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What Is (Who Are) the Islamic State? (5 of ?)

November 23, 2015

The next item that I’ve read from the HuffPost list of 10 is “The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of the Islamic State.”

If this article in Der Spiegel (wr. Christopher Reuter) has it right, based on retrieved secret files, here’s a major part of how ISIS came into being, what it’s nature is, and how it operates. The article is an amazing story, rich in info—and btw it describes vividly what the Syrian refugees are fleeing from. I don’t want to steal the author’s and mag’s thunder, but I’ll mention some main points.

In 2003, when Paul Bremer, the American Viceroy of Iraq, disbanded the Iraqi military, Saddam’s officer corps, including Sunnis, became unemployed. Later, when a Shia-led government persecuted the Sunnis, the former officers were ready to lead an armed Sunni opposition (here’s a related article).

Colonel Haji Bakr, of the intelligence service of Saddam’s air force, “a nationalist, not an Islamist,” drew up extensive, highly detailed plans for a Sunni state organized like Saddam’s.

By 2012 Haji Bakr was at the top of the ISIS leadership; in 2013 his plan went fully into effect in Syria, taking advantage of rebel victories; but in January 2014 a local rebel group killed him (not knowing who he was) and found his plans, which Der Spiegel acquired. They show how the ISIS takeover in northern Syria was planned and executed (so to speak).

“What Bakr put on paper,..with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was…a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an ‘Islamic Intelligence State’—a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.”

The article provides the organizational chart and extensive details (well worth reading) of the methodology of “surveillance and control” for infiltrating village life and overthrowing local leadership—including blackmail, kidnapping, and murder, conducted by a “cell and commando structure designed to spread fear.”

Village by village control built the framework of a state. It is a militantly religious state; but the top, very secretive leadership is not necessarily religious. Rather, they use religious ideas and structures as a means of control.

Haji Bakr’s writings did not mention a religious state; but “in 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later ‘caliph,’ the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.” And as we know from another article, al-Baghdadi is of the lineage of Muhammad, and therefore qualified to be Caliph.

“Although Iraq’s dominant Baath Party was secular, the two systems ultimately shared a conviction that control over the masses should lie in the hands of a small elite that should not be answerable to anyone — because it ruled in the name of a grand plan, legitimized by either God or the glory of Arab history. The secret of IS’ success lies in the combination of opposites, the fanatical beliefs of one group and the strategic calculations of the other.”

The impression that I take away from this article is of a war to establish a totalitarian state that uses fundamentalist Islamic thought and religious social structure to motivate, propagandize, and recruit soldiers and their support, and to control local populations. It is indeed reminiscent of Saddam’s rule, and similar to East Germany and its Stasi, maintaining power for the ruling elite by means of an all-pervasive system of spying. Everyone “religiously” spies on everyone else, and is spied on by everyone else, and knows it. Thus everyone lives in fear.

Apparently in some minds the goal is a new caliphate that eventually will destroy all enemies of God, leading to the end times. In other minds (perhaps of the actual leaders) the goal is an invulnerable Sunni Arab totalitarian state.

But there is a single methodology of terror, and a single propaganda image and story of a young, vibrant, expanding, righteous, committed and triumphant caliphate.

In practice, there is a monomania of murderous secular totalitarian religious zeal that does seem to amount to an image of what Hillary called (in the recent Dem debate), “nihilism.” The an-nihilating assertion of a valueless ego.

That’s an image of extreme darkness indeed, but it appears to be both factually and psychologically accurate. The story will play itself out, possibly influenced by larger Sunni-Shia warfare.

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