BAGHDAD, Iraq – A daring attack on a prison housing thousands of ISIS veterans in Syria. A series of air strikes targeted military forces in neighboring Iraq. And a gruesome video from the worst days of the uprising shows the beheading of an Iraqi police officer.
Evidence of the Islamic State’s rise in Syria and Iraq is growing, nearly three years after the militants lost the last piece of territory of their so-called caliphate, which once stretched across many regions vastness of the two countries. The fact that ISIS has been able to carry out these sophisticated and coordinated attacks in recent days suggests that what are thought to be separate sleeping cells is re-emerging as a more serious threat.
“It’s a wake-up call for regional players, for national players, that IS is not over yet,” said Kawa Hassan, director of the Middle East and North Africa at the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington. the war is not over yet. “It shows ISIS’s resilience to strike back at a time and place of their choosing.”
On Tuesday, fighting between US-backed Kurdish militias and gunmen spread from the crowded Sinaa prison in northeastern Syria to neighboring areas, becoming the largest confrontation between the army and the army. American team with allies Syria and ISIS for three years.
The US military joined the fight after militants attacked the temporary prison in the city of Hasaka, trying to free their comrades. Islamic State currently controls about a quarter of prisons and is holding hundreds of hostages, many of them children held when the caliphate their families joined fell in 2019.
The United States conducted air strikes and provided intelligence and ground troops on Bradley fighting vehicles to support the prison attack.
Even as fighting raged around the prison on Tuesday, skirmishes involving IS fighters broke out about 150 miles away, in Rasafa, on the outskirts of the city of Raqqa about 30 kilometers .
The show of force by the militants is not limited to Syria.
In Iraq, around the same time the prison assault began, IS fighters stormed an army outpost in Diyala province, killing 10 soldiers and one officer in the deadliest attack in years. years into an Iraqi military base. The gunmen approached the base from three sides late at night while some soldiers were asleep.
The attack raised fears that some of the same conditions in Iraq that allowed ISIS to rise in 2014 are now giving way for it to recover.
Consequences of the civil war in Syria
After a decade of fighting, many Syrians wonder if the country can ever come together again.
In December, insurgents kidnapped four Iraqi hunters in a mountainous area in northeastern Iraq, including a police colonel. The militants beheaded the officer, and then released the gruesome video.
The attacks in Iraq, carried out by ISIS in remote desert and mountain areas, have demonstrated a lack of coordination between Iraqi government forces and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Many of the attacks took place on disputed territory that is claimed by both the Iraqi Kurdish government and the central government.
Ardian Shajkovci, director of the US Institute for Targeting and Counterterrorism, said many of the fighters captured in attacks since the group lost its last piece of territory three years ago appear younger and come from families with older members tied to IS.
“If so,” he said, “this is a new generation of ISIS recruits, changing the calculus and threat landscape in so many ways.”
Iraq has struggled to deal with tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens who are relatives of ISIS fighters and have been subjected to collective punishment and sent to detention camps – now believed to be the breeding ground for the extremist process. radicalization.
Corruption within the Iraqi security forces has left some of their bases without proper supplies and allowed soldiers and officers to neglect their duties, contributing to the downfall of entire divisions. Army convoy withdrew in 2014 instead of fighting against ISIS.
In Syria on Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Forces said they had carried out raids in Hasaka neighborhoods near the prison, killing five ISIS fighters wearing suicide belts.
The militia said on Monday it had freed nine prison staff members held by Islamic State and killed nine other militants, including two suicide bombers, in raids around homes. prison. The SDF spokesman, Farhad Shami, said that so far, 550 prisoners involved in the siege have surrendered.
The militia is also negotiating with ISIS leaders in the prison.
An estimated 3,500 people are held in overcrowded prisons. Some 700 minors were also there, about 150 of them citizens of other countries who were sent to Syria as children when their parents left home to join the rebels. An estimated 40,000 foreigners come to Syria to fight or work for NGOs.
The prison siege has highlighted the plight of thousands of foreign children who have been held for three years in camps and prisons in the region, abandoned by their own countries.
The prison’s inmates include 12-year-old boys.
The director of Save the Children of Syria, Sonia Khush, said those holding the children were responsible for their safety. But she also pointed the finger at foreign governments that have refused to repatriate their captive citizens.
“The responsibility for whatever happens to these children also lies on the doorstep of foreign governments who think they can abandon their children’s citizens in Syria,” Ms. Khush said.
At its height, in 2014, ISIS controlled about a third of Iraq and a large part of Syria, territory comparable to Britain in size. When its last piece of land, in Baghuz, Syria, crashed three years ago, women and children were placed in a detention camp, while alleged fighters were sent to prison.
The family’s main prison, Al Hol, is humid, overcrowded and dangerous, lack of food, medical services and adequate guards. Amid the chaos, an increasingly radical group of detainees emerged to terrorize the other inhabitants of the camp.
When the boys at the camp became teenagers, they were often transferred to the Sinaa prison, where they were placed in overcrowded cells. Food supplies, medical care, and even sunlight are scarce.
But their plight became more difficult when they turned 18. Although none of the young foreigners were charged, they were housed in a shared prison complex where ISIS fighters are located. Injured had to sleep three people in one bed.
Outside the prison, US troops have once again gone to war with IS fighters who are part of the remnants of a US-led military coalition that was largely withdrawn from the country in 2019. There are currently about 700 US troops in the region, operating mainly from one base in Hasaka, and another 200 near Syria’s border with Jordan.
The Pentagon says armored Bradley fighting vehicles put into service to support the Kurdish-led SDF are being used as barricades while Kurdish militias tighten the ropes around them. prison. A union official said the vehicles had been shot and fired again.
John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in Washington: “We have provided limited, strategically located ground support to support security in the region.
Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/world/middleeast/isis-syria.html As ISIS Rises, America Is Pulled Back Into the War