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Archive for the ‘CTC Sentinel’ tag

Into the Mountains-New Work on IS in the Troubled Governorates of Northern Iraq

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Al-Shorta al-Ittihadiyya (Federal Police) patrol Kirkuk’s comparatively secure city centre as the Disputed Territories become increasingly insecure beyond its urban periphery. I was caught at a Fed Po checkpoint later this day and forced to delete this image under duress. I was able to recover the deleted file after finding the appropriate Youtube tutorial combined with 2.5 hours of navigating the solution. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

New York-I have a new piece out in the September 2018 issue of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly Sentinel journal on IS’s insurgent rear bases and operations in Iraq’s northern federally controlled governorates of Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala. (I excluded the dynamics in Mosul and wider Ninewa as that would’ve made the topic too broad and unwieldy) This project was a long time in the making as it first took shape when I returned to Kirkuk in February of this year and it was abundantly obvious how much the situation had changed since the federal and Shia militia takeover in October 2017 when the forces of the PUK, and less so KDP, were ousted.

After spending a month working in northern Syria I returned to Kirkuk to conduct interviews and do some more digging while speaking with civilians from Diyala and Salah ad-Din who told me in detail about the shaky security conditions along the Baghdad-Kirkuk road and what nightly life was like in the dangerous administrative seats that were and are suffering through nocturnal militant attacks as Fed Po largely kept in their barracks after sundown according to interviewees.

The city was by then plastered with campaign posters for the May parliamentary elections and the presence of Hashd militiamen seemed less overt. Baghdad was very keen to visibly assert control of Iraq’s arguably most tense major city (saying that without regard to the conditions down in Basra at present). In the interim while I’d been busy in al-Hasakah and Halab (Aleppo) governorates on the other side of the Euphrates, a few major security incidents occurred that the government of (still) PM al-Abadi could not ignore–particularly the ambush of 27 Hashd men in al-Hawija district later in February after I’d crossed into Syria. Returning in late March, Dibis and Kirkuk districts simply felt more tense. I attempted to interview the Baghdad-appointed governor Rakaan Saeed Ali al-Jubouri but was thrown out for being at his compound with a flimsy KRG visa after circumventing the security cordon somewhat by driving via the oil town of Taq Taq. Though not before I was able to gather plenty of nuanced detail on the security environment.

As a very visible symbol of the restoration of central authority over Kirkuk, the gigantic peshmerga statue at the city’s northern gate brandishes a republican flag after its formerly trademark Kurdistani flag was torn down. It can be argued without a hefty amount of vigor that security has worsened there since Iraqi security forces and Hashd militia brigades took control last fall. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

It was becoming undeniable the IS ease of use of the Hamrin and Makhoul mountains and Lake Hamrin basin area coupled with the nature of the area’s physical geography have enabled a rather permissive environment for insurgent activity. I had been on the edge of the Hamrin in September of last year when visiting PUK frontline positions in Daquq and Tooz districts before the KRG’s territorial project collapsed in the Disputed Territories. These places are far more difficult–and dangerous in my opinion–to visit a year 0n. At the time Erbil and Baghdad were, albeit in a temporary realpolitik mode, on the same side in a somewhat conventional war against IS. Now they have returned to the pre-2014 status quo as military peer competitors.

Met this effusive taxi driver from Riyadh subdistrict who described the deleterious conditions after central authority was restored to the Hawija pocket but never fully asserted 24 hours a day. He seemed happy about the relative safety of Kirkuk city and to give random Westerner  a ride to Governor al-Jubouri’s compound on the southern bank of the Khassa river. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Today federal authorities have their hands full. With the eyes looking down at the protest movement in Basra and other southern cities and the tussle over political power as a new government has yet to be formed months after the controversial May vote. The attacks emanating from the Hamrin range are ongoing while the COIN campaign being implemented does not have the feel of an overarching strategy. It’s a proverbial game of cat and mouse in those rocky hills.

PUK fighters in the southern part of Daquq district near the Hamrin mountains this time last year. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

September 10th, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Hawija Finally Collapses but for How Long?

