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The Caliphate

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Islamic State Militants Seize Stronghold of Rebels Backed by U.S. and Saudi Arabia

November 1st 2014

The terrorist forces affiliated to Al-Qaida seized the last stronghold of rebels back by Saudi Arabia and Western powers in Idlib – a province in northwestern Syria. This came on November 1 after days of intense fighting. With backing from similarly-minded Islamist groups, the Al-Nusra Front is seeking to exterminate the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front led by a Jamal Maarouf. The latter has been key to armed opposition to Syria’s dictator Bashr al-Assad and has received significant support from the United States and other Western countries. Islamist groups have accused him of corruption, as well as collaboration with the West.

Al-Nusra is the official affiliate of Al-Qaida in the war that has pitted various forces against the Assad regime. Once one of the strongest of the groupings opposed to Assad, it is now overshadowed by the Islamic State which now controls large extents of northern and eastern Syria.

U.S.-led airstrikes have shown successes in destroying vehicles and some groups of Islamic State infantry, but has not yet deterred the group from its goal of controlling the whole region.

Over the last week, after the Nusra Front captured several villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib and seized the village of Deir Sonbol, which had been the stronghold of the Revolutionaries' Front, dozens of combantants of the Revolutionaries’ Front defected to the Nusra front. A spokesman for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights credited the defections for the Nusra Front’s victory. The leader of the Revolutionaries’ Front, Jamal Maarouf vowed in a video message to return to Jabal al-Zawiya. The RF is part of the so-called Free Syrian Army that has been plagued by infighting and defections.

"For a week now, Nusra Front has put the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya under siege (as if) they were the 'Noseiry' regime, " Maarouf said. Maarouf used a derogatory term for the Alawite sect of Shia Islam tow which Assad belongs and has favored over others. "I (want to) clarify why we pulled out of the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya. (It is) so that we preserve civilian blood because this group does not hesitate to kill civilians."

Despite the setback for Maarouf, the U.S. plans to expand its support of such groups opposed to Assad. American air forces launched at least five attacks against Islamic State targets near Kobani, Syria, and five more strikes in Iraq since October 31. According to a statement by U.S. Central Command on November 1, the strikes at Kobani "suppressed or destroyed" nine Islamic State fighting positions and a building. As for Iraq, CENTCOM claims that five air strikes destroyed an Islamic State vehicle southwest of Mosul Dam and struck four vehicles and four buildings used by militants near Al Qaim. Critics of the Western campaign against the Islamic State say that despite successes in destroying vehicles (many of which are Humvees and tanks left behind by the U.S.), air strikes alone have not hindered the highly mobile and motivated terrorists. So far, the Iraqi army, has had few successes on its own against Islamic State forces.

Tens of thousands of Kurds living in Turkey are seeking to come to the aid of their kin who are battling the Islamic State in the Syrian city of Kobani, which still under a brutal siege by the Islamic State. In the heart of the Kurdish region in Turkey's southeast, at Diyarbakir protesters marched peacefully, chanting: "Long live the struggle for Kobani." Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds and others have fled the largely deserted city.

In other setbacks for the West’s campaign against the Islamic State, dozens of residents of Derna -  a town in eastern Libya - have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. In a video posted on social media, some 50 young people could be seen to support Baghdadi, who calls himself "caliph.” Concern grows among Western powers and neighboring countries that the Islamic State is exploiting lawlessness and civil unrest in Libya, where Islamists were able to overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Derna, a port city between Benghazi and the Egyptian border, has since become a gathering point for militant Islamists and Al-Qaida sympathizers in the oil-producing country. Recently, fifteen ISIS representatives from Syria went to Derna to rally support and to establish an affiliate in Libya. Videos have shown young men waving Islamic State flags in Derna following the visit. Militant Islamists threatened authorities this past June, thus preventing balloting in Libya’s parliamentary elections. Derna has since been the scene of summary executions by Islamic militants who have imposed Muslim religious courts and police.

On November 1, authorities closed the Labraq airport following rocket fire into the airport zone. All flights have been suspended for security reasons after militants repeatedly fired Russian-made Grad rockets.  The Labraq airport has been the main gateway into the government-controlled east. Currently, two factions claim legitimacy in Libya. In August, an armed faction mainly from Misrata seized Tripoli and set up its own prime minister and parliament and forcing the old government to move to the east where the elected parliament is also based. The airport at Benghazi was shuttered in May. Thus, the eastern part of the country now relies on the airport at Tobruk, where one of the two parliaments has taken refuge. Road travel in Libya is now extremely dangerous.

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com

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