The fierce ambition of ISIL's Baghdadi

Greater Kashmir

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has risen from anonymity to become the feared leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Baghdad, June 15: As its feared and fearsome leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi personifies the brutality, determination and ambition of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Not since Osama bin Laden has a leader been held in such reverence among Sunni fighters, scored such stunning and shocking victories, and threatened so much of the established order. But unlike Bin Laden, whose vast wealth aided his elevation to the “sheikh”, Baghdadi has literally fought his way from ordinary beginnings in northern Iraq to lead what is perhaps the Middle East’s most feared irregular armed force.
So emboldened by his success on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, Baghdadi has challenged the very leadership of al-Qaeda, denouncing them publicly as deviating from the cause and stating he is the true heir to Bin Laden’s legacy.
But his methods are extreme and his actions repugnant to many – captured enemy fighters are shot or decapitated and their deaths recorded for the Internet. Other armed groups in Syria are attacked as ISIL expands territory and influence, and a strict interpretation of Islam is implemented in the regions under its control – Internet videos abound of thieves having their hands severed and adulterers, smokers and those who fail to attend prayer being publicly whipped.
The scholar
Little of Baghdadi’s early life is on record. It is known that he was born Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri to a religious family in Samarra in 1971. He studied Islamic history as a student and, according to sympathetic websites, gained a doctorate from Baghdad university in the late 1990s.
It is likely Baghdadi held a religious position in the Sunni community when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
Like many enraged by the invasion, he became involved in the armed rebellion and began fighting in western Iraq, possibly Anbar – the stronghold of Tawhid and Jihad led by the Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who later rebranded the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
But Baghdadi’s resistance was cut short in about 2006, when he was arrested by US forces and held in Camp Bucca, the main US-run prison in Iraq following the torture scandal and shutdown of Abu Ghraib.
Such was his relative anonymity, it seems, that Baghdadi was interred as a low-level prisoner. And it is here, analysts believe, that he became more deeply involved with fighters from al-Qaeda.
After his release in the late 2000s, he joined and fought with the Islamic State of Iraq, known as ISI, the successor group to al-Qaeda in Iraq. With its ranks swelled by foreign and Iraqi fighters, the group was the dominent Sunni force in the country, attacking and intimidating its US and sectarian enemies with suicide bombings, abductions and murder.
Perhaps as a sign of things to come, ISI was publicly reprimanded by al-Qaeda for its brutality and its willingness to kill anyone, even Sunni Muslims, it considered betrayers of their religion.