Da’esh – Tunisian jihadi Abu Ali al-Tunisi, in charge of ISIS operations close to group's de fact capital Raqqa, was killed by fellow militants after a dispute over the direction the organisation was taking. The senior commander was reportedly gunned down by rebel extremists in his car along with two security guards on the 7 Mar 16. Local activist Ammar al-Hassan said al-Tunisi was "attacked by a group of ISIS militants who used to fight under his command in the northern countryside of Raqqa". Three fighters believed to be behind the shooting were subsequently arrested, ARA News reported. Mr al-Hassan added: "Clashes broke out among the militants after the death of al-Tunisi, until the ISIS-led Islamic Police intervened and arrested at least three of those responsible for the commander's death." An increasingly desperate ISIS has also been rocked by fresh defections in Syria after dozens of ISIS militants fled extremist-held territory in the northern countryside surrounding besieged Aleppo on the 5 Mar 16. The main rebel group in the area was said to have arranged the mass defection of around 40 jihadis, who are being closely monitored to ensure they do not launch an undercover attack on behalf of ISIS. Meanwhile, the jihadi organisation has been forced to slash their fighters' pay as the group is increasingly crippled by depleted cash reserves. ISIS's so-called treasury department, the Bayt Mal al-Muslimeen, said salaries for its foreign fighters were being cut by up to 50 per cent amid the global downturn. In a document posted online, it said: "On account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing, it has been decided to reduce the salaries that are paid to all mujahedeen by half. "It is not allowed for anyone to be exempted from this decision, whatever his position."
Da’esh – Published on the 9 Mar 16 by the American Homeland and Security report Abu Omar al-Shishani, a Syrian-based Georgian national who was a senior ISIS leader, was killed in a 4 March air strike by the U.S.-led coalition. Reuters quoted U.S. officials to say that the militant was killed near the Syrian town of al-Shadad. The United States had offered up to $5 million reward for information about Shishani, who served as the group’s de facto minister of war. The Toronto Star reports that Shishani, who was born in 1986 in Georgia, had a reputation as a close military adviser to ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who relied heavily on Shishani. Two U.S. officials said that a determination about Shishani’s fate was not certain and that the results of the operation still were being reviewed. A third official just said Shishani was targeted in the strike. The US State Department said Shishani was identified as the Isis’s military commander in a video distributed by the group in 2014. U.S. intelligence said that Shishani, whose name was originally Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, oversaw a prison facility near Raqqa in which ISIS possibly held foreign hostages.
Iran – Iran's deputy foreign minister has said that a decision by a Saudi-led bloc of Gulf Arab states to label the Lebanese group Hezbollah a terrorist organisation was a "mistake". Iranian state TV on the 3 Mar 16 quoted Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying that the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) move would undermine peace in the region and the unity of Lebanon. He said it was a "new mistake" by the GCC and that Iran was "proud" of Hezbollah. On Wednesday, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said that the six Gulf monarchies took the decision because "the [Hezbollah] militia recruited young people [from the Gulf] for terrorist acts". Hezbollah, a Shia political organisation with an armed wing, fights in neighbouring Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Sunni-dominated GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Gulf nations have taken a series of measures against Hezbollah since Saudi Arabia last month halted a $4bn programme funding French military supplies to Beirut.
