Get to Know Your Enemy
Gone But Not Forgotten
Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. They make me free associate with the aged, sixty-ish, much-maligned theory of relativism, no longer current. In most parts of the world, these rogues are considered evil terrorists. In other parts, people would like for their portraits to be canonized on postage stamps. Hussein's invasion of Kuwait harkens back to a world, almost quaint in retrospect, that no longer exists. His action was an instance of naked, unprovoked aggression conducted by one sovereign nation against another. The world was much more orderly then. It was easier to see events clearly for what they were, as near to black and white as can be got. By the time Bin Laden took center stage, all was topsy turvy. He was an oil-rich, well-educated Saudi, living in Afghanistan amongst cave-dwelling rebels, and controlling (or so one imagines), by means of high-tech gadgetry, operatives in the United States. His network on our soil became known as a terror cell. How many terror cells are yet in existence, if any, is a serious question.
Al-Qaeda: Not the Sole Parent of ISIS/ISIL
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His organization, in 2000, was called JTJ to avoid the burden of stating its name in full, Jam'at al-Tawhid wa' al-Jihad, as well as other versions. Zarqawi, a very dangerous man, won Bin Laden's approval despite a severely deprived upbringing. Basically, he was educated in prison. He was more a man of the people, terrorist-style, having gone through a larval stage that included tattoos, shoplifting, and intoxication. His eventual strengths were divided between vicious attacks and numerous recruitments. He provided an easy outlet for angry young men who wanted to fight foreigners. Only an early demise in 2006 prevented him from at least the attempt to stage an incident in America, speaking well of U.S. airstrikes. Like Hussein and Bin Laden, Zarqawi is dead, but lives on a martyr.
Is the threat of ISIS a reality or a media circus?
Your Enemy's Flag
AQI: Al Qaeda in Iraq
ISIS/ISIL will no doubt be defeated. But even so, there will still be reason for vigilance. Case in point, AQI or Al-Qaeda in Iraq. This was Zarqawi's group. It survived its leader's demise under the leadership of Al-Masri. There were those who favored Al-Masri's quick ascendance. He had an impressive resume. Beginning with the 1980s turmoil confined to Egypt, he became an expert in explosives. It is easy to see why such a calling might be valued. But in two years time, the bounty on his head fell from $5 million to $100,000. The Sunni-based Sahwa Movement or "Awakening," funded by the U.S., decimated the remaining ranks of AQI, already reeling from opposing factions. After all, car bombs, etc. produce enemies. By 2011, the organization was thought to have disappeared. But a deeper glance back into the past reveals that as AQI withered, another group, ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq, gained in momentum. Once again, Al-Masri, at first a great threat, then a minimal threat, emerged as its militant chieftain from about the same time he was thought to have assumed leadership of AQI. ISI's true leader, however, remained a matter of mystery bordering on conjecture. His name was thought to have been Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
Who was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi?
In 2009 the purported ISI leader was thought to have been arrested by Iraq. But ISI claimed that he was not in custody. It was not known if he was real, an actor, or a fictitious construct. In 2010, however, the organization officially announced and mourned his death after a joint Iraq-USA raid in Tikrit. Now another, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, takes center stage. The very idea of one leader succeeding another with the same first and last name is already mentally exhausting. But together with everything else, such as names of organizations that overlap, the problem is all the more difficult for the Western mind. However, my source material reveals that his real name is Al-Badri (Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri). He seems to have combined the backgrounds of Bin Laden and Zarqawi by being a professor of Islamic Studies as well as a veteran of political prisons. Somehow, in 2011, ISIS was forged out of ISI while Al-Badri moved the battleground from Iraq into Syria. He won the admiration of jihadists, who preferred Al-Badri to Al-Zawahiri, leading al-Qaeda. With the latter holed up in faraway Pakistan, Al-Badri maintained a credible military presence in war-torn Syria.
The Obsolescence of Clear-Cut Victory and Defeat
It was thought that the U.S. had won in Iraq before troops were withdrawn. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could not hold the line. His hostility toward Sunnis ruined the Sahwa, counted on to form a regular army in the absence of U.S. soldiers. Disenchanted Sunnis instead joined ISI. Falling out of touch with the still more prestigious Al-Qaeda may actually have helped ISI form itself into the formidable ISIS or ISIL. The former attaches Syria to Iraq. The latter expresses an ambition to conquer the entire Levant. There are no exact figures available, but however it calls itself, this organization is still relatively small in number compared to the militants it has faced and defeated. But it is rapidly attracting world-wide attention and, alas, admiration. It is not cash-poor. It reputedly stole well over a $B from banks in cities it now occupies. All of which goes to show that to be victorious in the Middle East entails a lifetime of tedious attention to detail -- or else. The defeated only await a new opportunity, while the victorious, knowingly or not, hover on the brink of the abyss.
The plot thickens. Al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri stated earlier this year that it will no longer have anything to do with ISIS. It is hard to believe that Al-Qaeda, held responsible for the World Trade Center, found methods employed by ISIS too extreme. Apparently it has access to web-sites that are off-limits to regular folk. With good reason. ISIS kills everybody. They do not distinguish between civilians and soldiers, children and adults, and could care less if some competing group shares an interest or not. They enjoy what they do. They butcher and plunder. They are for (if they are for anything) a return to a Caliphate that would render borders artificial at best. It would also insure widespread Sharia. Extreme penalties would be imposed along with harsh taxes and public acts of fealty and submission. It wants its own economy and currency. The sheer bombast involved in such a scheme seems a relief of sorts. Nothing like this could actually come into existence. But even so, ISIS/ISIL is at this very moment considered by experts to be more a danger than hostile established governments or other competitive terrorist organizations.
Syrian Citadel honoring the memory of Saladin
In Search of Saladin
Mohammed is the prophet, but Saladin was the military might that drove the Crusaders out in the 1100s. Reading his story makes for a rewarding armchair experience. From what is now Iraq, he established himself in Egypt, where he was a contemporary of Maimonides, the Jewish scholar and physician, also residing in Egypt. Saladin never achieved absolute control over the Levant, but his leadership united enough forces to drive the unwanted Europeans away. Their occupation lasted nearly a century. It is only too tempting to see in his accomplishment what today's inhabitants more than nine hundred years later would like to achieve. The battle that won Jerusalem back is movie-ripe material, already harvested, but not particularly popular. The concept of giving refuge to the poor and huddled masses does not infect this region. Strangers are intruders. Intruders, in turn, are infidels. So much the worse for them in areas where fundamentalism has dug deep roots.