The Leader of the Islamic State in the 2004 Fallujah Battles: Umar Hadid

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 30, 2017

Umar Hadid [right] (source)

Umar Hadid [right] (source)

Umar Hadid was a native of Fallujah, hence his kunya, Abu Khattab al-Falluji,[1] and a part of the extremist thread of the Salafist underground in Saddam Husayn’s Iraq. Working as an electrician for a time, Hadid had gone into internal exile years before the invasion after attacking Saddam’s security forces. In the aftermath of Saddam’s toppling, Hadid quickly joined with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the Jordanian founder of the Islamic State (IS) who had been in Baghdad from May 2002. Hadid rose swiftly in the ranks of the IS movement, and led the insurgency during the two battles with American forces in Fallujah in 2004, being killed during the second of them.

The Saddam Years

As Saddam’s regime Islamized in the 1990s, it effectively created a religious trend under the ruler’s leadership, Ba’athi-Salafism, provided far more space in general for religion in public—though of course the boundaries on speech against the regime remained in place—and introduced various aspects of the shari’a. Alongside this official trend there arose a powerful independent Salafi Trend; this was largely viewed as a complement to the dictator’s project and in any case the Saddam government had by then lost the capacity to restrain the movement. The Salafi Trend had deep links into the security sector; prior sensitivity about religious zeal was lifted and even reversed, and many intelligence officials sent to infiltrate the mosques to manage this religious revival found that Salafism was far more attractive than Saddamism.

For many Salafis, Saddam’s new posture allowed them to “far more easily coexist with the regime, and even serve loyally in its administration.” But there were, of course, those who were not mollified, continued to view Saddam’s government was heretical, and believed it was a duty to overthrow it by force. Against these Salafists, Saddam’s government could and would mobilize. The tyrant might have undergone a metamorphosis in his politico-religious outlook, as his senior deputies believed, but his view on power never changed, and those who threatened his grip on it were dealt with pitilessly.

Hadid way overstepped the regime’s red lines. According to IS’s biography of Hadid, Hadid not only took up daw’a (proselytization) work in Fallujah, he translated this into action. Joining with a local preacher, Muhammad al-Shishani, Hadid put together a group that attacked video stores that distributed racy content, destroyed female hair salons that allegedly doubled as brothels, and forcibly closed down vendors who sold alcohol. This naturally attracted the attention of the security services, who arrested one of the men in Hadid’s militant group, and the captive gave up Hadid’s location.

Hadid’s home was stormed; he escaped after killing one member of Saddam’s security agencies and injuring two more, and went into internal exile, fleeing to the areas of Kurdistan controlled by the Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam. This was around 1997. One of Hadid’s relatives, an official in Saddam’s intelligence, contacted Hadid and told him that all he would need to do is officially apologise and the security services would drop their interest in him. Hadid apparently responded that he did not need help being saved, but this man would need help avoiding God’s wrath because of his service for an impious despotism.

Hadid’s pre-2003 story underlines the above point about the Saddam regime abetting the rise of militant Salafism by omission and commission. It is noticeable how flexible the regime had become in dealing with religious militants: ten years before, somebody who had organized an anti-government group of any kind would have been lucky to ever again see outside a prison; those who organized jihadist groups that engaged in armed attacks and killed a security official would have found no mercy. The leniency with Hadid might be ascribed to his connections to official power.[2] But if local officials are acting in the interest of their families rather than the state, that only restates the point. The totalitarian reach of Saddam’s regime, where corruption had been minimal because of the fear, had given way by the late 1990s to a criminal state of patronage networks and militias. Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari) is another case in point of someone wanted by the authorities for jihadi activities who was able to evade them.

After Saddam

Hadid joined the IS movement very early after the Saddam regime came down, according to his official biography, joining the Rawa Camp, the first training camp of the Iraqi jihad in IS’s telling, led by Abu Raghd and overseen by Mustafa Ramadan Darwish (Abu Muhammad al-Lubnani), with whom Hadid got connected.

