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Security Brief: Extremism Week of November 29, 2021

Week of Monday, November 29, 2021 | Issue 61

Jason Carleton, Beatrice Williamson, Extremism Team


Flag of Daesh[1]


Date: December 2, 2021

Location: Khidir Jija in Mount Qarachogh, Makhmour, Iraq

Parties involved: Daesh; the Peshmerga; Khidir Jija in Mount Qarachogh villagers; Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG); Iraq; US

The event: On Thursday, December 2, 2021, Daesh militants attacked a village in Makhmour in northern Iraq, killing three villagers and 10 Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers. Control of the Makhmour region is disputed, claimed by Baghdad and the KRG, leading to a lack of coordination and security gap, allowing Daesh to establish a foothold and conduct attacks.[2] KRG President Nechirvan Barzani called for more efficient cooperation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi army and increased international coalition support to fill the security gap.[3] Reportedly, at least 10,000 Daesh fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.[4] The US is planning to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, switching all the remaining military personnel to auxiliary positions to train and provide intelligence to the Iraqi army.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The attack in Makhmour was almost certainly exploiting the security gap to assert Daesh's presence as the group has more room to operate without security intervention. The intention was likely to undermine trust in security services, instill fear within the local population, and create instability in the disputed region.

  • The large number of alleged Daesh fighters left in the region are very likely regrouping and strategizing how to exploit regional instability to recruit, build resources, and expand their physical presence, as already seen in Makhmour. The high number of Daesh fighters remaining in Syria and Iraq makes it likely other cells will mimic the strategy being executed in Makhmour throughout the various security gaps in the region, unless the Iraqi and KRG governments cooperate to close the gaps.

  • Daesh is likely hoping to execute a plan similar to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to take territorial control in parts of Iraq as the country transitions away from an active US military presence. While the US will likely aim to learn from Afghanistan and better prepare for the change, the success of a peaceful and lasting transition to a self-sufficient Iraq will very likely depend in part on the Iraqi government's strength and the civilian population's faith in the government.

Date: December 2, 2021

Location: Deir ez-Zor province, Syria

Parties involved: Daesh; Syrian regime; Syrian oil workers; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)

The event: On Thursday, December 2, 2021, 10 oil workers were killed and two were injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a bus carrying workers in an oil field in the Syrian government-controlled Deir ez-Zor province. The SOHR later announced that the attack was conducted by Daesh, who controlled the Deir ez-Zor oilfield until Syrian regime forces captured it in September 2017.[6] Daesh attacks have become increasingly prevalent in the region, with at least 13 members of the regime’s armed forces recently killed on November 14, 2021, in an armed assault.[7]

The implications:

  • The attack was almost certainly conducted by Daesh forces to further their goal of gaining regional control and setting up an alleged caliphate. By destabilizing the region through physical attacks, Daesh almost certainly continues to gain ground towards a regional takeover by weakening regime forces and limiting the regime’s ability to maintain control.

  • Since the oil fields are controlled by the Syrian regime, who use the funds to maintain control, it is almost certain the regime will view the event as an attack on the government. It is very likely that the Syrian regime will attempt to conduct retaliatory attacks on Daesh cells in the area. Reciprocal attacks would likely promote destabilization in the region through frequent clashes, endangering civilians, and limiting the productivity of regime operations such as oil manufacturing.

  • As oil becomes more limited due to global scarcity and the potential regional destabilization, attacks on oil fields and workers will almost certainly gain value due to their increased economic effects. As they gain value, it is likely Daesh will increase their rate of attacks due to the increased effects. Targeting civilians such as oil workers could likely cause a civilian migration if workers fear for their lives, which would weaken the regime’s control and further allow Daesh to claim control of the region.

  • Controlling oil fields almost certainly offers financial gain. If Daesh can take control of the region and utilize the additional funding to strengthen their operations, it is very likely they will move to expand the alleged caliphate further into Syria. This would almost certainly be met with force by Syrian forces and would result in more frequent clashes over an expanded geographical area. The expanded conflict would likely further destabilize Syria, impacting their economy and opening pull factors to Daesh recruitment such as limited economic opportunities, a weakened sense of security, and a weakened faith in their government.

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[1]Flag of ISIL” by Yascine licensed under Public Domain

[2] Islamic State Attack Leaves Over Dozen Kurds Dead, Voice of America, December 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/islamic-state-attack-leaves-over-dozen-kurds-dead-/6339163.html

[3] Several civilians and Peshmerga killed by ISIL in Iraq’s Makhmour, Al Jazeera, December 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/3/several-civilians-and-peshmerga-killed-by-isil-in-iraq-makhmour

[4] Islamic State attack on Iraqi village kills 13, Kurdish government says, Reuters, December 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/attack-village-near-erbil-iraq-kills-12-kurdish-regional-govt-2021-12-03/

[5] Several civilians and Peshmerga killed by ISIL in Iraq’s Makhmour, Al Jazeera, December 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/3/several-civilians-and-peshmerga-killed-by-isil-in-iraq-makhmour

[6] Syria attacks kills 10 workers, Energy Voice, December 2021, https://www.energyvoice.com/oilandgas/middle-east/exploration-production-middle-east/369903/attack-syria-islamic-state/

[7] 13 regime fighters dead after IS ambush in Syria: monitor, The New Arab, November 2021, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/13-regime-fighters-dead-after-ambush-syria-monitor

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