Hezbollah is backed by Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, with whom relations have worsened this year. The two nations are on opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Announcing the military funding cut last month, a Saudi official said that the kingdom had noticed "hostile Lebanese positions resulting from the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state". Riyadh would be conducting "a comprehensive review of its relations with the Lebanese republic", the unnamed official said. He specifically cited Lebanon's refusal to join the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran in Jan 16. Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after demonstrators set fire to its embassy and a consulate following the Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at Saudi Arabia during a televised speech on the 2 Mar 16. "The kingdom is trying to put pressure on the Lebanese to try to silent us but we will not be silent on the crimes the Saudis are committing in Yemen and elsewhere," Nasrallah said. "Does Saudi Arabia have the right to punish Lebanon, its state and its army because a certain party has decided to raise its voice?" he asked. "If they have a problem with us, let them keep it with us, and let them spare Lebanon and the Lebanese," Nasrallah added. Jamal Abdullah, head of the Gulf Studies Unit at the said he did not believe that the Gulf decisions targeted Lebanon as a whole. "The relations between Gulf states and Lebanon are governed by diplomatic norms and strong links from their shared membership in the Arab League," Abdullah said. The GCC supported Hezbollah throughout the past three decades in its resistance against Israel. However, the bloc has always condemned Hezbollah's military intervention in Syria. "This was a milestone in the nature of the relationship between Hezbollah and Gulf countries," Abdullah said. 361 COMMENT: Over these last few years Iran has been attempting to become a global player in particular since its nuclear program started. But its interest in being involved and supporting Shia groups in countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia has become a problem. The final straw was the storming and burning of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Since this incident relations between the two sides, Shai and Sunni, have become rather tenuous. In the last reporting period several Sunni countries have warned their residents regarding travelling to Lebanon and for those residing in the country to leave as they believed it was unsafe to remain. Iran in the meantime believes that now it has had its sanctions lifted and it has the nuclear capability it should be listened to and to those who follow them. Let us not forget that Iran’s is still a pariah regarding its sponsoring of terrorism and that it supporting those factions in Syria and those factions in Yemen who do not support the Shai governments there. The two ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria between Sunni and Shia are proxy wars of the two areas of religion. Of course Iran supports Hezbollah. It is fighting on Assad’s behalf in Syria and is their proxy server against Israel. Iran is attempting to put the minority Shia group before the Sunni. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/Da’esh – An American Special Operations force has captured an ISIL commander in northern Iraq it was reported on the 2 Mar 16 in what the Pentagon hopes will be a crucial development in the fight against the extremist group. Defence officials said that the unnamed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) operative was being questioned at a detention facility in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region. They said the interrogation could take weeks or months, and that the man would then be turned over to Kurdish officials. A 200-strong unit, known as the expeditionary targeting force (ETF) has been arriving in the area in recent weeks, ready to expand operations as part of the first major American combat presence in the country since the United States pulled out in 2011. Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman said that the American force was charged with capturing ISIL leaders. "The ETF has begun operations in Iraq. But we will not discuss the details of those missions when it risks compromising operational security," he said. The team is working with Iraqi and Kurdish forces to establish informant networks and to conduct further raids on ISIL safe-houses and compounds. The Pentagon has credited previous raids with uncovering a trove of valuable intelligence on ISIL’s financial operations and security measures. Information harvested from laptops, mobile phones and other materials recovered during a May 15 raid reportedly helped the United States identify, locate and carry out an air strike against an influential ISIL lieutenant, named as Abu Hamid, on the 31 May 15. The trove - comprising as much as seven terabytes of data - included information on how the extremist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces. The possibility of future raids now raises questions about what will happen to the detainee and others like him, given that President Barack Obama has ruled out sending any more terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay and the United States does not want to create a holding centre for ISIL captives in Iraq.
Iraq – Iraqi officials said on the 7 Mar 16 that the death toll from the 6 Mar 16 suicide truck bombing south of Baghdad climbed to 61. Among the dead were 52 civilians, while the rest were members of the security forces, a police officer said. Another 95 people were injured in the attack that targeted a security checkpoint at one of the entrances to the city of Hillah. The officer said that eight other people were still missing. Hillah is located about 60 miles south of Baghdad. Iraq has seen a spike in violence in the past month, with suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State militants killing more than 170 people. Sunday's bombing was the third massive bombing in a little over a week against security forces and the country's Shiite majority. These attacks follow a string of advances by Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, including in the western city of Ramadi. The latest push could be seen as an attempt by ISIS to stage attacks deep behind the front lines in order to wreak havoc and force the government to overextend its forces. Hillah is in the country's mainly Shiite south, far from the front lines of the war against Islamic State.
