Marking Second Anniversary, ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ Cites ‘Accomplishments’
First of all, file this under the 'The enemy? What enemy?' category.
New format: some readers have advised me to introduce more structure into this sort of a long-ish post, with executive summaries for browsers on the go. So, here goes:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
-The video is titled ‘Two Years [For] the State of Islam’ and runs for one hour and fifteen minutes. It was produced by the ‘Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production’—the official propaganda arm of the Islamic State of Iraq—and was released on September 22, 2008.
-The Islamic State of Iraq was founded as the harbinger of the caliphal state—the newborn Islamic Empire.
-The followers of Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi represent a whole new generation, and ideological strain, in the world of jihad, surpassing the old-timers such as Osama Bin Laden.
-Contrary to previous claims, the U.S. military has revised its earlier assertion that the pseudonymous leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, is a fictitious character, now claiming that a real person performs his role. Al-Baghdadi is supposed to be the new caliph, or the supreme temporal and religious leader, of Islam.
-The American media, and most Middle East watchers in the United States, have failed to understand the significance of the Islamic State of Iraq, and consequently have never covered it fully or subjected it to intense open-source study.
TRANSLATION, ANALYSIS, OPINION:
Let’s be a little crude about this: the jihadists often employ sex as a marketing tool—seventy two virgins and all that—so it may be useful to couch the significance of this video by weighing the value of its ‘sexiness.’ In vulgar terms, the Islamic State of Iraq was conjured up to be the wet dream of worldwide jihad, but it ended up being as unsatisfying, and embarrassing, for the jihadists as an instance of premature ejaculation.
What follows is the jihadist version of what happened; this is their take on the recent history of Iraq.
The narrator, who remains anonymous throughout, begins with a brief introduction, which I will cite in full:
Ever since the state of the Ottoman caliphate collapsed, the ummah (the Islamic ‘nation’), has languished in the hibernation of humiliation and [under] the control of the secular governments because [the ummah] had abandoned jihad. Then attempts at revival began, especially during the Afghan jihad. The ummah arose from its lethargy and the love of jihad returned and was nurtured within the souls of the youth of the ummah and its elders.At this point, we hear from Osama Bin Laden himself describing how the jihad began in Iraq:
And as the early contours of a Crusader invasion of the land of the two river [Iraq] began [to take shape], the eyes of the mujahidin turned towards it. At the beginning, [the effort] was dispersed to the point where it looked as if it were individuals acting [on their own], in [some cases] their numbers did not exceed twenty fighters.
They were seventeen men and not seventeen armies. They bonded together and pledged [allegiance] to one another and to Allah Almighty, to champion his religion or to die trying. [These were] men, [at a time when] men are few…The narrator returns to say that with Allah’s help,
The twenty became a few tens and then the ‘Monotheism and Jihad Group’ was announced, and it soon joined the worldwide Al-Qaeda network. Then quickly afterwards the 'Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers' coalesced with other groups in Iraq to form the ‘Shura Council of the Mujaheddin,’ which led to the Alliance of the Mutayebbin with the good people of the Sunnis…Afterwards, the work developed to what the ‘Prince of the Those Who Martyr Themselves’, Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, had called for, so the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ was declared, under the leadership of the ‘Prince of the Faithful’ Abu Omar al-Husseini al-Qureish al-Baghdadi…on the 21st of Ramadhan 1423 AH, which corresponds to October 13, 2006.The narrator explains that there were “judicial, military and political” reasons as to why the Islamic State of Iraq had to be declared and that these reasons were explained in a book released by the Ministry of Shari’a Commissions. An image of the book cover appears and it reads: Elam al-anam bi milad dawlet al-Islam (‘Informing the People About the Birth of the State of Islam,’ first released on January 7, 2007).
