The New York Times reports: As fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to seize territory, the group has quietly built an effective management structure of mostly middle-aged Iraqis overseeing departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.
At the top the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer of sorts, who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The pedigree of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
“These are the academies that these men graduated from to become what they are today,” said the Iraqi, a researcher named Hisham Alhashimi.
ISIS, which calls itself Islamic State, burst into global consciousness in June when its fighters seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, after moving into Iraq from their base in Syria.
The Iraqi Army melted away, and Mr. Baghdadi declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, that erased borders and imposed Taliban-like rule over a large territory. Not everyone was surprised by the group’s success. “These guys know the terrorism business inside and out, and they are the ones who survived aggressive counterterrorism campaigns during the surge,” said one American intelligence official, referring to the increase in American troops in Iraq in 2007. “They didn’t survive by being incompetent.” [Continue reading…]