August 13, 2014

The Islamic State (IS) faced little resistance in Deir e-Zor, co-opting tribes through bribes or violence until late July.

On July 30th, the IS arrested up to three members from the a-Shiatat tribe, former IS allies who number around 80,000 members. Global Post reported the three were taken for failing to collect caliphate taxes.

The IS implemented their model of swift justice on the prisoner(s), reportedly carrying out summary executions.

The incident violated the non-confrontation agreement between the two sides, and tribal law requiring vengeance kicked in.

Screen shot 2014-08-13 at 5.24.57 PMa-Shiatat Sheikh calls on tribes to fight IS. Photo courtesy of AlAan TV.

The Shiatat killed an estimated nine IS fighters in retaliation, and the IS responded harshly, executing at least 19 men who had been working in an a-Shiatat oil field, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The IS proceeded to retake three villages in a-Shiatat's heartland—Abu Hamam, Al-Kashkiya and Gharanij—on August 9th and 10th, after besieging the towns for 10 days.

Also on the 10th, Rafia Akla a-Raju, a Shiatat tribal leader, urged Syrian tribes to stand side-by-side in their fight against the Islamic State (IS) in a telephone call to UAE-based pro-opposition satellite station Al-An.

“There are very tight relations between these tribes [in Deir e-Zor],” Zaid al-Akidi, an independent media activist living in Deir e-Zor, tells Syria Direct's Mohammad al-Haj Ali.

Yet the fact that some Shiatat tribesmen are supporting IS has “caused tension between those who swore allegiance to IS and the other tribesmen.”

Q: There's been fighting between IS and the tribes in Deir e-Zor during this period. Why?

There are some tribesmen who joined IS while knowing their history, which is filled with crimes such as killing and theft. This gave rise to tensions between those who swore allegiance to the IS and the other tribesmen.

A-Shiatat are considered among the largest tribes in the Euphrates River Valley. The tribe is split among three villages (Abu Hamam, Gharanij and al-Kashkiya). Some other tribesmen helped a-Shiatat in their fight against IS. It's worth mentioning that a-Shiatat descend from the al-Akidat tribe, the largest tribe in Syria.

Q: Were there any agreements signed previously between the tribes and IS?

Yes, an agreement was signed which stipulated that no fighting would take place between the tribes and IS as long as IS stopped detaining tribesmen. IS did the opposite, recently, to a-Shiatat, when some IS supporters raided a tribesman's house, which ignited fighting between the two sides. The tribes considered this action a breaking of the agreement that was concluded between the two sides.

Q: The Islamic State (IS) has gained control of the two villages of West and East al-Jardhi. Where are these villages? What is their strategic importance? Who was controlling them previously?

These villages are located in the eastern outskirts of Deir e-Zor province, on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. They are considered close to the Iraqi border, as they aren't more than 40 km away from the city of al-Bokamel [on the Iraqi border].

These villages were under the control of the FSA and Jabhat a-Nusra before the IS came to control all of the liberated areas in Deir e-Zor. But after the fighting that occurred between the tribesmen and IS in the a-Shiatat tribe's area, the tribesmen tried to retake these villages. They’re small villages and don’t have much significance for the IS, which regained control of them recently.

Q: What percentage of Deir e-Zor does the IS control? What are the most important changes that have occurred on the leadership level?

The IS controls 90 percent of Deir e-Zor, whereas 5 percent is in regime hands, in addition to the tribes which control a-Shiatat area, which represents 5 percent of both the population and area of Deir e-Zor. Lately the IS has faced numerous problems in the eastern and western Deir e-Zor countryside because these areas have a strong tribal character, and there are very tight relations between these tribes.

Therefore the IS tried to distance their local leaders (known as "Ansar") from the reigns of power, because they caused problems between the IS and the tribes, and they provoked the masses. That's the opposite of what foreign IS fighters do, who want to improve the image of the IS.

Q: What is the status of the oil fields in Deir e-Zor? Who controls them? To whom do they sell the oil?

All of the oil fields are under IS control, and lately large oil transport trucks have been spotted entering the Deir e-Zor oil fields to move raw oil into Iraq.

Q: A number of bombing operations have occurred in Deir e-Zor recently, the last one at the political security building that the IS took as its headquarters. In your opinion, who was responsible for those explosions, and why?

Recently we've noticed that the Syrian regime has directed a number of attacks against the IS, the last being daily air raids which have intensified.

On the other hand, the FSA and a-Nusra might direct some attacks against the IS, by means of precise, and extremely secretive, security operations.

Q: What role is the Syrian regime playing in Deir e-Zor? Where are they located and what do they do?

The Syrian regime is principally located in the military airport, and at Brigade 137, and at the base of the mountain which looks out over the city of Deir e-Zor. The regime controls the neighborhoods of al-Jura and al-Qusur (in the provincial city). Recently, has targeted IS strongholds with air attacks, and is attempting to advance in the liberated areas of the city.

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