HOW RUSSIA, SADDAM'S IRAQ, AND ASSAD'S SYRIA GAVE RISE TO THE ISLAMIC STATE
The Islamic State's Deputy Caliph, Abu Ali al-Anbari, was Saddam Hussein's major general and a member of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq. TheCaliph’s former right-hand man, the late Abu Muslim al Turkmani (who was killed by a drone strike in August 2015), was also a Ba'athist and a lieutenant colonel in Saddam's Directorate of General Military Intelligence (DGMI). And the ISIS abetter Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was a Ba'athistgeneral and a high-ranking Saddam deputy.
Moreover, it is likely that one or both of the Caliph’s deputies received training from Russian intelligence advisers during their careers. Turkmani’s DGMI in particular was closely entangled with Russia's KGB. Indeed, one of the reasons why IS became a much more effective fighting force than its Sunni Islamist opponents, was that its top people were trained by Soviet experts.
When IS, in its earliest incarnation, was still known as Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, its pipeline of suicide bombers ran through Syria with the cooperation of Bashar al-Assad's government. Assad and Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq had a common enemy: the United States. Assad had a plan to kill two birds with one stone: He pointed Syrian Islamists, who might otherwise be likely to cause trouble at home, at Iraq, where U.S. troops were fighting Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq "isurgents." Thus, Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq received an injection of extra (Syrian) manpower, while Assad disposed of Sunni jihadists who were hostile to him.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda openly operated out of Syria in alliance with the Ba'athists. While Syria’s regime was Shiite and Iraq’s was Sunni, both governments were headed by Ba'athists. And at one time, the Ba'athists in both governments had been Soviet clients.
The Al-Nusrah Front, the current incarnation of Al Qaeda in the area ever since Al Qaeda began feuding with IS, named one of its training camps the "Abu Ghadiya Camp." Abu Ghadiya had been chosen by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of the organization today known as IS, to move terrorists through Syria and into Iraq. This highway of terror killed more American soldiers than Saddam Hussein had killed.
The Al Qaeda presence in Syria was backed by Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who had served as Syria's Director of Military Intelligence and Deputy Defense Minister. His principal task, however, was to coordinate the activities of Islamic terrorist organizations. During the Iraq War, he added Al Qaeda to his portfolio.
In 2008, an American raid into Syria finally took out Abu Ghadiya and some of his top people. A year later, U.S. General David Petraeus warned: “In time, these fighters will turn on their Syrian hosts and begin conducting attacks against Bashar al-Asad’s regime itself.”
When Shawkat was killed by a suicide bomber in July 2012, it was clear that Assad’s support for terrorists had hit home. Many of the Sunni Islamists whom Assad had sent on to Iraq returned to Syria with training and skills that now made them a grave danger to his regime -- exactly as Petraeus had predicted.
While Ba'athism is often described as secular, it actually sought to blend Islam with its politics. It was a leftist Islamism that emphasized socialism, in contrast to the rightist Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders were often businessmen and landowners with a more capitalistic bent.
These distinctions, which had led the USSR to build ties with the Ba'athists during the Cold war while Western countries became involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, were more style than substance.
Saddam helped create IS through his alliances with Islamists. IS grew within Saddam’s regime as the dictator responded to his setbacks against Iran and Saudi Arabia, two Islamist states, by reinventing Iraq and Baathism as explicitly Islamist entities.
During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Saddam had begun building ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping to bridge the old split between Baathists and the Brotherhood, and to meet Shiite Islamism with Sunni Islamism.
After the Gulf War of the early '90s, Saddam went in a blatantly Islamist direction. The man in charge of his “Return to Faith” campaign was General Al-Douri, who would be the key ally that Al Qaeda used to move its people through Syria, and who would live long enough to fight alongside IS as it retook Tikrit.
The words "Allah Akbar" were added to the Iraqi flag, and Islamic education was embedded into iraq's school system from the elementary through university levels. By the mid-1990s, Saddam endorsed the creation of a Caliphate and implemented Sharia-based punishments such as severing the hands of thieves. He also initiated a campaign to build the world’s largest mosques, one of which had a Koran written in Saddam’s own blood and would eventually become a major center for IS-allied operations run by a Muslim Brotherhood organization.
The Caliph of IS was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood by his uncle. And like so many jihadist leaders, he moved on to Al Qaeda. His own Baathist-Islamist background made him the perfect man to take Saddam’s vision of a Pan-Islamic state with Sharia and Socialism for all, to the next level.
Saddam’s outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood helped create ISIS, just as Assad’s backing for Al Qaeda did, and much as Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan Islamic Fighting Group deal with the Brotherhood paved the way for his own overthrow.
Barzan, Saddam’s brother and the leader of his secret police, had warned him that his alliance with Islamists would lead to the overthrow of his regime.
IS is a Baathist-Islamist hybrid that devours its creators, turning on Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, and at times even threatening its Baathist allies. Its hybrid of Socialism and an Islam so medieval and brutal that it even frightens Al Qaeda and the Brotherhood, has its roots in Saddam’s Iraq.
Even IS’s most revolutionary step, declaring its leader the Caliph, echoes Saddam’s effort to don the vestiges of the Abbasid Caliphate by linking himself to Caliph Al-Mansur. IS is Saddam’s Islamized Iraq without Saddam. It uses Saddam’s tactics and infrastructure for purely Islamic ends.
In short, IS is the outcome of two Russian client states that climbed into bed with terrorists, only to see the terrorists take over their countries.