In 1989, Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan to join the insurgency against the Soviet invasion, but the Soviets were already leaving by the time he arrived. He met and befriended Osama bin Laden while there. After the Soviet War in Afghanistan, Zarqawi returned to Jordan where he was arrested and sentenced to prison in 1993 for possession of guns and explosives in his home. He was released in 1999 amnesty.
According to Jordanian and European intelligence agencies, Zarqawi formed a group with $200,000 of start-up money from Osama bin Laden. The group originally consisted of 150 members and was known as “The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad”. It was believed to be the beginning of the group which later became Islamic State.
After 911 which resulted in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan to help Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. He then was injured before he fled to Iran and Iraq for medical treatments.
In March, 2003, U.S. invaded Iraq. Zarqawi and his group were the most active insurgents and were responsible for dozens of violent and deadly attacks in Iraq. In October 2004 Zarqawi’s group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, changing its name known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq” (AGI).
In January 2006, AGI joined other Sunni insurgent groups to form the short-lived Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC). After Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, MSC merged in October 2006 with several more insurgent factions to establish Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The ISI was led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, until they were killed in a US–Iraqi operation in April 2010, after which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the group’s leader (This is Baghdadi referenced later in this article).
Unlike Zarqawi, Baghdadi is native to Iraq. He had never been influenced by bin Laden. On the contrary, Baghdadi differed dramatically with bin Laden, both in ideology and in methodology. Baghdadi had far greater ambition than bin Laden. He would resort to any means for his objectives, even torturing fellow Muslims and targeting al-Qaeda group later in Syria.
According to a study compiled by United States intelligence agencies in early 2007, the ISI planned to seize power in the central and western areas of Iraq and turn it into a Sunni caliphate. The group built in strength and at its height enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad, claiming Baqubah as a capital city.
The ISI plan was subdued by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq security forces. In 2007 the U.S. troop peaked at more than 170,000 which supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting ISI, resulting in dozens of high-level ISI members being captured or killed.
Between July and October 2007, ISI lost its secure military bases in Al Anbar province and the Baghdad area. During 2008, a series of US and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out ISI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens, such as the Diyala and Al Anbar governorates, to the area of the northern city of Mosul. ISI was describing itself as being in a state of “extraordinary crisis” in 2008.
Back in the U.S. Obama emerged as the front-runner for president in Democratic Party primary. In mid-2008, Obama pushed aggressively for a swift U.S. pullout and publicly undermined Bush – who was trying to keep troops there with no strict timetable for withdrawal – by colluding with the loathsome Iraq Prime Minister Maliki toward that end. With Obama about to visit Iraq and already heavily favored to win the presidency, Maliki openly endorsed Obama’s call for a complete American pullout within 16 months of Obama’s taking office, as the New York Times reported on July 21, 2008.
Under the pressure from domestic opponents as well as from Iraq government headed by Maliki, Bush signed the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq during his fourth and final trip to Iraq in December, 2008, one month before he left his White House office. The agreement included a specific date, June 30th, 2009, by which American forces should withdraw from Iraqi cities, and a complete withdrawal date from Iraqi territory by December 31st, 2011.
Once in office, Obama adjusted the withdrawal schedule in February 2009, by setting August 31st, 2010 as the date to withdraw all combat brigades to fulfill his promise to bring combat forces home within 16 months after taking the office. Meanwhile he kept American brigades in place with the primary mission to advise Iraqi forces instead of fighting the insurgents. Obama was credited for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and he later was awarded the 2009 Noble Peace prize.
Without being overwhelmed by the U.S. combat forces. ISI resurrected in Iraq and expanded beyond.
In March, 2011, Syria civil war started. Obama, being an inspirational speaker, still chose talk over action as he would in the earlier Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt. However, he did set a red line which he could not uphold later regarding the use of chemical weapons. This sparked corrosive cynicism among ordinary Arabs. The gap between Obama rhetoric and policy reality was so huge that left enough room to breed enemy overconfidence.
On May 2nd, 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in a raid to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. NBC News reported that a retired Pakistani military intelligence officer helped the CIA track bin Laden down.
According to documents and letters seized from the raid, bin Laden had been warned for years about Baghdadi’s intention to break tie with al-Qaeda to be an independent state, though he chose not to believe it out of his self-esteem.
Down was bin Laden and rising was Baghdadi. In August, 2011, Baghdadi began sending Syrian and Iraqi ISI members experienced in guerrilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization there, recruiting fighters and establishing cells throughout the country.
As Obama proudly declared on October 21st, 2011, “After nearly 9 years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” The U.S. completed withdrawing troops from Iraq when the last 500 soldiers left Iraq on the morning of December 18th, 2011.
In July 2012, Baghdadi released an audio statement online announcing that the group was returning to former strongholds from which US troops and the Iraq security forces had driven them in 2007 and 2008. He also declared the start of a new offensive in Iraq called Breaking the Walls, aimed at freeing members of the group held in Iraqi prisons.
