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.

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Read more at New Lines

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

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy