Hudayfa al-Batawi was among the Iraqis who joined the Islamic State (IS) movement early after the fall of Saddam Husayn, having been a long-time Salafist extremist. Al-Batawi rose through the ranks and became the emir of Baghdad, involved in some of the worst attacks in that city in 2009 and 2010. Arrested in late 2010, al-Batawi was killed in a prison riot in 2011.
IS’s biography of al-Batawi (see below) records that he was a dentist before Islamism overtook him. Soon after Saddam was overthrown, al-Batawi engaged in bomb attacks against Coalition forces, though he does not seem to have built the explosives; rather he rigged the charges. Al-Batawi then moved into media work for the group led by Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of IS.
Al-Batawi was arrested at some point in the mid-2000s, and in prison memorized the Qur’an and even led prayers at Camp Bucca. When exactly al-Batawi was in prison is unclear, but he must have been there for a time after April 2006 because that was when Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari) was arrested, one of the most important figures in the history of the IS movement, and in prison al-Batawi took religious instruction from al-Qaduli.
Upon release, al-Batawi went to work as the emir of al-Rasafa, the eastern half of Baghdad, under the leadership of the overall wali (governor) of Baghdad, Manaf al-Rawi, whom al-Batawi had met in al-Qaduli’s classes behind the wire. Al-Rawi had been in close proximity to, though not within, the leadership from early on; by the time al-Batawi became his deputy in Baghdad, al-Rawi was a first tier operative of ISI.
The IS cell directed by al-Batawi and al-Rawi brought off a series of devastating attacks against government institutions in Baghdad: the 19 August 2009 strikes on the Finance Ministry and the Foreign Ministry; the 25 October 2009 attacks on the Justice Ministry (which also heavily damaged the adjacent Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works) and the Baghdad Provincial Council; and the four blasts on 8 December 2009, which targeted the Central Bank, acting as a temporary home for the Finance Ministry, the Judicial Institute, where judges are trained, the Karkh district courthouse, and a technical institute in Dora.
The Iraqi government had known the August 2009 bombing was on its way because it had infiltrated the planning meeting, which took place in Zabadani, near Damascus, and involved the intelligence services of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, elements of the fallen Saddam regime, and IS emissaries. The initial target had been the Interior Ministry, but the attackers had spotted the additional security measures and—knowing their operation was partially uncovered—switched targets. Unfortunately, Iraqi security was thereafter unable to get ahead of the plot and prevent it. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), as IS was known at the time, claimed the attack on 24 August.
Iraq withdrew her ambassador from Syria on 25 August in protest at the Assad regime’s complicity in the atrocity and continued harbouring of terrorists. The Iraqis then aired a dubious video of a confession by Wissam Ali Kadhem Ibrahim, a former police chief in Diyala until 1995, saying he had been instructed by the Syria-based Ba’ath Party official Sattam Farhan, and Baghdad demanded the extradition of Farhan and Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmed, one of the key directors of the insurgency who had taken shelter in Syria in 2003.
These attacks on Iraq’s fragile state institutions had real, lasting impact. The physical demolition of the buildings, destruction of paperwork, the killing and wounding of staff, the terrorizing of those who survived, some of whom then stayed away from work or moved jobs, and the discredit heaped on the Iraqi government that had just weeks earlier ordered the removal of blast walls, as part of a drive to normalize life in the city, helped stoke a political crisis. In the immediate-run, the security measures in Baghdad made life more onerous and signalled a reverse of progress. The outcome of the 7 March 2010 election paralyzed Iraq: 249 days (35 weeks) without a government. The need for political workarounds to get anything done and the sense of crisis enabled the adoption of emergency measures that invariably empowered the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a plaything of the Iranians, a sectarian, and an aspiring autocrat, who would continue to concentrate power in his own hands. Al-Maliki’s conduct, and his ability to bypass opponents in the political system, helped re-legitimize solutions outside the political system among Sunni Arabs, pushing Iraq toward destabilization and violence.
Al-Rawi and al-Batawi then struck four hotels in central Baghdad on 25 January 2010: first the Sheraton and Palestine hotels, three minutes later the Babylon hotel, and two minutes after that the Hamra hotel, which had been home to many journalists for years.
