Tensions within the Islamic State’s ranks appear to have boiled over at a training camp in Iraq, where an exasperated “foreign jihadi leader” opened fire on his own disobedient troops, sparking a gun battle that killed two and wounded 20 more.
According to the UK Daily Mail, the fight broke out when local recruits from the area around the Islamic State’s Iraqi stronghold of Mosul grew “outraged” at foreign jihadis taking plum jobs in the Islamic State’s police force, sharia courts, and training camps.
The surly local boys refused to follow orders from a foreign-born ISIS officer, who expressed his frustration by shooting them. A string of “internal clashes” proceeded to break out.
The Daily Mail’s report is sourced to the Kurdish ARA News, which in turn heard the story from a “media activist” in Mosul named Ali al-Hussein. Naturally, such incidents are welcome news for the forces preparing to assault Mosul, including the Kurds. It is also the kind of story one would want ISIS jihadis to hear, in order to weaken their morale.
On Monday, Politico described the impending assault on Mosul as “Obama’s October Surprise,” a swift and decisive operation timed to deliver victory just in time to decisively swing the election to Democrats in November.
Although the Politico article quotes military officials who deny a political element in the timing — “Hurrying this thing along for political benefit would be just about the dumbest thing that we could do,” said one CENTCOM officer — the bulk of the piece strongly reasserts that an October timetable for the operation, and possibly even a combined assault on the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria, is highly likely.
On the subject of internal divisions, Politico notes that Iran has done a bang-up job of resolving divisions among Iraqis:
The U.S. is uncomfortable with the predominantly Shia Hashd forces leading the assault, as they are only nominally controlled by the Baghdad government and have proved recalcitrant in taking American advice. Formed in June 2014 after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Shias to fight ISIS, some elements of the Hashd are closely aligned with the Iranian al-Quds force, with their commander reporting to Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
But according to Robert Tollast, a U.K.-based military analyst who has traveled to Iraq and spoken with a number of Hashd commanders, Hashd is proving to be a bigger help than ever; the group is increasingly recruiting Sunni tribesmen eager to expel ISIS from their towns and villages. “We’re seeing a replay of what happened during the Anbar Awakening,” Tollast says. “ISIS brutality has forced a lot of Anbar’s Sunnis into an alliance with Hashd, just as, back in 2006, Al Qaeda’s brutality forced the Sunnis into the arms of the Americans.” Crucially, the Islamic State’s cultural cleansing of Anbar has begun to increase the appeal of Hashd units to Anbar’s Sunnis, the exact opposite of ISIS’s strategy of maintaining and exacerbating Iraq’s sectarian divide.
That’s an “achievement” we’ll probably hear a lot less about in October.