Tag Archives: KGB

The Islamic State Murders Another Activist From Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 17, 2015

Published at The Independent.

Ahmad Mohamed al-Mousa

Ahmad Mohamed al-Mousa

From the outset of the Syrian uprising, the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the ISIS have been united on their strategic goal: eliminate the moderate opposition and make Syria a binary choice between themselves. This is why on the battlefield Assad and ISIS largely leave one-another alone and the Assad regime’s propaganda—that the whole rebellion is composed of Islamist terrorists—reinforces ISIS’s propaganda claim that it is the only effective protection for Sunnis against the regime. Both ISIS and the Assad regime are led by military and intelligence officers trained in the KGB and both rely on propaganda as a means of internal control, not only of controlling their international image, which is why both so virulently repress independent media that contradicts their officially sanctioned version. Last night, ISIS again struck down a member of an activist group that has tried to bring the truth about life under its rule to the outside world. Continue reading

The Riddle of Haji Bakr

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 10, 2015

Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr): in Saddam's army, in American prison, as a commander of the Islamic State

Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr): in Saddam’s intelligence service, in American prison, as a commander of the Islamic State

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

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

Is Le Pouvoir Losing Its Grip on Algeria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 15, 2015

A rare picture of DRS chief Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik)

A rare picture of DRS chief Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik)

Yesterday, Algeria’s elderly president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, removed from office Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik), the head of DRS (Le Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité), the spy agency that is the real power behind the throne in Algeria. There is some suggestion this is Bouteflika trying to prepare the way for a civilian government as his time in office—and on the planet—draws to a close. There is little reason to believe, however, that Algeria’s government will be much reformed by Toufik’s departure.
Continue reading

A Case Study of the Islamic State as the Saddam Regime’s Afterlife: The Fedayeen Saddam

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 31, 2015

Published at Baghdad Invest

Fedayeen Saddam

Saddam Hussein created the Fedayeen Saddam in 1994 as a paramilitary Praetorian unit. The Fedayeen were initially charged with protecting the regime from a repeat of the revolts that followed Saddam’s eviction from Kuwait by acting as a pre-emptive counter-insurgency force. Over time this internal security mission became increasingly about enforcing the Islamic law. Saddam had begun Islamizing his regime in the late 1980s, and intensified this in the early 1990s, attempting to create a synthesis of Ba’athism and Salafism to buttress his legitimacy. Saddam had begun Islamizing his foreign policy as early as 1982-83, making alliances with all manner of Islamist terrorists, thousands of whom came to Iraq for training in the 1990s, where they attended camps run by the Fedayeen. In the Fedayeen—connected to the global Islamist terrorist movement, combining elements of Ba’athism with an increasingly-stern Salafism—is a microcosm of the Saddam regime’s mutation into the Islamic State (ISIS). Continue reading

Film Review: The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2015

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In 1974, former Catholic seminary student Christopher Boyce (played by Timothy Hutton) takes a job at TRW, a Southern California aerospace firm, where he is read on to highly classified programs related to the then-new technology of satellites. Through a childhood friend, drug dealer, and minor smuggler, Andrew Daulton Lee (played by Sean Penn), Boyce begins selling secrets to Soviet intelligence based in the Embassy in Mexico.

Credit should be given for the graphics. While released in the mid-1980s, the clothing (and hair) is clearly of 1970s vintage. But the film’s narrative is direly flawed—both in what it does say and what it doesn’t.
Continue reading

A Response to Criticism: Why the Ex-Saddamists in the Islamic State Matter

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 10, 2015

Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: ISIS's co-leaders, 2006-10

Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: ISIS’s co-leaders, 2006-10

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