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Resurrection and Tribulation


if Zawahiri wanted Baghdadi to make a more explicit public pledge of

allegiance to him.57 The al-Qaeda chief apparently declined.
While Baghdadi stalled for time with his leaders in al-Qaeda, he
consolidated his hold on power in the Islamic State. At his right hand
was the man who had helped him take the throne, Hajji Bakr. Those
who knew the bald, white-bearded Hajji Bakr described him as the
prince of the shadows and Baghdadis private minister.58 According to insiders, the first order of business for the prince of shadows
was to purge the Islamic State of leaders he suspected of disloyalty;
those who didnt leave their posts willingly were killed. He and his
boss replaced them with their Iraqi allies, many of whom had served
as officers in Saddams military and intelligence services.59 Saddam,
who had conducted a similar purge when he came to power, would
have been pleased.
His throne secure, Baghdadi set about reviving the Islamic
States flagging fortunes.

On the new emirs desk was a plan to turn things around. Between
December 2009 and January 2010, Iraqi jihadists had circulated a
Strategic Plan for Reinforcing the Political Position of the Islamic
State of Iraq.60 The document has the look and feel of a DC think
tank report, with analysis and recommendations for policy makers.
Think pieces and after-action reports are common in the jihadist
movement, but it was unusual to see jihadists openly criticize the
Islamic State. The criticism was evidence of how far the group had
fallen. The tempo of the Islamic States attacks was nowhere near its
height in early 2007, and the group held no land.
The strategy paper blamed the Islamic States fall on a dirty
war waged by its American adversaries, who used awakened
Sunni tribes against it. When the Islamic State was at the pinnacle
of its power and influence, [the Americans] bombed markets, public
places, and mosques, and they killed the opponents of the State, so
that the mujahids were blamed. On account of things like this, we

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80 T he ISIS Apocalypse
saw the influence of the Islamic State fade and disappear and the
apostate Awakenings spread.61
The delusions continued. The authors of the paper spun online
videos of Americans trying to disarm improvised explosive devices
(IEDs) as videos of Americans planting the devices and inadvertently
blowing themselves up. The Islamic State did not provoke the Sunni
tribes by oppressing them;62 rather, the jihadists enemies cleverly
turned tribal leaders against the jihadists. Young men in the tribes
supported the Americans only for money and for pride, styling
themselves as defenders of their people.
The Islamic State has fallen, the authors acknowledged, but
it will return just as the Taliban returned in Afghanistan after its
defeat at the hands of the Americans.63 The American withdrawal
from Iraq would be the time to act. When the Americans withdraw
within two years... the situation will be strongest politically and
militarily for the Islamic plan to prepare to completely seize the reins
of control over all Iraq.64 But the authors recognized that other factions in Iraq were preparing to do the same.
The authors recommended several ways to overcome the other
factions and control Iraq. Uniting them behind the jihadist program of the Islamic State was at the top of their list. It is not about
names and titles the Muslims would strive for. Aiding [the program]
is a victory for the people of Islam and not a victory for a group, or
a title, or a name. Merely fighting the other factions without a goal
would be stupid.65
Militarily, the authors contended it would be a waste of time to
focus on attacking the American forces in Iraq since they were leaving; rather, the jihadists should train their fire on the Iraqi military
and police, whom the Americans hoped would continue to pacify
the country for them once they left. By targeting them, the jihadists
would instill fear in the hearts of potential recruits.66 They should
focus in particular on the very few units that were capable of fighting against the jihadists.67 Attacking government troops would also
force them to abandon their bases in regions of the country where
they were weak. That would open up security vacuums and drain

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the governments resources when it fought to protect its remaining

bases. The jihadists could exploit these vacuums by seizing the territory and any equipment or infrastructure that was left behind.68
Make them always preoccupied with internal problems, wrote
the authors, quoting ancient Chinas preeminent military strategist
Sun Tzu.
Readers might find it odd that religious zealots who hate nonbelievers would quote Sun Tzu. But the practice is common, evidence
of a pragmatic streak among some jihadists. In the early 2000s, for
example, jihadists celebrated the strategic insight of Abu Ubayd alQurashi, an anonymous author who quoted dozens of non-Muslim
strategists in his magazine column, Strategic Studies. Among others, Qurashi cited Robert Tabers history of guerrilla campaigns,
War of the Flea; William Linds writings on fourth-generation warfare; the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz; and the
Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong.69 The authors of the Strategic Plan were carrying on that tradition.
The authors assumed guerrilla tactics would weaken the Iraqi
government. But they also believed the jihadists could not establish
their own state without co-opting the Sunni tribes. To do so, the
authors advised the Islamic State to copy what the United States had
done: give money and weapons to Sunni tribal leaders who were angry with the Islamic State. Doing so had reinforced the tribal leaders authority and bought the temporary allegiance of their young
men. The authors admitted that the idea to recruit the tribes to
eliminate the mujahids was a clever, bold idea and will be used by
any occupier in the future because they make hard work easy for
the occupier, just as they provide protection against the attacks of
the mujahids. But the authors were sure the tribes would rather
receive money and weapons from fellow Muslims than from foreign occupiers who disrespected their religion or promoted thugs as
tribal leaders.70 The mujahids should follow the American blueprint
of creating tribal councils and militias they can work with, but do
it better. The mujahids would be more respectful of local religious
practice and power structures, and they could finance the endeavor

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82 T he ISIS Apocalypse
with captured booty.71 As we will see, the jihadists respect for religious sensitivities and power structures was sometimes more theory
than practice.
Uniting the jihadists behind a single program, intimidating Iraqi
security forces, and co-opting the Sunni tribes would not be enough,
asserted the authors. The jihadists also needed a political symbol
or avatar. Several things go into the making of such a symbol: the
greatness of his sacrifices, his high morals, and his evenhandedness.72
The head of the Islamic State at the time, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi,
had achieved symbolic status. But the authors worried that none of
his deputies was high profile enough to fill his symbolic shoes if he
died (which happened a few months later).
In concluding their think piece, the authors stressed that jihadists have to instill confidence in those whom they rule. They could do
this by protecting the people in lands they control and making them
prosper, seeing to the needs of local governors and soldiers, selecting
good executives and judges, ruling by Islamic law, implementing the
hudud punishments stipulated in Islamic scripture, and distributing
money from the treasury.73 Since the international media is biased
against the jihadists, they said, the jihadists would need a media
strategy to make sure their good works were known.74 The jihadists
should also consider allying themselves with their opponents when
they face a common enemy, just as the Prophet allied with the Jews
against the pagans when they attacked him in Medina.75
The Strategic Plan has a lot in common with The Management of Savagery, a book released online by an al-Qaeda franchise
in 2004, two years before the Islamic States founding. The book
explains how to take control of territory, establish a nascent state,
and develop into the caliphate.76
The author of The Management of Savagery went by the nom de
guerre Abu Bakr Naji. We do not know for certain who Naji was in
real life, but he was probably from North Africa, based on certain
turns of phrase he uses and his frame of reference. No one wrote
under that name after 2004, so he is either dead77 or started writing
under a different name.78

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