Islamic State: writing from Raqqa

A regular correspondent from the IS capital sends a letter to a friend in Baghdad, in the latest of a series imagined by Paul Rogers.

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
9 December 2016

ISIL fighters. flickr/photographer Day Donaldson. Some rights reserved.

Raqqa, 8 December 2016

Thank you for your letter and for asking after my brother. I must apologise for taking so long to reply, especially as I last wrote to you nearly five months ago. There is much to say. But first, what of my brother? Last time I wrote he had just gone to Bangladesh to help the establishment of our new cell there. In the event he stayed a month and then went to Libya, much as I had suspected he would. 

As you will have heard, the apostate militias and the crusader-backed government started a concerted attack on our movement last May, expecting to take our main centre of Sirte in a matter of weeks. Three months later and in the face of failure, the Americans were forced to bring in their aircraft-carrier and start airstrikes, but even with intense bombardment our forces held out until this week.

My brother’s role is to help organise the next stage. Libya is in utter chaos and many of the factions share our vision, so we see no difficulty at all in regrouping – indeed, many of our fighters have already melted away from Sirte to reform units elsewhere. There is much to play for, especially as across the border in Egypt, where al-Sisi is so intent on repressing our cause that he is playing right into our hands. Already our movement is thoroughly embedded in like-minded groups in Sinai, but what is far less known is the growing presence of our supporters in Cairo and other cities.

You also ask after me, and I have to report both good and bad news. The good news is that my new arm is functioning well, and I am able to continue my analytical work with SOBRA with even greater efficiency. The bad news is that my superiors absolutely refuse to let me join our fighters in Mosul, even though I am fully fit and able to defend with the best of them.

My superiors tell me bluntly that the analytical work I do for them on political developments in Britain, Europe and the United States is far more important. I know that my three years in London and Washington in the quite recent past do give me an understanding of what is happening within the far enemy but I often wish that I had never gone there. That way I could have already fought much more directly for the cause.

You and I have been friends for many years and that friendship has held even though you are in Baghdad and I am in Raqqa at the heart of the Caliphate, and we take such radically different views on the future path of our faith. I have to say that my superiors would be deeply antagonistic if they knew I continued with this correspondence, but for now I want to do so, although you will have gathered that there is another motive in that. 

As you will know, my work involves accessing a very wide range of sources from the enemy including press, radio, TV, popular culture, military journals, the web and social media. But I also know that you do sometimes pass on my letters through your own social media. In its way that is helpful since I can learn how people elsewhere respond to my comments, in turn enabling me to understand better the extraordinary misinterpretations that are so common across the western world.

Behind the lines

In your last letter you asked me to explain how morale within the movement could possibly be maintained when facing retreat after retreat – the loss of Fallujah and Ramadi for example, as well as the impending loss of Mosul. Indeed you report the view that our Caliphate will be destroyed by the end of next year, thus ending our extraordinary journey. You will not be surprised if I beg to differ, indeed that I get exasperated with such views, but I will try and respond in a rational way. After all, my post in SOBRA is predicated on just such rational analysis!

According to sources from the far enemy, primarily the Pentagon, since their air war started over two years ago they have attacked us with over 16,500 air raids and dropped over 60,000 bombs and missiles hitting over 30,000 targets. This is against our forces that have usually been estimated by them to number 25,000-30,000. To put it bluntly, they have used enough force to hit every one of us with two bombs or missiles! Indeed the Pentagon claimed back in August that they had killed well over 40,000 of us.

Something isn’t quite right here, is it? Either they are lying about killing us or we had far more people ready to fight or tens of thousands have joined us since the start. The reality is that their air war has indeed been extremely intense and they have killed very many thousands of our fighters and thousands of civilians but we had many more when the war started and many thousands have joined our cause since. 

Look at what is really happening in Mosul. When their assault started seven weeks ago they had at least 80,000 attackers from half a dozen countries backed up by plenty of air power including drones, all determined to wipe out our few thousand defenders. In an absolute blaze of publicity they reported rapid progress into the city within two weeks.