If all this sounds eerily familiar to some of you, then it may have something to do with the introduction I had written to my own paper about the Islamic State of Iraq, The Caliphate Attempted (PDF file, July 1, 2008):
In his first speech after the attacks of September 11, 2001, ‘Usama Bin Laden lists the grievances that compelled and justified the terrorist backlash against the West, among which he alludes to a European role that he alleges was played in ousting the last Ottoman caliph. For ever since March 4, 1924, when Caliph Abdul Mejid II was sent packing by the Turkish nationalists, most Islamists and jihadists have held that the resurrection of the caliphate is an important step towards recapturing the glory, might and purpose of early Islam, and in fending off centuries of Western territorial and cultural encroachment upon their lands and sovereignty—a nadir reached when European powers occupied Istanbul, the seat of the caliphate at the time, after World War I. Given the immense doctrinal and political obstacles posed by Muslim disunity and weakness in the 20th century, the task of re-establishing the caliphate and picking a caliph had been deferred pending a spiritual revival among Muslims. It had been pending, that is, until a new crop of jihadists doing battle in post-2003 Iraq, who initially had not acknowledged Bin Laden’s tutelage of worldwide jihad, decided that such an Islamic revival was indeed taking place in the territories under their control, and that the time for the caliphate’s rebirth had come. The vehicle for this new-born venture of theirs would be called the ‘Islamic State of Iraq.’Yes, there is a striking similarity between the jihadist version of history, and my own. Infer your own conclusions. Disturbingly, the video ends with the same sound byte that I use to conclude my own essay (see below).
The Islamic State of Iraq was to be the first incarnation of the resurrected caliphate, and its leader Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi was to be the caliph in waiting. The Islamic State of Iraq was the third stage of a three phased expansion begun by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi: his first move was to link his Iraq-based Jama’et Al-Tawhid wel-Jihad (‘Monotheism and Jihad Group’) to Bin Laden’s worldwide Al-Qaeda franchise in October 2004 by adopting the name Al-Qaeda fi Bilad ar-Rafidayn, commonly referred to in Western circles as ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’; then al-Zarqawi made a bid to bring all the other Iraqi jihadist organizations under his control by expanding the ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq Organization’ into the umbrella-like Majlis Shura Al-Mujahidin (‘Shura Council of the Mujahidin’) in January 2006. The process was completed five months after al-Zarqawi’s death in a U.S. airstrike, when his successors made a bid to supersede the worldwide Al-Qaeda network by forming the Dawlet Al-‘Iraq Al-Islamiyya (‘Islamic State of Iraq’) in October 2006. The Islamic State of Iraq would be the most ambitious jihadist venture to date, for it would take the jihad against the West to its next level of confrontation: rather than have disparate groups of jihadists retaliating against western targets by terrorist means, the Islamic State would confront its foes as would an emerging empire—sovereign throughout, and expanding upon, its territory—in the fashion of the early Islamic conquests. Their act of defeating the United States, the world’s mightiest military and economic power, on the battlefield of Iraq as al-Zarqawi’s successors believed they were doing and as echoed back to them from a despairing American press corps, was to be the harbinger of even greater victories for Islam. In this vein, the jihadists in Iraq could lay claim to the leadership of global jihad, since they had surpassed in scope, purpose and martial triumph the generation of jihadists that preceded them, notable among which was Bin Laden.
The doctrinal premises upon which the jihadists in Iraq justified the formation of their state, as well as the requirements and conditions to be met by candidates seeking the job of head of state, are the same ones that medieval Muslim jurists such as al-Mawardi (d. 1058) and al-Juwaini (d. 1085) had laid down for the caliphate. These updated premises were put forth in a book that was released by the ‘Ministry of Shari’ah Commissions’ of the Islamic State of Iraq in early January 2007 under the title Elam al-anam bi milad dawlet al-islam (Informing the People About the Birth of the State of Islam)—a manifesto of sorts for the ‘Zarqawist’ wing of the global jihad—almost three months after the state was declared.
But before that, let’s delve into the meat-and-potatoes segment of the video; after all, at this point, we’re only 6 minutes into the 75 minute presentation.
There isn’t much that is new here: it is a rehash of propaganda points that the jihadists have made before. I haven’t seen every single video they’ve ever produced (these may number in the high hundreds) but I assume that most of the original footage had been released at earlier dates. The video relies heavily on the audio speeches of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi to give it structure. To date, al-Baghdadi has released twelve speeches since his debut in December 2006.