Al-Rawi was arrested on 11 March 2010 and al-Batawi then became the wali of Baghdad. The trail from al-Rawi ultimately led to the killing of ISI’s emir, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), and his deputy, Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), on 18 April 2010. The rollup of so many ISI leaders around this time seemed to herald ISI’s defeat, but al-Batawi’s cell withstood the loss of its emir and—as we now know—this was a network-wide phenomenon.
Iraqi government and security officials continued to fall to al-Batawi’s assassins. The most infamous incident for which al-Batawi was responsible was the slaughter of Christian worshippers during mass on 31 October 2010 at Our Lady of Salvation, a Catholic church in Baghdad. The ISI murderers gave explicit religious reasons during the attack, though the organization would claim that Coptic Christians imprisoning Muslim women in Egypt was their motivator. The fact the attack frightened Christians into leaving Iraq or not at the very least not attending church services was not coincidental. Al-Zawi had taken it upon himself in March 2007 to void the Pact of Umar, a probably-mythical treaty that had nonetheless laid the terms for Muslim rulers not to persecute fellow monotheists as they did polytheists.
A lot of effort, Iraqi and American, was focused on finding al-Batawi after the church massacre. A close associate of al-Batawi’s, Abu Khawla, was arrested; this helped lead, on 27 November 2010, to al-Batawi being captured.
According to IS, “When … Nuri al-Maliki met [al-Batawi] and told him that he would soon be executed by hanging, he replied to him that he wasn’t concerned and that life and death were only in God’s hands and not in his.”
Al-Batawi’s final act was a mutiny at his prison in Karrada, both recruiting prisoners and coordinating with ISI on the outside. Dabiq describes the 8 May 2011 prison riot this way:
[The ISI operatives outside the prison] provided [al-Batawi and his co-conspirators inside] with two pistols, TNT explosives, and detonators. The smuggling method was clever and their surveillance apparatuses and security procedures were unable to uncover it. The agreement was that the attack on the prison would begin from the outside at the very moment of the attack by the Wali Hudayfa and his brothers inside the prison against the apostates.
Thus approached zero hour, but the attack did not occur in the morning as planned because the appointment changed due to the apostate warden coming to them at night to take them out for interrogation. So Hudayfa took care of killing him. Then he went to the director of “Counter Terrorism,” … Mu’ayyad al-Salih. He executed him and retaliated for the Muslims. Likewise, the brother Abu Khawla, military leader of Baghdad, and the rest of his brothers clashed with the apostates and they killed everyone in the prison in which the mujahideen were tortured and had experienced that which only God knows of
They rode the apostates’ car from the prison building and arrived at the Interior Ministry’s gateway. They then clashed with the apostates. The crusaders [Americans] stepped in, striking them with Apache helicopters. However, the brothers persisted with their combat until they were all killed while facing the enemy not retreating. They were ten from the best of knights, led by our knight, the Wali Hudayfa al-Batawi.
Nine security officials were also killed during the mutiny.
The Islamic State’s magazine, Dabiq, contained a biography of Hudayfa al-Batawi in its ninth edition on 21 May 2015, a part of its, “Among the Believers are Men” series, a successor of sorts to the old “Distinguished Martyrs” series. The bio is reproduced below.
Hudayfa al-Batawi was a man in a time in which men were few. Of firm aqeeda (creed) and manhaj (methodology), he stemmed from a good, muwahid (monotheistic) family known for sacrifice and generosity. Hudayfa al-Batawi was a dentist who did not dream of esteem and wealth like many doctors, because he never saw delight and relaxation other than in jihad. He never perceived happiness in anything except gaining martyrdom.
He started his journey by giving bay’a (pledge of allegiance) to Shaykh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (rahimahullah [God have mercy on him]) and he used to detonate explosive devices against the crusader patrols—who were magnified in the eyes of the cowards and were insignificant in the sight of this lion—to turn them into severed body fragments mixed with their vehicles’ wreckage. Thereafter, he moved on to media work because of the brothers’ need for him in this domain. Thus, he performed that which was due upon him in the best manner until the crusaders arrested him. In prison, he remained utterly steadfast and stayed there some years during which he increased his knowledge and studied God’s book until he ultimately memorized it by heart completely. In Ramadan, at “Camp Bucca” prison in Umm Qasr, he used to lead the brothers in prayer, completing a whole recitation of the Qur’an, with other brothers behind him who had also memorized the Qur’an. He mixed more with virtuous brothers, people of goodness, and experience. He used to fast and pray a lot at night, striving to be close to God. He was a close friend for his brothers and source of steadfastness for them wherever he was.
