June 19, 2014
A coalition of rebels including al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul—located in Nineveh Province—Tikrit, and various other majority-Sunni towns in Anbar, Nineveh, and Salah a-Din provinces in a lightning campaign last week.
ISIS has since established a virtually autonomous belt across Iraq’s western Nineveh and Anbar provinces, stretching due west into Syria’s Deir e-Zor, Hasaka and A-Raqqa provinces.
The aftermath of a recent regime aerial bombing of A-Raqqa’s ISIS headquarters. Photo courtesy of
Reports of ISIS’s military gains suggest that the group is funneling arms and equipment captured from Iraqi forces—some of it American-made—into Syria.
ISIS’s rapid military gains have prompted a shift in the Syrian regime’s relatively hands-off strategy towards the group. The Syrian government began shelling ISIS headquarters in A-Raqqa five days ago.
“Control of the borders helps ISIS’s fighters move from Iraq to Syria easily,” the pro-ISIS citizen journalist with the Raqqa Media Center Abu Bakr tells Syria Direct’s Muhammad al-Haj Ali. “[This is] a factor that will shift the balance of power, when fighters or weapons move from Syria to Iraq or vice-versa.”
Q: Where is ISIS’s current focus? In Iraq, or in eastern Syria?
ISIS’s focus is establishing an Islamic caliphate modeled after the Prophet. They strive to break the borders drawn by Sykes-Picot, and truly the Syrian-Iraqi border was dismantled in the city of al-Hasakah when they removed all of the checkpoints, and people began to enter from Syria and move between Iraq and Syria. They have become a single entity in Syria and Iraq. ISIS’s progress in Iraq has lightened pressure on the group in Syria, because a large number of Shiite factions left for Iraq.
I expect that the stronger and fiercer fighting is going on in Iraq, especially after ISIS fighters’ notable progress towards Baghdad. ISIS is focusing on Iraq because it is stronger in Iraq, and because the Sunnis have suffered under the Maliki government. Especially the detention and rape of Sunni women. ISIS’s fighters are originally from Iraq, they will build a strong base there and then increasingly spread towards Syria.
Q: Was there any change on the ISIS Syrian front after the group gained
control of the borders with Iraq?
Yes, control of the borders helps ISIS’s fighters move from Iraq to Syria easily, a factor that will shift the balance of power when fighters or weapons move from Syria to Iraq or vice-versa. Things are going in a direction that will facilitate the movement of fighters and arms between the two countries. Especially considering that ISIS aims to remove the Sykes-Picot borders.
Q: Are the rebels (the Islamic Front, the FSA’s Military Council) exploiting the situation now seeing as ISIS is busy fighting in Iraq?
ISIS has a number of fronts, some defensive and some offensive. The outskirts of Aleppo are purely defensive, and the fronts in A-Raqqa are offensive from Division 17 up to the Tabaqa Military airport, the PPK fronts, and the offensive Iraqi fronts. Al-Jabha al-Islamiya and other factions announced a battle in the outskirts of north and east Aleppo.
Q: Today, the regime bombed A-Raqqa heavily…what were the results? When was the last time A-Raqqa was bombed with such violence?
Praise be to God, there are only some injured, very simple cases. Al-Zuhour sweets shop was bombed. [ed.: He then lists a series of targets he says the regime has bombed in recent days, including a hospital and military sites.]
Q: Why is the regime bombing this area in particular? Are there any particularly important targets?
My brother, if you posed that question at the beginning of the revolution we would have discussed it. But after the regime’s use of chemical weapons, its use of siege as a weapon by starving people to death, and explosive barrels that fall randomly, all this means that Bashar al-Assad does not think twice about targeting the mujahideen’s main headquarters, or schools, or mosques, or popular markets, or bakeries, or infrastructure, or residential buildings. He can give the green light for all of these.
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