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ISIS enters its final days

Terror group unlike to survive end of its phoney “Caliphate”

Alexander Mercouris

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Though ISIS has held together surprisingly strongly in the face of the attacks of its multiple enemies, the last two weeks suggest that the tipping point has finally been reached, and that its disintegration has now begun.

Over vast stretches of central Syria its hold has been broken, with towns and villages being rapidly restored to the Syrian government’s control.

Its siege of Deir Ezzor has been broken and its fighters there are being slowly surrounded in the part of that city which it still controls.

It has lost its alternative capital of Mayadin after just a few days of fighting.

The Syrian army is now pressing it hard in its heartland east of the Euphrates river, but contrary to expectations of an apocalyptic battle between ISIS and the Syrian army there, its resistance has been sporadic, and its attempts to mount counter-attacks against the Syrian army’s lines of communication have all ended in failure.

Further north the Kurds have driven it out of Raqqa – though at horrific cost, and only after a deal was done to allow the 350 remaining ISIS fighters in the city to leave – whilst in Iraq it has been unable to capitalise on the Iraqi army’s re-focus on the Kurds to regain ground it has lost.

The organisation is not completely broken.  The rapid advance of the Syrian army through central Syria has left bands of ISIS fighters still roaming around the central Syrian countryside, cut off from their comrades further east, but still dangerous.

Within Syria ISIS still controls a rapidly contracting belt of territory on either side of the Euphrates river, though it is no longer in possession of any major towns.

However ISIS still controls some towns in western Iraq, notably the small but important town of Al-Qaim.

ISIS also remains capable of limited offensives in odd places: for example ISIS fighters recently carried out a successful attack against Al-Qaeda fighters within the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the suburbs of Damascus.

However the strongest sign that the organisation is indeed starting to disintegrate is that it appears to have lost a series of running battles it recently fought against Al-Qaeda in Jihadi controlled areas of north west Syria, a fact which suggests that as the star of its “Caliphate” wanes it is losing the loyalty of Jihadi fighters, some of whom may be switching back to Al-Qaeda.

Most striking of all is the reported mass defection of tribal fighters formerly loyal to ISIS who were guarding the key Al-Omar oil fields in eastern Syria.  They appear to have gone over en masse to the Kurdish led and US backed “Syrian Democratic Forces”, the umbrella name for the Kurdish led force which has just captured Raqqa.

No doubt this defection was carefully staged and was intended to keep the Al-Omar oil fields – the largest in Syria – out of the Syrian government’s hands.  However even if the defection was staged, it still points to an ongoing collapse on the part of ISIS in eastern Syria.

The critical remaining battle against ISIS in Syria is the one in the city of Deir Ezzor.  This is apparently a much bigger city than Raqqa (the published population figures for the two cities, which do not bear out this claim, are out of date and wrong) and there continues to be fierce fighting there between the Syrian army and the ISIS fighters who over the course of a four year siege were able to capture around two fifths of the city.

However latest reports suggest that the Syrian army has the ISIS fighters in Deir Ezzor largely surrounded, and it seems that their resistance there cannot be sustained for very long.  Most expect it to collapse within the next few days or possibly weeks.

When the collapse in Deir Ezzor comes that will release more Syrian troops to take the fight to ISIS elsewhere, at which point the pace of its disintegration will accelerate.

The received wisdom in the Western media is that ISIS will nonetheless be able to survive these defeats and the imminent loss of its remaining territory.  Supposedly, though these defeats will destroy the fiction of its “Caliphate”, ISIS will nonetheless be able to transform itself back into the terrorist and guerrilla organisation which it was before its territorial conquests of 2014, and will be able to survive that way.  For a classic though intelligent and nuanced statement of this view, see this lengthy article in the Guardian, which by the way is also remarkable for its failure to make any reference whatsoever to Iran and Russia and to the central role of those countries in the defeat of ISIS.

I do not agree with this view.  I think those Western commentators who hold it still have not grasped the implications of ISIS’s proclamation of the Caliphate and its declaration that it is the “Islamic State” to which all Muslims everywhere owe allegiance.

There is no going back on this claim and the making of it means that ISIS became a different organisation because of it than it had been before, and cannot go back to being the same sort of organisation again that it was before.

The thousands of fighters who flocked to ISIS in preference to other older and more established Jihadi organisations such as Al-Qaeda, and who fought ISIS’s battles for it after 2014, did so because they believed its claim that it was the Islamic State and that Al-Baghdadi was Islam’s Caliph.  Al-Baghdadi and ISIS’s other leaders cannot now credibly tell them that it was all a mistake, and expect them to remain loyal to ISIS in spite of it.

What that means is that the existence of ISIS is now inextricably bound up with its Caliphate.  As has been correctly said, a Caliphate without territory is no longer credible, and I would add that a Caliphate which has been repeatedly and resoundingly defeated by “apostate” and “Christian” armies is not credible either.