He then left prison with increased steadfastness, knowledge, and experience. Thereupon he worked as emir of al-Rasafa region [the eastern half] of Baghdad. He ignited war and launched attacks under the leadership of the notable wali (governor) Manaf al-Rawi (rahimahullah). Thus, they launched the famous Battles of al-Asir (the Prisoner), by which the strongholds of the Safawi Rafidah collapsed and the Rafidi bastions of shirk (idolatry) and the bases of the mushrik army were demolished. They raided the most heavily guarded places like the Central Bank and the Defence Ministry, the latter being a base for joint operations with the crusaders. Thus, the ministries and pillars of the Rafidi government collapsed at their blessed hands until the heroic wali [al-Rawi] fell into captivity. Hudayfa was then assigned leadership of all Baghdad as its wali. So he ignited it with vehicle bombs, demolishing the fortresses of the Rafidah as well as their Safawi and Crusader masters, in retaliation for the religion of God against the filthy mushrikeen and in revenge for the honour of ahl al-sunna (the Sunnis), which was desecrated at the hands of the most evil creatures to tread on earth. He terrorized the Safawi regime and degraded it, deploying heroic soldiers armed with silencers.
They sent the criminals and leaders of kufr off to Hellfire. He also sought to avenge the honour of the sisters imprisoned by the tyrannical crusader Copts in Egypt, and thus the attack against the “Our Lady of Salvation” Church was executed.
The Rafidah then called for help from their crusader masters who mobilized whatever they could to get hold of this heroic lion. They provided all information about this unique man and his aids, most prominent of them being the brave knight, the military leader of Baghdad, Abu Khawla. Hudayfa al-Batawi used to call him his closest friend due to his strong love for him until they were killed together in the prison.
Hudayfa (rahimahullah) was steadfast like anchored mountains while in the Rafidah’s “Counter-Terrorism” prison. When the Rafidi enemy of God, Nuri al-Maliki, met him and told him that he would soon be executed by hanging, he replied to him that he wasn’t concerned and that life and death were only in God’s hands and not in his.
Then he and the brothers with him began coordinating from inside the prison with the brothers outside. They provided them with two pistols, TNT explosives, and detonators. The smuggling method was clever and their surveillance apparatuses and security procedures were unable to uncover it. The agreement was that the attack on the prison would begin from the outside at the very moment of the attack by the Wali Hudayfa and his brothers inside the prison against the apostates.
Thus approached zero hour, but the attack did not occur in the morning as planned because the appointment changed due to the apostate warden coming to them at night to take them out for interrogation. So Hudayfa took care of killing him. Then he went to the director of “Counter Terrorism,” the enemy of God, Mu’ayyad al-Salih. He executed him and retaliated for the Muslims. Likewise, the brother Abu Khawla, military leader of Baghdad, and the rest of his brothers clashed with the apostates and they killed everyone in the prison in which the mujahideen were tortured and had experienced that which only God knows of.
They rode the apostates’ car from the prison building and arrived at the Interior Ministry’s gateway. They then clashed with the apostates. The crusaders stepped in, striking them with Apache helicopters. However, the brothers persisted with their combat until they were all killed while facing the enemy not retreating. They were ten from the best of knights, led by our knight, the Wali Hudayfa al-Batawi.
He (rahimahullah) was eager to achieve shuhada (martyrdom), so he got what he was yearning for, not dying until he made the apostates cry, debilitated them with wounds, and made them taste death and sadness that kindled in them the pain of defeat and failure. He (rahimahullah) was already married for some time before his killing, and at the time of his arrest, he was bestowed with a child. He (rahimahullah) was killed and never met his son. The worldly life, its pleasures, and adornments did not succeed in tempting him even for a single day. Every Muslim should raise his head out of pride for these men, with glory and honour, in the face of the people of falsehood. We ask God not to deprive us of His reward, nor to make us succumb to tribulations, and to generously bestow upon him as well as his brothers the reward and high rank in Jannah (Paradise).
 Safawi refers to Iranians and Rafidah is a bigoted term for Shi’is. The intention from the Islamic State’s terminology is to portray the Iraqi government as a puppet of Tehran, staffed by heretics.
 Shirk, variously translated as idolatry or polytheism, refers to the act of setting up equivalents in worship to god by, for example, ruling with man-made laws when sovereignty belongs to God.
 Plural of mushrik.