Quick Take

Baghdadi’s death not necessarily the end of ISIS

| Updated on October 29, 2019 Published on October 29, 2019

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

It could, however, lead to a rearrangement of pieces on the complex chessboard that is West Asia

Will the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, triumphantly proclaimed by US President Donald Trump, mean the savagely violent jihadist group ISIS is finished? The answer’s an emphatic no. Al Qaeda kept battling on after its founder Osama bin Laden was ‘taken out’ by American special forces in Abbottabad.

Closer home, the death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was only one step forward in the fierce fight against Sikh terrorism in Punjab. The conclusive end to that insurgency came many years later when Julio Ribiero and KPS Gill turned the Punjab Police into a deadly instrument that finally got the better of the terrorists. But the death of Al-Baghdadi, who reportedly detonated a suicide vest after being trapped in a tunnel by US troops, still marks a giant symbolic step forward in the fight against ISIS.

Like Bin Laden, the self-proclaimed caliph had made only occasional public appearances and took extraordinary steps to try to avoid being killed by US forces like Bin Laden. Most surprisingly, the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, a region held mainly by affiliates of al Qaeda with which Isis fell out back in 2014.

ISIS has been unique in many ways. Unique for its sheer brutality and the wanton killing of anyone it got its hands on. Also, Al Baghdadi argued slavery was a natural condition and it was perfectly acceptable to use captured women from ethnic groups such as the Yazdis as sexual slaves. Beyond that, ISIS started at one stage operating like a franchise, claiming responsibility for any terrorist act in Europe and elsewhere.

Most importantly, however, ISIS eschewed guerrilla hit-and-run tactics and fought set-piece battles to conquer cities like Kobane and Raqqa. Perhaps, therein, lay the first seeds of the caliphate’s demise. ISIS had huge oil and tax revenues from the regions it controlled. Towards the end of 2014, Isis was battling a heavily outnumbered Kurdish force to take control of Kobane. It was a one-sided battle till the Americans began heavy aerial attacks on Isis forces and started pounding the caliphate.

ISIS couldn’t match the combined might of the US, the Turks, Iranian-sponsored Shia militias, the Syrian state and various other fighting forces like the Kurdish YPG which was the fighting arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

There are, inevitably, lieutenants who might take over the top job now that Baghdadi’s gone. One is a Tunisian named Abu Othman al-Tunsi and the other a Saudi, Abu Saleh al-Juzrawi. But terrorism experts speculate their nationalities may work against them because they aren’t Syrian or Iraqi.

Meanwhile, it’s fascinating to ask one question: Could it be that there was a quid pro quo? Did Turkey offer pinpoint information on Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi if they were allowed a free hand to attack the Kurds? That might be called backstabbing at a very high level but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

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Published on October 29, 2019
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