In April 2013, having expanded into Syria, Baghdadi renamed his group, known as “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (abbreviated as ISIS), or as Obama administration preferred, “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (abbreviated as ISIL, and Levent is a historical geographical term referring to a large area in the eastern Mediterranean which includes Isreal and Egypt).
As the Syria war continued, refugees fled attacks by Syrian government and ISIS, to surrounding Arab countries. On September 20th, 2013, Sweden offered permanent residency to Syrian refugees. Other European countries followed for humanitarian considerations. This brought light to the refugees and enlightened Baghdadi and his followers who came up with a bright idea.
On 29 June 2014, ISIS announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate and claimed to erase all state borders. Baghdadi was named its caliph, to be known as “Caliph Ibrahim”, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was renamed the Islamic State (IS). The announcement was followed by a roughly 20-minute audio from the “Caliph” himself, in which he pledged to conquer Rome, inaugurated a “new era” and invited jihadists to take up arms and fight with Islamic State.
The next day the United Nations declares that an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have fled their homes.
The declaration of the caliphate was heavily criticized by Middle Eastern governments, other jihadist groups, and Sunni Muslim theologians and historians. Qatar-based TV broadcaster and theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated: “[The] declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria”, adding that the title of caliph can “only be given by the entire Muslim nation”, not by a single group.
Since Baghdadi explicitly pledged to conquer Rome even if Rome in this context was just a symbolic name for the Western world, Italian government did not want the refugees to stay in Italy. They just tried to let them go. As a result, Italian officials turned a blind eye to the refugees fleeing the country for Northern Europe. Even the refugees themselves were worried that anyone could be traveling in their midst — even terrorists with the Islamic State.
As Muhammad, a 32 year old Syria refugee, told Foreign Policy reporter, after arriving Italy by sea with hundreds of other migrants from Syria he was surprised to see that the Italian authorities took little interest in who the migrants were, or where they intended to go.
“Nobody checked us upon reaching Italy,” he says. “No coast guard, no policeman ever asked if we had papers. Nobody registered us, nobody took a photo of us, nobody took our fingerprints, no one asked us who we were.”
“Any ISIS terrorist could have entered Italy and traveled further into Europe without any problem,” he said. “ISIS members can take their guns and hand grenades with them, because the Italians even never checked any of the luggage.” Muhammad was deeply concerned.
The destination of most of the migrants was Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to accept more than 1 million refugees in 2015. Next to Germany was Sweden that accepted nearly 200,000 refugees in 2015.
The resettlement of refugees in European countries were backfired by their citizens, fearing that terrorist groups like IS may take advantage of the refugee resettlement program and infiltrate into Europe.
On September 14th, 2015, UK news media Mirror reported that Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab warned that at least 20,000 bloodthirsty jihadists had infiltrated Syrian refugee camps and were plotting to enter Europe, through a covert jihadi “operation”. His warning came as David Cameron made a whistle-stop tour of refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan to try to win back public support on the Syria crisis.
Daily Express reported in November 2015 that an opearative working for Islamic State revealed the terror group had successfully smuggled thousands of covert jihadists into Europe.
In North America, Canada’s Liberal government promised to accept 25,000 refugees by end of 2015 and Obama administration offered to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. Hillary Clinton even called to bring 65,000 displaced Syrians into the United States. They made such calls even though polls showed that a clear majority of Americans opposed admitting any Syrians. In November 2015, 47 House Democrats broke with Obama to help overwhelmingly pass a bill that would make admission of Syrian refugees virtually impossible. However, with his executive power, Obama still could order to have hundreds of refugee applications processed each day to bring in Syrians.
Ironically, when Syrian refugees arrived in U.S. under Obama administration’s speed-up “surge” resettlement operation, Obama never showed up to welcome those refugees. The mainstream media also remained silent with refugee entering U.S. This formed a sharp contrast with their overwhelming voices for accepting refugees into this country.
Even though Obama remained low key on entering refugees, he kept high key on touting for accepting more refugees by U.S. and other European countries. During his recent visit to European Union in late April 2016, Obama told his audience in his speech in Hanover, Germany that “People starved on this continent. Families were separated on this continent. And now people desperately want to come here precisely because of what you’ve created. You can’t take that for granted.” Obama sounded like Germany was guilty of everything that resulted in the refugee crisis. Even if Germany opened their warm heart to embrace more than 1 million refugees, the refugees could take it for granted and more refugees should come, as implied by the Obama rhetoric.
Baghdadi knows that the days for IS is numbered. He also knows that the easiest way to conquer a fortress is to attack from within. People with common sense all over the world also could figure out what the intention of Baghdadi and his followers were when they declared worldwide caliphate and erased all its borders, letting go the young and strong males they needed in the fight for their course. Many countries, including Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, even Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, are smart enough to refuse resettlement for any Syrian refugees in their countries.
Leaders of the European Unions and U.S. stand aloft on moral high ground and could not see the immoral movements underneath. They may simply be ignorant, or they have their own calculations. Time may tell.