by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 3, Rajab, 1436)
The takfiri terrorists, aided and abetted by the Ba‘athist terrorists in Iraq are gradually being driven from areas they occupied a year ago. In recent weeks, several masterminds have also been put out of action. Their end cannot be very far.
Is the takfiri project gradually being folded insofar as Iraq is concerned? Developments point to this distinct possibility since the terrorist group has been delivered two severe blows in recent weeks. The first was their defeat in Tikrit, hometown of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, from where the beheaders and liver-eaters were driven out at the end of March. The second was the killing of Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri on April 17 in an operation in the town of Hawija in Salah al-Din Province of Iraq.
This was followed by further developments in and around Ramadi. Iraqi troops and militias announced on April 21 that they had made progress against the takfiris and had driven them out of several areas of the western city including the surrounding neighborhoods of the city’s Pediatric and Maternity Hospital. Operations in Ramadi are continuing.
The Iraqi army has set its sights on Mosul, the second largest Iraqi city that was occupied by the takfiris last June in what was a major conspiracy by Iraqi army officers left over from Saddam’s era. They fled the scene abandoning their troops without direction or command. They were helped in their campaign by the alienation of some Sunni tribes that were angered by the manner in which former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki handled them. That seems to have changed since Haidar al-Abadi took over as Prime Minister of Iraq in August 2014.
Al-Douri was second in command to the Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein. While the Americans managed to capture a large number of Saddam’s former henchmen, al-Douri managed to evade capture despite a $10 million reward on his head. This enabled him to mobilize a large number of Ba‘thist officers and linked them with the terrorist outfit that uses the inappropriate name the “Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham” (ISIS), better known as takfiris among committed Muslims.
Details of the operation against al-Douri were revealed by Karim al-Nouri, a leader in the Badr organization and spokesman for the Shi‘i militias fighting the takfiri terrorists. “We received intelligence from our sources that a VIP was in the city of Hawija and we were waiting to ambush him. Based on our intelligence, it was believed that the man was [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi [self-styled khalifah and leader of the takfiris], but it turned out to be al-Douri,” al-Nouri said. Al-Baghdadi’s death would have been a great achievement but al-Douri’s elimination is equally significant. His death would certainly prove highly demoralizing for Ba‘thist army officers who have provided the backbone of military operations, intelligence and logistics to the terrorist outfit that was cobbled together by them.
Aware of its demoralizing effect, some Arabian regimes and their media outlets tried to cast doubts on claims of al-Douri’s death. They pointed to earlier reports on several occasions about his “death” only to discover these were false. While caution — and even some degree of cynicism — is justified, this time, several factors point to its authenticity. One is the signature red hair of al-Douri, a rare phenomenon in that part of the world. All photographs of his dead body, especially his face, showed bright red hair.
Equally revealing was the news story carried by the Saudi-owned Dubai-based al-Arabiya television. The Saudi channel interviewed Raed al-Jabouri, governor of Salah al-Din Province who said, “The mastermind of terrorist operations has been killed and he is Ezzat al-Douri.” The governor went on, “Al-Douri is the biggest mastermind behind all attacks that undermined Iraq. This news will have an impact on the morale of the fighters.” It certainly appears to be the case since it comes amid several other developments.
An earlier news story that did not get as much attention as it deserved was the killing of one Colonel Samir Abu Muhammad al-Khlifawi in January 2014 in Syria. He had served in Saddam’s intelligence unit of the air defence force and according to the German magazine, Spiegel (April 18), was instrumental in the creation of the takfiri outfit ISIS as well as the rise of al-Baghdadi to power. Al-Khlifawi, better known as Colonel Samir, adopted the pseudonym Haji Bakr. He headed the takfiris’ military council until the Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade killed him in an operation in the town of Tal Rifaat in January 2014. By then, Haji Bakr had put together a military structure that has continued to serve the takfiris well.
His elimination nearly 18 months ago did not register his importance or significance. Only recently did Spiegel report that it had obtained handwritten organizational charts drawn up by the former Iraqi intelligence officer and how he had planned the creation of the takfiris. From the details it has also emerged that the takfiris are driven not so much by religious fervor as by cold-blooded calculations and ruthlessness to instill fear. This is something the Saddam regime practiced with exacting brutality. Religious flavor was added to garner support of the Saudi Wahhabis that are obsessed with rituals — long unkept beards, flowing robes and prattling a few “Islamic” slogans. It is quite revealing that the Saudis had conspired with the US to destroy Saddam’s regime in Iraq in 2003 and now they are working hand-in-hand with these very elements against the governments in Iraq and Syria!
The removal of al-Douri from the scene has been received with much grief in Riyadh as well as other Arabian capitals. In fact, his cell (mobile) phone reportedly revealed that he had been in regular contact with several prominent Iraqi officials including two vice presidents Iyad Allawi and Usama al-Nujayfi, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani as well as former vice president Tariq al-Hashemi. The list also includes some members of parliament and several tribal chiefs.
If true, this points to serious problems inside Iraq and the dubious role of many leading figures occupying sensitive positions. At the very least, such information would deepen sectarian divisions in a country already wracked by sectarian violence. For instance, after the recapture of Tikrit from the takfiris, there were reports of Shi‘i militias indulging in revenge killings against Sunni tribesmen. Such actions are bound to deepen rather than heal sectarian conflict. Most of these militias have been removed from these areas but the damage seems to have been done.
Further, in many liberated towns and cities, far from life returning to normal, there is confusion and fear. Government services are nonexistent and police forces are not present to provide basic security and maintain law and order. This plays into the hands of the takfiris and those bent on playing up on sectarian divisions. The Iraqi government while going after the takfiris to cleanse the country of this scourge must also pay attention to winning the trust of the people regardless of sectarian affiliations.
Ultimately, it is a battle for the hearts and minds of people. The takfiris were initially successful because they and their allies were able to play on people’s grievances — real or imagined — to turn them against the central government in Baghdad. Such mistakes must not be repeated a second time.