The Man Who Planned the Islamic State’s Takeover of Mosul

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 31, 2017

Adnan al-Bilawi

Adnan al-Bilawi

Adnan Ismail Najem al-Bilawi al-Dulaymi (Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi), the leader of the Islamic State’s Military Council when he was killed on the eve of the Mosul offensive that he had planned in June 2014, was eulogized by IS’s official spokesman, Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), explaining his importance to the organization. Below is a profile of al-Bilawi and the section of Falaha’s speech dedicated to al-Bilawi.


Adnan al-Bilawi was born in al-Khalidiya, about ten miles west of Ramadi in Anbar Province, to the Dulaym tribe, the largest in Iraq. The Dulaym, especially from around Ramadi, had rebelled against Saddam Husayn in May and June 1995 after he tortured and murdered one of their kinsman; Saddam cracked down fiercely, killing about 100 people, but notably did not resort to the measures he did in 1991 when putting down the Shi’i revolt. Saddam still needed (p. 234) tribal support and did not want to shatter relations with the whole Dulaym federation.

Al-Bilawi had graduated from a military academy in 1993 and became an infantry officer. By the time the regime came down in 2003, al-Bilawi was a Captain in Saddam’s Republican Guards, and also very clearly a jihadi-Salafist. Al-Bilawi joined IS’s predecessor almost immediately and was very close to IS’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), as Falaha outlines below, and had become “highly influential” within what was then Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad before it became al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) in October 2004.

In the nucleus of early ansar (local jihadists) that joined al-Khalayleh’s foreign-led enterprise, al-Bilawi was joined by Samir al-Khlifawi (Abu Bakr al-Iraqi, Haji Bakr) and Adnan al-Suwaydawi (Abu Muhannad al-Suwaydawi, Haji Dawud) from an elite air defence intelligence unit. Al-Bilawi was personally close to al-Suwaydawi, a fellow Anbari and Dulaym. In the same milieu was Fadel al-Hiyali (Abu Mutaz al-Qurayshi, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Haji Mutaz), a member of Saddam’s Special Forces, who had been drawn into violent Salafism by Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari), a jihadi cleric and one of the few leaders of JTJ/AQM who had extensive background links to al-Qaeda “central”.

Al-Bilawi was imprisoned by the Americans on 27 January 2005, for at least some time at Camp Bucca, and spent his time in religious classes, memorizing the Qur’an and acting as a prison emir to the other captive jihadists, according to Falaha. One report says that al-Bilawi was freed during the Abu Ghraib prison-break on 21 July 2013, which was planned by al-Suwaydawi, though Falaha says al-Bilawi was freed about a year earlier, in mid-2012, and was released rather than broken out.

Al-Khlifawi became the head of the new Military Council in 2011 after Numan al-Zaydi (Abu Ibrahim al-Ansari), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s first deputy and war minister, was killed. Al-Bilawi became the head of the Military Council after al-Khlifawi was killed by the Syrian rebellion near Aleppo in January 2014 as rebels expelled IS from large swathes of territory. Al-Khlifawi’s demise led to a division of labour between al-Qaduli, who, as al-Qaeda corroborates, became IS’s Syrian governor, and al-Hiyali, who governed IS-held areas in Iraq.

As head of the Military Council, al-Bilawi’s role seems to have been to assure the coordination of these two pieces of IS’s statelet—in other words an intermediary between al-Qaduli and al-Hiyali. While al-Qaduli and al-Hiyali were charged with running and defending their areas, al-Bilawi’s portfolio seems to have included the task of planning offensive military operations to expand the territory of the nascent state.

Al-Bilawi killed himself on 4 June 2014, detonating a suicide vest as Iraqi police raided his hideout in Mosul. Al-Suwaydawi, who had taken over as head of the Security and Intelligence Council (SIC)—therefore of the amniyat—when Abu Umar al-Turkmani was killed (probably around March 2014), succeeded al-Bilawi as head of the Military Council. Al-Suwaydawi was killed in May 2015, at which point al-Hiyali became both Military Council executive and governor of Iraq, as well as overall deputy to the caliph. Al-Qaduli took over SIC on a temporary basis after al-Suwaydawi’s demise. When al-Hiyali was killed in August 2015, the Military Council was taken up by Iyad al-Ubaydi (Abu Saleh al-Ubaydi or Abu Saleh al-Hayfa)—not to be confused with the finance minister, Muwaffaq al-Kharmush (Abu Saleh), who was possibly killed in late 2015—and al-Qaduli became the overall deputy to the caliph, while handling the group’s finances and overseeing the wilayats (provinces). Al-Qaduli left Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer) to govern Syria and passed the SIC file to Iyad al-Jumayli (Abu Yahya al-Iraqi). The governorship of Iraq probably went to Nima al-Jiburi (Abu Fatima al-Juhayshi). Once al-Absi was killed, Falaha became the governor of Syria, a position that now seems to be occupied by Tarad al-Jarba (Abu Muhammad al-Shimali).

