WASHINGTON – President Obama has insisted the intelligence community didn’t foresee the rapid rise of the Islamic State, and that’s why it’s now a well-funded, organized army of an estimated 10,000 that has taken over large portions of Iraq and killed thousands, including children who have been beheaded.
However, his administration had warnings of the rapid rise of Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, earlier this year and in 2010. Four years ago, the intelligence community obtained a document that laid out the very strategy and tactics the jihadist group is using today to create a caliphate governed by its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Creation of a caliphate has been a magnet for jihadist fighters from all over the world, including young people from Europe and the United States.
The problem isn’t that the Obama administration didn’t have the information. It was reluctant to become involved once again in Syria and then in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011 to fulfill a major 2003 campaign promise.
Former intelligence officials tell WND that the Obama administration was warned about the ongoing activities of Islamic State, but it underestimated how quickly the jihadist army would advance.
Yet, former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn last year warned Congress that Islamic State, then known as ISIS, “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014.”
Then, in January, Islamic State swept into western Iraq from northern and eastern Syria to take the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.
In June, ISIS it took over Mosul as Iraqi troops fled. During its advances, ISIS has been charged with slaughtering people, including children, by beheading, shooting and sometimes burying them alive. Christians have been given orders to convert immediately to Islam or flee. Last week, the U.S. stepped in with bombing runs when up to 40,000 members of the minority Yazidi religion were trapped on a mountain, facing starvation. Their alternative was to come down and face execution from ISIS.
Previously, however, the intelligence community and the Obama administration had plenty of warning of Islamic State’s intentions. If there was any failure, intelligence community officials say it was regarding how fast Iraqi forces would disperse once confronted by Islamic State.
A major warning of the rise of Islamic State came out in a booklet in 2010 that outlined the strategy and tactics it would use in Iraq following complete U.S. troop withdrawal in December 2011.
Islamic State issued its “Khoutah Istratigya li Ta’aziz al-moqif al-Siysi al-Dawlat al-Islamyiah fi al-Iraq,” or “A Strategic Plan to Improve the Political Position of the Islamic State of Iraq.”
It was published after the death of Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by the U.S. in 2006 by a bomb dropped from an F-16. Zarqawi had been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight against the then-Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.
The Khoutah Istratigya outlines a strategic plan “to improve the position of Islamic state; therefore, it will be more powerful politically and militarily … so the Islamic (State) project will be ready to take over all Iraq after the enemy troops withdraw.”
According to terrorism experts at the Jamestown Foundation, Islamic State is a linear descendant of Zarqawi’s Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, or Organization of Jihads Base in the Country of the Two Rivers. Better known as Al-Qaida in Iraq, it formed in 2004 to fight the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Since that time, Islamic State has been engaged in an internal battle with the al-Qaida leadership, which even in 2006 believed Zarqawi was too brutal, due to his indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims.
Sources have told WND that al-Qaida may have tipped off the U.S. on Zarqawi’s location to eliminate him since his killings were hurting al-Qaida recruiting efforts.
Zarqawi had been affiliated with al-Qaida since the days he headed Ansar al-Islam, which occupied northern Iraq prior to his creation of al-Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, the precursor of ISIS.
Once U.S. forces were in Iraq, Zarqawi developed a four-pronged strategy to defeat U.S. and coalition forces. It included isolating U.S. forces by targeting allies, government infrastructure and personnel, and reconstruction efforts through high-profile attacks. Zarqawi also sought to draw the U.S. military into a Sunni-Shiite civil war by targeting Shiites.
That appears to be the ongoing strategy now in Iraq. Baghdadi has forced U.S. forces to begin bombing Islamic State fighters, who are Sunnis, to protect the Shiite government and Kurds and other minorities, such as the Yazidis.
After the U.S. counter-terrorism effort with the Sunnis to maintain local security, AQI seemed to minimize its terrorist activities. But after U.S. troop departed in 2011, it increased attacks, mostly against Shiite targets and especially against the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The 2010 booklet said at the time that Iraq’s jihadists were intent on creating their own state, a caliphate, which would be led by a supreme religious and political leader and would bring Muslims under Shariah.
The 2010 booklet outlined a five-point agenda to establish an Islamic state.
- Unification: It called on jihadists to unite in Iraq to make the Islamic state a reality. This manifested itself with jihadists managing Fallujah and Mosul after they took control of the two strategic cities in Iraq.
- Balanced military planning: It emphasized the saying, “Nine Bullets against Apostates and One against Crusaders.” This was a campaign to “increase the rate of fear among Iraqis who join the army and security forces.” It also called for “cleansing.” Jihadists would occupy places where the Iraqi army and security forces are located. To achieve this goal, the document called for jihadists in Iraq to resort to taking hostages, killing dozens of them and engage in open clashes with security forces. The tactic was seen not only in the jihadist takeover of Fallujah and Mosul but in Tikrit, the birthplace of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
- Form jihadist “awakening councils” in which Sunnis would protect their areas from the army and security forces and then take control of daily security in those areas and implement Shariah. At the same time, it called for avoiding alienation of the local population. The development saw AQI forming groups with local Sunni Iraqi jihadists in Fallujah and around Mosul, including some of former Baathist party members affiliated with deposed President Hussein, who had avoided capture until that point. One such person is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam’s top Iraqi military commander and vice president. His Naqshbandi Army joined forces with ISIS, at least temporarily, to rout Iraqi military forces from the Sunni area. Reports say, however, he has split and is openly fighting with Islamic State jihadists over the issue of retaining power in the region.
