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1. Main developments in Syria
The city of Kobani
After the liberation of the city of Kobani, Kurdish forces began to repel ISIS from the surrounding countryside. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on February 9 that over the past two weeks, the Kurdish forces (YPG) took over 128 of the 350 villages in rural Kobani, out of 350 villages in the Kobani countryside; most of the villages were liberated without resistance. Battles are still ongoing west of Kobani, with ISIS forces attempting to curb the Kurdish forces’ advance towards the city of Aleppo and the Idlib province.
On February 8, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front posted a video with photos of one of its suicide bombers, by the name of Abu al-Izz al-Ansari, who carried out a suicide bombing attack in the heart of Damascus on a bus carrying Hezbollah operatives from Lebanon. It was claimed that the attack killed several Hezbollah operatives and that it was carried out in retaliation for the murder of Syrians by the Syrian Army and the rape of women by Hezbollah operatives (Twitter account affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front; YouTube, February 8, 2015).
On February 8, 2015, there were violent clashes between ISIS and the Syrian Army and other rebel groups. These clashes took place in Aleppo (the Bab al-Nasr area), in the suburbs of Aleppo and in the Aleppo countryside (the villages of Dabiq and Souran).
ISIS continues to pursue its opponents in the Al-Raqqah province. Last week, ISIS beheaded three people on charges of collaborating with the Syrian regime. Another person was beheaded in the rural eastern area the Al-Raqqah for “practicing witchcraft” (SOHR, February 8, 2015).
Deir al-Zor province
On February 10, 2015, fighting resumed around the military airfield of Deir al-Zor. The Syrian Air Force bombed ISIS targets around the airfield. ISIS in turn shelled the airport with mortars and rockets (SOHR, February 10, 2015).
2. Main developments in Iraq
Prime Minister of Iraq: the Iraqi Army is preparing to recapture Mosul
Speaking at a press conference in Germany, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saidthat the Iraqi Army was preparing to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS, with the help of the Peshmerga and the international coalition. He noted that the goal is to liberate Mosul with minimum casualties among military personnel and civilians. He added that he expected Germany to train the Iraqi security forces, and especially the police, to control the various cities after Mosul is liberated (Al-Arabiya TV, February 6, 2015). The US administration is currently examining the question of whether Iraq is ready to carry such a counterattack (Al-Jazeera’s English-language website, February 9, 2015).
In the ITIC’s assessment, al-Abadi’s statement is overly optimistic, since it is doubtful whether the Iraqi Army is fit to carry out an extensive counterattack to recapture a big city like Mosul (even if the Iraqi Army receives support from the United States and the coalition). This is because the Iraqi Army still faces fundamental problems at both the military level (training, equipment, morale) and the domestic political level (a lack of national Sunni-Shiite cohesiveness in Iraq).
On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS posted a report about a suicide bomber codenamed Abu Hajer al-Ansari who blew himself up with an explosive belt inside a group of operatives of one of the Shiite militias in Baghdad. Dozens of people were killed and injured as a result (Twitter account affiliated with ISIS, February 7, 2015).
On February 7, 2015, a Twitter account affiliated with ISIS reported on fierce battles taking place in Ramadi between ISIS and the Iraqi Army and the militias that assist it. This is part of ISIS’s efforts to “cleanse” the remaining pockets of resistance in the Sunni province of Al-Anbar. Salah al-Din province
On February 5, 2015, a website affiliated with ISIS posted a photo of an Iraqi Army helicopter allegedly shot down on February 4 in the city of Samarra (independent website affiliated with ISIS, February 5, 2015).
Written by: The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC)