“Lord of the Shadows” — the Bush legacy


Following up this morning on the must-read Der Spiegel article on the origins of an Islamic State (IS) cooked up by former Saddam Hussein intelligence officers. A trove of documents Der Spiegel obtained late last year reveal the architect of the Islamic State to be a former Iraqi colonel, Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, known to IS as Haji Bakr or else “Lord of the Shadows.” Bakr died in January 2014 after implementing his “blueprint for a takeover … 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.” Bakr and his agents would exploit others’ extremist faith to recruit an army. The Syrian civil war provided the chaos they needed to implement their plan.

Bakr survived quality time in U.S. custody at Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib Prison to eventually form “a powerful underground organization.” He and a group of former Iraqi intelligence officers conceived a new Islamic State. They made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the figurehead. “They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face” that would attract foot soldiers from abroad. They preferred foreigners rather than Syrian rebels. (Local recruits might be reluctant to commit the atrocities necessary to instill the fear needed for control.) Spies would infiltrate towns and pave the way for takeover:

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or was involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

The spies were to find out as much as possible about the target towns: Who lived there, who was in charge, which families were religious, which Islamic school of religious jurisprudence they belonged to, how many mosques there were, who the imam was, how many wives and children he had and how old they were. Other details included what the imam’s sermons were like, whether he was more open to the Sufi, or mystical variant of Islam, whether he sided with the opposition or the regime, and what his position was on jihad. Bakr also wanted answers to questions like: Does the imam earn a salary? If so, who pays it? Who appoints him? Finally: How many people in the village are champions of democracy?

Those who cooperated could be used. Potential leaders who might resist could be quickly disappeared. It had worked for Saddam Hussein. Using “ninja outfits, cheap tricks and espionage cells camouflaged as missionary offices,” Der Spiegel reports, Bakr’s shadowy team of Iraqi veterans created the Islamic State to reclaim the region they had lost to the American invaders and the leadership positions they had lost after Paul Bremer, George W. Bush’s head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, dissolved the Iraqi army by decree in May 2003.

I once read a manual ostensibly distributed by U.S. intelligence operatives to Central American rebels during the Reagan administration. Among other tactics, it taught insurgents how to spoof assassinations of respected village leaders to make it look as if the central government had murdered them. Villagers previously reluctant to join the rebels, angered by the “government” killing of local elders would be tricked into joining the people who actually killed them. Not so different from the IS false-flag operations Der Spiegel recounts.

In another odd parallel (no, they’re not equivalent), it appears what Haji Bakr and his team have done resembles a strategy U.S. politicos have used for decades: co-opting the religious right as foot soldiers for accomplishing secular goals. (Are they that gullible everywhere?) If Der Spiegel’s reporting is correct, the Islamic State’s jihadis have no idea they are being used by former Saddam intelligence operatives to help retake Iraq and the region for themselves and not for Islam at all. After Syrian rebels killed Haji Bakr, they scooped up “computers, passports, mobile phone SIM cards, a GPS device and, most importantly, papers. They didn’t find a Koran anywhere.” So it goes.

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

Categories : International, Iraq

Comments are closed.