Fallujah I

Fallujah had been a scene of rising disorder from the wide spectrum of insurgent groups that made up the early insurgency, many of them tied to the fallen regime, supplied and at least partly directed from Syria by its highest surviving official, Izzat al-Duri. Indeed, it was the former regime elements (FREs) whom the U.S. assessed (p. 114) late into 2004 posed the main problem in Fallujah. Nonetheless, Hadid would take the lead in the insurgency repelling Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE (4 April – 1 May 2004), and in doing so would cement his own standing within Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ), as IS was known at the time, and raise the profile of JTJ—at the time a small, foreign-led faction—helping it eclipse the Ba’athi-Islamists within the insurgency.

Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor in their book, The Endgame, give the following account (pages 56-64; 106-26) of the Fallujah battles.

Violence spiralled in Fallujah in January and February 2004, including the shoot-down of three U.S. helicopters and a mass-jailbreak from the city’s police station on 14 February by JTJ operatives dressed in Iraqi National Guard uniforms. On 20 March, a JTJ raid from its desert sanctuaries in al-Anbar, led by Thamir Mubarak Atruz al-Rishawi, one of the earliest of Saddam’s security officials to sit atop the IS movement, prevented U.S. forces moving toward Fallujah. The raid was not just a tactical move: it followed a meeting, recorded in the diary of Umar Yusef al-Juma (Abu Anas al-Shami), al-Zarqawi’s overall deputy, that concluded that the jihad was in bad shape, that the mujahideen had nothing to show for a year of combat, and a decision was taken to carve out a base and make it dangerous for the Americans to enter.

The chaos and violence resulted in the U.S. Marines taking command of the area on 28 March. On 31 March, a mob butchered, incinerated, and strung up four armed Blackwater contractors—Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Mike Teague—who had been handing out food in Fallujah.

Brigadier General John Kelly, the assistant commander of the Marine division, which was led by the current Secretary of Defence James Mattis, counselled avoiding a reaction and dealing with the culprits later. Ricardo Sanchez, the overall commander of Multinational Forces between June 2003 and June 2004, rejected this advice and ordered the Marine division to retake the insurgent-held areas of Fallujah and apprehend the murderers on 3 April. Believing the timing to wrong and the mission ill-advised, the Marines nonetheless executed their orders the next day.

Inside the city, the JTJ leadership, with the exception of al-Zarqawi who was persuaded to remain in Ramadi, decided—despite their fears of organizational decapitation—to stand and fight. Hadid was the military leader in the city, he rallied his family, specifically a brother named Abdelsatir and a cousin studying shari’a called Jassim, according to IS, and held his ground on the frontline in the Jolan neighbourhood, which was the entry-point for Coalition forces and the site of most of the fighting in the quickly-halted offensive. IS says, both in Hadid’s bio and al-Juma’s diaries, that Hadid was joined in the city on the insurgent leadership council by al-Juma himself, who, though a cleric, had taken the Zarqawi’ist message that true knowledge was acquired in battle, and Abdallah Najem al-Jawari (Abu Azzam al-Iraqi). Al-Jawari was, like Hadid, a Fallujan and part of the Salafi underground long before the old regime was deposed; he served as the JTJ finance minister and Anbar governor, thus he was the formal overall leader in Fallujah.

On 6 April, violence exploded in Ramadi and Sadr City. Muqtada al-Sadr’s newspaper, al-Hawza, had been closed down a week earlier for inciting violence and three days before a senior lieutenant of al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi, Mustafa al-Yaqubi, was arrested.

The United Nations mission led by Lakhdar Brahimi—to whom the Bush administration had turned to in panic, and which unsurprisingly (and to the fury of many Kurds and Shi’is) tried to whittle down the democratic process and restore elements of the ancien regime—plus the Sunni members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), the British, the Arab and much of the global press agitated ferociously against the Fallujah operation. With this political opposition and war on two fronts, Sanchez, CENTCOM chief John Abizaid, and Viceroy Paul Bremer met in Baghdad and decided the operation had to be stopped.

On April 9, President Bush acceded to the demand to call off the offensive after Bremer told him that continuing could collapse the IGC and Brahimi’s mission, and delay the transfer of sovereignty. The Marines halted their offensive but tried to hold and fortify their positions.

