Updated list of daesh leaders

Following airstrikes and operations that have successfully killed several of the mid and high level leadership of daesh the new replacement appointments have been made quietly. Information gleaned from intelligence has revealed the names of the new leaders and this list is correct as of early February. Non-Iraqis are identified and the list is not exhaustive.

  1. Ibrahim Awad al-Badri AKA Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – Caliph
  2. Mustafa Abdul Rahman al-Khatuni AKA Haji Iman and Abu Alaa – Deputy Caliph and head of the Military Council
  3. Taha Sobhi Falaha AKA Abu Muhammad al-Adnani – Spokesman [Syrian]
  4. Dr. Wael al-Rawi – Head of Media
  5. Turki bin Mubarak bin Abdullah al-Binali AKA Abu Sufyan al-Silmi and Abu Dhurgham – Chief Shari’i (cleric) [Bahraini]
  6. Muhammad Yusuf AKA Abu Bakr al-Khatuni – Head of Shura Council for Iraq emirate
  7. Bakr Hadi AKA Dr. Salah Abu Jafar – Wali of Baghdad
  8. Ayad Bashar al-Mohamadi AKA Abu Anas – Wali of Forat region
  9. Mahmud al-Dulaimi AKA Abu Mansur and Abu Muawiya – Wali of Diyala region
  10. Fadhil al-Ithawi AKA Haji Arif – Wali of Southern region
  11. Yunus Salim Hussain al-Jibouri AKA Abu Hamza – Wali of Nineveh region
  12. Saad al-Obaidi AKA Abu Abdul Salam – Wali of Anbar region
  13. Ayub Sheehan al-Samri – Wali of border region
  14. Haji Kamil al-Isoodi – Wali of Salahudin region
  15. Hamid Shakir Mahmud al-Badri – Head of Security for Syrian emirate
  16. Bandar al-Shaalan – Head of Media in Syria [Saudi]
  17. Amer al-Rafdan – Wali of Deir Ezzour [Syrian]
  18. Saddam al-Jamal – Wali of Albu Kamal [Syrian]
  19. Tarkhan Batirashvili AKA Abu Omar al-Shishani – Head of the Mujahideen Army [Georgian]
  20. Walid al-Jilani – Head of Al-Battar Brigade in Libya [Libyan]
  21. Abu Anas al-Shaalan – Member of the Military Council
  22. Khalid Wajdi al-Inazi AKA Khalid al-Rusi – Member of the Military Council
  23. Amr al-Absi AKA Abu al-Athir – Wali of Aleppo [Saudi born Jordanian]
  24. Bakr bin Abdul Aziz AKA Abu Humam al-Athri – Member of the Media Board [Bahraini]
  25. Ali Musa al-Shawwakh AKA Abu Luqman – Wali of Raqqa [Syrian]
  26. Khalaf al-Dhiyab al-Halus AKA Abu Musaab – Member of the Military Council [Syrian]
  27. Tariq al-Jibouri AKA Abu Jalal – Member of the Military Council
  28. Abu Omar Qirdash AKA Abu Jasim al-Iraqi – Head of suicide bombers force
  29. Abu Omar al-Jibouri – Head of car bombing unit

Several names in the list are rumoured to have been killed in the past few weeks without a confirmation or denial by daesh so remain on the list for now. The Iraqi members of the list make up the majority and every single one of them was either in Saddam’s armed forces or security services.

Arabic source for the names
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Iraq at the crossroads

I spent the last weeks of 2014 and the first ones of 2015 in Iraq and felt it was important that I share some of what I witnessed. My time in Iraq was during the busiest time of the year, the time of religious festivals, annual budgets, and of course holidays. Iraq is a land of huge contrasts and of extremes, so I have kept several incidents to myself as they only perpetuate the negative impression of Iraq and its people. In recording some of what I observed I felt the keen disconnect of writing about Iraq as someone who has experienced it and as someone writing for an audience who have not. So these are some thoughts that I attempt to convey as a person who is both inside looking out and outside looking in.

My previous visit was in June/July 2014, a few days after the fall of Mosul I arrived in Baghdad attempting to source news and facts after daesh had made a startling success of its massive propaganda drive. While the military campaign to defeat daesh continues there has been a marked improvement in security, especially in Baghdad, which has been plagued by bombings and killings for over a decade. There is also much more confidence in the security services and the Popular Mobilization, with a growing expectance that daesh will be defeated by end of 2015.

