Monthly Archives: October 2015

Kamel Sachet and Islamism in Saddam’s Security Forces

1Book Review: The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Life of an Iraqi Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny (2009) by Wendell Steavenson

By Kyle Orton
(@KyleWOrton) on October 24, 2015

Wendell Steavenson’s The Weight of a Mustard Seed—the title drawn from a verse of the Qur’an about the difference between attaining heaven and hell—comprises five years of research about Kamel Sachet Aziz al-Janabi, one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite and most senior generals.

Born in 1947, Kamel Sachet joined the Iraqi police straight from school in the mid-1960s and joined the army in 1975. Sachet was soon in the Special Forces, training in mountain warfare in Germany in 1978, taking part in joint exercises with Iranian Special Forces during the time of the Shah—learning Farsi along the way—and then being part of the Iraqi Special Forces advanced party sent to invade Iran after Ruhollah Khomeini’s takeover. Sachet would later be part of the elite forces sent to secure Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. After Saddam was evicted from Kuwait, Sachet, who had been slipping deeper and deeper into religious zeal from the early 1980s, was made governor of Maysan where he ran a de facto Salafi commune. Sachet was eventually removed from this post by regime internal intrigue, and was moved to a job in the office of the president. For reasons never definitively established, Sachet was murdered on Saddam Hussein’s orders on the first day of Operation DESERT FOX in December 1998.

Kamel Sachet’s story is an interesting one for what it says about the Saddam regime’s changing attitude toward Islamism as it ran its course, reversing the hard-secular outlook that prevailed at varying degrees of intensity from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and transforming into an Islamist State in the last fifteen years of the regime. Continue reading

Why NATO Was Right To Intervene In Libya

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 21, 2015

Published at Left Foot Forward.

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Periodically, since the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, there appears a series of articles, couched in tones from tentative to vehement, suggesting that if NATO had stayed out and allowed Qaddafi to retake the rebellious city of Benghazi in March 2011 then Libya would now be stable and would not be haemorrhaging refugees.

With the onset of the refugee crisis in Europe earlier this year, and Libya providing a major transit point for those trying to get to Europe, it was inevitable that this would happen again. But it is still mistaken: instability was coming to Libya no matter what the West did, and the main problem with the intervention was that it wasn’t early enough, forceful enough, or protracted enough. Continue reading

Why Solely Backing the PYD Against the Islamic State is a Mistake

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 20, 2015

Published at NOW Lebanon.

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The Pentagon-run train-and-equip (T&E) program had intended to take Syrian rebels, stop them from being rebels by preventing them from fighting the Assad regime, and repurpose them into an American-directed strike force against the Islamic State (ISIS). Unsurprisingly, there were few takers and the program ended in disaster and humiliation. In the wake of this failure, President Barack Obama has turned away from the Arab rebels and looked to the Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS. This is a strategy that is not only doomed to fail—since Sunni Arabs taking responsibility for their local security is the only way to sustainably defeat ISIS—but would, if implemented, make the ISIS problem worse. A report from Amnesty International this week documenting crimes, including ethnic cleansing, by the armed Kurdish forces against Arabs and Turkmens in northern Syria also provides an occasion to look more closely at a force with a history of regime collaboration, political extremism, and terrorism. Continue reading

Saddam, Sanctions, and Religious Solace in Iraq

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 18, 2015

Mural of Saddam Hussein at prayer on Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

Mural of Saddam Hussein at prayer on Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

In the 1990s, the combination of the sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s predatory regime debauched Iraq, ushering in a period of chaos, scarcity, and corruption as the regime gradually broke down. With a religious revival already underway, the population turned to faith for succour, and the regime encouraged this in a way that—in the wake of the brutal repression of the Shi’a rebellion after the first part of the Gulf War—hardened sectarian identities. The security services were deeply affected by the Saddam regime’s Islamization and the Salafists exploited their newfound freedom, and the regime’s increasing lack of capacity, to plot a future after Saddam. By 2003, these various organized Islamist strains, part in and part out of the regime, stood ready to succeed Saddam and had a more zealous and sectarian population to draw on. Saddam had set the stage for the emergence of something like the Islamic State long before Coalition troops invaded Iraq. Continue reading

Islamic State Spokesman Admits Caliph’s Deputy is Dead, Invites Armageddon

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 14, 2015

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The Islamic State’s spokesman, Taha Subhi Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) gave a speech on 13 October 2015 entitled, “Say to Those Who Disbelieve, ‘You Will Be Overcome’.”

Falaha’s speech contained an important piece of news, or rather confirmation of news: the caliph’s deputy, Fadel al-Hiyali, was in fact killed on 18 August 2015.[4]

The themes in Falaha’s speech were largely familiar: the jihadists were facing a global conspiracy of America, its allies, Russia, Iran, and apostate Muslims in Syria and Iraq; Muslims should therefore unite around the Islamic State’s banner in order to repel this aggression aimed at all (Sunni) Muslims; but the Islamic State remains strong—the killing of leaders and the loss of some areas was more than made up for by other advances—and able to murder those Muslims who remain opposed to it and shatter the Americans. Continue reading

The Horrors for Women of Islamic State Rule

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 12, 2015

Published at Verily 

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I have always been interested in the Middle East, specifically the Syrian conflict. In early summer 2014, as part of my master’s dissertation, I went to Lebanon to work with the United Nations. I was still there when the Islamic State group, commonly known as ISIS, struck Iraq.  Continue reading

Russia Teams Up With Islamic State Against Syria’s Rebels

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 11, 2015

Devastation of the Ibrahim al-Khalil mosque in Tareeq al Bab after Assad's barrel bombs, Aleppo, April 2015 (source)

Devastation of the Ibrahim al-Khalil mosque in Tareeq al Bab after Assad’s barrel bombs, Aleppo, April 2015 (source)

The main intention of Russia’s intervention in Syria is to prop up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and to do that Russia is seeking to ensure that the Islamic State (I.S.) is the only alternative to Assad’s regime. If the conflict becomes binary—Assad or I.S.—nobody can support I.S., and by default it will be accepted that Assad has to stay; even if international help is not given to put down the insurgency at that point, tacit support and political legitimacy will be extended to Russia’s effort to keep its client regime alive. In service of this mission, Moscow has consistently targeted the moderate rebels and even some non-moderate rebels, while avoiding I.S., in the conscious hope that the rebel positions it destroys will be replaced by I.S. fighters. In northern Syria in the last few days, Russia got its wish in a major way. Continue reading