warning of threats; and, an engagement radar that acquires the target and helps guide the missile.

The Russian-made Tor, which is the system that US intelligence thinks was used to blow up PS-752, uses both types of radars. The system has a modern digital command and control system and an IFF (identification friend or foe) system all sitting on a tracked vehicle. The complete package is known as a TLAR, transporter, launcher and radar. Iran bought 21 Tor systems in 2007.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : BRILLIANT IDEA! – Boris Johnson suggests ‘Trump deal’ to replace Iran nuclear deal

Under the deal brokered in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed with China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US, to restrict its nuclear program.

By REUTERS   JANUARY 14, 2020 10:55 JERUSALEM POST

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday called on U.S. President Donald Trump to replace the Iranian nuclear deal with his own new agreement to ensure that the Islamic Republic did not get an atomic weapon.

“If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal,” Johnson said of the 2015 nuclear arms control deal with Tehran. “That would be a great way forward.”

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : TRUMPS ACTING MEANS PROFIT FOR SYRIAN PYD/PKK(SDF)

Soleimani death weakens Syrian regime, will force direct talks with Kurdish authorities: Salih Muslim

13 Jan 2020 RUDAW – Salih Muslim Muhammad, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and leading figure of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), says the killing of Qasem Soleimani – commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, responsible for much of the country’s proxy warfare in the Middle East – will likely weaken President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and render his regime more likely to engage in direct discussion with the northeast Syrian administration. 

While he does not believe northeast Syria, where US troops are no longer based, will become a battleground for American and Iranian forces, he says the level of Syria’s involvement in US-Iran hostilities is dependent on the ability of Soleimani’s newly-appointed successor Esmail Qaani to command the Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun brigades – Iranian proxy forces fighting in Syria, made up of Afghan and Pakistani Shiite fighters respectively. 


Salih criticizes the Kurdistan Region’s leading parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – of not being able to seize opportunities for cooperation in post-2003 Iraq, citing failure to replace Kirkuk’s acting governor as an example.

What implications will the killing of Qasem Soleimani have on Syria generally, and Rojava [northeast Syria] in particular?

Soleimani was Iran’s secret hand in Syria. Many organizations, such as the Zainabiyoun and Fatemiyoun brigades, were working under his command. He had a massive influence on the Syrian regime, both militarily and politically. He was a strong backer of the Syrian government. His death will have negative consequences for Damascus. Damascus did not change its stance and logical thinking concerning the Kurdish question, and rejected dialogue with the self-administration of Rojava because it had Iran’s backing.  I think the death of Soleimani will weaken the Syrian regime to some extent. Maybe they will give up their unwavering stance on the self-administration of Rojava and engage in dialogue with us.

Will there there be changes to Iran’s political work in Syria in the wake of Soleimani’s death?

It is not clear whether there will be changes after Soleimani’s replacement starts work or not. I hope the regime will weaken and engage in serious dialogue with Kurds.

Iran has vowed to take revenge on the US. American forces based in northern Syria are considered to be vulnerable targets to Iran and their proxies. Are you envisioning any attacks on Americans in Syria by Iranian proxies?

America has withdrawn troops from the Kurdish areas, re-positioning them on the Iraq-Syria border and around oilfields. There are no Iranian-backed forces in our region, though there may be some Iranians with the regime forces. So I do not expect any large-scale attacks on American forces. I do not think the Iranian retaliation will happen on our side, maybe elsewhere; Iraq.

What will happen to the self-administration of Rojava if Iran and the US engage in confrontation on Syrian land, especially in Rojava?

The self-administration continues to work. I do not think it will have that influence on us. As I pointed out earlier, the American forces are no longer here on the ground in Rojava. I expect such US-Iran confrontation, if it happens, will weaken the Syrian regime. Hence, the Syrian regime will eventually acknowledge our administration.

So, the killing of Soleimani will force Damascus to engage in talks concerning a solution to the Kurdish question?

The answer of this question depends upon whether Soleimani’s replacement will be able to manage the Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun brigades – if not, then it will result in the weakening of the regime in Syria, especially in Idlib and other places where fighting is taking place. When Damascus is weaker, they will engage with us. Things might turn out to be good for us. But this is the Middle East, and things can change at any time.

Do you see any sign that Russia might have changed its position on Syria since Soleimani was killed?

