25 August 2016

ISIS Creation Myth Revisited

As my long time readers will remember, I have always maintained that ISIS was an artificial monster put together by Qatar (and Saudi Arabia) to create a Sunni heartland out of the broken pieces of Iraq and Syria with a mission to allow Qatari pipeline to take its natural gas to Europe.

A country I baptized Pipelineistan, borrowing a term coined by Pepe Escobar.

I have also been unwavering in my belief that Saddam's officers played a critical role in its creation.

I was one of the first voices on the Internet to mention Izzat Ibrahim al Douri and his Naqshbandi Army (JRTN). He used to be the Vice-Chairman of Saddam's Chief of General Staff and, after the invasion of Iraq, he was the only one who managed to elude coalition forces.

In due time, he formed and commanded the Naqshibandi Army, a formidable force that enabled ISIS to reproduce the myth that they invaded Mosul, a city of two million people, with only 800 black-clad scary fighters.

And no mainstream media outlet has ever questioned the absurdity of that claim.

The heavy lifting was done by the Naqshbandi Army and al-Douri pulled them away just in time for ISIS' photo op for the media. And everyone lapped it up.

I also mentioned Haji Bakr, a.k.a. Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a colonel in Jihaz Al-Mukhabarat al Amma or Iraqi Intelligence Service, who was Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's chief deputy until his demise in 2014.

That is him on the left in his colonel uniform.

There was a long expose about him and his role in recruiting Baghdadi in 2010 as the face of a new organization in Der Spiegel.

The article included his notes about how to structure ISIS, and, surprise, surprise, they were along Mukhabarat lines.
From the very beginning, the plan was to have the intelligence services operate in parallel, even at the provincial level. A general intelligence department reported to the "security emir" for a region, who was in charge of deputy-emirs for individual districts. A head of secret spy cells and an "intelligence service and information manager" for the district reported to each of these deputy-emirs. The spy cells at the local level reported to the district emir's deputy. The goal was to have everyone keeping an eye on everyone else.
It also included a detailed blueprint about how to take over small towns through a series of well-designed tactics.

Once his identity and role became public some analysts claimed that, by that time, Haji Bakr was no longer a Baathist but a later convert who genuinely believed in the Jihad. Well, something important was missing from the personal possession of the deputy emir of the most Salafist organization in history.
When the men later learned who they had killed, they searched the house, gathering up computers, passports, mobile phone SIM cards, a GPS device and, most importantly, papers. They didn't find a Koran anywhere. [my emphasis]
Clearly, Haji Bakr and a small number of Baathist officials were on the lookout for a Jihadi organization they could take over and use to regain power.
In 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later "caliph," the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.

Bakr was "a nationalist, not an Islamist," says Iraqi journalist Hisham al-Hashimi, as he recalls the former career officer, who was stationed with Hashimi's cousin at the Habbaniya Air Base.
There is one more intriguing element in Haji Bakr's story. Lately, mainstream media has been claiming that Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a thug with anger management issues, was the evil mastermind behind the creation of ISIS. The problem with that theory is that Zarqawi, a Jordanian by the way, was killed in 20006 and never met Baghdadi when he was alive.

But do you know who he met? Haji Bakr.
Bakr went underground and met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Anbar Province in western Iraq.
Despite all this evidence, you probably never heard of Izzat al-Douri or Samir al-Khiflawi, a.k.a. Haji Bakr. It makes a much better copy if you have a scary and shadowy Jihadi organization with amazing military prowess and extraordinary expansion powers.

A week ago, an important piece was posted on Foreign Policy's website. And they followed it up with two more on the same subject.

I highly recommend the series as it provides a firsthand account of a critical transition in ISIS' history. It tells the story of how ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) first became ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham) in 2011 and emerged as IS (Islamic State) in 2013 by taking over most of the Jihadi groups in Iraq and Syria.

In 2011, a Jihadi named Abu Ahmad, witnessed a week-long meeting in a northern Syrian town called Kafr Hamra. This is right after Osama bin Laden was taken out.

The meeting was called by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the then ISIL and was attended by the Emirs of Jihadi groups in the region, including Abu Ahmad's Emir Abu al-Atheer, and Omar al-Sishani, the infamous Chechen commander born as Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili to a Christian Georgian family.

