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The Killing of ISIS Leader Baghdadi Does Not Solve All Problems.
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At the height of the al-Qaeda-led insurgency in Iraq in 2006-07, US commanders, whose troops were suffering serious casualties from roadside bombs, developed a strategy. They sought to identify, kill or capture the leaders of the cells planting the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the belief that this would cripple the bombing campaign.

Many such high-value targets were tracked down and eliminated, but the whole strategy turned out to be misconceived and counterproductive. A study of 200 cases of cell leaders being killed or arrested in 2007 showed that in the month following the elimination of the individual targeted, the number of IED attacks in the area where his cell operated actually increased by between 20 and 40 per cent.

This was happening because al-Qaeda had assumed that its local military leaders would have a low survival rate and always had a replacement ready to take over within 24 hours of his demise. These new commanders were eager to show their military prowess by making more attacks, while their predecessor had often suffered from battle fatigue or was short on new ideas about how to carry the fight to the enemy. (Full disclosure: the information about the counterproductive US high value target strategy in Iraq comes from my brother Andrew Cockburn’s book Kill Chain: Drones and the Rise of High-Tech Assassins.)

It is worth keeping this story in mind when considering the likely consequences of the killing of the overall Isis leader, Abu Baqr al-Baghdadi, in northwest Syria on 27 October. Commentators and analysts have reacted cautiously to his death, saying that it is a serious symbolic blow to Isis but not a fatal one and that the movement is not going to go out of business any time soon.

But there is another less reassuring way of looking at the killing of Baghdadi. It may do more harm than good because he was a demonstrably disastrous leader from the point of view of his own movement. By effectively declaring war on all the world he led it to certain defeat and his elimination may be just what Isis needs to rejuvenate itself. As with those al-Qaeda bomb makers in Iraq a dozen years ago, a new Isis leader may be more dangerous because he will avoid Baghdadi’s gargantuan mistakes, relaunching the movement in a different guise and with different ways of operating.

Isis, with Baghdadi as its leader, had certain strengths: religious fanaticism wedded to military expertise, making it a formidable fighting force. It proved powerfully attractive to the persecuted Sunni Arab populations of Iraq and Syria living under challenging governments that they hated.


But under Baghdadi those same Sunni Arabs found that they were living under a nightmarish tyranny where the pettiest religious or social transgression was punished by beatings and executions. It was a state ruled by fear: I was in the former de facto Isis capital of Raqqa last year where I met Abdel Salaam, a survivor of the three long years of Isis rule. “Daesh [Isis] is in our hearts and minds,” he said. “Five-year-old children have seen women stoned to death and heads chopped off and put on spikes in the city centre.” I found the spiked railings he spoke of and they were bent forward by the weight of decapitated heads.

This is not an experience that the Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Syria want to repeat. Moreover, for all its brutality discipline, the Islamic State was unable to defend its inhabitants against their enemies or prevent the ruin of their cities and towns.

But Isis could have taken a different course – and almost did so – when its Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra took a less bloodthirsty and more flexible approach in expanding its rule between 2011 and 2013. Baghdadi promptly tried to take it over, split the movement, and ensured that the territory he controlled was true to his brutal theological vision of an Islamic state.

With Baghdadi at its head, Isis was never going to rise again, but with him out of the way it may stand a better chance of doing so in Syria and Iraq. In both countries some of the ingredients that led to the astonishing resurgence of Isis in 2011-14 are beginning to recur: the Iraqi government is grappling with protests close to a popular uprising, successful army commanders are being fired, and the Sunni Arabs are marginalised and impoverished. In northeast Syria, the successful Kurdish-US alliance against Isis is broken while Turkish and Syrian government forces are moving into the region. It is this sort of chaos in which a remodelled Isis might take root and flourish.

The death of Baghdadi may have more impact on the Isis franchises in other parts of the world where his prestige as the caliph was often greater than in the territories he ruled. Religious movements often make it easier to revere a dead martyr than a demonstrably fallible live one.

Political and military leaders around the world pretend that the decapitation of some hostile organisation or movement will solve all problems. But how much did the 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine king, really change anything in the cocaine business? Donald Trump’s self-congratulatory gloating over the death of Baghdadi may turn out to be equally misplaced.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Iraq, ISIS, Syria 
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  1. Mike-SMO says:

    What is the game? al_Baghdadi was “hit” in the Sunni Arab enclave of Idlib near the Turkish border. Looks like he was “in the way” of something bigger and the new leader may have already signed onto a “deal”.

    Syria et al. were allowing Sunni Arab jihadis to have a sanctuary instead of rooting them out of fighting positions elsewhare. Turkey doesn’t want them. That enclave is “trouble” for everyone.

    al_Baghdadi may have been a firebrand and the “others” may have worked a deal for a Sunni Arab zone that might serve Turkish interests while keeping the insurrection out of the Syrian core areas and away from the oil/gas resources. ISIS/ISIL is facing Syrian (Alawite + Christian + Druze) opposition plus the Kurds, Russia and the U.S. without overt support from the current Saudi rulers or the American “Left”. Turkey’s options are limited by a threat of economic sanctions.

    It might just be time for a new Arab Sunni leader to settle into a tolerable enclave and plan for a “future” under the continued, if partial, protection of the Turks.

    The rapid replacement of a leader may allow the war to continue, or to allow the struggle to take a different path. al_Baghdadi’s method only works when there is total control of the area and the population. A new leader may be willing to teach and recruit for a future victory instead of facing likely extermination. The 72 virgin thing is only a consolation prize.

    • Replies: @Talha
  2. anon[268] • Disclaimer says:

    “A large majority of voters — 84 percent — are concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll released on Monday. 
    That’s more than those who expressed concern over other foreign policy issues, including North Korea’s use of ballistic missiles, U.S. election security, Turkey’s military action in Syria and President Trump’s ongoing trade war with China.
    Voters across party lines expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities. 
    Of those polled, 89 percent of Democratic voters said they were either very or somewhat concerned about the Middle East country developing weapons of mass destruction, compared to 85 percent of Republican and 79 percent of independents who said the same. 
    Tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated over the summer after the U.S. military confirmed that Iran shot down a Navy drone. Trump also accused Tehran of being behind attacks on two oil tankers, which prompted the administration to deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East.”

    Idiots have been well groomed to be anxious worried and puzzled . Millions of ISIS out of Iran now!
    The report above shows the success .

    Will the moron learn anthyning ? Will they learn how to learn ? Will they think how to think ?

    Those who believeed and placed faith in Baghdadi can easily fit the description of these people . That’s sad pathetic and sign of general decay .

    America is actually ready now to believe that Jesus has arrived for rapture in ME , America is ready to believe that dinosaur and human roamed this earth together not long ago and the world is unsafe place for American despite being such a good giving sharing concerned human being .
    The shit they believe is the shit they wrap their heads around with .
    Pathetic .

    ISIS a foot note compared to the destruction America has caused .

  3. More BS from Cockburn.
    Nowhere does he mention ISIS was an Obama creation or that whose your dady was widely speculated to be a Mossad agent.
    How will ISIS revive itself without outside support Cockburn? Is John Brennan going to parachute in pallets of cash, arms and gold?
    Absolute shiite from a CIA sellout.
    The Syrian-Turk-Russian combine is going to wipe out Cockburn’s CIA proxies. That’s the result of 25 years of failed U.S. Deep State Foreign Policy (all that debt and loss of credibility means no more ‘do as your told’ from UNCLE SAM). Other powers exist on this planet other than the D.C.-TEL AVIV-LONDON Mafia. The Syria settlement is a wake up call not to the world but to the CIA SCUM and their moutpieces.
    Just watch what happens as Uncle Sam starts stealing truckloads of oil. It won’t last long.

  4. Svevlad says:

    It’s a cleanup, just like Osama. Pfft, IMAGINE the resulting shitshow if Russia got him! He would spill all the beans, it would cause 20 back-to-back perpetual world wars instantly!

  5. The 72 virgin thing is only …

    … hasbara.

    Fixed that for you, sir.

  6. Sean says:

    As the Palestinians and Kurds could have told him I think the creation of a new state is an incredibly difficult project. Other countries, even the ones who longed to see the back of Assad, just were not going to stand for something so destabilising.

    The Sunnis of Syria suffer because

    “Popular resistance” strategies work well against authoritarian systems whose leadership come from the country’s ethnic and sectarian majority, such as Egypt. Soldiers ordered to turn their guns on protestors are faced with a choice: Shoot their brethren among the protestors, or help get rid of those ordering them to do so. This causes a split in the army and security services, which can lead to a toppling of the government.
    Assad’s by contrast is a minority government with a kind of fortress of sectarian interests around it. Minority Alawites serve at the core, followed by concentric rings of other minorities (Christians, Shia, etc.), and finally by co opted Sunnis

    Hence Iran-backed militias deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to assassinate the leaders of anti-government demonstration , and the Shia and Kurdish areas of Iraq don’t dare have protests. The Sunnis are finished as a power in Iraq, in Syria they must be agree to be the running dogs of the Assad Alawite family/sect dictatorship.

    • Replies: @Talha
  7. I’m amazed at how many of you suckers out there continue to buy into these manufactured narratives in this never-ending Jewish ‘war on terror!’ Baghdadi dies once again and Patrick Cockburn continues to look like a fool!