The International Zone (aka the Green Zone) typifies the contrasts of Iraq, it is in the centre of Baghdad and hosts the institutions of the Iraqi state, but does not look or feel as if it is in Iraq. Those who live and work here are isolated from wider society, their experience of Iraq differs from those who live outside it. The streets are cleaner, there is no traffic, no security incidents, electricity never cuts out, and nearly everyone you meet is well-to-do or at least more comfortable than the majority. Some of the people I met either never venture out of the IZ (except to the airport) or do so as part of a convoy on official business to another institution. In the IZ you do not feel the heat, the threat of daesh, or the discontent of the people. Nobody comes into the IZ unless they have clearance, which means ordinary citizens generally never get in. This isolating effect on politicians and officials is damaging, they rarely have an idea of what life is like for the common person. In fact elections are usually the only time in which politicians meet people and are seen outside the IZ (I know some will say that is typical of other countries too).

Each politician is tied to a party, and the few that aren’t don’t make any headway. Senior and junior posts in the civil service, and the Cabinet itself, are allocated to parties. These parties then put forward their candidates, usually without recognition of the capability of that candidate. The PM himself complained in parliament that some of his ministers were forced on him despite his reservations about their capability. This situation compounds the issue of partisan politics, and each ministry, department, agency is overstaffed with competing factions of staff. At one government institution I saw dozens of staff queuing up near the main entrance at 2.45pm, half an hour before their work shift ends so that they can sign out quickly and go home. The few hardworking staff are viewed with suspicion and often find themselves clashing with peers and superiors because they try to do an honest job. In my visits to several offices I found that most civil servants suffered from low morale, felt a sense of entitlement and injustice, and were fiercely partisan. Productivity was largely absent and there seemed to be no desire from senior officials to change the status quo.

The issue of efficiency is dwarfed by that of corruption. It is so organised and so entrenched that even the highest authorities tread carefully. One example I heard from the Interior Minister highlights this: A tip off from senior staff alerted the minister to a contract that was signed by the Head of Procurement in the ministry for bulletproof vests to be distributed to Interior Ministry forces. The contract was for tens of millions of dollars with a foreign company. The officer, a veteran of the ministry with lots of powerful friends, had arranged for a complex set of transfers as payment for delivery of the vests, which arrived few in number and of dubious quality. The minister with his security detail heads to the officer unannounced and upon questioning him learns that there is a large warehouse where the vests are stored. The officer claims that these are samples and refuses to accompany the minister to the warehouse or have it opened. Literally at gunpoint the minister forces the officer to the warehouse where they discover hundreds of vests that were locally made knock offs. Not only did the Head of Procurement steal the funds intended for the foreign company but he also bought fake vests and then sold them to junior officers. The minister ordered his arrest immediately but was told a few days later that the officer was offering bribes of $10m to prison staff, prosecutors, senior officers, to be released. The minister was forced to send his own aides to keep an eye on him around the clock.

These sorts of stories are literally heard everywhere. Nearly every single ministry, department, agency is plagued with corruption. Honest staff are threatened, relocated, or set up with phony accusations against them. But there is one benefit of the economic downturn in Iraq; austerity has squeezed the amount of corruption possible and cases are being discovered daily. The PM is rightly concerned about corruption and sees it as a bigger threat than terrorism. He is hoping that much of it will be tackled before Iraq’s finances improve otherwise there is a danger that increased revenue for the government will end up funding corruption and not benefit the state at all.

The PM himself works long hours, too long in fact, the consequence of meeting with too many people every day. His time is taken up by mediating in crises and keeping political opponents working together. He and his staff have little time to plan ahead because of the inefficiency of the state and its bureaucracy. It seems the government is stuck in firefighting mode, not able to strategize or see beyond the immediate timeframe. An example of this is the oil price crisis where analysts had called for the price to fall under $80 even before the fall of Mosul. Yet the government had failed to heed the warnings and by mid-November still expected oil to average at $80 per barrel in 2015, and was forced to change that to $70 and then $56 by the time the budget was passed at the end of January.