About a week into the operation, the administration met and came to two conclusions: the Iraqi forces they had trained were far more incapable than had been believed and the flow of foreign holy warriors over the Syrian border into Iraq was a serious danger to stabilizing the country. So began a fruitless year of trying to get Bashar al-Assad to turn off the spigot of recruits to the IS movement. Some minor sanctions were levied on Assad, hoping he would engage in order to have them lifted. Instead, Assad’s assistance to the Iraqi insurgency continued and the U.S. finally cut its losses on engaging Assad after he and the Iranians (through Hizballah) murdered Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005.

Moving to Plan B, on 25 April, Mattis and the commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, General James T. Conway, met nearly two-dozen out-of-work generals connected to Muhammad al-Shahwani, a Fallujah native and a hero of the Iran-Iraq War who headed Iraq’s fledgling intelligence service with the backing of the CIA. The hope was that they could form a “Fallujah Brigade” that would police the restive city. Bremer and Sanchez approved (p. 63) this plan; National Security Adviser and IGC member Muwaffaq al-Rubaie informed all concerned it was a bad idea. The Fallujah Brigade arrived outside Fallujah on 28 April. The Marines, who had lost twenty-seven men and saw ninety injured in the first battle of Fallujah, began withdrawing on 30 April, and the Fallujah Brigade moved in. The result was an epic disaster.

General Jassim Saleh

General Jassim Saleh

Al-Shahwani chose General Jassim Mohammed Saleh to lead the “3,000-man” Fallujah Brigade (in reality it probably never had more than 580). Immediately on entering Fallujah, in the full regalia of the Republican Guards of which he had been a loyal servant, Saleh was mobbed by a crowd of civilians and masked men, in front of television cameras, celebrating the U.S. withdrawal. As Condoleezza Rice pointed out to Bremer, who says he was uninformed of this decision, Saleh “look[ed] just like Saddam” (p. 344-5). Defence Minister Ali Allawi had not known about al-Shawani’s appointment either, and was distinctly displeased, as was IGC member Ayatollah Mohammad Bahr al-Ulloum, who practically shouted down the phone at Bremer asking how al-Shahwani had ever been appointed given his role in the unmerciful suppression of the Shi’a revolt in 1991.

Saleh was removed from de jure control of the Fallujah Brigade within days and replaced by Muhammad Latif, though it did little to improve the situation. Saleh does not seem (p. 7) to have actually relinquished control of the brigade, and the brigade never asserted control over the city, which was in the hands of al-Zarqawi’s men and other insurgents, with whom Saleh was closely tied. General George Casey, who had replaced Sanchez, briefed President Bush on 7 July that seventy-percent of the Fallujah Brigade was “part of the resistance,” and around the same time Mattis had remarked: “There’s only one way to disarm the Fallujah Brigade. Kill it.” On 10 September, the Fallujah Brigade was formally dissolved.

Jihadi Governance in Fallujah

It was in the Jolan neighbourhood that Nicholas Berg, a U.S. contractor who worked on communications equipment, was beheaded by al-Zarqawi, personally, in a video—the first of a grisly series—released on 11 May 2004 (p. 34). The IS movement seems to have crammed its entire leadership into this first video: alongside al-Zarqawi was Abu Usama al-Tunisi, Manaf al-Rawi, Umar Yusef al-Juma (Abu Anas al-Shami), and Mustafa Ramadan Darwish (Abu Muhammad al-Lubnani). Al-Rawi was arrested in the area soon after.

The longer al-Zarqawi held Fallujah in defiance of the Coalition, the more his stature and that of his movement grew. JTJ had refrained from announcing its existence until a 4 January 2004 audiotape by al-Zarqawi, despite bringing off three devastating attacks in August 2003 that began the insurgency, because JTJ lacked infrastructure, especially media, to withstand public exposure. Even so, JTJ’s pronouncements were infrequent until 26 April, a decision not-unrelated to events in Fallujah.

