Over the past week, two members of the Islamic State (IS) have been arrested—a rarity in itself during the Coalition campaign against the group—and both in different ways give a glimpse of archetypes that have made up the organisation, from its inception to its expansion into Syria. Continue reading
The current leader of the Islamic State (IS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was appointed as al-amir al-mu’mineen (the commander of the faithful or prince of the believers) on 16 May 2010, after his predecessor, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), was killed on 18 April 2010 in the company of his deputy and “war minister”, Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir). The official statement appointing al-Badri is reproduced below. Continue reading
The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave a thirty-five-minute speech on 28 November 2017, entitled: “Let Us Fight Them As A Solid Structure” (or “Let Us Fight Them As One Body” or “Let Us Fight Them With Solid Foundations”), dealing with the vexed question of al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Syrian jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a situation that escalated again in recent days. The mention of an impending Turkish intervention into Idlib—which began on 7 October—suggests that al-Zawahiri recorded this speech in the last days of September or the first few days of October. An English transcript of the speech was released by As-Sahab Media, and is reproduced below with some edits for syntax and transliteration. Continue reading
Yesterday, Reuters had an article by Isabel Coles and Ned Parker entitled, “How Saddam’s men help Islamic State rule“. The article had a number of interesting points, but in its presentation of the movement of former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) into the leadership structure of the Islamic State (IS) as a phenomenon of the last few years, it was a step backward: the press had seemed to be recognizing that the Salafization of the FREs within IS dates back to the Islamization of Saddam Hussein’s regime in its last fifteen years, notably in the 1990s after the onset of the Faith Campaign. Continue reading
In the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Seth Frantzman wrote in opposition to the idea that the ex-military-intelligence officials of the Saddam Hussein regime had contributed significantly to the success of the Islamic State (ISIS) in taking over large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Much of what Frantzman says, about the overestimation of ISIS and Iran’s growing Imperium pushing Sunnis into ISIS’s camp, is unarguable, but he is in error about the time-frame of the ex-Saddamists’ migration into ISIS and underestimates their impact. 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
In December, I wrote a post, “Iraq Is Still Suffering The Effects Of Saddam Hussein’s Islamist Regime,” which was a review/analysis of an academic paper by Samuel Helfont that pointed out that the Saddam Hussein regime had, since the 1980s, used Islamists, including al-Qaeda, as part of its foreign policy. I critiqued the paper a little for having said it would not comment on Saddam’s internal policy with the Islamists, while in fact the paper hinted that Saddam remained hostile to mixing religion and politics. I noted that the evidence does not support this: Saddam’s regime adopted overt theocratic trappings before the end.
There were two kinds of pushback to the idea that Saddam’s regime was Islamist. Predictably, one critique was related to the controversy over the way the Gulf War that Saddam started in 1990 was ended; opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are heavily invested in the Saddam-as-secularist narrative, often coupled with the “Bush lied” hysteria—in this case about a connection between the Saddam regime and al-Qaeda—to say that the invasion empowered a previously, officially-repressed Islamism in Iraq. This simply is not borne out by the evidence. There was also pushback from some Iraqis. But this too was predictable: as I outlined in that post, drawing on Ali Allawi’s book on post-Saddam Iraq, one of the reasons so many people with no agenda get the Islamist aspect of the Saddam regime wrong is that when they turn to what they believe is the best primary source—namely the Iraqis in the West—they encounter a source that for various reasons is actually several decades out-of-date.
Buttressing my initial argument is a 2011 paper, “From Militant Secularism to Islamism: The Iraqi Ba’th Regime 1968-2003,” in which Amatzia Baram provides evidence from Iraqi internal documents and tapes of Cabinet meetings captured after the fall of Baghdad to show that Saddam’s regime had formed an alliance with Islamists in the mid-1980s for use in its foreign policy, and from a bit later in the 1980s had begun steps toward Islamizing Iraq internally. Continue reading