ISIS gains from Iraqi military defectors

Article Summary
Drawing on its previous experience and expertise from defected Iraqi army officers, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has made significant gains in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continues to implement its security and military plan. As soon as the “Breaking the Walls” operation finished during the month of Ramadan last year [July-August 2013], ISIS began to carry out a new plan under the name “Soldiers’ Harvest.” The seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul falls under the general framework of the latter, putting the region on the verge of the abyss. This situation should ring alarm bells in the Middle East, and particularly in Arab countries.

Facts on the ground show that ISIS is operating according to premeditated plans, taking advantage of the military expertise it gained from former Iraqi army officers who joined the group. It is important to mention that a number of current ISIS emirs were major generals during the era of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. This experience has enabled ISIS to benefit from weak points in the Iraqi army and gaps in the security apparatus since the emirs are well-acquainted with them. They also allowed ISIS to set up military and security plans that are in line with the situation on the ground and its requirements.

The “Breaking the Walls” operation was announced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself at the beginning of July 2012. It was the first time his voice was heard since he became leader of the organization’s emirate in May 2010. Data show that after he assumed the position, Baghdadi was able to restructure the organization, which was struggling due to the relapses after 2007. These were caused by the organization’s fight against the US forces, the Iraqi army and the Sahwa and tribal forces. Baghdadi surrounded himself with a large number of consultants and leaders, the majority of whom were [former] officers in the Iraqi army, and set up the plans with them. They took into consideration the expected changes that would emanate from the Arab Spring.

The “Breaking the Walls” plan aimed at liberating detainees in Iraqi prisons. Even though the operation was focused on jihadist detainees, the environment in Iraqi prisons in general constituted an attractive factor for the leaders of ISIS, as they found large numbers of prisoners to recruit. During the latest operation, “Defeating the Tyrants,” carried out as part of “Breaking the Walls,” ISIS broke into the famous Abu Ghraib prison, as well as al-Hout prison in al-Taji. Although there were conflicting reports about the number of prisoners who escaped, estimated at hundreds or thousands, it was certain that hundreds were former leaders in extremist Islamist factions. After they escaped, they became cadres and militants for ISIS.

During this phase, ISIS established itself as one of the most powerful factions in the north and east of Syria and was able to open supply routes extending from its strongholds in the east of Syria to the Iraqi regions where its members were spread. This helped strengthen its forces and take advantage of the fighting experience it gained in Syria to implement in Iraq. The battles in Syria were sometimes fought in the form of [urban] street fights and other times in the form of wars directly between factions. This was not the case in Iraq; therefore ISIS opted for bombings and storming [areas].

This is why the announcement of the “Soldiers’ Harvest” operation at the end of Ramadan 2013 indicated that ISIS had opened a new phase in terms of military planning, taking advantage of its military expertise in Syria and Iraq. All indicators pointed in the direction that Syria would be the favorite battleground to implement this plan, to the extent that the spokesman for ISIS, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, announced that the bombing of al-Saboura in the countryside of Hama in July 2013 was the first step in the implementation of the plan. However, developments in Syria, especially on the level of fighting between ISIS and jihadist factions, led to a change of theater, shifting the focus again to Iraq. Last week, we witnessed significant developments, namely the breaking into Samarra, and [ISIS] control over Mosul and the town of Rabia on the Iraqi-Syrian borders.

Some keep saying that the biggest plan of ISIS is to control the largest geographical area possible before the coming Ramadan [at the end of this month] — the date set to announce the establishment of the Islamic caliphate.

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Found in: syria, jihad, iraq, extremists
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