By holding Fallujah, al-Zarqawi acquired global media attention, drawing in recruits from within Iraq and abroad, and a base where JTJ could operate in the open, training operatives who could then be dispatched in cells all around the country, building car bombs, and experimenting with other tactics against the Americans. These factors were not absent when Usama bin Ladin arranged with al-Zarqawi for a bay’a (pledge of allegiance) to al-Qaeda that was announced on 17 October 2004. Bin Ladin’s public acceptance of al-Zawahiri’s pledge both fed off and raised al-Zarqawi’s global standing still further. Al-Zarqawi changed his organization’s name to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM). The holding of Fallujah was therefore crucial in the consolidation and rise of the IS movement, and Hadid was crucial in enabling that.

Perhaps the most important experiment in the six months JTJ/AQM governed Fallujah between the first and second Fallujah battles was the governance itself. This was the Zarqawi’ites first major effort at Islamist governance. Hadid was the JTJ/AQM leader in this project.

The most detailed account of the JTJ/AQM regime in Fallujah is given by Truls Tonnessen. Al-Zarqawi’s organization was significantly foreign at this time, as Tonnessen notes, and figures like Hadid and al-Jawari provided the organic connective tissue for the jihadists to reach into local populations, which especially in conservative areas like Fallujah did not take well to the imposition of foreign rule—by anybody.

Once the Americans were out, al-Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen (The Holy Warrior Consultation Council), better-known as the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC)—not to be confused with the MSC to which AQM as a whole attached itself in January 2006—ran Fallujah, and Hadid was JTJ/AQM’s representative. Hadid formally headed his own insurgent unit, Munazzamat al-Rayat al-Aswad (The Black Banner Organization), but as his presence at the Rawa Camp makes clear, Hadid was deeply connected to the Zarqawi’ites from the earliest days and by this stage if not before he was fully integrated into JTJ/AQM.

Other armed groups were represented on the council, including Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna (originally Ansar al-Islam), al-Jaysh al-Islami fil-Iraq (The Islamic Army of Iraq), and Kataib Thawrat al-Ishreen (The 1920s Revolution Brigade). Though JTJ remained numerically small during this period, absolutely and relatively, it had an outsize influence on the insurgency’s governance, and it also started absorbing local groups, too. On 13 May, Jamaa al-Salafiyya al-Mujahideen fi al-Iraq (The Salafi Group of Holy Warriors in Iraq), merged with JTJ and gave bay’a to al-Zarqawi.

MSC was led by clerics, including Dhafir al-Ubaydi and, most importantly, the council’s leader, Abdallah al-Janabi. Tonnessen records that al-Janabi gave a series of interviews, starting in May, denying that MSC had any links with al-Qaeda and insisting that the MSC was only intended to defend the city from external aggression and internal banditry. Al-Janabi played down the importance of foreign fighters in Fallujah in 2004. Al-Janabi fled Fallujah in late 2004 and was added to the most-wanted list in January 2005. When he re-appeared in 2007, he was still “distancing” from al-Qaeda, though he now conceded they had been in Fallujah, and added (perhaps genuinely) that he thought the declaration of a state by the IS movement in October 2006 was mistaken.

Al-Janabi was allegedly an Iraqi intelligence agent and rather than a Salafist had been connected (p. 24-5) to Izzat al-Duri and his Naqshbandi Order that formed a parallel, free mason-like patronage network within Saddam’s regime.[3] This can be read to suggest a more nationalist and/or tribal motivation, and doubtless those were present. But there are very good reasons to doubt that al-Janabi was as far removed from the globalist jihadists as he claims. While al-Ubaydi was the spiritual leader of the “official” side of Fallujah’s governance (Saleh went to al-Ubaydi’s mosque, for example), al-Janabi aligned with the insurgency. Indeed, al-Janabi worked with Hadid to get al-Ubaydi expelled from the MSC because he was a Sufi.

Throwing al-Janabi’s claim that the MSC was simply about maintaining order into further doubt, in Hadid’s official bio, after boasting of having fired the “damnable” Sufi shaykhs and driven them from the city, it says, “Together with a number of his brothers, [Hadid] formed the Mujahideen Shura Council, hoping it would be the start of Islamic rule [across Iraq].” Al-Janabi’s closeness with the IS movement continued into later years. After then-ISIS overran Fallujah again in January 2014, al-Janabi would openly preach in mosques, which ISIS—in all its incarnations—has always carefully controlled.