Other woes are well documented and affect every sphere in Iraq. A lot of responsibility, if not cause, falls on the previous administration, who did not make the most of relative stability from 2009 onwards. The blame game can carry on endlessly but I honestly feel that all sides take their share; the Shia parties for their lack of statesmanship and failure to implement good governance, the Sunnis for not accepting the changed realities and undermining the new Iraq, the Kurds for pushing their independence agenda at the cost of the rest of Iraq, the US for destroying it in 2003 and not having a good strategy for properly rebuilding it, and neighbouring countries who are fighting proxy wars and co-opting whoever they can. Ordinary people who I met are largely still partisan and filled with mistrust of the other as a result of endless rhetoric and skewed media coverage. There is very little appetite for self-evaluation, honest and constructive criticism, or reconciliation. But the small minority that does want these is growing, giving hope that a new generation might lead Iraq better than the previous one.

In order for Iraq to rebuild properly there are several major changes that need to take place. I will outline some of these:

  • Reform of and legislation of laws on Provincial powers, Labour, Tax, National and Foreign Investment, Judiciary, Hydrocarbons, Political Parties, Land and Planning, and Privatization
  • Push for decentralization and better implementation of federalism
  • Restructuring of foreign policy and lessening dependence on both the US and Iran, reworking relationship with Turkey, improving ties with Gulf states, and leveraging ties with Egypt, Jordan, China, India and Japan, building existing relationships with EU, Russia
  • Agree on independence referendum with KRG to take place in 2017 with a simple yes/no question
  • Austerity, productivity, efficiency, and anti-corruption drives to reduce size of civil service, increase working hours, reduce holidays, limit middle management, and cut budgets for departments
  • Introduce a single national biometric card that covers identity, address, proof of entitlements, elections, security, banking
  • Removal of all subsidies except for the poorest in society (those on welfare), end of ration card system and divert funds to welfare
  • Build financial systems (banking, currency) to reduce reliance on cash, open up credit and loans
  • Reform of healthcare sector
  • Introduce major civil society program to include revised education curriculums, reconciliation programs, media reform, compulsory gap year/national service, support for NGOs, easing social mobility

I am aware that some of these steps are already on the agenda and while these are not all the solutions for a better Iraq they do represent some of the most pressing ones. Perhaps the most important change needed is in the mindset of the average Iraqi; a better educated, tolerant, hardworking, and good citizen one is needed.

It is possible that Iraq has more than twice the current estimated oil reserves it has, in which case it can become a G20 economy easily if the right administration is in place. But economic wealth is only one aspect of why Iraq is important and should succeed. Iraq is not a failed state and will not become one but it does need reforms in order to recover from being the broken society that was left post 2003. In fact I see the challenges of 2014 as being a positive catalyst; the security services are being reformed, the government looks stronger, and the international community is supporting Iraq more than ever. Whatever path Iraq takes these next few years will not be an easy one but decisions made at the crossroads today will make the journey worthwhile or not.

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Background on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi


Newsweek released a profile on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this week and several useful bits of information came to light. Some of my quotes were based on an assessment of him I wrote recently:

I highly doubt the claim that he was an active militant before 2003 (see Bruce Riedel’s claim) as we have seen very little evidence of any Iraqis being involved with jihadist groups before the US invasion. The claim that he is from the Badri family in Samarra has not been refuted so far but my limited research has not yielded any confirmation from Baghdad’s universities and colleges that a man with such a name obtained a doctorate from there as his supporters claim. Reports that he was a preacher at one of Samarra’s mosques have only been found in daesh propaganda and ‘biographies’ of him but I highly doubt he was a person of any repute, capability or credentials pre-2003 (partly because he was too young). I would not be surprised if he was not even a religious person as most of the Iraqis who became involved in jihadist groups were secular Baathists before 2003. I’m sure he served in the Iraqi army at some point (compulsory service) so had some basic military training and expect that he had good links with the Baathist security apparatus pre and post 2003 (partly through relatives), and came into contact with individuals who were actively forming cells based on models of Zarqawi’s JTJ to destabilise Iraq (which were largely based north of Baghdad and south of Samarra), which led to the formation of JJASJ of which he is claimed to have been a part.

