Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Becomes Caliph Ibrahim of Islamic State
By Dr. Terry Simmons
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Recently conducting first person research for a book in progress with three academic co-authors concerning the conflict that started in Syria with the advent of the Free Syria Army (FSA) and their Arab Spring inspired rebellion against the authoritarian Alawite regime of Bashar al Assad, I conducted a research interview concerning the subject of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) and the new Caliph Ibrahim with a veteran of the Iraq War.
Consisting primarily of Syrian armed forces defectors, the Syrian Street rebelled against two generations of abysmal repression at the hands of Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad and his son. Two generations of extreme tyranny under Baathist Party rule, aided and abetted by a Soviet clientele relationship during the Cold War, produced immense suffering and resentment in Syria.
The coming book is an outgrowth of a thesis culminated in the Intelligence Studies Master’s Program at American Military University last year. Three colleagues expressed interest in collaboration in this effort to expand the document to a full academic volume, expected publishing date in spring 2015. Two are former students of a politics of terrorism class and the third a Professor Emeritus with over 10 years on the ground in Lebanon, and world authority on the Levant, the professor Charles Winslow.
The interviewee served as an Indiana National Guard Air Cavalry Scout during the surge in 2007 in Iraq. His real-time experiences and perceptions as well as previous and current research data by the book team have inspired this blog contribution. Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and under whose authority has he declared the Islamic State? What rubric, theocratic or geopolitical, has inspired him to declare himself Caliph Ibrahim? Who does he really represent and who will acknowledge or deny his authority to do so? Lastly, who is this man who has audaciously invaded a western constructed nation state named Iraq—not to mention the similarly western political construct called Syria? What rational actors will recognize his political creation that supplants these two prominent nation states created a post-Ottoman Empire?
As this line of inquiry is far too comprehensive to address in a blog venue, it makes sense to emphasize current events, the ISIS spillover invasion across the borders of Iraq in the last few weeks, transitory in nature at this juncture. Observable facts on the ground are only indications of future potentialities.
The most demonstrable fact is that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, formerly the leader of AQI in Iraq, became the leader of the al-Qaida affiliated group ISIS. In recent months, The Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) became the conglomerate ISIS, which has now congealed as Islamic State. Al-Baghdadi has morphed into a mystical Caliph named Ibrahim who self-declared his Islamic authority only days ago in the Great Mosque of al-Nuri—significant for its historical importance in the succession impasse that created the Sunni-Shiite split. Chosen historically for this very fact in establishing Ibrahim’s authority to rule, the political reaction by the Shiite sects is already taking place. As the Shiite Nuri al-Maliki is the most obvious current target of Ibrahim’s ambitions, his voice is increasingly shrill in reaction.
In theocratic context, this development seems an absolutist rejection of western political constructs in the greater Middle East. Serving notice that Islam reigns supreme, western labels such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, are simply illegitimate and serve only western masters as apostates. Caliph Ibrahim has commanded obeisance from all followers of Islam.
Current western analyses of these revolutionary events seem to miss the point that this is theocratic culture war. Theocratic government is an organic corollary conclusion of orthodox historical Islam. By contrast, western government is an artificial concept of pluralism in governing called democracy in Islamic eyes. It is antithetical to Islam and therefore can never be accepted as legitimate rule. It separates religion and government as independent variables. This constitutes the ultimate hypocrisy and apostasy in Islamic perceptions and must be eradicated at all costs. This is the phenomenon known as jihad. A long list of historical mystical leaders has taken up Holy War to include Yassir Arafat, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and now Caliph Ibrahim, formerly known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Why this man? The army veteran I interviewed said he was a brilliant military tactician and an inspirational leader as the head of AQI in 2007. The argument is strong that he has come a long way since then. Rising from regional military leader to Caliphate of al-Sham is a quantum leap indeed! As usual, the question is emphatic: is this an episodic and transitory event, not really blunting the internecine struggle that historically plagues Islam or will the new Caliphate known as Islamic State sustain?