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Daesh / Daash / Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Jihad in Form, Baath in Essence

Islamic State of Iraq and al-ShamFormer military officers and intelligence officials loyal to Husseins Ba'ath Party have been key participants in the Sunni insurgency, forming a common cause with Islamic State militants. The Islamic State rallied Sunni Muslims in western and northern Iraq by promoting itself as their defender against Iraqs Shiite-led government and security forces. By mid-2014 it ruled an area larger than the United Kingdom.

The Baath had a long history of underground activity as well as a past pattern of infiltrating key institutions and then attempting to seize power by illegal means. The revival of Baathism through conspiracy and intrigue therefore seemed a realistic danger in 2003. The possibility that such a backlash could lead to a serious Sunni military challenge to the new Iraq was apparently dismissed on the grounds that such deadenders were a marginalized force and would not be able to establish a popular rather than a conspiratorial movement within Iraqi society.

The ability of senior Baath leaders to obtain and provide funding to the insurgency was particularly important in helping to organize it into an effective force able to include unemployed and desperate Iraqis willing to strike at US forces for money. Baath funding for such efforts appears to have been drawn from a variety of sources. Some Baath leaders had significant reserves of cash within Iraq when the invasion occurred. This group included many mid-level Baathist officials as well as more senior leaders. Others had access to funds in foreign banks, particularly in Syria.

Jihad on the Outside, Baath on the Inside

One reason Daesh [Isis] was so successful was because many of their founding members, including the top strategist, were part of Saddam Husseins professional security apparatus. Former Iraqi intelligence officers gave the organization a religious face in 2010. We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks... We will train them for a while and then dispatch them, the ISIS mastermind Haji Bakr, whose real name was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, noted. Brothers would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to "ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge. Haji Bakr, the strategic head of ISIS, was killed in a firefight in 2014, but left behind information regarding a trove of blueprints for ISIS intelligence services structure and plans of a takeover of large parts of Syrian territory.

Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of the Associated Press reported 08 August 2015 that "the Islamic State group's top command is dominated by former officers from Saddam's military and intelligence agencies, according to senior Iraqi officers on the front lines of the fight against the group, as well as top intelligence officials, including the chief of a key counterterrorism intelligence unit."

Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer who served in Iraq, said Saddam-era military and intelligence officers were a "necessary ingredient" in the Islamic State group's battlefield successes in 2014. "Their military successes last year were not terror, they were military successes," said Skinner, now director of special projects for The Soufan Group, a private strategic intelligence services firm.

It was backed by former military officers and other members of Saddam Hussein's regime -- including the Naqshabandi Army led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former regime's number two leader who eluded US and Iraqi forces ever since the 2003 US-led invasion. The reinvigorated Ba'athist Party, known as the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia (JRTN), clings to Baathist ideology and often mix it with Islamic sufi ideology. JRTN and the ISIL worked together in Fallujah, where they have been battling government troops since January 2014. In conjunction with ISIL they were able to take Mosul. Overwhelmingly a majority of the fighters under the ISIL banner were Iraqi.

Liz Sly, writing in Washington Post on 04 April 2015 "Abu Hamza, a former Syrian rebel, agreed to join the Islamic State ... he found himself being supervised by an Iraqi emir and receiving orders from shadowy Iraqis who moved in and out of the battlefield in Syria. When Abu Hamza disagreed with fellow commanders at an Islamic State meeting last year, he said, he was placed under arrest on the orders of a masked Iraqi man who had sat silently through the proceedings, listening and taking notes....

"Abu Hamza ... never discovered the Iraqis real identities, which were cloaked by code names or simply not revealed. All of the men, however, were former Iraqi officers who had served under Saddam Hussein, including the masked man, who had once worked for an Iraqi intelligence agency and now belonged to the Islamic States own shadowy security service...

"Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes..."

Shiv Malik, writing 7 December 2015 in The Guardian, reports on "documents obtained by the Guardian, it builds up a picture of a group that, although sworn to a founding principle of brutal violence, is equally set on more mundane matters such as health, education, commerce, communications and jobs. In short, it is building a state.... The statecraft manual recommends a department for administering the military camps, a complex arrangement that, as described, goes well beyond the capabilities of al-Qaida in Afghanistan during the time it plotted the 9/11 attacks"




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