On 19 June 2004, the U.S. recommenced airstrikes into Fallujah, but Casey prohibited ground or helicopter raids, so JSOC had to rely on air attacks to dismantle JTJ’s leadership, and the conclusive round in Fallujah was delayed until after the U.S. Presidential Election on 2 November. Though the U.S. contended that the airstrikes’ elimination of a number of senior deputies to both al-Zarqawi and Hadid, plus the total signals surveillance, meant that the organization was on a “downward spiral,” with the terrorists unable to meet and plan, this was not how it was playing out inside the city—or the wider region and beyond.

The airstrikes actually strengthened the hand of the Jihadi-Salafists in Fallujah as against the “official” structures, Tonnessen says. The population reacted against the U.S. for launching the strikes, rather than JTJ/AQM for bringing the strikes down upon them. Many tribes came to see Hadid and al-Zarqawi’s men as the most effective defensive forces. The Zarqawi’ists formally toppled the local government on 4 August 2004, forcing the resignation of the Anbar governor by kidnapping his children. The same month, the compounds of the 505th and 506th Battalions of the Iraqi National Guard outside Fallujah fell to JTJ/AQM. The commander of the 506th, Sulayman al-Marawi, was tortured and then beheaded by Hadid (p. 66). Hadid turned the 505th’s compound into his headquarters. This was a demonstration of Hadid’s power: in classic IS-style, it both buttressed the inducement that JTJ could provide security and threatened the waverers to at least not side against them.

JTJ/AQM helped turn Fallujah into an Islamic emirate, a prototype of the Islamic state that was to come later. People were flogged for drinking or selling alcohol, movie theatres and video stores were closed down, as were hair salons—the city-wide implementation of the vigilante campaign Hadid had led nearly a decade earlier. The shari’a replaced Iraqi civilian law and it was, in the main, initially accepted by the local population, partly because Salafism had become widespread in the area many years before the invasion and partly because the jihadists had the social credit of repelling the “occupier”. The paranoid rule of JTJ/AQM and the continuous execution of “spies” by arbitrary courts was naturally less well-received, and over time soured the populace on JTJ/AQM, even as they continued to oppose the Americans and support al-muqawama al- sharifa (the noble resistance). That the worst of the excesses were conducted by foreigners and their presence invited a U.S. offensive likewise led to JTJ/AQM’s diminished popularity; people “felt they had been deceived by the foreign fighters,” Tonnessen writes.

Showdown Approaches

The use of airstrikes might have been a blunt tool in going after the JTJ/AQM leadership, but JSOC made the best of it. By September, JSOC had killed six of the fourteen “major operators” in Fallujah. In October 2004, Albu Issa tribe, which resented Hadid’s lording it over the city, tried to capture Hadid, but they failed. Neither the strikes nor the tribal uprising succeeded in denting al-Zarqawi’s organization in a serious way.

In the fall, the U.S. moved from sporadic airstrikes and began preparing the ground to retake Fallujah, though it was not without problems. Among other things it exposed how undermanned the Iraq operation was.

On 3 October, Operation BATON ROUGE concluded in Samarra, clearing the insurgents from the city with local assistance, pacifying one of the other burgeoning centres of disorder. The Marines then surrounded Fallujah, screening those who tried to exit. U.S. Army troops were pulled in from south of Baghdad, and their positions filled—inadequately and to great domestic controversy—by British troops moving north from Basra. Other U.S. troops from the west Euphrates were seconded to Fallujah. But this left gaps. In Haditha, the local police force that had been working with the Americans was herded into the football stadium and massacred on the pitch by the Zarqawi’ites, an action that caused problems for the U.S. in recruiting local security for many years afterward.

Politically, at least, the U.S. squared things properly for the November offensive. The new Marine Commander, General John Sattler, met with acting Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to ensure that would be no repeat of the last time where Iraqi government protests stopped the offensive.

A final chance was given to negotiations with the MSC in Fallujah. As Tonnessen explains:

Many of the inhabitants [of Fallujah] … saw an agreement with the government as a means to end the strict Islamic rule and to get rid of the foreigners. … MSC voted in favor of accepting the terms demanded by the government in the negotiations; turn over all heavy weapons, dismantle checkpoints and allow the Iraqi National Guard to enter the city and eject the foreign fighters. … [O]nly Umar Hadid … voted against accepting the demands and vowed to continue fighting regardless of any accord.