Naturally, the first batch of accomplishments that are cited fall under the category of imposing shari’ah law, or Islamic law. Near and dear to the heart of the puritans is stamping out shrine worship and other forms of folk rituals, so it is unsurprising that the video commences with footage of shrines being demolished by bulldozers. From the footage, the shrines seem to be those of ‘Abu Mas’ud,’ ‘Sheikh Jamil,’ ‘Sheikh Habib’ and ‘Sheikh Rabash al-Mashhadani al-Rifa’i.’ From what I can tell, all these are Sufi shrines primarily visited by Sunnis.
The narrator is ebullient about the “return of shari’ah for the first time since the collapse of the caliphate in [Iraq],” and the video proceeds to show clips from what amounts to the jihadist version of Court TV: judges, with blurred faces, explaining their verdicts and adjudicating murder trials, followed by some flogging for the crime of theft.
Earlier footage of child jihadists is used, with kids playing (and shooting) with real guns and pledging allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi; burning effigies of Uncle Sam is always fun too. Al-Baghdadi is then heard, excerpted from an earlier speech, praising a father who killed his own son because his child had turned into a “spy” for the police.
What was also unnerving is that the video runs a screed by Abdul-Bari Atwan, the controversial (…and in my book, utterly mercenary) Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper. Clearly this interview is lifted from a talk-show from an Arabic-language television station (unclear which one) during which ‘Atwan was repeating his usual refrain praising the “heroic Iraqi resistance,” as he calls it.
Twenty two Arab countries can’t manage to say no to America, while these young men turned [America’s] project into a failure, and [America’s] reputation has been tarred. Fukuyama is running away from the neoconservatives. Richard Perle has collapsed. All of them have collapsed. President Bush has collapsed; his popularity is less than 32 percent. These young men, the believers, the mujahidin, defeated the American project.It is interesting that the jihadists would use footage of Atwan, ostensibly a secular Arab nationalist, to propagate their viewpoints. In the past, Atwan had been given an audience with Bin Laden, and still reverently refers to him as “Sheikh Osama.”
The video then delves into the Islamic State of Iraq’s military ‘accomplishments’ highlighting everything from rockets tipped with chemical weapons, to newly invented air defense technology, and their terrorist innovation of booby-trapping houses. The narrator also lauds the efforts to develop long range missiles that may reach Tel Aviv that the jihadists are allegedly developing since, “the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq is a gateway to the conquering of [Jerusalem] and removing the state of the Jewish rapists from the heart of the Muslim world.”
At one point, an interesting new map is shown: the Islamic State of Iraq consists of the wilayat (‘vilayets’, or provinces) of Diyala, Salahuddin, Kirkuk, Mosul, Anbar, Baghdad, and two new ones that the jihadists have invented: Fallouja and the province of the ‘South’ (basically what is now known as Babil Province, but without the Shia areas). According to this map, the Islamic State of Iraq is surrounded by ‘The Land of the Persians,’ ‘The Levant’ and ‘The Arabian Peninsula.’ So these places are no longer called Iran, Syria or Saudi Arabia according to the jihadists.
The Islamic State of Iraq is also eager to show that the jihad is not all doom and gloom, that there’s always time for fun and games such as swimming, horseback riding, and poetry recitals. Plus, there’s charity, building homes for widows, dispensing toys for kids, and providing medical relief.
I found the Who’s Who of the ‘Martyrs’ segment to be interesting, since it reflects the persons that the Islamic State of Iraq took to be its leaders. Here’s the full list (most of them shown with their photos): Abu Muhammad al-Lubnani, Abu Anes al-Shami, Abu Ja’afar al-Maqdisi, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, Abu Abdullah al-Juburi (this is Muharib al-Juburi, whose speeches are featured prominently throughout the video), Abul-Hassan al-Filisteeni, Ibn al-Jarrah al-Shami, Abu Usamah al-Tunisi, Abu Ubaidah al-Maghribi, Abu Omar al-Kurdi, Omar Hadid and Maysara al-Gharib.
Previous shout-outs to the Islamic State of Iraq from Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are clipped-in, as well as an injunction from Al-Qaeda’s chief religious authority (or mufti), Abu Yahya al-Libi (…is this guy still alive?), to jihadists everywhere that “your state—or rather, our state and every Muslim’s state—is a newborn which the world has long awaited with the passion of the lover and the yearning of the repressed.” These were the actual words as shown in the English subtitles; there’s that creepy sexual angle again.
