Middle East/United States – More than 40 nations have agreed to join a coalition that will be led by the United States against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has seized swath of Syria and northern Iraq, a State Department spokesman said on the 8 Sep 14. Jen Psaki said the goal of the coalition is to coordinate on the threat that ISIS poses, adding that the allies would have differing roles and that not all would offer Iraq direct military support. “There are obviously a range of capabilities or capacities that different countries have,” she said, adding that the coalition would seek to cut off ISIS from funding, foreign reinforcements and ideological support. The United States does not regard Iran as part of its coalition against the Islamic State, despite the support that Tehran is already providing to Iraq in its battle against the Sunni militants. Kerry is to leave Washington on the 9 Sep 14 and will visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia for talks with key the Arab allies. U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Turkey on the 8 Sep 14. The White House has urged Congress to inject money into a counterterrorism fund to train and equip partners in other countries to fight extremists, an initiative that would be a core component of Obama’s plan to address ISIS fighters.
Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria now have about 20,000 to 31,500 fighters on the ground, the Central Intelligence Agency said on the 11 Sep 14, much higher than a previous estimate of 10,000. "CIA assesses the Islamic State of Iraq and [Syria ISIS] can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, based on a new review of all-source intelligence reports from May to August," CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said in a statement. "This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence," he said. Also on the 11 Sep the Pentagon announced that U.S. combat aircraft will soon start flying out of a base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as part of a "more aggressive" air campaign against ISIS militants. The use of Arbil air base reflects the broadening US offensive, though attack helicopters already have been flying out of bases in Iraq.
Iran – Iran on the 11 Sep 14 cast doubt on the “seriousness and sincerity” of an international coalition the United States is building against the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “There are uncertainties about the so-called international coalition against (ISIS) that was announced after the NATO summit in Wales” last week, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said. “Its seriousness and sincerity to tackle the root causes of terrorism is fundamentally questionable,” she said in statements carried by official news agency IRNA. Afkham’s remarks come hours after U.S. President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to launch a “relentless” war against ISIS jihadists in Syria and Iraq in order to “destroy” them. Last week Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of not taking the threat from ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria seriously. He also charged that US aid had previously helped the jihadists, alluding to support given by Washington to so-called moderate rebels fighting to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran has been Assad’s main ally since the revolt against his rule erupted in March 2011 and has also provided military advisers to the Shiite-led government in Iraq to help it battle the militants. Afkham echoed Zarif, saying some countries, which she did not name, have been helping ISIS. “Some of the countries in this coalition are among the ones who provided financial and security support for terrorists in Iraq and Syria,” she said. “Others are hoping to bring about political change in Iraq and Syria in favour of their own interests.” Her comments came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Saudi city of Jeddah for talks aimed at building a coalition, including with Arab states and Turkey, against the Islamic State. 361 COMMENT: Iran is somewhat miffed that they have not been asked to join the coalition. A little rich when Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades and a funder and trainer of a number of terrorist organisations currently and in the past. These points coupled with Iranian support for the Assad regime who have been responsible for the deaths of Syrians with Iranian weapons, ammunition and “advisors”. The Americans also have an itch to scratch with Iran regarding the taking of hostages in 1979. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq – President Barack Obama on the 2 Sep 14 ordered about 350 more U.S. troops to Baghdad to protect American diplomatic facilities and staff in the Iraqi capital, the White House said. The announcement came hours after the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released another video showing a masked militant with a British accent cutting the throat of a U.S. captive. “The president authorized the Department of Defence to fulfil a Department of State request for approximately 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect our diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad, Iraq,” a White House statement said. “We will (also) continue to support the government of Iraq's efforts to counter ISIL, which poses a threat not only to Iraq, but to the broader Middle East and US personnel and interests in the region.” The latest troop movement “builds upon previous embassy security deployments announced on the 15 Jun and 30 Jun 14 and will bring the total forces responsible for augmenting diplomatic security in Iraq up to approximately 820,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.
On the 4 Sep 14 it was reported by open sources that a senior Islamic State military commander in Iraq has been killed in an air strike on the northern city of Mosul. Iraq's defence ministry also said a top aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a strike on Mosul, but neither death has been confirmed. Defence officials were saying Abu Alaa al-Iraqi, head of the IS military council in the city of Tal Afar, had died in an air strike. Residents in the northern province of Kirkuk said that IS fighters had kidnapped dozens of men on the 4 Sep 14 dragging up to 40 men into cars in the town of Hawija before driving off. Locals said it was unclear why the men had been taken, saying IS had taken over the Sunni town without encountering any resistance last month. IS militants were said to have retreated from the village on the 3 Sep 14 and residents were reported to have set fire to a flag left behind by the group.