The Americans detained him for most of 2004 in Camp Bucca as a ‘civilian internee’ which means he was linked to a terrorist group but not caught actively engaged in terrorist activities. They released him because he seemingly posed no threat at the time which again shows that he was not a notable figure at the time. It is known that radicalisation took place in Bucca (several daesh leaders were held there at the same time before eventual release) so Baghdadi’s rise began with his detainment where he met his future network and collaborators. The abuses at Abu Ghraib, the success of Zarqawi, the discontent of the Sunnis areas of Iraq would all have presented an opportunity for him to build on his new career as an insurgent. As an Iraqi he would be better able to coordinate with locals than foreigners which would explain his rise to prominence but most reports point to him only being a member of the sharia committees of JJASJ, then MSM, and then ISI, not as a commander of note. Because he was pretty much unknown between 2005-2010 I would not be surprised if he was held shortly at some point by the Iraqis and it is claimed that he was the MSM commander for the town of Rawa in Anbar province, and that he facilitated the entry of foreign fighters from Syria and Saudi Arabia into Iraq through that area. He probably has lived in Baghdad and Mosul at some point during these past few years but very few people got to meet him and those that did saw him wearing a mask. This was partly because of security (his predecessors and peers were all killed using tip-offs and intel) but I think he used the period 2010-2014 to beef up his religious knowledge and to build an aura of mystery around his character. His Friday prayer appearance showed a calm individual whose use of the Qur’an reflects a level of training and education that had prepared him for the occasion. His recorded audio speeches are edgier though and his dealings with JAN and AQ have shown that he views himself as superior and has a hint of disdain for non-Iraqis. The photos of him from his detainment in 2004 and the one released by the Iraqi Interior ministry earlier this year to me show an ambitious terrorist not a caliph. Baghdadi is a man who revels in his position as the world’s top terrorist and sees himself as the successor to Bin Laden. When he arrived in Camp Bucca he was scared and looking for a way out, now he commands a semi-functional ‘state’ and its army. His transformation was complete when he appeared in Mosul as the ‘caliph’ but it is obvious that much effort has gone into this over the years. Very little is known about his character and personal life but it is said that he is ruthless in his dealings, and quiet in person. He has at least two wives and is known to distance himself from all except very few trusted individuals. Paranoia dictates his behaviour and routine but the organisation around him has evolved without much direction from him, thereby leaving him as a useful figurehead without the danger of operational duties.

In summary, once you remove all the mystique and grandeur the ‘caliph’ turns out to be a rather ordinary man who saw his opportunity and took it. He is no different from the hundreds of other Iraqis who attempted to destroy the new Iraq and could have ended up as either violent criminal or faceless terrorist but instead now finds himself at the centre of the world’s attention. And both he and those around him will ensure it stays that way.

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Thoughts on the Federal/KRG deal

In response to questions of how significant the deal is and whether this is the end of confrontation between Baghdad and Erbil:

The deal itself is especially significant because of the timing. The PM promised when forming the new government that he would resolve the dispute with the KRG within 3 months and he has managed that. The Baghdad-KRG dispute has been going on for a number of years but with the threat the whole country is facing it was essential that a deal was struck in order to reduce financial pressures and also present a united political and military front against daesh. Abadi has shown that his government can get things done and the Kurds have shown that they are willing to compromise in order to continue as part of the Federal Iraq.

This is not the end of the confrontation because there are several outstanding issues between the federal and regional government, and even the oil export deal has some details to be confirmed. This does reduce tensions and also is the most significant issue that could have been resolved at this time, so it has set the right tone for further engagement to resolve other disagreements. Both sides have gained and both sides are more optimistic going forward, so a significant step but not the final one.

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Agreement by political blocs to form new Iraqi government

On Sunday 7th September 2014 an agreement was made between the major political blocs in Iraq that led to the formation of the new Iraqi government. The official document is published by the Cabinet Office in Baghdad, which includes deadlines for key issues to be resolved/implemented. On the 8th of September the PM designate Haider al-Abadi presented his government’s program to the Council of Representatives for approval, which received the vote of confidence along with the ministerial candidates. The preamble to the program is here, the ‘strategic priorities’ for the ministries here, and the 2014-2018 government program is here. These documents are the basis of the unity government and will be used as a reference for any dispute that may arise, and what Abadi’s government should be judged on.

A colleague has helpfully provided an English summary of the political blocs agreement and government program respectively:

Political agreement between blocs of the national unity government 2014

Implement a comprehensive program to address outstanding issues in a manner that is entirely in accordance with the principles of the constitution:

1)     Form an inclusive government with a decision making process that espouses team spirit and partnership between all political stakeholders.

2)     Pursue national reconciliation program. General amnesty for those who have not shed Iraqi blood and justice for the victims of terror; depoliticise the debathification process by ending the work of the Accountability and Justice Committee and refer all outstanding cases to the courts to determine; amend the counterterrorism law. 6 MONTHS

3)     All polticial blocs agree to stand together to fight terrorism and liberate all territories occupied by ISIL. All arms and armed units should be under the direct control of the formal state security apparatus in accordance with Article 9(i) of the constitution.

