The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the official denomination of al-Qaeda in Iraq – does not even pretend to be not responsible for the relentless bombing, political assassination and mostly sectarian horror unleashed across Iraq during Ramadan.
But this is exactly what they’re doing, with relish; throwing arrays of crude bombs made with fertilizer enhanced with ball bearings, manipulating a small army of foreign suicide bombers. Most of these, by the way, crossed the desert from Syria.
July has been a deadly month ; over 600 Iraqis killed up to July 25. May was even worse; at least 963 civilians killed and more than 2,000 injured. And now comes the coup de grâce; the already notorious Abu Ghraib jailbreak.
Abu Ghraib is charged with symbolism – indelibly linked with the American occupier. When the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in 2004 I was on the road in the US. This is what I wrote at the time; in Texas especially, everybody saw the routine humiliation of Iraqi prisoners as the new normal.
To the Syriamobile !
Fast forward to 2013. The al-Maliki government insists anti-terrorist forces are on top of everything going on in Baghdad. Not really. My matchless source in Baghdad, Asseel Kamal, explains how the commander of the 17th Army Division, General Abdul Naser al-Ghanam, apparently did not resign; he fled, before advising al-Maliki that all hell would break loose. The government was stunned by the veritable horde that staged the double attack – on Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and Taji prison in the north of the city.
The siege of Abu Ghraib started with nine bombs thrown at the entrance, and dozens of mortars, followed by a battle against the guards; a group of suicide bombers attacked the walls while another group of car bombers attacked the main entrance. And then the critical gambit, when a series of car bombs exploded all along the main road up to the bridge that links the prison to the highway leading to Baghdad, cutting all its connections with the capital.
The numbers game is still a mess; everything from 500 to 1,000 and even 1,400 escapees. Same for the official numbers of dead prisoners (65), dead guards (28), injured prisoners (124) and injured guards (43). Kamal quotes prisoners’ families saying prisoners who did not manage to escape were brutally “interrogated”. And helicopters bombed them mercilessly.
According to Hakim al Zamili, a member of Parliament who’s part of the Committee for Defense and Security, this operation has been prepared for at least two weeks – and plenty of guards were onto it. Kamal reveals that at least 15 men dressed in military garb got inside and “released” – as in escorted to freedom – selected al-Qaeda princelings ; and left the rest to fend for themselves. Better yet : this selected group – which includes a bunch of Jihad International foreign fighters captured by the US military in 2006 and 2007 – has fled to, where else, Syria.
It’s the occupation, stupid
Al-Maliki’s government has closed Iraq’s borders with Syria – to no avail; it’s desert on both sides, it’s powerful Sunni tribal Sheikhs on both sides, it’s ‘family’ on both sides. This proves once again that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – with its tactical alliance with jihadis of the Jabhat al-Nusra kind – is already establishing the embryo of a beyond-borders Islamic Emirate. They even have secured territory in northern Syria.
Most of the best commanders on the ground in Syria are Iraqis – and have battleground experience of fighting the Americans. Their long-term wishful thinking strategy is that once Bashar al-Assad’s government falls, the next will be al-Maliki’s.
These jihadis see that fighting a secular, apostate, “infidel” government in Syria – supported by Iran and Hezbollah – is the equivalent of fighting an “apostate” government in Iraq enjoying close relations with Iran. This – a ghastly sectarian war – was always the plan since the bombing of Samarra’s golden shrine in 2006.
As much as Syrian civilians are caught in the crossfire of the proxy war involving Western powers and Gulf petro-monarchies against the support of Iran (and Russia) to Damascus, Iraqi civilians are now caught in the resurgent civil war. Civilians in Baghdad do fear what these escapees might unleash.
It’s always crucial to go back to the basics. With the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the clueless Bush gang handed out a base to al-Qaeda on a plate.
Yet when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the prisoners were not al-Qaeda, but the Sunni resistance. When the Petraeus surge started in 2007, the plan was to buy the leaders of the Sunni resistance to fight al-Qaeda. The Sunni sheikhs took the money and decided to wait. Al-Qaeda dissolved and regrouped.
Now, with Syria as the new magnet of global jihad – once again a direct consequence of a US power play, via Barack “Assad must go” Obama – al-Qaeda is resurgent on both fronts. Washington has already destroyed the social fabric of Iraq. Now it’s helping to destroy Syria’s. If Abu Ghraib was the new normal in 2004, the jailbreak cannot but be the new new normal of 2013.