Ever since Sunni rebels pushed Iraqi government forces out of Mosul, the mainstream media and most analysts have rushed to point out the threat posed by the militants' goal of creating a transnational polity in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Stratfor has long forecast that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's efforts to exploit the conflict in Syria would have major repercussions on Iraqi security. Below is a chronology of analyses on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's aims to create a singular battle space in Syria and Iraq, where the militant group seeks to form a medieval-style emirate, and the major obstacles in its path.
Feb. 14, 2012: In an eight-minute video clip titled "Onward, Lions of Syria" disseminated on the Internet Feb. 12, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri expressed al Qaeda's support for the popular unrest in Syria. In it, al-Zawahiri urged Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to aid the Syrian rebels battling Damascus. The statement comes just days after a McClatchy report quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that the Iraqi node of the global jihadist network carried out two attacks against Syrian intelligence facilities in Damascus, while Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi said in a recent interview with AFP that Iraqi jihadists were moving fighters and weapons into neighboring Syria.
April 13, 2012: Amman is facing pressure from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to take a stronger stance against the Syrian regime, specifically by backing Syrian rebels against the Iranian-backed Alawite government in Damascus. Jordan is the most logical conduit for Arab support, supplies and fighters to enter Syria. The GCC, led by Saudi Arabia, will try to entice Jordan into serving as the staging ground for Arab intervention in Syria and, by extension, countering Iranian and Shia influence in the region. While it aligns with the Gulf Arab monarchies on most issues, Jordan has a unique historical relationship with Syria and its own set of concerns that will significantly restrain its actions to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
July 10, 2012: Last week's publicized defection of the Tlass family marked a potential turning point for Syria's al Assad regime. The Tlass family formed the main pillar of Sunni support for the minority Alawite regime. The patriarch of the family, former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, had a strategic, brotherly bond with late Syrian President Hafez al Assad. The two military men served as members of the ruling Baath Party in Cairo from 1958 to 1961 when Syria and Egypt existed under the Nasserite vision of the United Arab Republic. The failure of that project brought them back home, where together they helped bring the Baath Party to power in 1963 and sustained a violent period of coups, purges and countercoups through the 1960s.
Jan. 31, 2013: The French military's current campaign to dislodge jihadist militants from northern Mali and the recent high-profile attack against a natural gas facility in Algeria are both directly linked to the foreign intervention in Libya that overthrew the Gadhafi regime. There is also a strong connection between these events and foreign powers' decision not to intervene in Mali when the military conducted a coup in March 2012. The coup occurred as thousands of heavily armed Tuareg tribesmen were returning home to northern Mali after serving in Moammar Gadhafi's military, and the confluence of these events resulted in an implosion of the Malian military and a power vacuum in the north. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other jihadists were able to take advantage of this situation to seize power in the northern part of the African nation.
May 28, 2013: Al Qaeda in Iraq is trying to use the Syrian conflict to reignite sectarian warfare in Iraq and thereby create an uninterrupted operating space stretching from Iraq to Lebanon. Since mid-May alone, more than 300 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in bombings by suspected jihadists across Iraq that have largely targeted the country's Shiite population. The jihadists sense a historic opportunity to acquire their largest and most significant area of operation since the movement was based in Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S. invasion. However, they still face several constraints that will enable the Iraqi government and its Iranian backers to contain the spillover into Iraq, at least for the near term.
June 20, 2013: In a June 15 audio message, a man identified as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, did something no leader of an al Qaeda franchise had ever done: He publicly defied a directive from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the al Qaeda core organization. As we have noted for many years, the al Qaeda core has struggled to remain relevant on the physical and ideological battlefields. We've also discussed since 2005 the internal frictions between the core and some of the more independent franchise commanders, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq until his death in June 2006. If al-Baghdadi's revolt goes unchecked, it very well might spell the end of the concept of a global, centrally directed jihad, and it could be the next step in the devolution of the jihadist movement as it becomes even more regionally focused.
July 31, 2013: A concern shared by most countries is the prospect that Syria, in light of its ongoing civil war, could become an arena for transnational jihadism. But for Syria's northern neighbor Turkey, an even graver concern is the prospect of Kurdish separatism. In fact, Syrian Kurds already are trying to create an autonomous zone akin to the one located in northern Iraq. Ankara has no choice but to pit jihadists and Kurdish separatists against one another in hopes of obstructing the zone's creation. But in doing so Turkey risks impeding its own geopolitical ascendance.
Dec. 5, 2013: The United States is trying to recruit moderate Salafist-jihadist rebels in Syria for its fight against al Qaeda, but Washington may not be able to find many willing partners among such ideologues. How well the Obama administration fares in its efforts will ultimately determine the extent to which it can counter al Qaeda-inspired transnational jihadism — and how well it can minimize Iran's benefits now that the two have reached an accord.