The cold-blooded leaders of ISIS

Christoph Reuter, an investigative journalist for Der Spiegel has been to Syria 19 times and recently published The Black Power: The “Islamic State” and the Strategists of Terror (only available in German), which details the strategy of ISIS, or Daesh, as Reuter prefers to call the organization. He spoke to NOW managing editor Hanin Ghaddar.

Reuter: So the overall idea of the book is about this surface of Daesh which we perceive, but when you see how they operate, when you see who is the inner core of leadership, and when you see what relations the old leadership of the Islamic State and Iraq had with Ali Mamluk and Assef Shawkat in Syria — extremely close relations — you see that Daesh becomes kind of three-dimensional. You see that it’s not just a jihadist outlet; it’s a combination of a very cold-blooded, engineered plan — the old Baathists, the old secret service guys, with real jihadists, with believers. But you have a clear hierarchy of who’s making the plans and decisions.

NOW: Who exactly is making the plans and decisions?

Reuter: The Baathists — the old professionals. They also flip alliances. They had some kind of tactical alliance with the rebels, and I mean on the level that they could always claim ‘we are against Assad.’ But they also have this tactical cooperation with Assad’s regime. It’s not true what the opposition always say that Daesh was created by Assad. We collected 15 cases from early 2014, and new ones from June 2015, where rebels and Daesh would fight. They had clashes in Maara, in Al-Bab, in Aleppo and in Raqqa, and then you would have the regime air force, either during the fighting or immediately after bombing only the rebels, never the Daesh side. Also, when Daesh was removed from Al-Bab by the rebels, the regime pounded Al-Bab 12 hours later and made it easier for Daesh to come back.

Daesh basically borrowed the regime’s air force, and this was the clearest evidence that they are potentially helping each other.

NOW: Do you think there is also communication or only tactical cooperation?

Reuter: Well, there must be communication, but we have no evidence of the communication.

So, you have these two very cynical archenemies, who both believe — rightly — that they can be, for the time being, useful to each other in certain areas. So you have the confirmation that this is not a jihadist outlet of believers. They have no problem to have deals with the KRG, with Barazani’s government, like: ‘we take Mosul and we don’t touch Kirkuk.’ So you had no clashes or conflict from June to August 2014, then suddenly they felt powerful enough and they took a lot of the Kurdish areas.

There’s a very non-religious, tactical and practical element of how they operate. It’s completely different from real believers. They could make deals with the devil if need be. [Continue reading…]

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