Kyle Orton writes: Yesterday, Reuters had an article by Isabel Coles and Ned Parker entitled, “How Saddam’s men help Islamic State rule.” The article had a number of interesting points, but in its presentation of the movement of former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) into the leadership structure of the Islamic State (IS) as a phenomenon of the last few years, it was a step backward: the press had seemed to be recognizing that the Salafization of the FREs within IS dates back to the Islamization of Saddam Hussein’s regime in its last fifteen years, notably in the 1990s after the onset of the Faith Campaign.
The authors do note that when IS swept across Iraq in June 2014 and “absorbed thousands of [Ba’athist] followers,” these “new recruits joined Saddam-era officers who already held key posts in Islamic State” (italics added). But the Reuters piece then adds:
Most former Baathist officers have little in common with Islamic State. Saddam promoted Arab nationalism and secularism for most of his rule. But many of the ex-Baathists working with Islamic State are driven by self preservation and a shared hatred of the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad. Others are true believers who became radicalised in the early years after Saddam’s ouster, converted on the battlefield or in U.S. military and Iraqi prisons.
The notion of a cleavage in IS between true believers and “Ba’athists” doesn’t stack up in the article’s own presentation. The notorious Camp Bucca where IS deliberately infiltrated men to gather recruits, some of whom were FREs, was important. But the very formulation begs the question. Why were insurgent leaders using Islam, not Ba’athism, as their rallying cry? Why was there “no secular Sunni resistance at all,” as Joel Rayburn, a former intelligence officer who worked with General David Petraeus from 2007 to 2010 and wrote one of the best histories of post-2003 Iraq, once put it? Because Ba’athism had been dead as an ideology for at least a decade — and it was Saddam who killed it. [Continue reading…]