Perhaps if Al-Baghdadi survives the debacle and finds somewhere where he can hide he will continue to attract some followers who will still in spite of everything continue to accept him as Islam’s Caliph.  The number of these people will however be tiny – what sort of Caliph has to hide? – and whatever organisation survives ISIS’s loss of its territory it will be a shadow of the organisation ISIS once was.

I predicted all this and ISIS’s imminent demise in an article I wrote for Sputnik on 19th January 2016 – ie. shortly after the Russian intervention in Syria began – in which I also expressed some views about the organisation’s origins and the reasons for its ephemeral success.

Since this article was relatively short and sums up my views of the reasons both for the emergence of the organisation and for its eventual failure, I will set it out here in full

The Islamic State (also known as Daesh) is the bastard child of the US’s drive to achieve regime change in Syria.

To that end the US and its allies instigated an armed insurrection against the Syrian government.

Though protests — many of them violent — began in 2011, it was in 2012 — after the Geneva Peace Conference — which the US wrecked by insisting President Assad stand down — that the major fighting began, with a rebel offensive against Syria’s two biggest cities: Aleppo and Damascus.

The offensive failed. The Syrian government survived, retaining control of Damascus and half of Aleppo.

Defending these cities and the populated coastal core of Syria however forced the Syrian army to withdraw from large areas of Syrian territory, most of them desert.

In 2013 the military balance shifted back to the Syrian government.

The US response was to try to use a chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta as a pretext to bomb Syria. When that failed because of strong opposition from Russia and US public opinion it stepped up support for the insurgency.

Weapons, money and fighters poured in, and over the course of 2014 the military balance shifted back to the rebels again.

The main beneficiary was the organisation that now calls itself the Islamic State.

This began as the Iraqi branch of the global jihadi terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

It took advantage of the vacuum created by the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Syria’s desert regions to expand into Syria and to establish itself there.

As the best organised, most violent and most militant of the jihadi groups that form the core of the Syrian rebellion, it quickly achieved predominance especially as it focused on seizing territory rather than fighting the Syrian army.

In 2014 it went on the offensive in Iraq, seizing the important city of Mosul.

Shortly after it declared itself the Islamic State and proclaimed its leader — the man known as Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — Islam’s Caliph.

The Islamic State is said to have a Wahhabist or Salafist ideology, like those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and like that of its original parent, Al-Qaeda.  Actually it combines Salafism with an apocalyptic vision previously unknown to Islam.

As it says its leader is the Caliph it claims to be the only legitimate government for Muslims.

It rules the areas it controls by violence and terror, backed by money it gets from the Gulf and from the illegal oil trade.

All this explains why following Russia’s military intervention in Syria it is doomed.

The Russian military intervention means there is no danger of the Syrian government collapsing — as looked possible just a few months ago.

The Syrian army has now been able to go on the offensive, and is advancing on all fronts.

The Islamic State cannot withstand the Syrian army backed by the Russian airforce and Iran and Russia.  However if it fails to hold the territory it has seized its claim to be the Islamic State collapses.

The only way the Islamic State could survive would be if the US and its allies acted to save it.

Its appalling violence and megalomaniac pretensions means that for the US it is however an embarrassment not an asset.  The main thing Its grotesque antics have achieved is to unite world opinion behind the Syrian government and Russia.

Instead of willing the Islamic State’s survival, the US would far rather it disappear so it can support the other jihadi terrorist groups — the so-called “moderates” — without embarrassment.

That seals the Islamic State’s fate.

It follows from this that there is no realistic prospect of ISIS or an organisation like it reappearing once it is destroyed.  The conditions which created it – the US drive for regime change in Syria and the collapse of the Syrian and Iraqi governments’ authority over large areas of their territory – no longer exist.
The regime change project in Syria has conclusively failed, and both the Syrian and Iraqi governments are now busy regaining control of their national territory and reasserting their authority over it.
There is no flood of US weapons going to Iraq or Syria to fuel Jihadi insurgencies there, and no territorial vacuum in which an organisation like ISIS might emerge.
As for the view beloved of some Western commentators who still hanker for regime change in Syria that the Sunni populations of Syria and Iraq will never reconcile themselves to the allegedly Alawite led Syrian government in Damascus or the allegedly Shia led Iraqi government in Baghdad, and that this will supposedly draw them to support militant Jihadist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda unless those governments are overthrown or changed, I have explained the fallacy behind these arguments many times.
Briefly, though the people of Syria and Iraq are certainly religious, their sectarian differences are consistently overstated.  The great majority of them are Muslims certainly, but their political and national self-identification is first and foremost to Syria and Iraq and to the Arab nation, not to Sunnism and Shiism, whose differences Western commentators anyway tend to misunderstand and overstate.
The current conflict within Islam is not between Sunni and Shia.  It is between a small and very violent minority of Takfiri militants manipulated by certain Western and Arab powers, and the vast majority of Muslims – Sunni as well as Shia – who are opposed to them.
I would add that if any Syrian or Iraqi Sunnis in eastern Syria or western Iraq were ever drawn to the sort of militant Salafi totalitarianism which ISIS represents, the reality of rule by ISIS will have quickly disabused them of their illusions.  It beggars belief that any large settled population in any country whatever its sectarian preferences would prefer the bleak and bloodthirsty rule of an organisation like ISIS – with public beheadings for the most trivial ‘offences’, slavery, a rampant drugs trade, systematic sexual abuse, and practices which in all respects amount essentially to murderous gangsterism – to the rule of a conventional government.