Then what? It all went quiet and now there is scarcely any reporting from their side. If you search through their news sources you will find buried away the fact that they have been fought to a standstill and have taken control of less than a third of the eastern half of the city in seven weeks. Moreover, our main forces are still west of the Tigris. You can even find some Iraqi security sources admitting that they could still be fighting us in Mosul next summer!

Even so, I will say to you privately that we are experiencing a very heavy onslaught, one that has been going on for more than two years. I will also accept that the Caliphate as we have established it may not last for ever and will, instead, be part of a much longer process that will stretch over decades.

But before I come to the significance of that, let me just remind you of some of our spectacular achievements of recent years and indeed months.

A moving tide

For a start, right across the world they have been forced to spend trillions of dollars since 9/11 on their failed wars as well as vast sums of money on their own domestic security. Look at the security precautions at every airport, every legislature and every government office and look at the huge expansion of security forces and intelligence agencies and the across-the-board increases in surveillance. All of this to try and defeat a far, far smaller number of determined opponents who have little more than light arms and improvised weapons to fight against the best trained and best equipped military in the world.

Then look even more at the extraordinary political changes. In Britain there is Brexit, won partly by scare tactics. Remember the “breaking point” poster of thousands of desperate refugees actually presenting an existential threat to the UK. From our perspective we could hardly have asked for more!

Look at the rise in Islamophobia across Europe, at Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, the far-right government in Hungary, the almost-success for the far-right candidate in Austria. All of this has been very largely down to us and people like us. Don’t you see why we are so sure that we will eventually win?

I mentioned Libya earlier, but look also at Afghanistan where even the Americans are hugely worried about the insecurity. They say openly that the government only controls 60% of the country, and I can assure you that we are increasingly active there.

Remember what I said to you in an earlier letter when I was working on the analysis of the US election:

"As far as the contenders are concerned, what we would like most would obviously be a Trump victory – even better than having Farage sharing power with Cameron in London! Our nightmare, of course, would be a Sanders victory but in spite of the Iowa result we do not currently expect him to get the Democrat ticket...

So put it together – America goes more hardline, the wars intensify, the refugee flows grow, Europe turns its back as anti-Muslim feelings increase, and community disorder and violence become the order of the day. The end result? Many thousands more recruits to our cause.

Perhaps you can understand why someone like me is quietly optimistic. Never forget, we are fighting a cause that may take a century or more to achieve. Our opponents, the "far enemy" really do not have a clue, and long may that last!"

Since then, not only has Mr Trump won but he has already appointed two really hawkish retired generals, one to head the Pentagon and one to be head of his national-security office – two men who have been particularly anti-Islamic. Perhaps you can understand why I am so optimistic, even if deeply frustrated that I am not allowed to fight on the frontline.

The task ahead

But let me finish on one more point – what in the West they might call a “worst-case scenario.” As I read the western media and assess their changing attitudes, one thing that comes across is their belief that the Caliphate is finished. They do expect Mosul to fall to them eventually, although even that is no longer certain. Even so, they believe it will happen and they expect the same to apply to Raqqa. From their perspective that will be the end of it all. 

I very much doubt that our Caliphate will be ended any time soon. But if that did happen in the next two or three years then what they miss entirely is that the very existence of an actual Caliphate, even if it lasted just five years or so, is what will count. It will have served as an extraordinary symbol of what can be achieved by a small but utterly determined group of the true faithful when pitted against the world’s most powerful military forces.  

We do something that they simply cannot even begin to comprehend. Our aim, rooted in our faith, is to bring about a global transformation to true belief and we as individuals are just one small part of a process that stretches far beyond our own lives. We are, in a real sense, engaged in an eternal struggle and they cannot understand this, which is why we will win.

This may be my last contact with you in this life, as I hope very much to be released from my post very soon to join that fight as I have wanted to do for so long.


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