We have not seen any changes. Yet, we do not have to forget that Russia, Syria and Iran are partners, and Soleimani was definitely part of the three-sided agreements and played a role in these processes. What will happen to the trilateral agreements? We do not know yet.

At what level are there direct and indirect talks between Damascus and Rojava?

There are no changes. Russia has made a pledge. There are some sorts of talks between us and Russia, and Syria with Russia. Syria does not want to engage in talks with the self-administration of Rojava. What is positive to us is that Russia is considering itself a guarantor. I think in the near future, the talks will go to the next stage; talks will start with Damascus.

There are growing fears that Turkey might capitalize on the death of Soleimani to implement some of its agenda against Kurds. What is your take?

I do not think this will happen, because Soleimani was close to Turkey. Hakan Fidan [Head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization] and Soleimani enjoyed strong relations and had joint plans and coordinations. Soleimani never stood against Turkey’s plans, and those plans were being carried out in coordination with Soleimani.

Some pundits and activists say this post-Soleimani phase resembles that of post-2003 events of Iraq.

I think they are different. What is important is for Kurds to be united at this stage. Kurds do not have a joint strategy. Our enemies can still use us to fight against one another. If Kurds unite their strategy and discourse, there are plenty of opportunities we can capitalize on. At this historical moment, unity is needed. Massive turmoil has been gripping the Middle East these days. We understand that the killing of Soleimani was not an accident. Killing him was the final result of plenty of reading into the on-the-ground situation and talks. Before deciding to kill him, [the US], must have thought of the implications, and Iran’s reactions as well. The US is highly likely to more strongly respond if Iran reacts further, and these developments would further exacerbate the situation.

Therefore, our present situation is not comparable with that of post-2003. The post-2003 period brought great opportunity to South Kurdistan [Kurdistan Region]. But [disunity] did not let the Region take advantage of the developments and seize opportunities. Just a few days ago, the Kirkuk governor [Rakan al-Jabouri] said that if the Brotherhood List had reached an agreement, he would not still be acting governor. In other words, if the PUK and KDP work together in Kirkuk, there won’t be room for other actors to come into play. If we are able to learn a lesson from the past, I think great days are ahead for us.

Translation by Zhelwan Z. Wali

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS INTEL BY MEIR AMIT INTELLIGENCE & TERRIORISM INFORMATION CENTER / ISRAEL – Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, profile of an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Qods Force

Operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq south of Albukamal. They were careful not to display identifying signs of the militia (Al-Madar al-Siyasiya, July 7, 2017)

Teenage boy wounded by live ammunition fired at demonstrators (YouTube, October 14, 2019).

Teenage boy wounded by live ammunition fired at demonstrators (YouTube, October 14, 2019).

Overview
  • On December 6, 2019, the US Department of State announced the imposition of sanctions on Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”), and on two other senior militia operatives. According to the American statement, members of the militia headed by Qais al-Khazali opened fire at Iraqi demonstrators which resulted in the killing of civilians. Furthermore, it was stated that Qais al-Khazali was handled by the Iranian Qods Force and authorized the use of deadly weapons against demonstrators in order to sow terror among Iraqi civilians.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”) is an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. It is one of the three most important Shiite militias which are prioritized by the Qods Force in terms of military and financial support. The two other militias are the Hezbollah Battalions (Kataeb Hezbollah) and the Nujaba Movement (Harakat al-Nujaba or Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba). These three militias played a key role during the fighting against the US forces while they were deployed in Iraq. They consist of commanders and operatives who had acquired extensive fighting experience and maintain particularly strong ties with the Qods Force. In recent years, these militias were handled by Iran in various missions promoting Iranian interests, including support of the Syrian regime, fighting against ISIS, and the suppression of protesters against the Iraqi regime. The US has imposed sanctions on all three militias.