- Political symbolism: The booklet called for a political and religious leader as an essential step in creating an Islamic state. Such a leader came forward when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the leader of ISIS several months after the publication of the booklet. Baghdadi, an Iraqi, succeeded Zarqawi, though for some time he was a U.S. prisoner at Camp Bucca. He infamously told the base commander at the camp at the time of his release: “I will see you in New York.”
- Assuring Non-Muslims: Seemingly a contradiction in the eyes of the world, the jihadists said the Islamic state would protect their interests. Following the takeover of Mosul in June, hundreds of Christian families fled after the jihadists issued the demand they either convert, pay a religious fee or die. Nevertheless, the jihadists of the Islamic State don’t see it as a contradiction since their rule would be under Islamic law.
Since operating in Syria last year, the Islamic State of Iraq renamed itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Greater Syria), or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL.
“Greater Syria,” or the Levant, refers to areas Baghdadi intends to encompass in his Sunni caliphate of Cyprus, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and southern Turkey.
Once Baghdadi reached Syria, he sought to bring under ISIS the al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, an action that ran counter to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Like Zarqawi, his protégé before him, Baghdadi defied Zawahiri and decided to chart an independent course, taking over portions of northern and eastern Syria before moving into western and central Iraq this year.
And Baghdadi hasn’t looked back.
His defiance of Zawahiri furthered his mysterious image, especially since announcing the formation of his caliphate and the announcement of the name Islamic State.
With a Ph.D in Islamic studies, Baghdadi saw the appeal to young recruits by attracting them through social media and publishing for the first time, in June, a weekly called Islamic State Report.
Its fourth issue outlined the intention of his Islamic caliphate to re-establish the Middle East region as it was before the British and French carved it up after World War I.
In outlining how it is reshaping the Middle East map, Islamic State said its goal is to correct an injustice that goes back to a secret arrangement between the British and French, known as the 1916 Sykes-Picot Treaty. The treaty created the countries of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and later contributed to Israel’s creation.
Middle East experts say some of the nation-states formed by the treaty won’t survive in their present form, and while some will, the bottom line is the United States won’t be able to stop a process that is well under way.
The territory was part of the Ottoman Empire, allied with Germany, which existed from 1299 to 1923.
The British received territory divided into Palestine and Transjordan, from which Iraq emerged. France got Greater Syria and coastal state lands that included modern-day Lebanon and Syria.
Muslims refer to the Sykes-Picot Treaty as the source of their troubles, leading to sectarian and ethnic divisions. In creating the state of Iraq, the treaty delineated non-Arab Sunni Kurds in the north, Sunni Arab Muslims in the western and central portions of the country and Shiite Muslim Arabs to the south.
At the time, the British also created the modern state of Jordan out of the Transjordan region and promised the Jews a homeland and state within a state under the Balfour Declaration.
In Lebanon, the French gave the Christian Maronites status and carved out borders that gave them a majority over Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Syria similarly was divided, giving the Alawites and the Druze their own portions of the country and the Sunni Muslims Damascus and Aleppo. Syria, however, didn’t become a united country until World War II.
Since that time, turmoil has reined from revolts, riots and civil wars, with the various sectarian factions fighting among each other.
Islamic State claims it is out to rectify the divisions. However, the jihadist group still has a challenge in showing it can govern the caliphate it seeks to create, even though it has become a rallying point and sparked the imagination of disgruntled, unemployed young people to become jihadists with its dramatic military successes.
Islamic State has shown indications of not only attempting to dominate all of Iraq but also threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Lebanon. It has made threatening statements about attacking Israel as well.
The jihadist forces have shown a striking military capability in their blitzkrieg efforts to create a caliphate larger than Britain. In expanding up to Baghdad, Baghdadi’s forces now are threatening Jordan and have raised the threat of attacking Saudi Arabia, with Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, in his crosshairs.
To date there has been no major effort to stop him. Military analysts say U.S. bombing efforts are but pinpricks. They are totally defensive and should be offensive if there is to be a serious effort to halt the advance of an Islamic State that not only threaten all of the Levant but could threaten Europe and eventually the U.S. homeland, when fighters now with Islamic State returning to its soil.
The threat to the homeland also can be seen with the al-Qaida association with drug cartels and MS-13 gang members in Latin America, some of whom are making their way into the U.S. by taking advantage of the uncontrolled immigration flow along the U.S. southern border.
A number of young people apprehended are active member of MS-13 and the cartels, which already are present in some 1,200 U.S. cities.