An exclusive investigation by German magazineshows that the stunning march of the Islamic State into Syria & Iraq was meticulously planned by former members of the intelligence services of Saddam Hussein.
The documents brought to light by Der Spiegel showed the sophisticated organizational structure which the Islamic State has been utilizing, one of modern secular origin, as opposed to one of classical Islamic design, and how that was necessary to achieve its unthinkable reach and murderous mentality. It pulls the discussion away from the religious fanatics narrative and focuses on a design built around legitimate military organizational theory, as well as one of an advanced mafia organization, and bridges the gap between fundamentalism and a criminal empire.
It was 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.
This note rang a chord with me when I thought about who it was talking about. The article by Der Spiegel focuses on Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better known as Haji Bakr. He was a former high ranking member of the leadership of the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein. After being purged from the Iraqi leadership, along with the rest of the Ba’ath party, Bakr went underground to join the Iraqi insurgency and eventually, made his way into joining the group that would become the Islamic State. He, however, was less religious than his peers, but carried on the legacy of the Iraqi Ba’ath party, one guided by the mission of uniting the whole of the Arab world into a single, unified Arabic nation.
His views were that of the Arab’s answer to Nazism and the supremacy of the Aryan race. Sympathizing with that mentality, and one of eastern military philosophy in general, the Ba’ath party, particularly of Iraq, mimicked much of the organizational philosophies of Socialist Eastern European regimes. The Ba’ath party’s leadership structural theory is descended from this same line of thinking. Saddam Hussein, a noted fan of none other than Joseph Stalin, built his regime around a government ran secret police structure to enforce his law and repress dissent with models formed by the Nazi’s SS, the Stasi secret police and the organizations capable of coordinating Stalin’s terrible purges in the Soviet Union from the Kremlin. Molded into a method workable for the Middle East, Saddam used these same government tactics to hold the majority of Iraq’s people in subjugation for decades.
With this model in mind, Bakr designed a secret service and clandestine operations arm of the Islamic State with stunning efficiency. Perhaps what surprised me most was the pernicious, methodical saturation of the IS into every major town they become a part of, and the methodical approach to take over in which they conquered these towns before a single Islamic State soldier ever arrived.
The plan would always begin with the same detail: The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Dawah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:
- List the powerful families.
- Name the powerful individuals in these families.
- Find out their sources of income.
- Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
- Find out the names of their leaders, who controls the brigades and their political orientation.
- Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary.
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.”
I found this deeply disturbing because it really confirmed suspicions I had, but that I never really predicted were this involved and well organized. I operated under the assumption that there were advanced cell structures for the military units, and that there must be another internal structure for the religious adherents, but I was really unaware of how deeply they could infiltrate and saturate a village and a whole region. The organization created for the ISIL “security” services is extremely advanced structure considering that most people still view them as little more than a highly effective gang of religious fanatics.
From there, the last thing I would mention that we gained from the report is the very clear understanding of how ISIL was able to grow so unchecked through the 20th century, non-religious aspects of this purely religious 7th century cult. The fact that they had advanced military and secular agents saturating their operations early on means that the group has been free to move and operate in a manner that is very un-religious, while also maintaining a very convincing religious face to recruit the faithful.
Some of these un-religious acts included the kidnapping of civilians for sale in the slave markets, forced prostitution, and ransom. There was also extortion, intimidation and blackmail made all the easier though local spies provided through the religious Dawah’s. Through this strategy, they were able to take over massive portions of Syria without even utilizing their troops stationed in Iraq. The military’s open operations also magnified the religious aspects of ISIL. It gave their fighters the capability to strike strategic victories, so much so that they were capable of flooding Iraq in only a number of weeks.
The religious fervor of their foreign mujahideen was also necessary. The report describes them to be mostly students from Saudi Arabia, office workers from Tunisia and school dropouts from Europe with no military experience. They were matched with battle-tested Chechens and Uzbeks to serve as the Non-commissioned officers of the army, and all serving under the command of well educated officers of the former Hussein Iraqi Army, all while serving in Syria. The important element is that they were not tied to the people of a region and could be relied upon to conduct the terrorist and mass criminal murders, the organization is infamous for, unphased by national or ethnic loyalties or sympathies. These foreign Islamists are also crucial in that, once militarized, they go back to their home countries to spread terror or perform recruiting.
Perhaps the most frightening thing I realized from this document was just how viral the organizational structure is. It is truly international in nature. It is absolutely imitable anywhere in the world where a large enough population of muslims can be found. It doesn’t need an Iraq or a Syria, or an Afghanistan to work. As the above map shows, it has the means to spread very far outside of the focus of the modern conflicts very quickly. What I fear is the exact same story happening wherever there is disorder in the Islamic world. The pattern starts off very peacefully, just an office with Muslim missionary. In a matter of only a few months, there are thousands of people fleeing for their lives as a nation descends into anarchy, held together only through terror of the fanatical army looming at their door, which no one saw coming.
It’s a very frightening, but enlightening article, one I feel everyone needs to read and understand to understand the depths of the conflict as it currently stands.