Kyle Orton writes: Al-Khlifawi [better-known by his pseudonym Haji Bakr and as the architect of ISIS’s expansion in Syria] was one of several military-intelligence officers who joined JTJ/AQI [Jamaat at-Tawhid wal-Jihad/al-Qaeda in Iraq] in the immediate aftermath of Saddam’s downfall. The changes to the Saddam regime in its last fifteen years, notably the Islamic Faith Campaign, which created a religious movement I have taken to calling “Ba’athi-Salafism” under Saddam’s leadership, had transformed a hard-secular regime into an Islamist State, and transformed Iraqi society, leaving a much more Salafized and sectarian population. The Iraqi security forces were deeply affected by the Islamization of Saddam’s regime. Ba’athism was a spent force; religion had filled the void. There is every indication that al-Khlifawi was among those who had taken to a variant of Salafism long before the Saddam regime’s deposition.
The years between 2004 and 2012 are murky for al-Khlifawi, but two things are known for certain. One is al-Khlifawi lived; the other is that he was expanding his power within AQI/ISI.
Al-Khlifawi’s longevity can partly be ascribed to the fact that military professionals like him moved into the insurgency “not necessarily as its foot soldiers but more as its planners and logistical experts,” as Ali Allawi explains in The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, meaning these men were away from the frontlines where casualties among the insurgents were inevitably highest.
Two American actions then accidentally helped al-Khlifawi to live and to rise through ISI’s ranks.
First, al-Khlifawi was arrested in 2006 and held between Camp Bucca — now notorious as “little more than social-networking furloughs for jihadists“ — and Abu Ghraib until 2008, according to [Der Spiegel reporter, Christoph] Reuter, which would have kept him out of harm’s way during ISI’s darkest days. (There is a claim in ISIS’s eulogy that al-Khlifawi was imprisoned twice, on one occasion for four years. No further details are available at present.)
Second, the Coalition took apart ISI’s leadership structure, including essentially decapitating it by capturing or killing eighty percent of its top forty-two leaders between April and June 2010. The survivors of this cull were largely FREs [former (Saddam) regime elements]. [Continue reading…]