  • In the ITIC’s assessment, the removal of the United States from Iran and strengthening the Iranian influence on the Iraqi government are major strategic objectives for Iran. In order to fulfil these objectives, the Qods Force will use the Shiite militias comprising the Popular Mobilization[1]. In the ITIC’s assessment, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Hezbollah Battalions, and the Nujaba Movement, which are part of the Popular Mobilization, are expected to be used as the spearhead of the Shiite militias in the campaign to remove the US forces from Iraq[2].
The three leading militias
Flag of the Hezbollah Battalions militia    Emblem of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.
Right: Emblem of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Left: Flag of the Hezbollah Battalions militia

Emblem of the Nujaba Movement militia
Emblem of the Nujaba Movement militia

  • Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq played a major role in the fighting of the Shiite militias against the US army and Coalition countries in 2006-2011, with the guidance and support of the Iranian Qods Force. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s main “specialty” was planting IEDs along the roads used by the US forces, causing the Americans heavy casualties. The militia is headed by Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite from southern Iraq, who had studied religious studies under senior cleric Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr (the father of cleric Muqtada Sadr, who wields major influence on Shiite current politics in Iraq, see below).

Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Kanouzmidia, November 10, 2016)
Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq
(Kanouzmidia, November 10, 2016)

  • After the withdrawal of the US army from Iraq, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq did not lay down their arms and continued (along with other Shiite militias) to serve Iranian interests. Operatives of the militia were sent to Syria and were involved in the siege on Aleppo and the execution of many civilians. In addition, militia operatives took part in the campaign against ISIS and were involved in the killing and abduction of Sunni and Kurdish civilians in Iraqi regions liberated from ISIS’s control. During the protests in Iraq, operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq were used by the Qods Force as the main instrument for brutal suppression of the demonstrators by firing live ammunition.[3]
  • After the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani, Qais al-Khazali promised to avenge the blood of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization (who was killed in the attack against Soleimani). In a television interview, he undertook to implement Soleimani’s aspirations and demanded that the American forces leave Iraq immediately. He noted that they would absolutely not settle for less than the removal of all the forces of “American aggression” from the territory of Iraq. He added, addressing the Americans: “If your forces do not leave [Iraq], or even in the event of a delay in your departure, your forces will be considered as occupation forces and be dealt with accordingly.” Al-Khazali reiterated his threat, conveying a stronger message: “If you do not leave [Iraq immediately], or stall, you will be facing a strong Iraqi response that will make the earth tremble under your feet and turn the sky above your heads into hell. The decision is yours” (Al-Ahed TV Channel, January 5, 2020).

Al-Khazali sending a blatant threat at the United States: if the American forces do not leave Iraq immediately, they will pay dearly for that (Al-Ahed Channel, January 5, 2020).
Al-Khazali sending a blatant threat at the United States: if the American forces do not leave Iraq immediately, they will pay dearly for that (Al-Ahed Channel, January 5, 2020).

  • The purpose of the current study is to analyze the profile of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq as a model of a Shiite militia prioritized by the Qods Force, such that Iran is expected to use in the Iraqi arena as part of a campaign against the Americans. At a later stage, the ITIC will publish additional studies, analyzing the profiles of the militias of Hezbollah Battalions and the Nujaba Movement and examining the nature of their ties with Iran and the Qods Force.
Appendices
  • Appendix A: Profile of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq:
    • The activity of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq against the US forces in Iraq (2006-2011)
    • Handling Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq by the Qods Force after the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq
    • Selected statements by Qais al-Khazali
    • Handling Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq by Iran to suppress the protest against the Iraqi government
    • Participation of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operatives in a break-in at the US Embassy compound in Baghdad
  • Appendix B: US imposes sanctions on senior operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq

[1] The Popular Mobilization is an umbrella framework which includes about 40 militias. Most of these militias are Shiite, affiliated with Iran.
[2] The number of US military personnel deployed in Iraq is estimated at about 5,200 (New York Times, January 5, 2020).

[3] What are the reasons for the brutality demonstrated by the Iranians in Iraq as opposed to their restraint in Lebanon? In the ITIC’s assessment, in the Lebanese arena, Iran has much more self-confidence due to Hezbollah’s strong position in the internal Lebanese political system, while the potential of risks estimated by the Iranians regarding their influence in Iraq is higher. This is in addition to Iranian concerns about the protest spilling over to their own country from neighboring Iraq. In retrospect, the intensive involvement in the events in Iraq cost Soleimani his life. However, one important Iranian objective has already been achieved: the anti-Iranian discourse that has accompanied the Iraqi protest against the government has almost completely disappeared and has now turned into an anti-American discourse, which is expected to be part of the campaign to oust the US forces from Iraq.

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