Abu al-Atheer is the guy in circle and next to him is Omar al-Sishani. They are both dead now.

There were two senior representatives of Al Nusra Front as well. But apparently, their emir al-Julani was absent.

From our perspective, there are two interesting bits in that story.

The first one is how Baghdadi maneuvered to push al Qaeda into the dustbin of history and managed to replace the late Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri as the baddest Jihadi leader in the world.

All he had to do apparently, was to sip his Pepsi and announce calmly that Zawahiri asked him to tell everyone in attendance to pledge their allegiance to him because he was going to become the new Caliph.

Bewildered, the emirs in the room wondered if he could corroborate that? He and his deputy, Haji Bakr said, well, if you don't believe us, ask him.

It was a boldface lie because they knew that, in the aftermath of bin Laden's death, there was no way to communicate with Zawahiri. He was in deep hiding.

So, the Jihadi leaders agreed to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi, provided that they get Zawahiri's confirmation in due course. By the time they could get an answer from Zawahiri, many months later, it was too late, Baghdadi was able to claim the allegiance of perhaps 80 percent of Syrian Jihadis.

In other words, ISIS and its leader got rid of the most formidable Islamist terrorist organization in the world with a simple but well-calculated lie, which took advantage of Bin Laden's recent demise. This does not strike me as a Salafist move, more like intelligence tradecraft.

The second interesting point was Baghdadi's and his deputy's insistence to form a dawla or state. The other well-groomed folks around the table were deeply skeptical of this idea.
Throughout its existence, al Qaeda had worked in the shadows as a nonstate actor. It did not openly control any territory, instead committing acts of violence from undisclosed locations. Remaining a clandestine organization had a huge advantage: It was very difficult for the enemy to find, attack, or destroy them. But by creating a state, the jihadi leaders argued during the meeting, it would be extremely easy for the enemy to find and attack them. A state with a defined territory and institutions was a sitting duck.
But Baghdadi was adamant.
Creating and running a state was of paramount importance to him. Up to this point, jihadis ran around without controlling their own territory. Baghdadi argued for borders, a citizenry, institutions, and a functioning bureaucracy.
Now, when you think about it, the Jihadis were right. The whole idea of being a terrorist is to terrorize other people in their territory. If you have one too, they will come and retaliate against you. There is absolutely no justification of having a territory unless that territory means something important.

In the meeting, Baghdadi justified it as a magnet for Muslims around the world. We now know that, out of 1.7 billion, fewer than 30 thousand accepted the call. We also know that, as predicted, it became a magnet for Russian and American bombs.

This is why I argued from the beginning that the only way to explain ISIS and its efforts to create a state is the massive revenues attached to Qatari pipeline. Nothing else makes sense.

To put it a tad simplistically, if Assad had said yes to that project, we might not have heard of Baghdadi.

Pipelineistan also explains the involvement of Saddam's officers. They were there to build and control a whole new state.
Alongside or within IS’ aim to devise a "pure" Islamic society is a Baathist plan to run a meticulously calculating state able to monopolize power, control territory and eradicate potential threats through brutality and terror. Baathist influences are evident in the nature of IS terror operations — extensive security and spy networks, hierarchical bureaucracies, battlefield tactics and elaborate financial and logistical networks — similar to those used by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Baathist circles for 35 years in Iraq.
And also the presence of Baathists in senior positions within IS structure.
Baathist influence continued in ISIS and IS, even if the group's character changed over time. By late 2014, 18 of 19 members of the IS cabinet were Sunni Arab Iraqis with one Iraqi Turcoman, and included former Baathist military officers, former Baathist security officers or Sunni Arab tribes from western Iraq. High-level IS commanders also represent former high-ranking Baathist officers in Iraq as well as Syria.
If you want to believe that these previously atheist folks had converted en masse and became deeply pious, that is fine by me. In that case you can also believe that this is a seriously Salafist organization which is aiming to create a genuine Caliphate.

But either way, I have to tell you that this "genuine" Islamic State has run its course.

As Pipelineistan is no longer viable, ISIS is no longer needed.

It will linger on as a digital Caliphate and a terrorist organization, as it it too late to put the genie back into bottle.

But the state will soon disappear.

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