This brought tensions with the muhajirun to boiling point: there clashes between local insurgents and the foreign jihadists that killed a number of the latter, and widespread claims from insurgents and the population that al-Zarqawi and his movement had “distorted the image of the resistance”. Ironically, once the negotiations collapsed on 15 October[4] and it became clear there would be an American operation to clear the city, the foreigners largely did leave—which led to insurgent and mob attacks on the muhajirun for abandoning a city they had pledged to defend.

Ten battalions of U.S. soldiers and Marines were emplaced around the city, with the major attack to come from the north and the positions to the south and east—where the insurgency was expecting the attack to come from, based on the concentrations of their defensive apparatus—ensuring that the insurgents did not escape. An Iraqi battalion of four-hundred men, vast American support troops, and additional support from the command in Baghdad were also arranged.

Fallujah II

At 22:00 on 7 November 2004, the effort to drive the Zarqawi’ists from control of Fallujah began, codenamed Operation PHANTOM FURY (soon renamed Operation DAWN under advice from the interim Iraqi government).

Closing in from western Fallujah, U.S. Special Forces and the Iraqi unit seized some positions and the Marines took two bridges. After a pause, the Marines cleared the cemetery adjacent to Jolan in the morning of 8 November and moved into the district itself the next day, pushing north.

Drawing on the coded communications systems of the fallen regime, the Marines confronted an insurgency that had stockpiled weapons in private homes and constructed a tunnel system that meant apparently-cleared areas kept being re-infiltrated. Marines present say they found (37.40) the battlefield littered with syringes and that the jihadists were injecting themselves with adrenaline, Novocain, and other substances that allowed them to keep fighting even with mortal wounds. In Jolan, evidence surfaced of the Syrian hand in the entry of foreign fighters, eleven IED factories were found, and a house of horrors that included two-dozen blood-stained torture rooms, a detailed schedule for the commission and filming of beheadings, and a house where two Iraqi men had been left with their legs sawed off, one of them dead.

By 14 November, the six U.S. battalions and the Iraqi troops following behind them had achieved all their objectives, but having swept from one end of Fallujah to the other, they now had to come back on themselves to mop up the pockets they had either missed or to which insurgents had returned. By 21 November, the intense fighting had subsided and troops began to withdraw, though sporadic clashes, sometimes requiring tanks and airstrikes, continued all the way to the formal end of Operation DAWN on 23 December.

Hadid was killed a few days before 21 November, cut down by a sniper, according to the IS biography.[5]

The Legacy of Hadid and Fallujah

The second round in Fallujah was a pyrrhic victory for the Coalition. Seventy Marines were killed and 650 wounded, almost all in the first two weeks of the operation. 200,000 of 250,000 residents of Fallujah had been displaced between the two battles and returning was slow—no more than 25,000 by the time of the first post-Saddam election on 30 January 2005. Up to 10,000 of the 50,000 residences in the city had been destroyed, as had sixty mosques, mostly because the insurgents used them as battle stations. 2,175 insurgents were killed, fully a quarter of all insurgents killed in 2004, yet the IS movement had undoubtedly gained from the engagement.

Politically, AQM had set the stage to co-opt the insurgency from the more nationalist-Islamist forces by being the spear-head of the resistance and damaged the Coalition’s cause by successful media work to portray the U.S. conduct in Fallujah as an atrocity. The centrality of al-Zarqawi’s men to the battle, the global media attention, and the damage to the U.S. also quieted a lot of the doubts already present in the minds of al-Qaeda’s leaders about supporting the Zarqawi’ists.

AQM had also begun to figure out what worked—and what did not—in forging a coherent organization out of its various national factions and integrating its project into local populations, something necessary for durability. On these terms, Hadid is a personal symbol of the IS movement’s success, a local who provided a portal through which AQM/IS could embed itself in a local population. As one Fallujan cleric put it, “If Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] didn’t cultivate the support of Umar [Hadid], he never would’ve been allowed to stay in Fallujah.” Hadid was a member of the Mahamdeh tribe, one of the big four in Fallujah. “It didn’t matter that [Hadid’s] views were more extremist than most of the fighters in Fallujah,” said one resident. “[H]e’s a son of the city.” It therefore served AQM well to have Hadid as its emir, operating under a deniable front group, his Black Banner Brigade, with the foreigners under his command and protection.

