Islamic State after Baghdadi

His death is a blow to IS, but insurgency is likely to continue The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder leader of the Islamic State (IS), is a signal moment in the fight against terrorism. Baghdadi blew himself up in an underground tunnel in a Syrian village where he was hiding when he was surrounded by U.S. special forces. In the few years he led the IS, the 48-year-old had overseen the rise and retreat of the IS. Who’s Baghdadi? Born in Iraq’s Samarra, Baghdadi, whose real name was Ibrahim Awwad bin Ibrahim al-Badri, did his primary education in his hometown and higher studies in Baghdad. He graduated and finished his doctoral research in the Saddam Centre for the Reciting of the Quran. His initial political activism was with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Brotherhood stood for mainstream politics, Baghdadi was more attracted towards the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the radical Islamist who was hanged in Egypt in 1966. In 2004, he was arrested in Fallujah where he went to meet a friend who was on America’s wanted list. He was transferred to Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run detention centre in southern Iraq. During his 10-month stay in Bucca, Baghdadi emerged as a religious leader of the inmates. Some of the inmates recalled him as an energetic scholar and a crazy football fan (he was called the ‘Maradona of Camp Bucca’). In Bucca, Baghdadi established a network of both Saddam-era military leaders and Islamist radicals, who would rise to the top command of the IS in a few years. After Abu Musab Zarqawi and two of his successors (Abu Ayub al-Misri and Omar al-Baghdadi) were killed by American attacks, the leadership of a weakened al-Qaeda in Iraq fell into Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s hands. The group had already renamed itself as the Islamic State in Iraq, revealing its ambitions for power. When the civil crisis broke out in Syria in 2011, Baghdadi found an opportunity to regroup his organisation. He despatched a group of jihadists across the border to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. This group, under the leadership of Abu Mohammad al-Julani, would become Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch. The IS is a breakaway faction of al-Nusra. Under Baghdadi’s leadership, the IS grew fast by attracting thousands of youth from around the world and expanding territories quickly. The fall of the Caliphate The fall began in Kobane, the Syrian border town, in early 2015, when Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) militias defeated the IS. After that, the YPG took back most of the border region with help from the U.S. In central Syria, the IS was stopped in the outskirts of the ancient city Palmyra by the government forces. In Iraq, they faced resistance from the Iraqi Army. Surrounded by enemies, the IS remained concentrated on the core of its territory, spread from Der Ezzor in eastern Syria to Mosul in Iraq. But after its expansion was stopped, the U.S.-allied troops started attacking this core. The Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the YPG, attacked the IS in Syria while in Iraq, the Iraqi Army, Iran-trained Shia militias and the Peshmerga of Iraqi Kurdistan led the charge. They liberated all the major cities such as Raqqa, Der Ezzour, Falujjah, Ramadi and Mosul one by one, with help from the U.S. By mid-2018, the IS Caliphate was physically destroyed, and its soldiers were on the run.

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