US follies created ISIS, bred Baghdadi, Trump shouldn’t boast but introspect

The ISIS of today was just a rag-tag group of jihadists led by an obscure Jordanian till 2002. Its founder, Al-Zarqawi (left), after having disbanded his terror camps, funded by al-Qaeda.

Donald Trump’s favourite reply to any question on any subject under the sky—economy, Iran, terrorism, nukes, women, Ukraine — is usually this: “Nobody knows it better than me.” Let’s take this claim on face value and put a few questions to the omniscient President of the US states.

1) Who created Daesh, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?

2) Who contributed to the rise of ISIS founders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

3) Who started the chain of events that led to the creation of Mujahidins, then Taliban, then al-Qaeda, and finally the caliphate?

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For those who have been following the arc of history since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, there is just one answer to all these questions — the United States of America. A cursory reading of history would tell us that the US has been to global terrorists what Frankenstein was to his monster — the creator, the originator.

It is kind of cute to hear Trump gloat and boast after the US forces killed the self-proclaimed caliph, chief of ISIS, al-Baghdadi after a covert operation in Syria. Trump, who is in trouble at home because of impending impeachment by the Congress, has latched on to the development like an ecstatic child. In the euphoria of the victory, he has announced that al-Baghdadi died like a dog, a coward.

But, al-Baghdadi and his organisation would not have been such global threats if the US had blundered its way through the Middle East, wreaking havoc on its populations and creating monsters out of ordinary thugs.

A brief history of ISIS and Baghdadi

The ISIS of today was just a rag-tag group of jihadists led by an obscure Jordanian till 2002. Its founder, al-Zarqawi, after having disbanded his terror camps, funded by al-Qaeda, in Herat on the Iran-Afghanistan border was on the run, looking for hideouts in the Kurdish enclaves of Iraq.

In the winter of 2002, Zarqawi — a heavy drinker and brawler who had become a jihadi under the influence of Islamic preacher Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi — was running a small camp of hardliners with a local group called Ansar al-Islam on the Iran-Iraq border. Nobody—not even Saddam Hussein’s intelligence officials — had heard of him.

Also read: 18 years after 9/11 attacks, US war on terror goes haywire

On October 28, 2002, two assassins pumped seven bullets into a US diplomat in Jordan’s capital Amman. A few months later, the Mukhabarat, Jordan’s counterterrorism agency, was able to trace the killers to Zarqawi’s camp. In a few days, CIA spies were able to locate Zarqawi in Sargat, a hamlet in northern Iraq, and soon had his entire camp on their radar. As the head of the CIA unit tracking Zarqawi begged for orders to take him and the entire Ansar group down, the US top brass first dithered, and then finally said no (primarily because George Bush felt it would have weakened the case against its plan of hitting Saddam).

Instead, the Bush administration went to the United Nations and introduced Zarqawi, who nobody knew by then, as the al-Qaeda top boss in Iraq who had the blessings of the Saddam administration (a complete fabrication). With their folly, the US raised Zarqawi’s
stature, gave him free publicity that attracted hundreds of jihadis.

Several reports have established two facts since then. One, the Saddam administration would have destroyed Zarqawi and his Ansar group if it had credible information on its activities and hideouts. Two, contrary to the US propaganda, there was absolutely no link between the Baathists, al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi (Saddam would have actually strived to destroy the terror groups). But, the US invaded Iraq on the basis of bogus claims of a link between the three, and fictitious assumption that Saddam was sitting on a pile of weapons of mass destruction (which were never found).

Soon after the US forces landed in Baghdad, Zarqawi became the face of Iraqi resistance. He started attacking the US forces, embassies of its allies, UN officials and Shiite clerics through daring suicide attacks, in the process becoming the rallying point for the Iraqi Sunnis and former officials of Saddam’s army who had been stripped of both income and dignity.

In the laps of the botched, unjustified US invasion of Iraq was thus born the Islamic State of Iraq, and its founder Zarqawi, a former drug peddler and alcoholic who could have been easily squished before he became a dreaded terror don.

Around the time Zarqawi was exploding bombs mounted on cars in Baghdad, Najaf and Fallujah, planning massive chemical attacks on Amman, a shy, unimpressive, bespectacled cleric was arrested by the US forces from an Iraqi town. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (original name Ibrahim Awad al-Badri) was picked up during a raid on his cousin’s hideout and sent to Camp Bucca on suspicion of being a hardliner. (A swab taken from his cheeks during this period was to be later used for confirming his death through DNA matching).

Till his arrest, al-Baghdadi was not even a small fish in the Jihadi Ocean. He was a preacher in a local mosque and his jihad was limited to the pursuit of deep insights into religion and Sharia. But, at Camp Bucca, he got the opportunity to mingle with some of the biggest terrorists of the period and influence them through his theological knowledge and interpretations of the Koran and Sharia.

In yet another folly that was to later cost the whole world dear, the US forces failed to foresee Baghdadi as a threat and released him from the camp after six months of incarceration. (Some accounts suggest he was held for five years). By the summer of 2014, Baghdadi had led his jihadis through the borders of Syria—where the US is embroiled in a war against the Bashar regime—and forged an alliance with the al-Nusra Front, the local arm of al-Qaeda. Once his outfit had drawn to its fold the best fighters in the region, Baghdadi unilaterally announced the merger of al-Nusra into his group and renamed it as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. On July 4, 2014, he declared himself a caliph, leader of the 1.4 billion Muslims of the world.

Also read: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the cleric who dreamt of a medieval caliphate

The American Misadventure

The US blunders in the Middleeast and South Asia can be summed up in a single line: First it creates a monster, then, like the Indian demon Bhasmusara that turned against its creator, it gets into a fight with its creation. Ironically, after destroying its own monster, the US goes to the world claiming for itself the tag of the saviour.

But, the world has paid a heavy price for the US misadventures. In the 80s, it armed the Afghan rebels with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs against the Russians. (The epic misadventure was immortalised in the Rambo series). The pioneer of its Afghan policy was a senator called Charlie Wilson, who channelled millions of dollars into the war through Pakistan. In the end, the Afghans turned against the Americans—like the Tamil Tigers against the Indian Peace Keeping Force. This flawed policy of supporting insurgency started a chain of events —the animosity with Afghans led to the birth of Taliban and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 terror strikes; the terror strikes led to the invasion of Afghanistan and bombing of Iraq; the havoc in Iraq led to the birth of ISIS—that has imposed a heavy price on the world.

The mindless, irrational invasion of Iraq on the basis of bogus intelligence, destabilised Iraq, led to the ouster of a dictator who was keeping terror outfits under a tight leash and delivered thousands of trained fighters and ex-army men into the waiting arms of terror groups. If the Middle East is today a jihadi den, it is primarily because of the US hubris, arrogance and blunders.

Also read: ISIS chief Al-Baghdadi resurfaces after 5 years, claims SL attack was to avenge Syria

Incidentally, Zarqawi was initially interested only in fighting the Russians in Afghanistan and later Chechnya, but he swore revenge against the Americans after Bush bombed Kabul. Baghdadi, similarly, was just a cleric intent on enforcing a conservative form of Islam on his handful of followers. But, his incarceration during the Iraq offensive, gave him a larger cause—an uprising against the US and establishment of a caliphate.

But for the US, Zarqawi would have died in a pitched battle with Russians, or jailed in Jordon for dealing in drugs. And Baghdadi would have been preaching from the pulpit of a mosque in Samarra, railing against men who smoke or youngsters who watch women read news on TV without wearing an abaya. But, the US made them larger than life, global threats and terror icons.

That Trump is gloating about the fall of Baghdadi should go down as an irony of history.

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