The Secrets of Origin of ISIS – How Fall of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and US ill conceived decision gave rise to ISIS.
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussain was captured. The man who ruled the country with an iron fist, was executed by the new Iraqi government. But despite what most people believed taking out Saddam was not a problem, taking out his political party was. In June 2003, the US led coalition provisional authority of Iraq banned the Ba’ath party and all its members. This was the most ill conceived decision in the whole invasion of Iraq affair, as it completely upset the fragile balance of power that existed in the Middle East.
With this ban, every public sector employee who was affiliated to the Ba’ath party was removed from position and banned from any future employment in the public sector. But in a totalitarian state as Saddam’s Iraq, being a member of the Ba’ath party was more a necessity that a choice. It is like saying that Soviet Communist party and all its members should have been banned from the public sector when the USSR collapsed. So what happened in Iraq was that thousands of experienced people were blocked from participating in the new government. People such as doctors, professors, bureaucrats etc. But perhaps the most important change was that the banned effectively dismantled the Iraqi military and security apparatus, because everyone there was a member of the Ba’ath party. Back then the US thought that this was necessary to create a new Iraqi government from scratch. But what it really did was create a “void” of power. A void that was quickly filled by Iraqi Shia muslim majority with the strong support and coordination from neighbouring Iran. So what really happened was that the US attacked an occupied Iraq passed the legislation and then immediately lost the country right under its nose from Iran. We will discuss the rise of Iranian Geo Politics and more in a separate report. Please visit the Geo Politics section of Business Wolf to read the same.
For the local Sunni Arabs it meant they lost the country to the Shiaites, the same people whom the Sunni suppressed in the rule of Saddam. And now that the Shia Arabs were in control, it was there turn for the vengeance. So in the last decade the new Shiaite government of Iraq under the leadership of PM Noor Al Maliki consolidated his power and excluded the Sunnis from the decision making process. The situation only worsened with the withdrawals of American troops in 2011. Al Maliki’s government started targeting Sunni population and public figures. In short the new Iraqi government was turning into an autocracy. The Sunni Arab population felt oppressed and urgently needed a change. That change came in the form of Arab spring and the crisis in neighbouring Syria. It takes a while for humans to come to terms with reality which eventually did. You see, the longer a rebellion lasts the more extreme it gets over time. So what started out as peaceful demonstrations in Syria turned to violence when the opposition received the political support from the US and its regional Sunni allies. It should be noted that at the time most of the Americans’ believe that the Al-Assad’s government would be over thrown much likely as Gaddafi. So this was a geo-political gamble that the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other allies were willing to take. It turned out this was yet another poorly planned decision. Al Assad wasn’t over thrown, instead the country turned into a Civil War. So the US and its allies covertly and to a certain degree overtly supplied the Syrian opposition with military equipments. The main stream media noted that these are moderate rebels. But as I mentioned earlier, the longer a rebellion lasts, the more extreme it gets over time. So what started out as moderate rebels turned into extremists rebels. And this eventually passed the way for the extremist groups. What you have to understand is extremist organisations are born in chaos and they thrive in chaos, whilst stability is their death. The leader of the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi saw an opportunity to inter mingle the Syrian civil war and the boiling pot was the Sunni region of Iraq. So he devised a plan to exploit the Sunni – Shia animosity, Al Baghdadi’s planned expanding the operations into Syria. So in 2011 he sent one of his most experienced commanders Abu Mohammed Al Jailani to establish a new sub Al Qaeda organisation in Syria. Al Jailani being Syrian himself quickly expanded the Syrian base group in a short time. A year later this organisation became better known as Al Nusra Front. And it was considered as the most effective rebel force in Syria. But back in Iraq Al Baghdadi still needed to intermingle the Syrian civil war with the Sunni Shia split in Iraq. So in April 2013, Al Baghdadi announced that the Al Nusra Front which he helped to establish was now a part of his domain under the name of “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or ISIS. Obviously the leader of the Al Nusra Front wasn’t too happy about this and thus fiercely denied its merge. Al Jailani wanted Syria as his own territory. So both Al Baghdadi and Al Jailani appealed to Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Al Zawahiri stated that ISIS should be abolished and Al Baghdadi should be confined to Iraq, whereas Syria would be the domain of Al Jailani. It is like a feudal system in which the king place the rifle head against each other. So what happened next was that Al Baghdadi dismissed Al Zawahiri ruling and instead moved to attack the Al Nusra Front from the back whilst the Al Nusra Front was engaging Al Assad’s forces, and this worked. Al Baghdadi took control of Al Jailani’s HQ in Syria and subsequently took over 80% of Al Jailani’s foriegn fighters.
Al Zawahiri was furious and broke up relations with Al Baghdadi. The break up between ISIS and Al Qaeda is a political schism within Al Qaeda. It has nothing to do with ISIS being too extreme or whatsoever. Any way while Al Baghdadi was plotting against his former commander Al Jailani, he was also increasing attacks on civilians in Iraq. These attacks were focussed on both Shia and Sunni civilians, and as I mentioned there were already serious frictions between these groups. All ISIS had to do was escalate these situations and drive Iraq towards new civil war. The whole point of this civil war was to create chaos, and from chaos rises the extremist factions. And once the civil war is ignited, the ISIS would rise as the dominant faction as the glorious defenders of the Sunni Islam.
ISIS achieved exactly what it wanted and this is where we are today. Think of this as a Jihadists version of Hitler Reichstag fire. By manipulating the Sunni – Shia split of the Iraqi society, ISIS was able to rapidly expand through out the Sunni Arab region of Iraq. This was because the Sunni Arab population did not resist the ISIS but instead welcome them as the counter balance to the Shiaite rulers of Iraq. This was the reason why the Iraqi military forces abandoned their out posts and positions, because the army would be fighting not just ISIS but the entire Sunni Arab population.
All of this means that ISIS is not the real problem. You can destroy ISIS. But if you don’t solve the core problem, another extremist militant group will rise and replace what was destroyed. The relations or lack of relations between Shia and Sunni community is the core problem and this is where solution lies.
In our next Geo Politics report, we will discuss about the feasibility of US policies on ISIS.
This report was prepared by Prashant R. Sahay, Yash Vardhan and Saswata Das. Would love to have your comments.