4)     Rehabilitate and rebuild towns that have been devasted by violence and damaged by military operations through establishment of  a  reconstruction fund in coordination with international organizations; provide adequate humanitarian relief to displaced persons until they are able to safely return to their homes.

5)     New approach to security management by raising the professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces and ensuring that they are representative of all segments of Iraqi society so that all Iraqis can participate in the liberation of Iraq from ISIL. 6 MONTHS

6)     Continue to incorporate volunteers into armed units and introduce new legislation to establish national guards at the provincial level consisting of locals who will serve as reservists to bolster army units, in addition to playing a central role in security management on the provincial level. 3 MONTHS

7)     Combat corruption by implementing a new strategy that begins by reassessing the state’s anti-corruption mechanisms and introducing new measures to reform the country’s bureaucracy.

8)     Ensuring fair representation and participation of all Iraqis within state institutions as stipulated by the constitution by introducing legislation to establish the Federal Public Service Council that will oversee the employment of civil servants in a manner that does not discriminate or exclude Iraqis on the basis of sect or ethnicity. 6 MONTHS

9)     Commitment to safeguarding the independence of the judiciary primarily through passing legislation that governs the Federal Court and Supreme Judicial Council. 6 MONTHS

10)  Commitment to a constructive relationship with the legislature to ensure that parliament can play a positive role; amend the internal regulations of parliament. 3 months

11)  Ensure democratic procedures within the Council of Ministers by approving the internal regulations of the Council of Ministers. 3 MONTHS

12)  Resolve outstanding disputes over the status of independent bodies and institutions.

13)  Resolve outstanding disputes over revenue streams of the religious Waqfs. 6 MONTHS

14)  Commitment to upholding human rights within all state institutions including the protection of all citizens from abuse and violations; complete establishment of the Human Rights Commission; pass bill on freedom of opinion and expression. 3 MONTHS

15)  Introduce legislation and laws to govern the rights and responsibilities between central, regional and local governments in a manner that safeguards the unity of Iraq; pass legislation for the Federal Council and the Commission on Allocation of Federal Revenues. 6 MONTHS

16)  Resolve outstanding revenue sharing disputes between the central government and the KRG by passing a hydrocarbons law. 6 MONTHS

17)  Commitment from the central government to immediately resume budget payments to the KRG in return for a commitment from the KRG to export oil from the Kurdistan Region through the federal system. 1 MONTH

18)  Find an acceptable resolution to Kirkuk and the disputed territories for all the residents in line with Article 140 of the constitution. 1 YEAR

19)  Provision of adequate support for the Peshmerga within the framework of the national guards. 3 MONTHS

20) Activate the committee responsible for revising the constitution in accordance with Article 142. 3 MONTHS

Iraqi Government Program

Security and counterterrorism

–       Commitment to ensure that the state establishes a monopoly on the use of arms and that all armed groups are under direct command of the formal state security apparatus.

–       Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are committed to protecting citizens.

–       Rally international support to combat terrorism in Iraq.

–       Work to achieve security and stability of Iraq and the protection of its strategic facilities.

–        Rebuilding  a professional and efficient armed forces that represents all segments of Iraqi society.

Foreign Policy

– Concerted efforts to pursue foreign relations on the basis of mutual interests, with a particular focus on security and counterterrorism cooperation.

–  Commitment to promoting friendly relations with all neighbors based on the principle of  non-interference in domestic affairs of others.

Administrative reform

–       Implement administration decentralization through an overhaul of administrative and bureaucratic procedures.

–       Introduce a comprehensive plan to overhaul civil and military institutions in order to root out corruption and enhance efficiency and productivity of the government by introducing e-government.

–       Utilize local and international expertise to enhance policy planning mechanisms.

–       Establish a strong working relationship with the Council of Representatives to cooperate and coordinate on legislative and supervisory matters.

–       Resolving financial, administrative and legal disputes through the proper constitutional and legal channels rather than resorting to political deals.

Economic reform and development

–       Implement a comprehensive strategy to encourage sustainable development as outlined by Iraq’s National Development Plan 2013-2017.

–       Shift focus towards private sector development and promote investment in variety of sectors.