I discussed all this previously in another article I wrote for Sputnik on 4th October 2015

It seems to me Western pundits are making the same mistake now about Syria they made about Chechnya before.

They assume recklessly that local people prefer terrorism and violent jihadism to peace and orderly government.

They fantasise about the existence of a “third force” consisting of people opposing the government and those fighting it whom they also also oppose.

That this “third force” has no existence outside their imaginations was proved true in Chechnya, as it had previously proved true in Vietnam, and is undoubtedly true in Syria today.  The US admits it.

The latest opinion poll in Syria and Iraq exposes the extent of their mistake.

It shows very low support for the Islamic State in Iraq, and low support for the Islamic State in Syria.

It shows overwhelming majorities of Syrians and Iraqis reject sectarianism, want their countries to remain united, and believe the Islamic State is a creation of the US.

It shows a very wide belief in Syria that conditions were better before the war.

Given the danger of speaking out against the Islamic State in the areas it controls, the poll almost certainly underestimates the extent of opposition to it.

It shows a clear majority of Syrians support a position in all essentials identical to that of the Russian government: an end to the war, the defeat of jihadi terrorists, a return to peaceful conditions, and negotiations without preconditions between Syria’s factions.
As it happens in not a single town that the Syrian or Iraqi armies have liberated from ISIS or Al-Qaeda have the local people shown the least desire to have the Jihadis back.
Predictions that following the liberation of Aleppo from Al-Qaeda and of Mosul from ISIS Jihadi insurgencies would rise up against the “Alawite” and “Shia” authorities amongst the Sunni people of those cities have been proved to be completely wrong.
In the case of Syria the overwhelming response of the local people – Sunni as well as Shia – to the arrival in their towns and villages of the Syrian army has been to welcome it as a liberator, not to take up arms against it alongside the Jihadis to drive it back.
The pending defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria therefore signals the death-knell of the organisation, both as a territorial Caliphate and as a terrorist organisation.
A few fanatics gathered around Al-Baghdadi may try to continue the struggle, and ISIS pockets may linger for a while in a few places like Libya, Afghanistan and Nigeria.  However with its Caliphate gone the organisation itself is doomed.
Though Jihadi terrorism will continue in some form at least for a while – and will continue to pose a threat around the world – with the rapid recovery of state authority in Syria and Iraq the conditions which made it possible for an entity like ISIS to emerge are gone.
The focus of Jihadi activity will shift elsewhere, possibly to north Africa or Afghanistan or to the Arabian Peninsula, or conceivably to the increasingly disaffected Muslim populations of western Europe where for specific cultural reasons violent Jihadism has a particular appeal.
The organisation which will lead the renewed Jihadi struggle – if there is one – will however be Al-Qaeda, which has always been a far more sophisticated, well-resourced and intelligently led organisation than ISIS ever was.
As for ISIS – discredited by its failure in Syria and Iraq and disgraced by its grotesque atrocities – its time of power and terror is almost up.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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ABC’s Ted Koppel admits mainstream media bias against Trump [Video]

The mainstream news media has traded informing the public for indoctrinating them, but the change got called out by an “old-school” journo.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News reported on March 19th that one of America’s most well-known TV news anchors, Ted Koppel, noted that the once-great media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have indeed traded journalistic excellence for hit pieces for political purposes. While political opinions in the mainstream press are certainly within the purview of any publication, this sort of writing can hardly be classified as “news” but as “Opinion” or more widely known, “Op-Ed.”

We have two videos on this. The first is the original clip showing the full statement that Mr. Koppel gave. It is illuminating, to say the least:

Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume, a former colleague of Mr. Koppel, added their comments on this admission in this second short video piece, shown here.

There are probably a number of people who have watched this two-year onslaught of slander and wondered why there cannot be a law preventing this sort of misleading reporting. Well, Russia passed a law to stop it, hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook. It is a smart law because it does not advocate imprisonment for bad actors in the media, but it does fine them.

Going to prison for reporting “the truth” looks very noble. Having to pay out of pocket for it is not so exciting.

Newsmax and Louder with Crowder both reported on this as well.

This situation of dishonest media has led to an astonishing 77% distrust rating among Americans of their news media, this statistic being reported by Politico in 2018. This represents a nearly diametric reversal in trust from the 72% trust rating the country’s news viewers gave their news outlets in 1972. These statistics come from Gallup polls taken through the years.

 

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