Who or what really drives the Islamic State?
Sun-Tzu, possibly the greatest military thinker of all time, wrote in his book The Art of War that the first step in defeating an enemy is getting to know him. This holds as true today as it did when it was first written during the sixth century BC.
Before the group of some 21 countries lined up by Saudi Arabia to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) succeeds, they must first understand ISIS’s inner workings, chain of command and motivations.
While ISIS is a group unlike anything previously seen in the Middle East, to some degree there are frightening similarities with the Iraqi Ba’ath Party and its modus operandi under Saddam Hussein. The big difference, of course, is that the Ba’ath chose socialism as their banner while ISIS employs a form of radical Islam. I believe it is safe to conclude that, just as there was no real socialism in Iraq under Saddam, there is no real Islam under ISIS.
To comprehend the hate that drives ISIS, one should recall how Iraq and Iraqis were treated when the country was occupied by the United States. When US forces entered Baghdad one of the first acts by Paul Bremer, Washington’s de facto “viceroy,” was to disband the military and outlaw the Ba’ath Party. With the stroke of a pen, roughly 300,000 people were rendered jobless and for a great many of them soldiering was their only skill.
Then, there was bombing from US warplanes and missiles fired from ships of the US Navy. According to Iraqbodycount.org, an independent non-government organisation (NGO), between the first day of the invasion until April 27, 2015, between 137,952 and 156,341 civilian deaths were recorded.
Yes, ISIS is a monster, but it’s a monster that the United States helped create.
When ISIS first entered the international spotlight, I could not help but think of how it resembled the organisational structure put into place by Saddam after he returned to power following a coup .
To be sure, in terms of violence the ISIS is on a level of its own but, when it comes to violence, the Iraqi Ba’ath and the Iraqi intelligence services under Saddam also used horrific methods of execution and torture.
ISIS and the Ba’ath practically mirror one another in their use of violence and disregard of human life; they share other aspects, such as detailed organisational charts, the mistrust of everyone including top leaders, surveillance of all members, using informants, arrests and imprisonment without trial, and so forth.
And there is a good reason for this similarity. Both were inspired by the same methodology.
You may ask, what can the Iraqi Ba’ath and ISIS have in common aside from opting for the same organisational model?
While Saddam was a lower echelon thug working for his cousin – who took power in a military coup – the family was overthrown in a counter coup but managed a comeback.
Once back in power, Saddam set up an underground system of operations from which the regime could recover in the event of a future coup. Saddam excelled in securing back-up plans and in the process got rid of the top man and placed himself at the head of the state and party. Saddam never forgot the importance of maintaining the emergency fallback protocol and his former generals have, by all appearances, taken over the network and made it operational under the guise of ISIS.
An exclusive report by the German magazine Der Spiegel outlines how the group was structured thanks to meticulous notes that were found by Iraqi security forces in a house used by high-ranking ISIS member.
According to the report the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was selected as caliph by a group of former Iraqi Ba’athist intelligence officers to give ISIS a religious face.
It is, in fact, doubtful that Baghdadi is the one really calling the shots. Since its involvement in Iraq the United States has systematically targeted resistance leaders for assassination, so it is quite understandable that the real leaders of ISIS choose to remain in the shadows.
Indeed, there have been reports in the last few weeks that Baghdadi was wounded in a US air strike and has become incapacitated. This does not seem to have slowed operations to any noticeable degree, bolstering the belief that Baghdadi is not the one actually at the helm.
With this data in hand, the next step for the intelligence community concerned will be to start identifying the actual members of this shadowy cabal.