Muhammad Shakar had, according to his martyr biography, “become influenced by Salafism in 1997-98 while serving as a part of [Saddam] Hussein’s Special Republican Guard”. Quitting the military and returning to his home in Mosul, Shakar was harassed by the regime until he went to join Ansar al-Islam in the mountains of Kurdistan.
Shakar, known as Abu Talha al-Ansari or Abu Talha al-Mawsuli, joined the predecessor to Islamic State either just before or just after Saddam fell, and he was arrested in Mosul on 14 June 2005. Continue reading →
In August 2015’s Perspectives on Terrorism, Truls Tønnessenwrites about the evolution of the leadership of what is now the Islamic State (I.S.) from its origins in al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under the heading, “Heirs of Zarqawi or Saddam?” Tonnessen makes the obvious point that AQI’s leadership was largely comprised of foreign Salafi-jihadists with al-Qaeda histories, while I.S. is led by Iraqis, most of them former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs). But Tonnessen’s argument that I.S.’s leaders had not been AQI members is mistaken (they had), which erodes his arguments that AQI’s influence diminished over time as I.S. formed from various mergers, and that this diminution of influence came about because I.S.’s post-2010 leadership purged the veteran AQI elements within I.S. (I.S.’s leaders are veteran AQI elements.) The main difference between AQI’s leaders and I.S.’s is that AQI’s leaders had background connections to al-Qaeda Central (AQC) networks, and I.S.’s largely do not. While Tonnessen sees Jabhat an-Nusra as linked to these shifting dynamics, this argument does not stack up. Ultimately, Tonnessen’s contention that I.S.’s leaders are more heirs of Saddam than Zarqawi fails in the terms Tonnessen presents it. Continue reading →