McClatchy reports: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sprang from a largely self-funded, corporation-style prototype whose resilience to counterterrorism operations was proven by the time Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed command in 2010.
The militant group Baghdadi inherited had in place a sophisticated bureaucracy that was almost obsessive about record-keeping. Its middle-managers detailed, for example, the number of wives and children each fighter had, to gauge compensation rates upon death or capture, and listed expenditures in neat Excel spreadsheets that noted payments to an “assassination platoon” and “Al Mustafa Explosives Company.” Income from the Sunni Muslim militants’ looting of Shiite Muslim-owned property was recorded as “spoils.”
By the time Baghdadi took charge, the group even had begun siphoning a share of Iraq’s oil wealth, opening gas stations in the north, smuggling oil and extorting money from industry contractors — enterprises that Baghdadi would build on and replicate as he expanded operations across the border into Syria, ultimately breaking from his al Qaida roots and declaring himself emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Now Baghdadi’s ISIS has seized control of much of Iraq’s Sunni provinces, is consolidating its hold on two provinces in eastern Syria and is circling the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, as 300 newly dispatched American military advisers arrive in Iraq to assess what the United States can do to stop its advance.
Insurgent records suggest that the United States will find it difficult to rout an organization whose structure and attention to detail allowed it to prosper even during the toughest U.S. counterterrorism efforts of the last decade. U.S. officials believed, incorrectly, that the group had been vanquished.
This rare, in-depth look into the seed money and organizational structure of the militant organization comes from the Department of Defense’s classified Harmony Database, a repository of more than a million documents gathered from Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones. Some 200 Iraq-related documents — personal letters, expense reports, membership rosters — were declassified in the past year through West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center for the use of RAND Corp. researchers looking into the evolution of al Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq, the precursors to ISIS. Some analysis of the documents, which haven’t yet been published, was discussed with McClatchy to lend context to the current crisis.
The documents provide a cautionary tale as the Iraqi government pleads for U.S. military assistance to beat back ISIS’s brazen new campaign. The records reveal that previous incarnations of ISIS have shown an extraordinary ability to regroup even after military defeats. [Continue reading…]