Then it goes through all sorts of things, such as showing off-shoots and splinter factions from other jihadist groups (like the Ansar al-Sunnah and the 1920 Revolution Brigades) pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Baghdadi. There’s nothing new here that we haven’t seen or heard that sets this material apart from other, previous jihadist messages. An interesting plea is made by the narrator calling for preachers to come to Iraq to spread the ideology of jihadism since they are experiencing a shortage of learned scholars, as well as a call to send the jihadists more money. The narrator adds, “jihad is incumbent on all Muslims ever since Spain fell, but now it is clearer” since there’s an all-out attack against Islam.
The video ends with one of al-Baghdadi’s more famous screeds explaining why the Islamic State of Iraq shall endure despite what the naysayers (like yours truly) say. In one memorable line, al-Baghdadi says: “we are certain that Allah will not break the hearts of the embattled monotheists and turn us into the object of ridicule by the oppressors.”
This is how I concluded my essay (cited above) in response to this particular line:
Yet, it does not seem as if the Islamic State in Iraq is about to make a comeback, especially since the Iraqi Sunnis that it claimed to be fighting on behalf of, and to whom its laurels shall accrue in victory, seem to have irreversibly turned against it. So could it be, after all the blood, treasure and prayers that went into the Islamic State of Iraq, that Allah too had turned His back on the jihadists?By my reading, America has just finished defeating this two-year jihadist experiment, and no one, not even America’s leaders, seems to have noticed.
The corollary to the military defeat now being experienced by the jihadists is the even more agonizing prospect of doctrinal collapse: the heralded caliphate is stillborn; the glorious vision of reinvigorated Islamic State has been smashed. The anguish and demoralization brought about by this byproduct of battlefield victory cannot be overstated, for to smash the dreams of a man who lives for a cause, who endures cruel deserts and damp caves while awaiting martyrdom, is a fate far worse than death. In a battle of wills where a young man is able to summon the necessary willpower to press a button and to detonate himself among innocent bystanders for the cause of jihad and for a deferred utopia of a resurrected and avenging Islamic world power, nothing breaks the will of the individual jihadist than to see, in real time, his ideology bear fruit and to watch that fruit rot away right before his eyes. Such has been the impact of the ‘Zarqawist’ Islamic State of Iraq—the caliphate to be, under the Commander of the Faithful Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi the Qurayshite—and the bitter aftertaste of its ruinous downfall.
WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER:
-World-wide jihadists took the project of the Islamic State of Iraq very seriously; it was arguably their most important undertaking.
-The Islamic State of Iraq has never been thoroughly investigated or reported upon by serious journalistic outlets in the West.
-The U.S. military has never publicly matched its casualties against the claims of responsibility made the Islamic State of Iraq and its precursors, the 'Monotheism and Jihad Group' and 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq'. If it does so, then it will be clear that America’s most tenacious and successful military foes, in Iraq and beyond, have been the Zarqawist jihadists.
-The manifesto of the Islamic State of Iraq, the Elam al-anam book, is yet to be translated from Arabic into English and made publicly available.
-The American public is still unclear as to the ideology, identity and aims of the main enemy it faced in Iraq.
HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO WHAT'S GOING ON NOW?
Iraq is what jump-started the presidential campaigns of those left standing in the post-primary season: Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama’s judgment on the beginning of the war, and McCain’s support for the surge, are supposedly what set them apart from their respective contenders. Obama's running mate, Senator Joe Biden, proposed the most important foreign policy initiative of his career under what was called at the time 'The Biden Plan.' But now Iraq is only discussed in obtuse and generic terms, as evidenced by the debates seen so far. The enemy that America fought and defeated is still undefined. The question that needs to be asked is: have the right strategic lessons from this war been drawn?
Jihadica: Demoralization among jihadists over the current prospects of the Islamic State of Iraq.
Long War Journal: Military sources tell Bill Roggio that al-Baghdadi is a real person (…though I’m still not won over to the theory that Zawi is al-Baghdadi).
Middle East Strategy at Harvard: Michael Scheuer (former CIA expert on Bin Laden) asserts that the caliphate has been a deferred dream for the jihadists, and my retort on this point.
COMING SOON on Talisman Gate: A review of al-Baghdadi’s twelfth speech.