The Death of the Caliph and Islamic State’s Uncertain Future

On February 3, American special forces surrounded the hideout of Islamic State’s current caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi, who blew himself up with his family to avoid capture. Born in a Turkmen-majority village in northern Iraq, the late caliph was likely involved with a jihadist network known as the Qaradash, which was active in the area even before the fall of Saddam Hussein. Hassan Hassan explains the significance of Qurashi’s origins for the future of IS as a whole:

This [Qaradash] network comes largely from the areas around the Turkmen-dominant border town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. Because of the demography of this longtime jihadist incubator, it has often been assumed that any member of Islamic State who hailed from Tal Afar was Turkmen rather than Arab. As such, because [IS] emphasizes the need for its leaders to be of a specific lineage linked to the prophet Mohammad, a Turkmen could never become head of the organization even though the Afaris have always had an outsized influence within and on Islamic State.

Indeed, it is almost certain that official IS documents invented an Arab lineage for Qurashi—a sign, to Hassan, of the group’s desperation to find a new leader after the U.S. eliminated the previous caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2019.

Because Islamic State has been weakened, its options for leaders are limited and it has had to rely on a small pool of candidates it can trust, notwithstanding the inconvenience of having to prove they are of Arab background. . . . It’s hard to imagine Islamic State will venture outside the “Qaradashians” for its new leader.

Add to these internal problems a broader set of factors favoring its enemies, including the growing strength of rival groups and governments, and the weakening of the international jihadist movement writ large, and it becomes clear how the organization’s chances of recovery are currently slim.

The death of its leader under these circumstances will further disorient the group and weaken its ability to focus on international terrorism. In other words, the prospects for the group do not seem as promising as suggested by much of the media commentary that followed Islamic State’s operation two weeks ago in northern Syria, in which it attacked a prison controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and freed some jailed leaders.

Read more at New Lines

More about: Iraq, ISIS, Jihadism, U.S. Foreign policy


Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations