News Middle East

Saturday 23 August 2014

Shadowy leader wants to rule an Islamic state of Iraq and Syria

Patrick Cockburn

Published 11/06/2014 | 02:30

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An undated picture by Iraq’s Interior Ministry claiming to show Abu Dua.
An undated picture by Iraq’s Interior Ministry claiming to show Abu Dua.
Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul wait at a checkpoint in outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region.  Reuters
Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul wait at a checkpoint in outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region. Reuters
Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. Reuters
Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraq city of Mosul. Reuters

In the space of a year he has become the most powerful jihadi leader in the world, and on Monday night his forces captured Mosul, the northern capital of Iraq.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), has suddenly emerged as a figure who is shaping the future of Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East.

He began to appear from the shadows in the summer of 2010 when he became leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) after its former leaders were killed in an attack by US and Iraqi troops.

AQI was at a low point as the Sunni rebellion, in which it had once played a leading role, was collapsing.

It was revived by the revolt of the Sunni in Syria in 2011 and, over the next three years, by a series of carefully planned campaigns in both Iraq and Syria.

How far Abu Bakr is directly responsible for the military strategy and tactics of Isis (formerly AQI) is uncertain: former Iraqi army and intelligence officers from the Saddam era are said to play a crucial role, but are under Abu Bakr's overall leadership.

There are disputes over his career, depending on whether the source is Isis itself, or US or Iraqi intelligence, but the overall picture appears fairly clear.

Abu Dua was born in Samarra, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad, in 1971 and is well educated.

With black hair and brown eyes, a picture of Abu Bakr taken when he was a prisoner of the Americans in Bocca Camp, in southern Iraq, between 2005 and 2009, makes him look like any Iraqi man in his 30s.

His real name is believed to be Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, and he has degrees in Islamic studies, including poetry, history and genealogy, from the Islamic University of Baghdad.

He may have been an Islamic militant under Saddam as a preacher in Diyala province north-east of Baghdad where, after the US invasion of 2003, he had his own armed group.

Insurgent movements have a strong motive for giving out misleading information about their command structure and leadership, but it appears Abu Bakr spent five years as a prisoner of the Americans.

After the old AQI leadership was killed in April 2010, Abu Bakr took over and AQI became increasingly well organised.

It even issued detailed annual reports over the past two years, and itemised its operations in each Iraqi province.

Recalling the fate of his predecessors as AQI leader, he insisted on secrecy, so few people knew where he was.

Taking advantage of the Syrian civil war, Abu Bakr sent experienced fighters and funds to Syria to set up Jabhat al-Nusra as al-Qa'ida's affiliate in Syria.

He split from it last year, but remains in control of a great swathe of territory in northern Syria and Iraq.

Against fragmented and dysfunctional opposition, he is moving fast towards establishing himself as the emir of a new Islamic state. (© Independent News Service)

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