–       Raising the standard of public services and quality of life for all citizens with a focus on health, education, electricity and transportation infrastructures.

–       Continue to increase oil and gas production and oil export capacity to bolster economic growth.

–       Introduce economic and financial reform package with the aim of transitioning to a market economy.

–        Modernize financial management systems and budgetary spending.

Political reform and social welfare

–       Commitment to the principles outlined in the formal compact agreed upon by political blocs participating in the unity government.

–       Establishing policies on energy and finance that lead to fair distribution of wealth.

–       Depoliticize state institutions and promote equal employment opportunities for all Iraqis with a view to ensuring fair representation of all segments of Iraqi society within state institutions.

–       Firm commitment to uphold principles of human rights within all state institutions including the protection of citizens from violations and abuse.

–       Commitment to resolve all outstanding issues with the Kurdistan Region as well as other political partners that is wholly in line with the constitution.

–       Strengthening the role of women and civil society in the public domain.

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Comments to a journalist

A few days ago I was asked to comment on what the daesh (ISIS) strategies are and what effect the US led coalition would have by a leading journalist for a British newspaper. Below are my original comments as I sent to him, in response to some questions, so they may appear a bit random:

Saudi has shown itself of being barely able to contain terrorism within its borders and certainly a sizeable chunk of fighters, recruiters, funding, support, preachers for ISIS has come from Saudi the country, though probably not the govt or monarchy. Their deradicalization programs have not been hugely successful and the preaching of jihadist ideology is in Saudi, not Egypt or elsewhere. Saudi is an intolerant country, my guess is Obama wants Western leaning Syrian rebels to be trained in Saudi and not Islamist ones, which is a strange mix: using the strict, Salafi based nation where a lot of jihadists and ideology comes from to train Western leaning and secular rebels. Doesn’t seem to be a smart move, can’t think of any positive results likely.

As for examples of mistrust, Iraq was and still is mistrustful of Syria, they believe Assad allowed Baathists to use Syria as a base and allowed foreign suicide bombers to come into Iraq through Syria in order to destabilise it. The govt had wanted Assad to tackle ISIS and recognise that their presence is being taken advantage of by Assad to weaken the FSA and other rebel groups.

The Arab states are mistrustful of any Shia led government in Iraq because they believe it to be too close to Iran and will serve their interests above all. Iraq has fallen fully under the Iranian sphere of influence and the Arab states cannot allow that to remain. Iraq is mistrustful of Arab states because they believe they will never allow a Shia led state to be in place and are finding ways to destabilise Iraq in order to bring back the Sunnis to power.

ISIS would dearly love for Western troops to be deployed to Iraq. That would bring it more recruits, justify some of their actions to the Muslim world, and give their jihadist cause more legitimacy. ISIS has studied the situation, saw how the Maliki led govt was disliked by the West and knows there is much rivalry among the forces fighting it. Above all it has been able to provoke sectarianism and the involvement of the militias means any meaningful alliance against ISIS will either not happen or fall apart quickly. ISIS are strategic, they are not thugs, their leaders are smart and know how to sow discord between its enemies. Remember in Syria ISIS was much hated by the other groups and much weaker but now it has dominated them because they were able to cause friction and avoid head on conflict as much as possible. Fear and propaganda have been their biggest weapons.

Based on this I do not see the defeat of ISIS at the hands of a coalition made of rivals who have much dislike for each other. I think the US recognises this and so the strategy will be one of containment, degradation, and limitation. ISIS knows this too, so is looking for a long term campaign of survival, entrenchment, and influence. Look at the Taliban as an example of how you can outlast your enemies despite their superiority.

The American and Iranians did not cooperate directly in Amerli, it was through the Iraqi intermediaries and both needed to act in Amerli for differing reasons but in essence to save the Shia under siege there. I think the non-aggression pact is now implicit as part of the nuclear negotiations, but that will not stop from either side regularly reminding each other (through very limited actions that they will claim deniability for) that they are willing to go military against each other. The threat of ISIS is forcing states and actors to work with each other but I don’t think that will change views or lead to tolerance or trust in each other. Temporary alliance but not a long term change in attitudes. As you say, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But there is another saying that your enemy today may be your friend tomorrow, and your friend today may be your enemy tomorrow.