Islamic State fighters attacked a riverside town north of Baghdad on the 8 Sep 14 with gunboats and a car bomb, killing 17 people and wounding 54. The source said the attack on Dhuluiya, around 70 km (45 miles) from the capital, was carried out before dawn and continued for two hours before the militants were pushed back. Most of the casualties were caused by the car bomb, which struck a market. Dhuluiya is part of a belt of Sunni Muslim towns north of Baghdad where the hard-line Sunni Muslim Islamic State has managed to wrestle some control, often aligning with local militia who distrust the Shi'ite-led government.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is using “significant quantities” of U.S.-made weapons which it seized from Syrian rebels and Iraqi government forces, according a report released on the 8 Sep 14. The London-based weapons research organization Conflict Armament Research said the American armaments being used by the militant group include M-16 assault rifles and bear U.S. government markings. The report also indicated that the group had in its possession anti-tank rockets that were identical to 1980s-era M79 rockets used by the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA). ISIS is also believed to have seized large quantities of weapons from Syrian military installations it has captured, including warplanes. In Iraq, ISIS militants seized vast quantities of military gear and U.S. equipment which Iraqi army soldiers abandoned as they fled in the face of the offensive in Jun 14. The equipment seized by the group includes a number of U.S.-made armoured Humvees which ISIS has reportedly used in suicide bombings against Iraqi forces. Over the past several years the United States spent billions of dollars to train and equip Iraqi military and security personnel, to ensure they could maintain security in the country after American troops departed at the end of 2011.
Islamic State militants, who once relied on wealthy Persian Gulf donors for money, have become a self-sustaining financial juggernaut. According to US intelligence inputs, the terrorist group is earning more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion The extremist group's resources exceed that "of any other terrorist group in history," said a US intelligence official. The Islamic State group has taken over large sections of Syria and Iraq, and controls as many as 11 oil fields in both countries, analysts say. It is also earning hundreds of millions of dollars from smuggling antiquities out of Iraq to be sold in Turkey. Other revenue comes from extortion payments, ransom from kidnapped hostages, and outright theft of all manner of materials from the towns the Islamic State group has seized, analysts say.
Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has detained 88 people on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks at home and abroad, the Interior Ministry said on the 2 Sep 14. Some had links to militant groups in Iraq, Syria or Yemen, a ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, said. General Turki said at a news conference that 48 of those arrested were Saudis and that many had been planning assassinations. He said that around 2,500 Saudis were believed to be involved in militant activities abroad.
Syria – Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels holding 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage have issued a set of demands for their release, including the extremist group's removal from a UN terrorist list and compensation for the killing of three of its fighters in a shootout with international troops, an official said on the 2 Sep 14. The Nusra Front seized the Fijians on the 28 Aug 14 in the Golan Heights, where a 1,200-strong UN force monitors the buffer zone between Syria and Israel. The Nusra Front, in a statement posted online on the 31 Aug 14 accused the UN of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in Mar 11. It said it seized the Fijians in retaliation for the UN ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria”.
Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front on the 11 Sep 14 freed 45 United Nations peacekeepers kidnapped two weeks ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "They were released today by Al-Nusra," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, told Agence France-Presse. The U.N. has confirmed that the 45 kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers have been released. Al-Nusra released a video late on the 10 Sep 14 showing a Fijian peacekeeper thanking the militant group for keeping him and his colleagues alive. In the video released through its media wing, Al-Nusra said it had consulted religious leaders and they had advised “that we should release these prisoners.” A Fijian peacekeeper, who did not identify himself, spoke in the footage, confirming that the group had pledged to free the soldiers. “It is Tuesday, the ninth of September, I would like to mention to you that it is a very happy day. We have been informed that we will be released soon and we are all very happy to be going home.” The peacekeeper adds that the troops “are all safe and alive” and thanks Al-Nusra “for keeping us safe and keeping us alive.” “I would like to assure you that we have not been harmed in any way,” he says. 361 COMMENT: The Fijian soldier who made the statement did so under duress. It is unclear why they would release the peacekeepers without demands. It maybe that it sees what is coming with regards to the Islamic State or that it wants to be included in any training and supplying of weapons and ammunition that is to be given to the FSA and its affiliates. COMMENT ENDS
Syria/United Kingdom – Strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inside Syria could be launched without an invitation from the Syrian government, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on the 4 Sep 14 raising one of the first justifications for foreign military action in Syria without the government’s consent. Speaking at the start of the week at the NATO summit in Wales, Cameron suggested that under international law, the West does not need an invitation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attack ISIS within Syrian borders due to the illegitimacy of his government according to a British newspaper. Describing ISIS as a direct threat to the UK, Cameron also stepped up his case for British involvement in U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, although he stopped short of declaring his country would definitely join the U.S. mission. The prime minister also indicated his interest in forming an international coalition to carry out operations in Iraq. Since late Aug 14, Washington has been pushing for an international campaign against ISIS, including attempts to recruit partners for potential joint military action. Meanwhile, NATO also appeared to have a change of heart on Thursday, when its secretary-general said it would “seriously” consider any requests from the Iraqi government for assistance in fighting ISIS. U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared on the 4 Sep 14 that their countries would “not be cowed” by ISIS extremists, after a second American journalist was confirmed dead from an execution-style killing by an ISIS militant.