In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. Continue reading
A year ago, I wrote a report documenting the biographies of Islamic State (IS) leaders and something of the structure of the organisation. Since then, the intricacies of the structure have been further revealed, even as it has somewhat crumbled in practice. The caliphate—the statelet built by IS—has been significantly degraded: the Iraqi “capital”, Mosul, has fallen, and operation to clear the Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, is underway. More significantly, upwards of 40% of those profiled have been killed, so it seemed an opportune moment for an update on who currently leads the world’s most infamous terrorist movement.
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. Continue reading
When Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) became the leader of the then-Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in May 2010, his deputy was man named Numan al-Zaydi, who went under various pseudonyms: Abu Ibrahim al-Ansari, Abu Sulayman al-Nasser, and Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Sulayman. Al-Zaydi was killed in February 2011. Continue reading
Published in The New York Times.
Whom should we blame for the Islamic State? In the debate about its origins, many have concluded that it arose from the American-led coalition’s errors after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In fact, the groundwork for the emergence of the militant jihadist group was laid many years earlier by the government of Saddam Hussein.
The Arab nationalist Baath Party, which seized power in 1968 in a coup in which Mr. Hussein played a key role, had a firmly secular outlook. This held through the 1970s, even as religiosity rose among the Iraqi people. But soon after Mr. Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, it began to change.
In the last few months I’ve increasingly focussed on the former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) within the Islamic State (I.S.). There’s now an entire section on this blog about it, and Aaron Zelin over at Jihadology recently gave me time to elaborate in a podcast.
In studying this topic there is one inescapable name: Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better-known by his pseudonym Haji Bakr, and sometimes by his kunya, Abu Bakr al-Iraqi. Al-Khlifawi is a former colonel in an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam Hussein regime—focussed on air defence at Habbaniya airbase, though what exactly that entails is murky. Al-Khlifawi was also apparently involved in weapons development.
Al-Khlifawi came to international attention in April when Christoph Reuter published an article in Der Spiegel naming al-Khlifawi as the “architect” of I.S.’s expansion into Syria, and the man who had been “pulling the strings at IS for years.” Continue reading
Published at Baghdad Invest
Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s long-time deputy, was reported dead (again) on April 17. An audio message on May 15 disproved this. Douri was the implementer of the Saddam regime’s Islamization program in its later years and a key architect of the insurgency after the regime was overthrown, which helped pave the way for the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS has now turned on Douri and his associates, but ISIS could not have risen to its current stature without Douri’s help. Continue reading
Having presented the evidence that Saddam Hussein Islamized his foreign policy and then Islamized his regime, above all with the Islamic Faith Campaign, beginning in June 1993 that tried to fuse Ba’athism with Salafism, encouraging (and keeping under surveillance) a religious revival in Iraq that redounded to the benefit of the regime’s legitimacy and support, I wanted to look at what this history means for Iraq and the wider region now.
I pointed out in October that the “military strength” of the Islamic State (ISIS) “comes from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military-intelligence apparatus and the Caucasus’ Salafi-jihadists.” Continue reading
Syria’s rebellion was already fighting for its life, squeezed between the regime and the Islamic State (I.S.) in Aleppo, and on Friday night a new front appeared to open. Jabhat an-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, announced that it was forming an Islamic Emirate. According to a translation by Hassan Hassan, Nusra’s commander, Abu Muhammad al-Golani, said that they would now start implementing the shari’a “in the full sense of the word,” and “without compromise, leniency, ambiguity, or politeness.” Golani specifically says that Nusra will begin implementing the hudud, the harsh punishments like amputation for theft, which Nusra has very deliberately not done so far, saying war conditions suspended such punishments according to the Holy Law. At a more material level, it avoided garnering them bad press for savagery against the civilian population. Golani dismissed with contempt the secular rebels as “grovelling” to the West, and declared I.S.’s Caliphate “void” and its members ghulat (extremists).