The Associated Press reports: While attending the Iraqi army’s artillery school nearly 20 years ago, Ali Omran remembers one major well. An Islamic hard-liner, he once chided Omran for wearing an Iraqi flag pin into the bathroom because it included the words “God is great.”
“It is forbidden by religion to bring the name of the Almighty into a defiled place like this,” Omran recalled being told by Maj. Taha Taher al-Ani.
Omran didn’t see al-Ani again until years later, in 2003. The Americans had invaded Iraq and were storming toward Baghdad. Saddam Hussein’s fall was imminent. At a sprawling military base north of the capital, al-Ani was directing the loading of weapons, ammunition and ordnance into trucks to spirit away. He took those weapons with him when he joined Tawhid wa’l-Jihad, a forerunner of al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq.
Now al-Ani is a commander in the Islamic State group, said Omran, who rose to become a major general in the Iraqi army and now commands its 5th Division fighting IS. He kept track of his former comrade through Iraq’s tribal networks and intelligence gathered by the government’s main counterterrorism service, of which he is a member.
It’s a common trajectory.
Under its leader, Iraqi jihadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State group’s top command is dominated by former officers from Saddam’s military and intelligence agencies, according to senior Iraqi officers on the front lines of the fight against the group, as well as top intelligence officials, including the chief of a key counterterrorism intelligence unit.
The experience they bring is a major reason for the group’s victories in overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria. The officers gave IS the organization and discipline it needed to weld together jihadi fighters drawn from across the globe, integrating terror tactics like suicide bombings with military operations. They have been put in charge of intelligence-gathering, spying on the Iraqi forces as well as maintaining and upgrading weapons and trying to develop a chemical weapons program. [Continue reading…]