  8. anonymous[307] • Disclaimer says:

    [The Killing of ISIS Leader Baghdadi Does Not Solve All Problems.]

    The killing does not solve ANY problem, because the problem is US – Israel -Britain where
    create and fund ALL these terrorist groups, including your favorite terrorist group, the traitor Kurds.

  9. Talha says:

    in Syria they must be agree to be the running dogs of the Assad Alawite family/sect dictatorship

    Only while the war is on. Once the war abates, the Alawites are slowly going to face attrition of their ranks as they did in the past. Secret-sauce sects don’t survive well when the sunshine is on them – they survive well in bunker-mentality conditions. All PR attempts have been aimed at Sunnis – Bashar has been shown attending and praying like a Sunni, he married a Sunni and his kids will be…what?

    The end of the war will be the best thing for the Sunnis in the long term (especially if thousands are allowed to return – if not, maybe Turkey will resettle refugees in areas under its control) and the worst for the Alawis in the long term. As I’ve stated before; the best thing that ever happened to the Alawis was that they took over Syria and then the worse thing that ever happened to the Alawis is that they took over Syria.

    Nobody knows what they really believe except for their secretive elite, not even their rank and file, and whatever is known of it is silly and indefensible in open discussions and has been defeated in the debates since at least Imam Ghazali’s time. They will simply take on more and more of simply being an ethnicity/tribe and eventually get absorbed into either mainstream Sunni or Shia. It’s a process that had already begun, but was interrupted by the war.


    • Replies: @Sean
    , @L.K
  10. Talha says:

    Lots of good points here – thanks!

    Keep in mind also that Turkey has a sizeable Syrian refugee population that it doesn’t have the means to handle without outside help. It is in Turkey’s interest to end operations swiftly and resettle regular Syrians back in Syria. And if that is done in areas that they control, they will have a region under their wing/influence with a local population that is loyal to them.

    Baghdadi (assuming he was/is real) may have been a thorn in all of these things.


  11. It definitely did solve at least one problem – namely the problem of Al-Baghdadi being among the quick.

  12. plantman says:

    I’m glad to see that Unz readers are not taken in by Cockburn’s baloney.

    All of Iraq’s problems are the result of the US invasion, occupation and genocidal counterinsurgency, of which, Cockburn’s misleading and sinister narrative is an essential part.

    I wonder what kind of payoff Cockburn gets for producing these deceptive pieces that only serve the broader interests of the power elites who are forever deflecting blame for their crimes onto convenient scapegoats like Baghdaddi?

    For once, I’d like to hear Cockburn utter the truth about the bloody goings-on in the Middle East, that 99% of the trouble in the region can be traced back to the vicious policies of the cutthroats in Washington and Tel Aviv.

  13. Sean says:

    There always those who are willing to sell out and fight against their own people in every civil war. The result is they do well, their young men are alive, their women do not get raped and they flourish.

    Once the war abates, the Alawites are slowly going to face attrition of their ranks as they did in the past.

    In 2015 with the help both sides were receiving from abroad about equal the Assad regime began to suffer a series of reverses. That is when the Alawites ran out of fighting men, but all that happened was Russian expeditionary force came in, and the rebels were attrited. The most devout Sunni believers first and most egregiously inviting death by trying to stand as men against the merciless Russian military and their machinery. The Sunnis have been taught the facts of life: in a war between a majority (good) and an elite minority caste determined to hold on to power by away means necessary no matter who has to die (evil) the latter, willing to kill , kill and kill again, must always triumph. The only Sunnis who will prosper are the sellout Sunnis who fought with Assad, and there are a lot of them.

    Revenge? Living well is the best revenge. None of the Syrian refugees are going back to that shithole country when they have a chance of getting to Germany and living like kings even by the standards of the Alawites in their benighted homeland. It was overpopulated anyway, and in that sense the Syrian massacre of surplus people is a glimpse of the world of tomorrow.

    • Replies: @Talha
  14. “The Killing of ISIS Leader Baghdadi Does Not Solve All Problems.”

    You might be right. I mean, it didn’t solve all problems the last time he was killed, or the time before that, either.

  15. Talha says:

    The Sunnis have been taught the facts of life: in a war between a majority (good) and an elite minority caste determined to hold on to power by away means necessary no matter who has to die (evil) the latter, willing to kill , kill and kill again, must always triumph.

    Agreed. I remember some very serious and respected Sunni shaykhs like Muhammad Yaqoubi and others calling for a ceasefire and stop to fighting once he realized that extremist elements had taken over too much of the resistance and the Syrian regime was going to go no-holds-barred to hang on to power. Unfortunately, by that time the resistance was too fractured and too far in the hands of extremists – often foreigners.

    The only Sunnis who will prosper are the sellout Sunnis who fought with Assad, and there are a lot of them.