I know they have been self-financed for nearly a year now. The methods they use are: extortion and racketeering, ransoms, taxes, sales of seized goods and property, oil smuggling, robbery of cash, bartering. I’ve also heard that they traffick people/sell them, conduct weapons sales, and are involved in drugs sales and smuggling. They also took jewellery from the Assyrians and sold/auctioned it. They’ve taken over farms, land, homes which they use as investments.

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The fake sheikh: Why the media repeat Ali Hatem’s false ‘claim’

Ali Hatem Sleiman. Credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

From his hotel lobby in Erbil he appears on TV screens in crisp white attire, like an Iraqi Lawrence of Arabia. In fact his delusions of grandeur are almost as good as Peter O’Toole’s acting. But this ‘crown prince’, as one media outlet referred to him, is only a charlatan, who has time on his hands and some powerful sponsors. Ali Hatem Sleiman claims to be the leader of Iraq’s largest super-tribe, the Dulaim, which maybe number over 3 million members, and is a confederation of hundreds of tribes each with their own tribal elders and nominal leader. None of these recognise that Ali Hatem is the leader of the confederation yet somehow Hatem has managed to have his claim accepted as fact in the media, both Arab and foreign.

The issue of the tribal leader is overstated since the role does not exist practically, because the Dulaim confederation is not a single cohesive unit. A majority of the tribes in Anbar are part of the Dulaim confederation, yet each tribe has its own policies, such as fighting alongside the Iraqi security forces, or holding uneasy agreements with ISIS, as has been the case for the past decade.

To compound the point that Hatem is just for show, Hatem’s own great-uncles, who are actually recognised as leaders of the Dulaim, disowned him. Joel Wing, Iraq analyst at the blog Musings On Iraq, describes Hatem: “He is an opportunist. He aligned with the Anbar Awakening, the Americans, Prime Minister Maliki, the Anbar protests and now the insurgency all in his pursuit of personal power in Iraq. These moves have all failed him as today he holds no office, apparently has no real followers, and his own tribe ended up disowning him for his inflammatory statements.”

Even US officials, thanks to Wikileaks, are shown to know exactly who Ali Hatem really is, and made the deal with the devil.

Kirk H. Sowell, a political risk analyst and the publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, has studied the various groups of the ‘tribal revolutionaries’ and says: “We find no evidence Hatem has any substantial military organization, and aside from his personal guards, and he may not have any at all. He is a pan-Arab media star and from what we can tell, nothing more. His group is called the ‘Arab Tribes Revolutionary Council’ and no one seems to be fighting on their behalf.”

But not only is Hatem just a façade, he has actually caused much infighting and discord among the tribes themselves. In fact a gathering of Ramadi tribal leaders passed a tribal death sentence on Hatem, referring to him as a criminal.

The poster boy is always highly sought after by the media, someone dashing and able to roll off top-notch sound bites on demand, and Hatem fits the criteria to the dot. He’s worked with the Americans before, he ‘fought’ al-Qaeda so has a badge of honour, he is the ‘leader’ of a large Sunni Arab ‘tribe’, and he is available pretty much all the time, perfect for filing a story the desk chief is breathing down your neck for. So if he claims he is the tribal leader, that’s what you write after his name, without the word claimed of course. As Joel Wing says: “Ali Hatem has some of the best press of any figure in Iraq. For some reason Sleiman has become the sheikh to talk to about the insurgency by both the western and Arab press.”

His sponsors paying for his name and image (and the hotel room) need him to threaten Baghdad with, or at least to use the media for that. Some are Americans raging on about getting the tribes aboard, arming them so they can fight ISIS, others are Gulf Arabs complaining about the lack of inclusivity and the need for Sunnis to lead the Sunnis. Were it possible that Hatem is actually capable of doing so and being that fighting leader then that might not be such a bad thing. But unfortunately it’s a case of his bark being worse than his bite.

In the end you cannot blame Hatem for trying. There is money, weapons, influence and political positions up for grabs. The Americans threw those at some tribes in return for outsourcing the battle against Al-Qaeda, creating the Sawha militias and calling them ‘Sons of Iraq’. They created yet another culture of money talks when dealing with Iraq, opening it up to corruption and abuse. This has plagued the good people of Anbar in particular, who suffer from poor leaders and a cycle of treacherous violence. Some US military officials say Hatem did a job then so he can do it again, but that job was America sweeping it’s dirt under Iraq’s carpet and walking away as if nothing happened.

So the next time you read Ali Hatem, head of the Dulaim tribe, don’t bother with the pinch of salt, just click back on your browser.

(photo credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

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