Here’s an unintended consequence of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq which overthrew Saddam Hussein and his Baath party from power:
Most of the senior leaders of the murderous Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) are former members of Hussein’s army.
Liz Sly writes for The Washington Post, April 4, 2015, that even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi military officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.
They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State’s illicit oil trading.
Abu Hamza (not his real name), who had fled to Turkey last summer after growing disillusioned with the Islamic State, said, “All the decision makers are Iraqi, and most of them are former Iraqi officers. The Iraqi officers are in command, and they make the tactics and the battle plans. But the Iraqis themselves don’t fight. They put the foreign fighters on the front lines.”
Hassan Hassan, a Dubai-based analyst and co-author of the book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, said the raw cruelty of Hussein’s Baathist regime, the disbandment of the Iraqi army after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the subsequent insurgency and the marginalization of Sunni Iraqis by the Shiite-dominated government all are intertwined with the Islamic State’s ascent. “A lot of people think of the Islamic State as a terrorist group, and it’s not useful,” Hassan said. “It is a terrorist group, but it is more than that. It is a homegrown Iraqi insurgency, and it is organic to Iraq.”
The de-Baathification law promulgated by L. Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — but also allowed to keep their guns.
National Defense University senior fellow Col. Joel Rayburn, who served as an adviser to top generals in Iraq and describes the links between Baathists and the Islamic State in his book, Iraq After America, said the U.S. military failed in the early years to recognize the role the disbanded Baathist officers would eventually come to play in the Islamic State, eclipsing the foreign fighters whom American officials preferred to blame. while the U.S. military always knew that the former Baathist officers had joined other insurgent groups and were giving tactical support to the Al Qaeda in Iraq affiliate, the precursor to the Islamic State, American officials didn’t anticipate that they would become not only adjuncts to al-Qaeda, but core members of the jihadist group. “We might have been able to come up with ways to head off the fusion, the completion of the Iraqization process,” Rayburn said. The former officers were probably not reconcilable, “but it was the labeling of them as irrelevant that was the mistake.”
Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, the former officers became more than relevant. They were instrumental in the group’s rebirth from the defeats inflicted on insurgents by the U.S. military, which is now back in Iraq bombing many of the same men it had already fought twice before.
Bremer’s de-Baathification was further exacerbated by a new round of de-Baathification launched after U.S. troops left in 2011 by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who set about firing even those officers who had been rehabilitated by the U.S. military.
Among them was Brig. Gen. Hassan Dulaimi, a former intelligence officer in the old Iraqi army who was recruited back into service by U.S. troops in 2006, as a police commander in Ramadi, the capital of the long restive province of Anbar. Within months of the American departure, however, Dulaimi was dismissed, losing his salary and his pension, along with 124 other officers who had served alongside the Americans.
“The crisis of ISIS didn’t happen by chance,” Dulaimi said in an interview in Baghdad. “It was the result of an accumulation of problems created by the Americans and the [Iraqi] government.”
Dulaimi cited the case of a close friend, a former intelligence officer in Baghdad who was fired in 2003 and struggled for many years to make a living. He now serves as the Islamic State’s wali, or leader, in the Anbar town of Hit. Dulaimi recalls: “I last saw him in 2009. He complained that he was very poor. He is an old friend, so I gave him some money. He was fixable. If someone had given him a job and a salary, he wouldn’t have joined the Islamic State. There are hundreds, thousands like him. The people in charge of military operations in the Islamic State were the best officers in the former Iraqi army, and that is why the Islamic State beats us in intelligence and on the battlefield.”
The Islamic State’s seizure of territory was also smoothed by the Maliki government’s broader persecution of the Sunni minority, which intensified after U.S. troops withdrew and left many ordinary Sunnis willing to welcome the extremists as an alternative to the often brutal Iraqi security forces.
But it was the influx of Baathist officers into the ranks of the Islamic State itself that propelled its fresh military victories. By 2013, Baghdadi had surrounded himself with former officers, who oversaw the Islamic State’s expansion in Syria and drove the offensives in Iraq.
- Obama admin trained ISIS jihadists in 2012
- Major U.S. magazine breaks with Obama admin by calling ISIS Islamic and apocalyptic
- ISIS: the savage jihadists laying waste to Iraq
- A sober look at ISIS’s declaration of a pan-Islamic state or caliphate
- Terrorism waiting to happen: Obama admin ignores Congress in lifting 30-yr. ban on Libyans training in U.S. flight schools