The Middle East Monitor: The Western media has worked hard in the past two weeks to shed light on the relationship between former Iraqi army officers and ISIS. Its analysis suggests that ISIS is an armed wing of the Iraqi Baath Party’s deep state. I believe that the media is ignoring the facts. We have witnessed an important phase in Iraq’s history that helps us, to a large extent, understand how matters reached the point that they are at, in a manner closer to reality without misguidance or exaggeration.
Many may not know that in the wake of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, there was a quiet Islamic revolution that almost toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Iraqi president addressed the matter, sometimes with an iron security fist and at other times by going with the Islamic revolution to use it to serve the regime and its existence.
As in every invasion, Kuwait was looted. Some of the things taken to Iraq included many books which had a great impact on Iraqi society. It changed from being secular or, at best, moderately Muslim, to a religious society, parts of which were impacted more by certain denominations. The mosques were no longer places where the elderly sat out the remainder of their lives; they became full of excited young people who found, in those books that entered Iraq under the nose of the government, benefits for their souls that they had been deprived of previously. There are many examples of entire neighbourhoods in Baghdad, and villages in the surrounding areas and other Iraqi governorates, that shifted towards Salafist ideology, which led them to destroy their televisions and similar actions because they believed that they are forbidden in Islam. Many members of Baghdad’s Shia population and those in southern Iraq became Sunni Muslims, abandoning their ancestral faith denomination. Such innocent people paid the price for this later in the form of murder, displacement and persecution at the hands of the new arrivals who were brought in by the American occupation.
The changes in Iraqi society drove the Iraqi elite to try to rectify the matter before it spiralled out of control, especially since they had just emerged defeated from a war during which they almost lost their authority. Starting with what was later known as the “faith” campaign in 1996, it turned into a sponsor for the Islamic awakening. This would later impose duties on the state, such as establishing mosques for every military unit and appointing imams to lead the prayers in all mosques, usually chosen from amongst the graduates of Islamic schools. It was not unusual to see a soldier standing side by side with his senior officer during prayer; this would not have happened were it not for the Islamic awakening in Iraq.
Iraqi army officers, most of them from religious families (including a large number from Mosul, who are known for their religious nature), saw this as an opportunity to leave Baathism, which was imposed on them; every Iraqi is a Baathist, Saddam Hussein once claimed. The lives of these officers went through serious ideological changes, as they become closer to the Islamic trend, in terms of both thought and behaviour; some say that this religious shift was also found in Saddam himself.
The Iraqi army, of course, was disbanded by the US-appointed governor of Iraq in 2003; indeed, Paul Bremer banned the Baath Party as well. More than 500,000 soldiers found themselves at a loss, with many having spent more than half their lives in the army. Some accepted the situation while others rejected it and joined the Iraqi resistance movement. When the resistance factions formalised themselves, Islam was their common denominator. The officers who rejected the US occupation and Bremer’s orders to dissolve their army formed the nucleus of the first resistance groups; they were the masterminds behind them, while the youth implemented their plans, even though many of these young men were never part of the army. They were driven to resist by a rejection of occupation and oppression.
As the resistance took shape, some of its activists were arrested by the US forces. Many projects condemning the occupation and its consequences emerged in Iraq’s prisons, but there was no project calling for the return of the Saddam regime. Most of the people who wanted that to happen withdrew quickly. When ISIS emerged, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was considered to be the legitimate father of the organisation. Al-Qaeda was not known for reaching out to the Iraqi Baath Party or any of its members, as the group regarded Baathists as infidels and not to be dealt with. Al-Qaeda later turned into the Islamic State of Iraq before it expanded into Syria after the outbreak of the revolution against the Syrian Baath regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
We are talking about events happening more than a decade after the US invasion of Iraq. If we were to assume that all of the former Iraqi army officers were still alive, then most of them would have reached an age where they were too old to command and plan with a military-style organisation. Moreover, the names of ISIS leaders announced publically includes those of people who were arrested by Saddam’s intelligence services; there are none which can be confirmed as those of former officers in the Iraqi army. Even if we take a close look at the story of Haji Bakr, whose story was featured by the German magazine Der Spiegel, we would find that it was prepared hastily; Iraq was not known to have an “air defence force intelligence service”, in which the magazine claims that Haji Bakr was a colonel.