Iraq – The chief of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition on the 5 Mar 16 announced plans to seize Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul from ISIS, which has been held by the militants since June 2014, describing the militant group as “losing.” The operation’s current strategy is to cut the main road connecting Mosul to the ISIS-stronghold city of Raqqa in Syria, the coalition’s US special envoy Brett McGurk said at a press conference in the capital Baghdad. The ground operation will see the participation of both the Iraqi Army forces and Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces from the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to the north. McGurk also said ISIS is losing a battle against forces arraigned against if from many sides in Iraq and Syria and the focus would turn to stabilizing cities seized back from them. McGurk, however, declined to put a timeline on when the group would be defeated or when Mosul and Raqqa, the main cities under its control in Iraq and Syria respectively, would be retaken. McGurk met in Baghdad Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who said in December that 2016 would be a year of “final victory” over the group in Iraq. "Da’esh is feeling pressure now from all simultaneous directions and that’s going to continue ... that’s going to accelerate,” McGurk said at the press conference, using an acronym for ISIS. “Da’esh is losing; as they lose we focus increasingly on stabilization,” he added, referring to plans being made to rehabilitate and police cities recaptured from militants. ISIS has come under pressure from air raids and ground forces actions by various parties in both countries, but they still hold large tracts of land. McGurk’s announcement comes despite Iraq’s defence minister saying that the battle to retake Mosul was scheduled later this year. ISIS militants captured Mosul in a shock 2014 offenses after the Iraqi army fled the city. The Iraqi Army deserting Mosul has led to the rise of the Shiite-dominated volunteer forces called the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The units were formed after a religious edict by the influential spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, calling on Iraqis to fight ISIS. The PMU have been effective in snatching from ISIS areas such as Tikrit, the hometown of late President Saddam Hussein. However, the units have been accused of exacting brutal on Sunnis after retaking territory from the militants.
Iraq/Da’esh – ISIS has pulled most of its fighters out of Hit, a large town in western Iraq on which security forces were advancing, a military spokesman said on the 13 Mar 16. “The majority of Da’esh (ISIS) fighters in Hit, Rutba and Kubaysa have fled through the desert to other regions,” Yahya Rasool, Iraq’s top security spokesman said. Earlier, an army general and a mayor said ISIS on Sunday pulled its fighters out of Rutba, a desert town in Anbar. “Da’esh (ISIS) has completely pulled out of Rutba and gone towards al-Qaim,” a major general said referring to a militant bastion on the border with Syria, further north in Anbar. “Da’esh’s armed men started pulling out last night and completed their withdrawal this morning,” the senior officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Rutba is now free of Da’esh.” The mayor of the town, which lies about 390 kilometres west of Baghdad on the road to Jordan, confirmed that ISIS had withdrawn. “Da’esh has pulled out. They have no armed men there now,” Imad Ahmed said. “This withdrawal looks real, a consequence of their losses in Anbar, notably the retaking by the security forces of Ramadi, of areas east of Ramadi and the progress towards Hit,” he said. After launching a final push against ISIS in the provincial capital Ramadi late last year, Iraq’s security forces established full control over the city last month. They have since been securing areas east of Ramadi, further isolating the jihadist stronghold of Fallujah, which lies only 50 kilometres west of Baghdad. The security forces are also currently working their way up the Euphrates, west of Ramadi, with a view to retaking the town of Hit. 361 COMMENT: Da’esh could be withdrawing its forces from smaller locations to larger ones in the hope that it can secure its dwindling area of occupation. It is beginning to understand that its forces are being hit hard and they losing more that they are recruiting. It would be pointless for them to hold on to small areas that the Iraqi and assisted forces could just go round, cutting them off to be secured later. Therefore by withdrawing forces from smaller locations it saves fighters and is able to put up a better fight in other more strategic areas. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq – At least 47 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in a series of attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters near the strategic city of Ramadi, military sources said. The first attack took place overnight on the headquarters of the 3rd rapid deployment force and other military barracks in the villages of Qutainiyah and Zuwaiyah, near Zankurah town, the sources said on the morning of the 14 Mar 16. At least 22 soldiers were killed and a further 16 security personnel were injured in the attack. On the afternoon of the 14 mar two separate ISIL suicide car bombers struck Iraqi Security Force convoys in the villages of Safiyrah and Abu Taiban, about 30km northwest of Ramadi. At least 25 soldiers were killed and another 20 were injured in the twin attacks. Iraqi forces declared victory over ISIL in Ramadi in late Dec 15 and have since cleared most of the western city. Since being pushed from the centre of Ramadi, ISIL has launched near-daily attacks on Iraqi forces, especially on its outskirts.