Militarily, AQM holding Fallujah gave it the space to experiment, to test methods of mechanizing the creation of bombs and to trial various tactics. When the Americans approached, Hadid had—around mid-October—ordered the evacuation of up to half of his men, gaining two advantages. It established a force-preservation tactic that has been maintained to the present, wherein AQM/IS leaves only a small force behind layered defences when its urban holdings are threatened with overwhelming force, to allow the infliction of heavy casualties for a relatively small loss. Most important was the dispersal of the men AQM had been able to train in its open operating environment.

The AQM jihadists had, on Hadid’s orders, moved to western Anbar and the rural belts south of Baghdad—Yusufiya, Mahmudiya, the Jabur tribal zones, and Jurf al-Sakhar—that would later become infamous as the “Triangle of Death,” an insurgent refuge that would persist for many years.[6] Most importantly, AQM—including al-Zarqawi himself (on 8 November)—had relocated to Mosul.

David Petraeus and the 101st Airborne had appeared to create in Mosul a successful model of governance by the end of 2003, but by the spring of 2004 it was clear that AQM was finding sanctuary in the area, and being assisted by police chief Muhammad al-Barhawi. Ninawa’s governor was struck down in June 2004 and, by mid-August 2004, JSOC had assessed that Mosul was trending toward becoming a new Zarqawi’ist safe haven. Small attacks began in Mosul on 8 November, and on 11 November—the fourth full day of the second Fallujah operation—insurgents seized five bridges and a number of police stations, destroying others. Gains continued overnight and by 12 November the U.S. had lost control and the city had fallen to AQM. By 16 November, the U.S. restored some control—because AQM chose to withdraw, after slaughtering seventy-six members of the Iraqi security forces. The Zarqawi’ists would never truly leave Mosul: it was the one area that did not have an Awakening and would continue to provide funds that sustained life for AQM/ISI even in its darkest hours in 2007-08.


[1] Hadid also used the pseudonyms Abu Khattab al-Ansari and Abu Khattab al-Iraqi

[2] It is said by some (p. 137) that Hadid himself had served in Saddam’s Special Republican Guards. Locals from Albu Aitha tribe, Hadid’s own and a member of the wider Dulaym federation, claim that Hadid was a first lieutenant in the regular army. If either is true, it is a notable change by the Saddam regime, which had previously purged Salafi-style believers from the ranks of its military.

[3] Al-Janabi being an agent of Saddam’s regime might explain why al-Janabi was able to criticize the Saddam government and live to tell the tale (or perhaps this was a demonstration of the pro-Sunni tilt of the Faith Campaign.)

[4] The negotiations between the Fallujah MSC and Iraqi government collapsed over the demand from PM Allawi that the MSC turn over al-Zarqawi, whom they claimed they had never met (and, with the exception of Hadid and possibly al-Janabi, it might even have been true). The MSC also said that al-Zarqawi had never been in Fallujah. As it happens, al-Zarqawi appears to have been in Fallujah on the first day of the November 2004 battle, but he had been in the city at all in April, remaining in Ramadi.

[5] The IS biography says Hadid was killed as “the fighting began to subside,” which suggests a few days either side of 21 November. A report from 22 November cryptically suggests Hadid was already deceased by then.


Abu Hamza al-Muhajir [screenshot from a video that also includes Umar Hadid]

[6] Among the senior leaders who remained in Fallujah with Hadid during the second battle was Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), who would succeed al-Zarqawi as the leader of AQM. Interestingly, the picture of Hadid above is taken from one of only two known videos in which al-Badawi appears.

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  10. Pingback: Don’t Celebrate the Fall of Raqqa Just Yet | The Syrian Intifada

  11. Pingback: The Islamic State’s Obituary for Abu Ayman al-Iraqi | Kyle Orton's Blog

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