Ba’ath Roots of Daesh

Denise Natali at Al-Monitor explores the nexus between Islamic State and Iraq’s Ba’ath Party:

How could Iraqi Baathists, known for their secular ideology, find common ground with radical Salafist groups? While the presence and strength of former Baathist officers in IS appears contradictory it reflects the influence of the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandi (JRTN), a group of Saddam’s former officers and Sunni Arab tribes that formed in reaction to the post-2003 Iraqi order. Led by Izzat al-Douri, Saddam’s former vice president and deputy chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council (proclaimed to be killed in a recent battle in Tikrit), the JRTN represents a fusion of Islam, Sunni Arab identity and Iraqi nationalism.

This fusion can be traced to the early 1990s, when Saddam commenced his Islamic faith campaign to consolidate Baath Party power. The campaign reflected geopolitical challenges and Iraqi security priorities after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1989) and Saddam’s attempts to control the “Zoroastrian” Iran and Persian-Shiite threat. It involved the Baath Party’s direct control of all religious policies and institutions in Iraq, creating Islamic structures, recruiting networks of spies and Islamic activists to work for the regime, and embedding Baath Party structures, members and security organs into religious circles.

By the late 1990s a “religious deep state” had emerged in Iraq, whereby most Sunni Islamic leaders and institutions that were created, co-opted and/or controlled by the regime were now inside the state. One of these institutions was the Islamic University of Baghdad, attended by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, current leader of the so-called IS caliphate. …

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was reported killed in a security operation, although Iraqi authorities are unable to confirm the identity of the body.

Read Natali’s article at the link.  It follows Spiegel’s revelation of secret files recovered from Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, alias Haji Bakr.

The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. …

This is a good place to mention Michael Totten’s review of ISIS:  Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan.

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, paints a gripping and disturbing picture of this new “caliphate” in the Levant and Mesopotamia. In the most comprehensive account to date, the authors chronicle ISIS’s roots as the Iraqi franchise of al-Qaeda under its founding father, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its near defeat at the hands of Americans and Iraqi militias in Anbar Province, its rebirth during the Syrian civil war, and its catastrophic return to Iraq as a conquering army last summer. …

Go read the rest at the link, and I recommend getting the book.

World Today: 2015-04-26 Sunday

Nepal:  Earthquake kills more than 1800. Nepal ramped up efforts on Sunday to rescue people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings after an earthquake devastated the heavily crowded Kathmandu valley, killing at least 1,832, and triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.’

Iraq / Jordan:  Daesh car bombs hit border post, kill four.  ‘Three suicide car bombs exploded at a border crossing between Iraq and Jordan on Saturday, killing four soldiers, a witness and an Iraqi border police source said, in an attack claimed shortly afterwards by Islamic State. …’

Iraq:  Daesh captures base, dam in Thar Thar.  ‘The Islamic State seized control of a dam and overran a military barracks in the Thar Thar area in western Iraq over the past several days. Over 120 Iraqi soldiers and a senior general were killed during the Islamic State offensive.’

Israel:  Vehicular attack in eastern Jerusalem injures three.  According to police, “A Skoda car drove from the direction of the Mount of Olives cemetery to the Mukased Hospital. At the Salman al-Farsi junction it drove onto the pavement and hit three policemen. Shots were fired at the car, that kept on driving down Salman al-Farsi. The area was combed and the car that struck the policemen was located. The search continues for the terrorist.”  This follows Saturday’s stabbing attack in Hevron.

Russia / USA:  Hackers viewed Obama’s unclassified emails – NYT.  ‘Russian hackers who penetrated sensitive parts of the White House computer system last year read President Barack Obama’s unclassified emails, the New York Times reported on Saturday, quoting U.S. officials.’  The article added that the President’s email account itself was not breached, and that the compromised messages may have included ‘email exchanges with diplomats, exchanges about personnel moves and legislation, presidential schedules and discussion about policy.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi: The Brains of Islamic State

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, this article in Spiegel reveals a startling discovery about the origins and plans of Daesh (Islamic State, or Isis):

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages …

Go to the article for the rest.

On the Rocks

I wrote before that Kurdistan has experienced enormous economic growth in recent years.  And that’s true, but it’s also true that the conflict with Daesh (Islamic State, or ISIS) over the past year has halted that growth for the time being.

I spent today taking a day trip out of town.  My driver, host, and tour guide was a young man named Saleh, recently graduated with a degree in English.  He filled me in on a few things.

Many new buildings are being built, but many others stand unfinished.  Unfinished roads and half-built overpasses litter the landscape.  The latter are a casualty of the government budget:  Erbil is entirely dependent on Baghdad for its revenue, and Baghdad has defaulted on payments to the Kurds.  (Remember, the Kurdistan region is still officially part of Iraq.)  As for the private sector, some foreign investors were scared off by Daesh; there was also the problem of foreign laborers absconding with their advance pay and fleeing to Turkey.

The Daesh attacks further strained relations between Arabs and Kurds, too, leading to Arab families being delayed and harassed at Kurdish checkpoints and vice versa.  This doesn’t do anything to make Korek an attractive destination for a family from Baghdad.

Saleh took me to the Korek Mountain Resort where we took the Teleferic (aerial tram) for a magnificent, though cloudy, view from the mountains.  (A word of caution:  if dangling hundreds of feet over rocky terrain isn’t your idea of a good time, you might want to skip this.)  It looked like a mountain resort anywhere in America, and a year ago it was packed, he told me.  But now it’s almost completely deserted.

Off-season.
Off-season.
Not for the faint of heart.
Not for the faint of heart.
Peshmerga training camp, junior division.
Peshmerga training camp, junior division.

We also stopped at Bekhal, a waterfall where you can take off your shoes and climb several sets of very slippery, wet stone steps to view the source of the mountain spring.  I made the climb, somehow overcoming my fear of slipping and breaking my neck.  The mountain tram was exciting enough, but the climb at Bekhal was absolutely terrifying.  And this site, too, looked like it was built for huge crowds who had simply forgotten to show up.

IMG_0559

The most dangerous thing I did in the Middle East.
The most dangerous thing I did in the Middle East.

I think things are starting to take a turn for the better.  Foreign businesses are starting to realize that the Kurdish territory is, after all, very safe; just now Lufthansa has announced that it is resuming flights to Erbil.

We’re still in the off-season, so maybe things will pick up there soon.  I hope so.  And I hope the good times return soon for Kurdistan.