In fact, the ISIS onslaught over in Anbar Province in late 2013 created fresh opportunities in Diyala Province, by drawing Iraqi national forces westward to Anbar to counter the threat there. ISIS’s “seizure” of villages in Diyala, in the last couple of days, is really more a matter of proclaiming control of urban redoubts that ISIS – whether operating as AQI or under the name of another Sunni insurgent group – has held in all but name for more than a year now. ISIS prepares its ground for these urban “takeovers.”
The other piece of information is one that doesn’t seem to have penetrated the U.S. media yet. It provides unique insight into ISIS’s intricate methods of establishing local power (as well as the breadth of its resources, and the meticulous nature of its administration and planning).
In early June, shortly before the assault on Mosul, Iraqi national forces nabbed the courier for ISIS’s top military commander in northern Iraq. They were able, by interrogating him, to find and raid the military commander’s location, killing him in the process but also recovering a huge stash of information about ISIS.
According to UK and Irish reporting, the treasure trove of intelligence was promptly shared with the CIA. There was plenty about ISIS’s finances, composition, and leadership:
Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m. Afterwards, with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” Laid bare were a series of staggering numbers that would be the pride of any major enterprise, let alone an organisation that was a start-up three years ago.
The group’s leaders had been meticulously chosen. Many of those who reported to the top tier did not know the names of their colleagues. The strategic acumen of Isis was impressive – so too its attention to detail. “They had itemised everything,” the source said. “Down to the smallest detail.” …
Foreign jihadists, many from Europe, were among those who stormed into Mosul. Most of their names were already known to the intelligence agencies that had tried to track their movements. But noms de guerre given to the new arrivals had left their trails cold. Now officials had details of next of kin, and often phone numbers and emails.
There was also information about ISIS putting its hooks into its occupied territories’ economies, controlling operations (and hence lives) and exploiting them for its purposes:
Over the past year, foreign intelligence officials had learned that Isis had secured massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012, and some of which it had sold back to the Syrian regime. It was also known to have reaped windfalls from smuggling all manner of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs.
But here before them in extraordinary detail were accounts giving a full reckoning of a war effort. It soon became clear that in less than three years, Isis had grown from a ragtag band of extremists to perhaps the most cash-rich and capable terror group in the world.
This history bodes ill for oilfield workers in northern Iraq, certainly. The intelligence jackpot from early June clarifies, chapter and verse, how ISIS acts in a deliberate and coordinated manner. ISIS is in this for the long haul, and in fact is waging its war even when it’s not engaging in visible, showy military maneuvers.
It’s tempting to say that ISIS’s history in Syria is a guide to what will happen in Iraq, but that’s only partly accurate. The Assad regime’s troops have actually performed better than we can expect the Iraqi forces to perform. Assad’s forces were better drilled (and in some ways better equipped) to begin with, and had the direct and overt support of both Iranian and Russian military advisers. It’s unclear as yet what kind of outside support the Maliki government will have.