ISIS names heir to Baghdadi from Saddam’s officer corps
BEIRUT - Before the Eid al-Adha holidays, the Islamic State’s news agency Amaq announced that Abdullah Qardash had been appointed successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Since then, however, no statement has come from top command of the Islamic State (ISIS) to either challenge or confirm the story, prompting jihadism watchers and think-tanks to accept it as fact.
Since its creation six years ago, Amaq has had a high degree of believability, especially in Baghdadi-related news.
Hours after the announcement was made, a source at the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Baghdadi, aged 48, was in poor health, suffering from limb paralysis because of injuries from rocket shrapnel incurred during the battle in Hajin on the Euphrates River last December.
His most recent public address was via a pre-recorded video released in April, during which, contrary to reports, he seemed healthy and in good shape.
Even if not severely injured, Baghdadi has good reason to name a successor and to gradually disappear from the public eye. ISIS, as we knew it, is finished and nobody is aware of that better than Baghdadi.
Gone are the approximately 50,000 fighters once under his direct command, governing a state bestriding the deserts of Syria and Iraq, with 6 million inhabitants spread across 90,000 sq.km.
Gone are the foreign fighters who flocked to his fiefdom. The many affiliates that swore allegiance to him, stretching from Nigeria and Egypt to Libya, Gaza and Europe, are also no more.
He will forever be remembered as the “founder” of the Islamic State in Raqqa, which once held the international community by its throat, enjoyed all the trappings of statehood from a full-fledged army and ruthless intelligence service to a national flag and coffers oozing with oil money.
He would rather go down in history as the man who presided over ISIS’s “golden era,” which began with his famous declaration of statehood from a Mosul mosque five years ago, than a miserable person hiding in a cave, trying to piece the terrorist organisation back together; a seemingly impossible task.
The choice of Qardash (aka Abu Omar) tells plenty about Baghdadi’s state of mind. For starters, Qardash is an Iraqi like Baghdadi, from the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. This means Iraqis will continue to have the upper hand in ISIS’s future, overpowering the many Syrian jihadists who have been grappling with Baghdadi since 2014.
Qardash, too, was an officer in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein and was trained in brutality and ruthlessness by the former Iraqi president.
Baghdadi learned plenty from Saddam, especially in scaring people into submissiveness. He never hesitated to suppress dissent, chopping off heads and filming the executions to extract maximal fear among his “citizens,” an act that Qardash will likely repeat, having been trained at the same brutal authoritarian school.
Additionally, Qardash is close to the former Iraqi officer class, especially those who know their way around Saddam’s arms, storehouses and secret underground networks, built to ward off an attack by Iran in the 1980s. That network played nicely into the hands of al-Qaeda in 2003 and will certainly prove useful to ISIS in 2019.
Qardash, like Baghdadi, is a former inmate at Camp Bucca, a US prison near the Iraq-Kuwait border. This is where the men met after the 2003 US invasion and where both were heavily indoctrinated by al-Qaeda veterans. Their paths crossed again after ISIS’s sweeping victory in Mosul in 2014, when Qardash personally welcomed Baghdadi to the city, offering him the oath of allegiance.
Also, like Baghdadi, Qardash is from an Islamic educational background, having studied at the College of Imam al-Adham Abu Hanifa al-Noumani in Mosul. This makes him well-versed in Islamic history.
More important than any of the above is Qardash’s proclaimed family tree, which points to direct descent from Imam Hassan, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. This makes him eligible to assume the caliphate of Islam, just as Baghdadi claimed five years ago.
Sunni jurisprudence states that the caliph needs to hail from the Quraysh tribe of Mecca and the caliphate can never be assumed by an outsider. Shia Muslims are even stricter about the caliphate, saying that only a member of Ahl al-Bayt — family of the Prophet — is eligible for the position.
Baghdadi claimed eligibility on both accounts, signing off all his official statements as “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi al-Hassani.” Qardash claims that he, too, is originally from Quraysh and descends directly from the Prophet’s family.
The statement said Qardash was marked to succeed Baghdadi but only as commander of ISIS and not as caliph of all Muslims. If he succeeds in the first position, will Baghdadi go a step forward and bequeath the caliphate to him, in addition to ISIS command?