    No, they will be remembered as sellouts. The ones that will retain their dignity and legitimacy though the entire process are the ones who didn’t support either side and kept doing what they were doing from the beginning.

    Someone like Shaykh Samer Nass ( who comes through Chicago every year and I try to at least just get a glimpse of him if not shake his hand. These mens’ hands will remain clean and people will remember this once the dust settles.

    Living well is the best revenge.


    None of the Syrian refugees are going back to that shithole country when they have a chance of getting to Germany and living like kings even by the standards of the Alawites in their benighted homeland.

    This may not be a choice that is in their hands. They may have to go back just like they had to leave. A lot of this is caught up in geo-politics and finances and agreements being written about them, not by them.


  16. Sean says:

    Unfortunately, by that time the resistance was too fractured and too far in the hands of extremists – often foreigners.

    Predictable that both sides were going to become extreme in the tide of war. Napoleon was from the island of Corsica, of the Bolsheviks it has been said that none of them were working class and few of them Russian. Hitler was Austrian, and even Ayatollah Khomeini was from a family that was hardly typical in its ethnic background.

    The moral is do not start something that you cannot finish taking the aforementioned ‘all boats rise’ phenomena into account. Also the other side trusts in their |God too, and will become more devout in that as things look worse.”There are no atheists in foxholes.”

    • Replies: @Talha
  17. anastasia says:

    What I want to know is how you complete a DNA test in Northern Syria in just a few hours. It takes 7 to 10 days to complete a DNA test.

    • Replies: @Twodees Partain
  18. Talha says:

    Agreed on that part about not starting something you cannot finish or what takes a bad situation and makes it far worse (one of the key reasons I did not support the invasion of Iraq even though I had little respect for Saddam or his nonsense).

    Also, you might enjoy this; man, what a stupid way to invoke a prayer against yourself:



  19. onebornfree says: • Website

    “Something Big Has Happened” [Ho, ho, ho! 🙂 ] :

    Trump: “It was like watching a movie” [or words to that effect].

    My guess is that Trump, either knowingly or unknowingly, watched a 100% fake movie of the guys murder [with no trial, no evidence presented by his accuser, the US government, of course].

    If knowingly, then his “It was like watching a movie” statement was a clue to the fact that he knew it was a fake movie.

    A second clue might be the “hero dog” issue- possibly a subtle reference to the movie “Wag The Dog”:

    A third possible clue might be the fact that the guy was then “buried at sea” [ after impossibly fast DNA identification, of course], thus mimicking the whole Obama era “death of Bin Laden” line of BS.

    I cannot be sure, but my guess is that Trump watched [ knowingly or unknowingly] a faked assassination movie, just as, on the morning of Sept. 11th 2001, millions of people watched entirely faked imagery of a plane hitting a tower, and the subsequent impossibly fast “collapse” of 3 WTC buildings:

    Regards, onebornfree

    Regards onebornfree

    • Agree: Twodees Partain
    • Replies: @Twodees Partain
  20. onebornfree says: • Website

    onebornfree says: “A second clue might be the “hero dog” issue- possibly a subtle reference to the movie “Wag The Dog”” :

    Regards, onebornfree

  21. @anastasia

    I think it might be like the old 1970s term “Bagging it” which meant that you don’t actually bother to do something, you just say you did. It’s a CIA tradition now.

  22. @onebornfree

    Trump saying that it was like watching a movie was another of those gaffes of his that probably drives the PTB crazy. Trump isn’t self aware enough to cringe a little inside and think, “Did I say that out loud?”. Most self absorbed people are not very self aware, y’know.

  23. mongo777 says:

    his zionist buddies will cook up another false flag…since 1948 and it wont stop now…next

  24. L.K says:

    Shut the f up already, Talha!!!

    You are a bloody sectarian Sunni from Pakistan living in the ZUSA, discussing a country you don’t a damn thing about – Syria – with the well known Zionist Troll, “Sean”, more like Shlomo actually.

    You guys are pathetic.

    • Replies: @Talha
  25. L.K says:

    If I wanted to read the usual “mainstream” Media lies I’d go to the mass media presstitutes, not to Unz.

    I don’t know why Unz publishes limited hangout types such as Pat Cockburn.

    • Replies: @NoseytheDuke
  26. Talha says:

    Thanks for your opinions. Feel free to ignore me.


  27. @L.K

    Consider that it gives Ron Unz the ability to show that the TUR offers a variety of differing viewpoints and it gives TUR commenters the opportunity to expose and ridicule Cockburn and show him that only some people are being fooled and that is a number that is rapidly shrinking. It would be all the easier to dismiss this site were the articles too much from the same or similar point of view.

    I say let us keep Cockburn and a few others like him, and I only hope that they read the comments themselves.

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