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What Is (Who Are) the Islamic State? (8 of ?)

November 29, 2015

For my next read I decided to stay with the history, with Martin Chulov’s account (“Isis, the inside story,” The Guardian, 12/14), of one of his interviews with an important ISIS leader and early insurgent, Abu Ahmed, especially about the American prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca.   The gist of this, as the place where, in 2004, Saddam’s former officers and Sunni Islamists, especially Bakr and Baghdadi, got to know each other, has been explained on earlier pages of this episode. Quoting Chulov:

“We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”

The Americans did not know who Baghdadi was; but he was so helpful as a conciliator that they gave him the unusual privilege of visiting other prisoners throughout the camp. There, and at other prisons including Abu Ghraib, prisoners achieved a thorough knowledge of each other that served well in the expansion of ISIS and then the Islamic State. Of course these prisons were considered by the prisoners to be symbols of the injustice of the American military presence in Iraq.

When Abu Ahmed was released from Camp Bucca, the sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia was raging. He quickly contacted men he had known in prison, who had plans for him in Baghdad.

By 2009, Syria was facilitating the movement of fighters into Iraq. Ba’athists, al-Qaida in Iraq, and Syrian Intelligence officers met to strategize against the al-Maliki Shia government in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, U S forces succeeded in killing top leadership of the insurgents, but leaders could readily be replaced because of the network that had been established in Camp Bucca. And when the revolt against the Syrian government succeeded enough to provide an opening for ISIS, the Camp Bucca network also facilitated the shift of forces to the new battlefield.

The battle that Abu Ahmed joined, even before Camp Bucca, was “first a battle against an invading army, then a score to be settled with an ancient sectarian foe, and now, a war that could be acting out an end of days prophecy.”

In 2014 Abu Ahmed voices his concern about the brutal practices of ISIS, which he no longer believes are sanctioned by the Qur’an—indeed he now believes that the Qur’an can be interpreted but should not be read literally. He remains a jihadist, although he no longer believes in ISIS. If he were to try to leave ISIS, he and his family would be killed.

“There are others who are not ideologues,” he said, referring to senior Isis members close to Baghdadi. “People who started out in Bucca, like me. And then it got bigger than any of us. This can’t be stopped now. This is out of the control of any man. Not Baghdadi, or anyone else in his circle.”

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