How ISIS’ land grab across Middle East is being orchestrated by Saddam Hussein’s generals

Iraqi security forces gather at the entrance of one of Saddam’s palaces in Tikrit last week after taking control back from IS. Source: AP

Militants fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq are being led by a highly secretive group of strategists and officials that were once senior figures in Saddam Hussein’s army.

Despite thousands of foreign fighters flocking to join the Sunni extremist group and starring in their propaganda videos, ISIS’ leadership is dominated by ex-members of the late Iraqi dictator’s military.

Almost all of the regional commanders appointed by ISIS’ leader and self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, played prominent roles in the Baathist army before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and became involved with ISIS either in the resulting insurgency or after the dictator’s 2006 execution…

The same point is made as a footnote to the Financial Times article on the Shi’ite militias:

“Markazi, markazi,” crackles the voice on the radio, an Isis fighter in Falloujah calling into headquarters. A procession of seemingly nonsensical words follow. But since November, the Shia volunteer forces have figured out Isis’s codes. Y-14, for example, means an American jet is overhead.

Despite constant adjustments of code words and frequencies, the Shia fighters have blunted Isis’s battle plans and exploited attack opportunities. But they have also come to understand the culture of Isis in Anbar province, how it enforces discipline and rewards true believers.

Isis fighters have no access to telephone, television, radio or internet. Their only source of information is the walkie-talkie system, which occasionally issues news updates. “They do not even have watches,” says Hamid al-Yasseri, commander of a Shia volunteer unit. “They even ask about the time through the radio.”

Foreign accents pop up occasionally, especially those of Saudis and north Africans, but Mr Yasseri says he gleaned that most of the fighters served in either the old Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein or took part in the insurgency against the Americans. “If someone does something wrong they lose their leave,” Mr Yasseri says. “When they find someone with a mobile [telephone], they will announce his name on the radio.”

Sometimes the conversations give the men a laugh. The fighters often demand women for marriage, threatening to withdraw if they do not get brides. “The leaders promise them that women will be brought from Mosul,” Mr Yasseri says. “We hear them talking about it on the radio. We also hear the wedding schedule. Sawsaon marries X from 9am to 12pm and someone else marries Y from 1pm to 3pm and so on.”

(You can read the whole article, save for the footnote above, at AINA. I recommend it.)