Israel – Three Palestinians carried out two attacks - a shooting and a car-ramming - on Israelis in the southern occupied West Bank on the 14 Mar 16 before they were shot dead, the Israeli army said. “Two assailants opened fire at pedestrians waiting at a bus stop at the entrance of Kiryat Arba (near Hebron). Forces guarding the area responded and shot the assailants, resulting in their deaths,” a military statement read. “Moments later, in an additional attack, a vehicle rammed into a military vehicle responding at the scene. Forces responded to the immediate danger and shot the assailant, resulting in his death.” The army said a soldier was injured in the shooting attack, and two others lightly wounded in the car-ramming. A military spokeswoman said the assailants used a pistol and a submachine gun. Israeli security forces have noted a recent surge in shooting attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank following five-and-a-half months of Palestinian attacks. Since 1 Oct 15 a wave of violence has killed 191 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to an AFP count. Most of the Palestinians were killed while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, while others were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. Many analysts say young Palestinians are fed up with Israeli occupation, while Israel blames incitement by Palestinian leaders and media as a main cause of the violence.
Saudi Arabia/Iran – A ring of 32 people accused of spying for Iran in Saudi Arabia will appear before the Criminal Court in Riyadh again on the 14 Mar 16 to listen to the confessions they have made during investigations and submit their written or verbal replies to the charges against them. The spies include 30 Saudis, an Iranian and an Afghan citizen. Saudi’s Makkah Arabic daily said on the 13 Mar 16 that the spies will appear before the court in groups of two each time. The court recessed its first session on the 23 Feb 16 after giving each of the defendants a paper containing the charges against him. The judge in the case asked them to prepare their replies to the second round of the sessions beginning on the 14 Mar. He also asked them to assign lawyers or ask the court to do this for them. According to court sources, the attorney general asked for capital punishment for 25 of them. They said the punishment would be applied against them if their conspiracy against the country was proved beyond doubt. They were accused of high treason, liaising with Iranian intelligence elements, meeting with some of them in Iran and Lebanon, meeting with Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and passing over to Iran classified military and civil data about Saudi Arabia. The spies were also accused of maintaining contacts with a number of Iranian officials and diplomats at the embassy in Riyadh, the consulate in Jeddah and the Iranian mission to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The court sources revealed that a Saudi defendant is a nuclear physicist, another an owner of a local Hajj company, a third a soldier at the Hajj military forces, the fourth an educationist with long years of experience while others are bankers, government officials and businessmen. They were surprised that the attorney general did not call for capital punishment for the Iranian who speaks fluent Arabic and refused to appoint a lawyer saying he would defend himself. The spies were arrested in March-May 2013. This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on March 14, 2016.
Syria – A car bombing targeting an influential Syrian rebel group has killed at least 18 people in Quneitra province of the country's south, as opposition groups elsewhere in Syria accused the government of breaching a truce. Late on the 2 Mar 16 the car bomb targeted the Syria Revolutionaries Front's local finance office in al-Ashe, a village on the outskirts of southern Quneitra near the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Among those killed was the armed group's leader Muhammad al-Qairi, also known as Abu Hamza al-Naimi, as well as three other leaders, local sources said. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing. In addition to a "metre-deep hole in the street", the explosion destroyed the SRF's finance office and badly damaged several nearby residential buildings. The SRF is part of the Southern Front, a broad alliance of rebel groups operating in several provinces in southern Syria. Hamza Mustafa, a research assistant at the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said the Southern Front had in the past been targeted by both government forces and armed groups, including the al-Nusra Front and its allies. Some people were accusing the regime of this attack, but many analysts believe it was Nusra or al-Muthanna referring to an armed group believed to have ties with both the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Quneitra is located in the roughly 30 percent of the Golan Heights that remained under Syrian control after Israel occupied the rest of the region during the 1967 Middle East war. In Jan 16 the Syrian government and pro-Assad armed groups launched an offensive in the Syrian-controlled portion of the Golan. Media activist Jolani, who is close to the Revolutionary Command Council in Quneitra and the Golan, another alliance of armed groups that coordinates with the SRF, said that the Assad government controls only around 20 percent of the province. The Assad's government, as well as its Iranian and Hezbollah allies, are "very keen on controlling this area in order to use it as a bargaining chip in any future settlement for the situation in Syria.
Syria/Russia/United States/Raqqa – Russia is ready to coordinate its actions with the US-led coalition in Syria to push ISIS out of Raqqa, Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on the 14 Mar 16. “We are ready to coordinate our actions with the Americans, because Raqqa is in the eastern part of Syria, and the American coalition is mainly ... acting there,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying in an interview with the Ren-TV television channel. “Perhaps, this is no secret, if I say that at some stage the Americans suggested performing a ‘division of labour’: the Russian Air Forces should concentrate on the liberation of Palmyra, and the American coalition with Russian support will focus on the liberation of Raqqa,” the minister added.