Joby Warrick’s “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” tells the story of how ISIS replaced Al Qaeda as the leader of radical Sunni terrorism and seized large portions of Iraq and Syria turning it into the ISIS caliphate.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part tells the story of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who was rebuffed by Osama Bin Laden in part for his extreme brutality including killing fellow Muslims. Zarqawi was killed by an American bomb in 2006 with the help of Jordanian intelligence. After al-Zarqawi was killed his organization fell apart. It look several logistical moves before these men and all the other Sunni terrorists too came together under the ISIS umbrella, although not all Al Qaeda pledge allegiance to the caliphate, still.
The second part of the book tells the story of the rise of ISIS from there and how the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a religious scholar, who was only thrust into that position because the number 1 and 2 leaders of ISIS were also killed by American bombs, both with one shot.
This book is written by a journalist, so it is a continuous narrative that is easy and interesting to read unlike, say, a dense book and boring history book written by an academic. Drawing on sources in the Jordanian intelligence community, Mr Warrick goes into detail of how the Western world owes much to King Abdullah of Jordan and his intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. Americans might not know just how important moderate Jordan is in the war on terror. The Jordanians are the Hashemite people, which if you saw the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” might remember as the tribes that rose up in Word War I under King Faisal and Major Lawrence to expel the Turks from Arabia after 700 years of rule.
The Jordanian King comes off as the only reasonable voice as the Muslim countries around him contribute men, money, and materiel to terror. The King is frustrated with the USA because President Obama ignores the reality that a Middle East without the American military in Iraq would fall into ethnic warfare. Prior to Obama, President Bush also ignored the reality on the ground. The American diplomats and analysts who understood the situation were ignored by their bosses.
American withdrawal from Iraq and the civil war in Syria created the right moment in time and place that let ISIS grow to its current status as an actual state. or caliphate, and not just a terror army with no terrain of their own. Caliphate means a government run by Sharia law and lead by a religious leader. For the Sunnis this is ISIS. For the Shiites this is Iran.
The Koran says it is prohibited to take one’s life by suicide but al-Baghdadi and other scholars with advanced degrees in theology, drawing from the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet Mohammed, and the Koran, use the prophet’s words to justify this butchery. If you have actually read the Koran you know that every other paragraph calls for a violent and painful death for those who do not believe.
Twisting the words of the prophet to justify their crimes, the Sunni terrorists and Al Zarqawi, says Mr Warrick, ” … urged unflinching cruelty in order to the Islamist’s ultimate objective.”
Their ultimate objective is what politicians and the public in the West do not really understand to day, causing a fundamental misunderstanding from which there can emanate no logical decisions. The ultimate objective is to re-establish the caliphate meaning a government run according to the Koran such as was created by the Prophet in Medina in the 8th century in what is Saudi Arabia today.
Such was the goal of Al Zarqawi, the Jordanian criminal turned terrorist leader, who targeted included not only Westerners but Shiite Muslims, blowing the dome off their 1,000 year old al-Askari Mosque in Iraq.
Among the unsung heroes in this tale is the American Syrian Ambassador Robert Ford. He was so brave that he only left Syria when the embassy came under attack by raging mobs and the marine guards were wondering whether to shoot. Ford drove right into dangerous situations instead of run away. He drove his car with diplomatic license plants into a part of Syria where protests against President Assad were about to be put down in a bloody hail of gunfire. Because the American diplomat was there as a witness, accompanied by a French one too, Assad’s men backed down. Ford, who acted without permission of President Obama, incurred the wrath of Assad. Some months later Ford resigned his post, frustrated at the American inaction in Syria. Senator John McCain, who has called for American support of the rebels, invited him to pass by his office for a farewell reunion. Ford said no.
Almost a decade before that, Al Zarqawi was released from prison, which was obviously a mistake. But the Jordanians did not know then who he would become. Zarqawi been jailed by the Jordanians for his connection to extremist groups. He grew from being a common criminal to a lead an Islamic terror army. He established his base on the northeastern Iraqi border in no-man’s land.
Zarqawi orchestrated the worst terrorist attack in Jordan, a hotel bombing that killed 63 people. One of the suicide bombers was a woman whose suicide bomb vest failed to ignite, her capture giving Jordanian intelligence valuable information into Al Zarqawi’s organization.
What is surprising to read, as it was either not widely reported or has been forgotten, is that Zarqawi almost succeeded into blowing up a chemical weapon in Jordan. That would have killed thousands. Zarqawi smuggled the technician who knew how to make such a bomb into Jordan inside a gasoline tanker where the man breathed through a hose so that the fumes would not overwhelm him. His crew rented warehouses to stockpile weapons and vehicles. It raised alarms when they bought too much chemicals too fast. Also one of the terrorists who had been tracked by Jordanian intelligence via cell phone made the mistake of visiting a girlfriend thus giving away his physical whereabouts. Eventually the plot was foiled when a person who had rented a warehouse to the terrorists reported suspicious comings and goings to the police who found the trucks inside.
This is a short and easy book to read and should be required of anyone who is trying to understand the current situation with ISIS. As you know this tale is still unfolding.
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