The Factory: Where is Al-Baghdady? And Who are his New Men?

Published on 30.04.2019
Reading time: 4 minutes

Iraqi security experts assert that eliminating Abu-Bakr al-Baghdady is crucial in the war on Isis. There are fears that the last reemergence of al-Baghdady may signal an attempt to regroup his forces.

An Iraqi military official said that killing Abu-Bakr al-Baghdady is imperative for the war against Isis, regardless of the man’s actual importance to the group and its operations. 

As the “caliph,” eliminating him is essential for the eradication of the militant group. 

That became obvious with the latest video appearance of al-Baghdady in the wake of Isis’s consecutive defeats. 

A security expert interviewed by Daraj, points out that those defeats should not obscure the fact that battles are still raging on, with daily casualties on both sides, across many Iraqi regions, especially the northern and western deserts where Isis’s troops are heavily present. 

An army general told Daraj that “the internal threat is real, and should not be underestimated.” 

After their defeat in 2018, Isis started regrouping into three zones. 

The first zone stretches from western Mosul all the way to the Syrian border, and southward to Rutba and Nakhil. Within this zone, bedouins and shepherds are tasked with transportation.   

The second zone includes Ba’aj, Hadar and Biji in Salahuddin province, extending to Samarra’. Within this axis, stationed troops are deployed with a distance of five to ten kilometers between them. The troops are mostly locals who know the roads very well. 

The third, most challenging axis lies between Kirkuk, near Himrin, and Makhoul and Khanou’a mountains. Rugged valleys separate these mountains, such as the 60-kilometer-long Shay Valley.  

Al Baghdadi in his last video appearance

The continuous confrontations with the group in the north and west of Iraq causes the Iraqi army five to seven casualties every day, according to Hisham al-Hashimy, a terrorism expert. 

An Iraqi intelligence official says that, after its defeat, Isis assassinated 68 mayors in Mosul alone in 2018. Targeting local chiefs and whoever cooperates with security forces has been part of Isis’s strategy to fend off espionage. 

Second on Isis’s list are control centers, judges, and security forces headquarters.  

The final phase consists of so-called “empowerment” aimed at regaining control over urban and desert regions. 

ISIS is heavily invested in sowing sectarian discord and exploiting the dire living conditions of those desert dwellers. It greatly benefited from the Caliphate Children Network it established during the years of its control over those regions. 

A few days ago, a suicide bomber born in 2003 executed an operation in the Intissar neighborhood in Mosul. Both he boy’s father and brother are in prison, the former  for drug trafficking, and the latter on terrorism charges. He was 11 years old when he joined ISIS upon the group’s invasion of Mosul, and was then recruited by the “Caliphate Children.” 

Those children are so radicalized that it is almost impossible to deter them from executing any crime they are charged with. They continue to roam around freely. The intelligence official says a slack security works in their favor. 

Security experts in Iraq unanimously agree that Isis is still the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world. Its funding sources are still fully functioning. In the desert territories where it is still operating, Isis charges one dollar for each oil barrel crossing the eastern regions to Iran via Alass, Ojail and Lilan roads. The same for the western regions that connect to Jordan. The Shia and Kurdish militias, for their part, charge 5 dollars for every barrel that crosses their territories. 

A security official notes that Isis’s external funding comes from companies it established with the goal of investing its money, especially in Turkey. These companies are still reaping considerable profits. “We know a lot about those companies, but we don’t know whether the Turkish authorities are aware of their activities,” he adds.

Apparently, Isis is also making levies in several urban areas as well. Last week, the Iraqi police published a photo of a group of Isis militants it said it arrested them while they were transferring money to the organization. 

Isis had paved the way for its 2014 invasion of Mosul through a control operation it conducted in 2013, whereupon it levied taxes on local traders, collecting a sum that was estimated at millions of dollars, which enabled the organization to create a local network that was indispensable for later gaining control over the city. 

Isis’s motive behind broadcasting the Baghdady video last Monday is in keeping with the “empowerment” strategy, banking on the severe division in Iraq these days, and the chaos wreaked in the northern and western provinces. 

The estimated number of people classified as “Isis families” is set at 230,000 Iraqis. An Iraqi official noted that the security and military efforts to impose a siege around the group are hampered by political difficulties and the failure to manage the Iraqi cities post-Isis. Apparently, the refugee camps are the perfect place for investment opportunities.

The Iraqi military security forces are cognizant of the importance of eliminating al-Baghdady in their war against Isis. 

An official says al-Baghdady is closely monitored with the help of some of his close subordinates. On the other hand, a clan leader says that the areas where al-Baghdady is likely to be moving are vast, and Isis still controls most of them, including hundreds of deserted villages. 

These are the same villages whose inhabitants are having difficulty returning home. For this is the self-same environment from which Isis members emerged. 

And now most of them are in isolation camps.

Published on 30.04.2019
Reading time: 4 minutes

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