January 20, 2015

Assessment of the Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Republic of Iraq and Its Influence in the Middle East

Analysis of the current situation in Syria and Iraq, as well as of the processes that are taking place in the security sphere, shows further structuring of international terrorism. At this, unresolved problems in “hot spots of Islam” (Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan) in the near future will be for Islamists a catalyst of international terrorism.

To date, Syria and Iraq are the most attractive battleground where are send hundreds of foreign fighters from various Islamist terrorist organizations, at this can be clearly observed a consistent trend of drawing into the conflict of citizens form non-Arab and non-Muslim countries.

Thus, in the last two years in the global jihad has been a tough confrontation between the leadership of “Al-Qaeda” (Al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL)) in Pakistan and the “Islamic State”. In the context of struggle for regional dominance, in February 2014 the leadership of “Al-Qaeda” declared secession from the Iraqi branch of the organization in connection with the uncoordinated actions of the “Islamic State” in Syria, which began to pursue an independent policy. The conflict with “Al-Qaeda” has led to a sharpening of the struggle between the “Islamic State” and Al-Qaeda's Syria branch “Jabhat Al-Nusra”.

In June last year, the “Islamic State” in parts of Syria and Iraq announced the creation of “Islamic caliphate” under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urging all jihadist organizations in the Middle East to take the oath of allegiance and thus throwing a direct challenge to Ayman Al-Zawahiri as the leader of “Al-Qaeda”. Al-Baghdadi's call to take part in the armed struggle in the name of the “Islamic State” has led to an increase in the inflow of foreign mercenaries.

In response to Al-Baghdadi's state about the establishment of an “Islamic State”, in July 2014 the leader of “Jabhat Al-Nusra” Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani announced his intention to establish in the territory of Al Sham (Greater Syria) an “Islamic Emirate” under the auspices of “Al-Qaida”, and called on functionaries of “Jabhat Al-Nusra” to struggle against Syrian authorities and the “Islamic State”.

At present, “Jabhat Al-Nusra” is focusing its main efforts on consolidating its ranks and calls on other categories of jihad groupings, acting in Syria, to unite in order to create “Islamic Emirate in Al Sham.”

“Jabhat Al-Nusra’s” statement about establishing the “Emirate” is a direct response to the developments in Iraq. The leadership of “Jabhat Al-Nusra” is trying to reduce the leakage of functionaries and volunteers into the “Islamic State”, trying to demonstrate loyalty to the leadership of “Al-Qaeda”. At the same time, it is clear that in the ranks of commanders fighting in Syria against the “Islamic State” and faithful to “Al-Qaeda”, there are bewilderment and confusion. Most functionaries of “Jabhat Al-Nusra” continue to fight against the “Islamic State”. A small part of the fighters, under the pretext that this is a fratricidal war, have stopped combat actions. Today it is quite difficult to predict how these events will affect the potential of terrorist activity of the “Islamic State” abroad. According to analysts, two major trends can be pointed out:

  1. The “Islamic State’s” leadership, while continuing to protect the Caliphate's positions in occupied territories, will make efforts to expand it in the Syrian-Iraqi zone. Therefore, we can assume that it will try to concentrate in Iraq the bulk of its military potential, foreign mercenaries included.
  2. Foreign mercenaries who had fought in the ranks of the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq and who have returned home will pose a serious threat in terms of terrorism, widely using their accumulated combat experience. The May 2014 attack in Brussels proves that such a threat already does exist, and in the coming year will grow.

 (The attack was carried out at the Jewish Museum in Brussels
by Mahdi Namushi, a functionary of the “Islamic State”
with the Syrian military experience).

Strengthening of positions of an “Islamic State”, spread of its influence in the Iraqi-Syrian zone, capture of sources of financing (banks, oil reserves) have brought it to the level of the richest organization of global jihad, having extensive resources and able to support its militants and to finance terrorist acts both within the region and far beyond. Owning large cash resources has provided the organization with a massive inflow of militants from other parties and Islamist organizations. To date, in the Syrian-Iraqi territory, the “Islamic State” is leading both in terms of the number of foreign mercenaries in its ranks (about 70 %) and in terms of the volume of arms and financial resources.

Foreign fighters flow to Syria

According to Western analysts, further strengthening of positions of the “Islamic State” will help to expand the boundaries of jihad in the region and exacerbate the threat of terror. At this, the following factors should be taken into consideration:

  • additional demarcation of the border between the Syrian and Iraqi jihad activity area, creating large areas controlled by forces of jihad allow to increase the power and provide relatively favorable conditions and a comfortable environment for preparation of terrorist acts;
  • the “Islamic State” organization has liberated from Iraqi prisons a large number of prisoners, thereby having increased its capacity and strength of its functionaries;
  • in order to consolidate and stabilize its activity in the conquered territories, the organization focuses its efforts on the events taking place inside Iraq;
  • the combat experience gained in Syria and transfer of the main activity to Iraq will cause an enhanced influx of foreign fighters into the country. Also, it is possible that there will be a tendency of arrival of foreign activists directly into Iraq's territory controlled by jihadists. Under these conditions it is considered possible that Syria and Iraq will remain a springboard for expansion of international terrorism and radical Islamism, whose ideas will be spread beyond the region, to the EU, CIS by trained, specially taught, with extensive combat experience, terrorists.

Currently, Syria is actually split into two zones of influence: densely populated areas in the center and west of Syria (including the territory of Aleppo) are controlled by the official regime; while eastern regions are dominated by the “Islamic State.” At this, northeastern regions of Syria, as before, are controlled by the Kurds, and the region of Idlib and areas in the south of the country — by the opposition forces.

To date, the transnational nature of international terrorism requires governments and law enforcement agencies' close coordination in the struggle against new threats. Possible forms of such cooperation at the international level can be:

  • establishment of joint anti-terrorism (intelligence) centers to exchange information about the development of the operational situation in different regions of the world, including new trends in the sphere of counteracting international terrorism;
  • development and implementation of joint operations along the line of counteracting international terrorism and religious extremism, suppression of activity of identified channels of infiltration of militants;
  • regular working meetings at expert level of law enforcement agencies on these topics.

Thus, the creation of “Islamic Caliphate” and “Islamic Emirate” in the adjacent areas clearly indicates the presence of the conflict that exists between “Jabhat Al-Nusra” and the “Islamic State” and that opens the door to a new round of violence in the confrontation of these two structures in Syria. It should be noted that although in the nearest future actions of the “Islamic State’s” militants will be concentrated in Iraq, in the medium term, numerous mercenaries, a large number of weapons and large funds, that fell into the hands of functionaries of the organization, will be sent to Syria, which will create additional serious threats in the region.