A look inside the evolving face of ISIS

Kurdish security experts and commanders describe how terrorists have changed tactics over the last year.

By
December 23, 2015 03:08
3 minute read.
AN ISIS FLAG in Shingal city.

AN ISIS FLAG in Shingal city.. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

ERBIL, Kurdistan region, Iraq – On December 16, Islamic State launched coordinated attacks on peshmerga, the Kurdish forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. Using fog for cover they launched suicide attacks on various positions along the hundreds of kilometers of front lines that extend from southwest of Kirkuk all the way to the Syrian border in the northeast.

It was a sign Islamic State is far from finished, despite news that the Iraqi army is in the process of trying to take the city of Ramadi from the extremist organization.

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Since conquering huge swaths of Iraq last summer, starting in September Islamic State has been on the defensive against peshmerga forces. However Kurdish soldiers, commanders and security officials who spoke with The Jerusalem Post said that despite being on the defensive the extremists have changed tactics and learned how to cope with a different military situation.

The US-led coalition has been punishing the terrorists with air strikes, but Kurdish commanders said there were many instances where they had informed the coalition of intelligence indicating Islamic State was moving trucks with explosives towards their positions and the coalition had not done enough to neutralize the threat.

Qasem Sheshu, a Yazidi peshmerga commander in the Shingal area who commands around 7,500 men, said recently he had informed the allies that Islamic State was bringing 20 trucks from its capital in Raqqa, Syria to Iraq and that air strikes only hit one.

As Islamic State capabilities have been degraded it resorts to limited suicide bomber attacks. The fog provides cover because coalition aircraft cannot operate. A slideshow presentation at a peshmerga headquarters illustrated the ingenuity of the fanatics.

In one case they had constructed a remote control rifle, in another they built a truck with double-armored plating and hatches men should shoot out of. Along hundreds of kilometers of front line, the Islamists have dug tunnels into the ground and laced the earth with TNT, improvised explosive devices and other devices rigged to explode.

Islamic State has also sought to infiltrate cities with cells of followers.

Chief of Kirkuk police Sarhad Qadir told Rudaw news that he had broken up an Islamic State cell of four men on December 16. The KRG has thousands of security officers working to ferret out these terrorists and has major checkpoints between the cities examining every car.

But a senior security commander noted that Islamic State is always a danger.

“The majority of Sunni [Arabs] support ISIS and that is the reality. I cannot say that Sunni Arabs are not ISIS, their support is absolute. If they find a way they will make problems, we must be worried and vigilant day and night not to give them any weak point in any place.”

He noted that peshmerga had killed hundreds of their fighters in recent months, more than 70 in the attacks last week, but that Islamic State would want to find a way to strike at Kurdistan. There are concerns that the more than a million Arab refugees now living in Kurdistan may have among them people with a potential to support Islamic State. In cities like Kirkuk the danger is not just Islamic State, but a half dozen other Sunni jihadist groups of Arabs who turn to terrorism. In addition, Kurdish commanders noted that it would be wrong to go back to the days of arming Sunni tribes, as the US did, noting a case where the truck of the head of a tribe supposedly allied to the central government transported TNT for IEDs.

Kurdish peshmerga commanders from a Rojava regiment that patrols part of the road between Rabiah on the Syrian border and Snune noted that they had encountered Islamic State fighters from China and Nigeria. The presence of Chinese jihadists in Islamic State ranks is a phenomenon mentioned on frontline sectors from Shingal to Kirkuk.

However, Capt. Hamid Majid who commands a unit in Western Shingal overlooking a strategic road junction, where one road leads to Syria and another leading south towards Anbar province, said Islamic State has weakened overall.

“Daesh is much weaker compared to last year, they have foreign fighters, the local Arabs here are not prepared to fight for them anymore.”


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