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KDP-affiliated Peshmerga fighters look on toward then IS-held territory in Dibis district, Kirkuk governorate which is disputed between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. ©2017 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have an article out in the October issue of the CTC Sentinel entitled “The Hawija Offensive: A Liberation Exposes Faultlines,” based on my fieldwork in Kirkuk governorate in August and September. I began this work before the offensive to retake the IS-held, so-called “Hawija pocket” kicked off in late September, just days before the Kurdish referendum on independence was going to be held. During my visits, the frontline was effectively stalemated because Kurdish forces could not agree on who would control the neighbouring district of Hawija with Iraqi security forces and the Shia militias known in Iraq as Hashd al-Shaabi.

Both sides were equally wary of each other’s intentions. In the end, Iraqi state forces and heavily armed Shia factions chased IS out of Hawija where they had been entrenched longer than Mosul or ar-Raqqa in terms of firm territorial control. Hawija was the quintessential building block of the aspiring ‘khilifah’ (‘caliphate’).

Ultimately Shia-dominated forces stormed into the long-held Sunni salafi enclave and evicted IS who ended up surrendering en masse as the khilifah was in its final stage of collapse as a military and administrative entity.

Little known to the world outside Iraq, Hawija is hugely symbolic in terms of Sunni grievances. A disastrous raid by then PM Nouri al-Maliki’s security forces in April 2013 acted as a catalyst for an IS takeover of the eponymous district a mere eight months on. In Iraq, Hawija is synonymous with Sunni Arab resentment of Shia power politics and armed insurgency.

It won’t be long before we begin to hear about IS regrouping in small numbers of “sleeper cells” around Hawija for that geography and the rage within it is part of what enabled IS to begin its territorial quasi state-building project in the first place.

PUK-affiliated Peshmerga along the frontline northwest of Tuz Khurmatu. ©2017 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 18th, 2017 at 8:41 am

Election Eve in Georgia, Festering Instabiliy in Kirkuk

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Posters for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream ticket and considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday's Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters in downtown Tbilisi for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream ticket. Margvelashvili is considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday’s Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

TScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.34.41 PMbilisi- The Republic of Georgia is on the cusp of a presidential election that is shaping up to be the country’s first non-ultra dramatic transition of power (think the coup against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Rose Revolution ousting Eduard Shevardnadze). Buzz here around town is that it may well go into a second round. If Margvelashvili does not receive 49.9% of the vote according to Thomas de Waal, the transition of power may be a touch chaotic as the era of the Rose Revolution comes to a close with little fanfare .

Some have said, rather cynically in my view, that the biggest accomplishment of the outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili will not be the reforms he’s made but stepping down from power in a peaceful and orderly manner.

In the backdrop of the election and the constitutional transformation about to be implemented turning the republic from a presidential to a parliamentary system is the Russian’s beefing up of the Soviet-era border of occupied South Ossetia (from when South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic) and whether or not Georgia should formally boycott the upcoming Olympics in Sochi. The fact to a Russian pilot from the 2008 war here called Ivan Nechaev was seen being an Olympic torchbearer has not gone over at all well here.

In other news I have an article out this week in the October issue of the CTC Sentinel based on my fieldwork in Kirkuk in August, communications with my fixer afterward and months of following developments along the Green Line that is the de facto internal border between Iraq Kurdistan and Arab Iraq (for lack of a more precise term).

Posters for David Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters for Davit Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rostaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia's own "reset" with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rustaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia’s own “reset” with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 24th, 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Georgia,Iraq

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Unending Troubles in the Sahel-Sahara

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Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents' tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents’ tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. The elder men didn’t want me intrusively photographing in or around their tents and asked to me to keep a good distance while shooting a handful of photographs. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out today on the French-led external military intervention in central and northern Mali which began in mid-January. I woke up this morning excited to have a new piece out only to see that there had been a double suicide bombing in neighboring Niger. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui claims to have carried out simultaneous attacks in the distant towns of Arlit and Agadez.

UPDATE-Today Mokhtar Belmokhtar  released a statement that the attack was a joint operation by MUJAO and his Signatories in Blood katiba (unit) “in the name of [the late] Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid.” He then said that his salafi-jihadis had decided upon a “military withdrawal” in response to the French intervention.

