ISIS: too radical for al-Qaeda?

Iraq's military claims to have retaken most of Salaheddin governorate and even parts of Nineveh from the ISIS militants who have swept south towards Baghdad in recent days. But the claims are disputed by anonymous "security officials in Baghdad and Samarra" who told CNN that up to 70% of Salaheddin remains in ISIS hands. The Pentagon has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush into the Persian Gulf from the north Arabian Sea, in apparent readiness to launch air-strikes agianst ISIS-held territories. Even the very name of the carrier seems designed to antagonize and humiliate Iraq's Sunnis, augmenting the propaganda assistance that will be loaned to ISIS with every US missile that falls.

ISIS is being widely portrayed as too radical even for al-Qaeda, and it is true that Qaeda's general command (such as it continues to exist) has disavowed them. In a February statement, Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered ISIS to disband and confered the official franchise for Iraq and Syria on the rival Nusra Front. "Al-Qaeda announces it is not linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as it was not informed of its creation [and] did not accept it," read the statement. It asserted that ISIS "is not a branch of al-Qaeda, has no links to it, and the [al-Qaeda] group is not responsible for its acts… We affirm our disavowal from the sedition that is occurring in Syria between factions of jihadists, and from the blood that was shed by any party." (Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)

But Agence France-Presse quoted Richard Barrett, a former counterterrorism chief at Britain's MI6,  rightly observing: "For the last 10 years or more, [Zawahiri] has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn't really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos. Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount—he has captured cities, he has mobilised huge amounts of people, he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria. If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi." (NPR, June 13)

This is a reference to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—who was actually released from a US detention camp in Iraq back in 2009. In a claim sure to be mercilessly exploited by the Republican right as ammo against Obama, Daily Beast says Baghdadi left with a parting shot that could be interpreted as a threat on the US. "He said, 'I'll see you guys in New York,'" recalled Army Col. Kenneth King, then the commanding officer of Camp Bucca. But King didn't take these wordsi as a threat. Al-Baghdadi knew that many of the personnel at the camp were from New York, reservists with the 306 Military Police Battalion, a Long Island-based unit that includes numerous numerous members of the NYPD and the FDNY. The camp was named for FDNY Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca, who was killed on 9-11.

Even if Baghdadi's comment was intended as a threat, there was probably little behind it. We reiterate that the principal concern of al-Qaeda and its jihadist franchies like ISIS is the struggle within Islam against secularism and Shia, and only secondarily the jihad against the West. ISIS intends to seize control of Iraq and Syria as the seat of a new caliphate under ultra-reactionary sharia rule, with any terrorist designs on the US a mere afterthought. But for the Iraqis and Syrians, that is, of course, quite bad enough.

The only slim, perverse bright side to the terrifying developments in Iraq is that it makes even clearer the schizophrenic position of the Idiot Left in the West, which cheers on ISIS in Iraq as heroic anti-imperialist freedom-fighters while hating ISIS in Syria as jihadist pawns of imperialism…

  1. Sh’ite militia gains against ISIS?

    A June 14 Washington Post report suggests that the gains against ISIS claimed by the Iraqi army may have actually been won by a Shi'ite militia raised in response to a call to jihad issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Bloomberg reports that Iran has pledged its readiness to assist against ISIS, and notes that In a symbolic move, PM Maliki traveled to Samarra, where Iraqi government forces were battling ISIS. The account recalls that the destruction of a Shi'ite mosque by Sunni insurgents in the city in 2006 sparked a sectarian war that peaked a year later.

  2. ISIS massacres in Salaheddin

    ISIS on June 15 posted to the group's Twitter feed (!) a set of gruesome images that purport to show their fighters executing dozens of men, apparently from the Iraqi army, in Salaheddin governorate. Captions read: "The filthy Shiites are killed in the hundreds," and "The liquidation of the Shiites who ran away from their military bases," and "This is the destiny of Maliki's Shiites." The killings of captive troops, lined up and gunned down in fields and ditches, seems to have mostly taken place in Tikrit. The slain number 1,700, according to the gorup's boast. The US has started evacuating its embassy staff from Baghdad. (WP, WPNYT)