Moving towards war?
Baghdad: As fighters for the Islamic State continue to seize territory, the group has quietly built an effective management structure of mostly middle-aged Iraqis, including many military officers under Saddam Hussein, overseeing departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.
At the top the organisation, known also as ISIL and ISIS, is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who hand-picked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in US custody at the Camp Bucca detention centre.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam’s long-disbanded military.
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein addressing a court in Baghdad in 2004. Photo: AFP
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Saddam as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi expert and US intelligence officials who have seen documents seized from Islamic State by the Iraqi military, helps explain its battlefield successes. Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined though years of fighting US troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts.
Islamic State is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
ISIL leader and self-declared “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo: AFP
“These are the academies that these men graduated from to become what they are today,” said the expert, an Iraqi researcher named Hisham Alhashimi.
Not everyone was surprised by the group’s success.
“These guys know the terrorism business inside and out, and they are the ones who survived aggressive counterterrorism campaigns during the surge,” said one US intelligence official, referring to the increase in US troops in Iraq in 2007. “They didn’t survive by being incompetent.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity, because of the delicate nature of the information.
An image grab taken from a propaganda video uploaded by the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allegedly shows ISIL militants near the central Iraqi city of Tikrit. Photo: AFP
Islamic State is the current incarnation of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group that battled US forces under the leadership of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi before his death in 2006. Much of what is known about the group’s current structure comes from documents captured by Iraqi security services.
According to a map of the group developed by Alhashimi, the Iraqi expert, al-Baghdadi has 25 deputies across Iraq and Syria. About one-third were military officers during Saddam’s rule, and nearly all were imprisoned by US forces.
New York Times