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 1.20.45 PMThe attack on Nigerien troops and the French uranium mining consortium AREVA does not come remotely as a surprise for several reasons. As I noted in a post on this blog last spring, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou was coming out as particularly vocal among regional heads of state in West Africa–obviously concerned that the instability in northern Mali would likely affect a vulnerable Niger that has already been saddled with its own internal challenges for many years.

Like Mali, Niger has faced its own bouts of Tuareg rebellion-most recently with le Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice-MNJ led by former Qaddafi ally Aghaly ag Alambo. Ag Alambo was arrested in Niamey in March 2012 over a June 2011 Libyan arms explosives episode he was accused of being involved in as Qaddaffi’s regime crumbled in Tripoli and war materiel began flowing in much larger quantities throughout the wider Sahara.

Though certain conspiratorial-minded critics have speculated that France’s intervention in Mali was motivated by crass economic interests in that country (often with scant data on the true value of untapped resources in Mali’s north), in terms of French industry at home, Niger is far more important.

China likely has a larger economic stake in Mali than does France if not in aid than purely large scale in infrastructure projects.Beijing may even put PLA boots on the ground in the name of UN peacekeeping as it presently  has in Sudan’s Darfur region.

France does have genuine interest in Niger’s uranium resources and which local communities of Tuareg, Toubou, Arabs and Fulani feel they should be genuinely benefitting from economically. There is deep resentment among Niger’s ethnic minorities in the country’s north over economic grievances and environmental degradation  related to French doings in their bomeland as well as a startling lack of development in the Agadez Region and its Arlit Department.

And like Mali, Niger has been suffering from a persistent food crisis in recent years but to a much more severe degree than Mali to the west whose whole “Azawad” region has been deemed a humanitarian emergency by a host of NGOs. Not to mention that Nigerien citizens crossed the border into Mali to take part in MUJAO’s foothold in Gao Region. One of the lower tier MUJAO commanders in Gao Ville was reportedly a Nigerien national.

Secondly there were the reported developments of the U.S. setting up a drone facility in Niger that was very much welcome by Issoufou and word that French Special Forces were coming into their spartan former colony to protect the uranium extraction operations that would both make poorly defended targets while stoking jihadi ire. The Arlit AREVA mine is estimated to provide 40% of metropolitan France’s nuclear energy which is 80% of the power consumed in France.

On top of all that Nigerien troops are stationed in Mali as part of the AFISMA intervention force in towns like Ansongo and Menaka. Then there is the fact that French and Chadian troops have pushed the jihadis out of their camps in Kidal Region in the Ametetai and Terz valleys and in the overall Adrar des Ifoghas area (although the Elysée does not want independent observers up there on the ground apparently-and hasn’t allowed an journalist embeds with non-French passport holders as far as I know). So the surviving men of MUJAO and AQIM who were not killed in French airs strikes will have to have gone somewhere, non?

Lastly on this though, AQIM has breached the Nigerien capital of Niamey in the past with a bold kidnapping of two Frenchmen in January 2011 which ended with the hostages being killed rather than ransomed. In the wake of a disastrous rescue attempt by French Special Forces, it seemed as if the kind of trouble we see in that country on this day was well on the horizon.

French troops may have merely been the catalyst for such salafi-jihadi expansion rather than the sole driver of today’s tragedy that killed 26.

A Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A ubiquitous Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali after Mali’s north had been captured by Tuareg separatists and Salafi Islamist fighters. The Mopti area was at the time the front line of government controlled Mali. Civilians were allowed to travel back and forth between the massive partition but as a journalist I could go no further north at the time. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

May 23rd, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Lost and Found

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Antakya- Doing some googling to see where some of my recent Syria work might have ended up, I stumbled upon some references to my work from close to a year ago that I missed in the chaos of the time. I put them on my blog in part to create a living catalogue of my work so that I can keep track of it (and possibly add it to my CV). On March 1 of last year while I was in the Libya war, my colleague Chris Zambelis had an article in the March 2011 edition of the CTC SentinelThe Factors Behind the Rebellion in Iranian Kurdistan” (endnote #8). I was also cited by colleague Peter Lee at Asia Times Online on April 9, 2011 in “China under pressure over Saudi rise.” Love to find these little nuggets after the fact.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 1st, 2012 at 3:06 am