The offensive launched by IS to capture Mosul in June 2014 had been anticipated by the Iraqi government. The raid that killed al-Bilawi was made possible by the capture of several IS operatives in May 2014, who had revealed that IS was planning a major operation. It was hoped by Iraqi police that al-Bilawi’s demise would avert this offensive; it did not. The offensive went ahead as planned, now called “Bilawi Revenge” or “Bilawi Vengeance,” beginning on 6 June. By 10 June 2014, Mosul city had fallen to IS, which then swept across northern Iraq, conquering Bayji, Tikrit, and much of Saladin Province down to Tuz Khormato on 11 June, before moving into Diyala Province and even toward Baghdad on 12 June. Just after midnight on 12/13 June, a widely-circulated report contained an assessment from a U.S. intelligence official that: “The Green Zone is going down.” That transpired not to be the case, and indeed there had never been any serious danger of Baghdad falling, but the captured resources enabled IS to overcome rebel resistance in eastern Syria.

These territorial conquests that took place according to al-Bilawi’s design were soon declared a caliphate by then-ISIS.


The Islamic State’s official spokesman, Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), released an audio address on 11 June 2014, “What Comes To You of Good is From Allah”. The speech’s main purpose was to celebrate Mosul’s fall the day before, and to affirm that such had not come about “by numbers, nor equipment, nor weapons, nor wealth; rather [the State] prevails by God’s bounty alone, through its creed.” Falaha then gave a number of reasons why IS “prevails,” all related to the purity of its ideology and some to do with the need to provide a refuge for Muslims and God’s desire to see the disbelievers despondent. Exhorting listeners to “continue in your jihad” all the way to Baghdad to topple the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki, Falaha gave his eulogy for Adnan al-Bilawi:

We will not forget to give to the soldiers, sons, and supporters of the Islamic State everywhere, the news of the martyrdom of one of the heroes, heads, symbols, landmarks, leaders, and men of the Islamic State: Adnan Ismail Najem, Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari; we consider him such, God is his judge, and we don’t presume to know better than God. …

He was from the first forerunners in the jihad against the crusaders in the Land of the Two Rivers [Mesopotamia]. If you mention the ansar (local jihadists), then count him among the oldest, the most experienced, and the best. If you mention al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, then count him from among the fearless founders. If you mention the Islamic State, then count him among the establishers of its pillars and its great leaders. If you mention history, then count him from among the mujahideen, the victorious, and the heroes. And if you mention the people of bravery, bounty, and chivalry, then count him from among the core.

He would not accept humiliation for his religion. He was patient, constant, and brave. He had high ambitions, higher than all. He infuriated the hypocrites and apostates. When he would reside somewhere, they would retreat, lose hope, and suffer defeat.

He was the pride of the mujahid muwahideen (fighting/jihadist monotheists). When they would see him, they’d feel hopeful, secure, and calm.

I did not know him to be except one who spends the night in prayer and the day in jihad and fasting. I did not look to him except that I saw dignity, honour, and chivalry. I did not speak to him except that I heard from him tawhid (monotheism), wala (loyalty to Islam and Muslims), and bara (disavowal of all things and people non-Islamic).

Shaykh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi resided with him. He was the best ansari for the best muhajir (foreign fighter). He stayed with him and accompanied him for three years, drinking his aqeeda (creed) and manhaj (methodology). He was his right hand, until he was afflicted with imprisonment at the hands of the crusaders. So he stayed in the school of Yusuf for several years, spending his time seeking knowledge, and in this aspiration, he was like the thirsty camel. He did not bore of seeking knowledge for a single day. So he recited the Qur’an in the ten recitations, preserving them within his two sides. Thus, he was from the memorizers of Qur’an. He also read tafsir, sirah, nahw, hadith, and usul al-fiqh. Yet his great desire to seek knowledge did not prevent him from taking care of his brothers’ affairs. Therefore, he was their emir in prison, directing his brothers and solving their problems. He would also confront the deviant people of falsehood and their plots.

Then God blessed him with being released from prison in a difficult time for the State, about two years ago [mid-2012]. And he had gathered both shar’i (religious) and military knowledge. He left prison thirsty to meet God’s enemies. So he worked day and night as a general director travelling between the wilayat (provinces), planning for battles and managing assaults. He fueled the fighting and turned Iraq into a hellfire for the Rawafid (derogatory term for Shi’is) and apostates.

And he—by God’s bounty—was the planner and leader of the last battles in al-Anbar, Ninawa, and Saladin. He was the master-mind behind these latest conquests and victories.

May God have mercy upon you, O Abu Abdulrahman; grant you a home in the highest level of Paradise, and resurrect you with Prophets, truthful, and martyrs.

As for al-Bilawi, then he has received what he wished for, we consider him as such and God is his judge. As for you, O soldiers of the Islamic State, then march on upon the path of Abu Abdulrahman. Roll up your sleeves to uncover arms of diligence. Do not compromise a single hand-span of land you liberated. The Rawafid must not step upon it once again except over your bodies and remains. Advance forward to Baghdad of [Harun] al-Rashid, Baghdad of the [Abbasid] caliphate, for we must settle some debts there. Be certain of God’s victory as long as you fear Him, for the Rawafid are a forsaken nation. God is exalted above granting them victory over you, for they are mushrikeen (idolaters), worshippers of men and stones.

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