It’s déjà vu all over again. Wanted terrorist not seen in public for years killed in bold raid by US Special Forces, DNA match performed in record time, mutilated body (or body parts) spirited away and, in deference to an Islamic practice no Muslim has ever heard of, buried at sea (without any photos; another Islamic practice?). I didn’t buy it back in 2011 and I don’t buy it now. (For my exposition on the Osama Bin Laden mise-en-scène, click here.)
Let me clarify. I do believe the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead and I do believe there was some sort of raid on a compound near the Syrian village of Bashira. Beyond that, I’m very openminded, and–as in the case of Bin Laden–the more bizarre and contradictory the “facts” that come out in the aftermath, the more openminded I become.
For instance, according to the Kurds, the sample of Baghdadi’s DNA used in the matching process was secured by the theft of the caliph’s underpants (Larry David of Seinfeld fame could not have come up with a more farcical scenario!); but, according to the Pentagon, the DNA sample was obtained while Mr. Baghdadi was in our custody at Abu Ghraib in 2004 (how prescient!). The DNA match was completed in 15 minutes according to President Trump; but even with the newfangled gadgetry the troops are said to have brought with them, the process could not have been completed in less than 90 minutes, according to those more knowledgeable about such things (and more disciplined in the use of the English language).
As with Bin Laden—never seen in public after he reportedly had been driven out of Afghanistan, only on videotape—Baghdadi has been even more of a phantom. His first public appearance was in 2014 when he ascended the minbar (pulpit) of a mosque in Mosul to announce the resurrection of the Islamic Caliphate. That appearance was also his last! The only evidence we have that he continued to breathe was easily doctored audiotapes, speeches he supposedly authored delivered by his spokesman, and a video of him chatting with some followers in somebody’s living room, his AK-47 by his side (a virtual remake of the scene in which Bin Laden claimed responsibility for 9/11). What charisma that such an apparition could command the loyalty of so many!
Then there’s the location of the ISIS leader’s purported hideout (cum minimum security): deep in the heart of territory swarming with militant groups hostile to ISIS and controlled by Turkish forces. If the whole thing was a charade, this unlikely location was probably chosen because it was secure, which implies Turkish collaboration in the plot as they have the armed presence to ensure no clueless interlopers interfered with the “shoot” (in both the Hollywood and military sense of the word). If a more likely locale were chosen–say, the deserts of eastern Syria—one of the many armed groups in that area (possibly even the Kurds!) might have given our troops an all too real firefight by mistake. (Note that the raid in Bashira lasted two hours, plenty of time to attract a hostile crowd of armed men.)
Mimicking the Bin Laden script, Baghdadi’s body–or whatever parts remained–was buried at sea. But the Pentagon was careful this time not to name the naval vessel involved, singed by the incredulous yarn they were forced to spin in the Bin Laden case: that the unceremonious dumping of his body was witnessed only by a handful of the top officers and none of the 6000 crewmen aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
If you are thinking the new leaders of ISIS would have exposed our heroic melodrama as a poorly made B movie by admitting Baghdadi had died years ago—say, in a bombing, consider this. If his death would be as devastating to the morale of the jihadists as we now claim it is, they would not readily admit he had been killed at the time of his demise and couldn’t admit it now after they’d heralded his ethereal leadership through surrogate-delivered speeches and posthumous audiotapes. “Oh! What a tangled web we weave…”.
Tales like that of Bin Laden and Baghdadi are what Pepe Ascobar of Asia Times calls “the gift that keeps on giving, the never-ending Global War on Terror”. What’s next to scare the bejeezus out of us and justify endless wars in faraway places with strange-sounding names? An alien invasion?
One unresolved bequest of Baghdadi is the tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and their families currently held in prison camps in northeastern Syria. Many of the countries of which they are citizens (most notably, Russia) refuse to take them back. So, what to do with them?
I’ve got an idea! While ISIS directed its anger at the Assad regime, we had no complaint with them. In fact, we apparently acquiesced in our proxy, Qatar, financing them. It was only when ISIS made a grab to take over Iraq that we saw them as a problem. (N.B. Qatar is NOT a real country with its own foreign policy. With only 300,000 citizens and a huge American military base right down the street from the palace, the emir would not dare do anything to incur our wrath, like finance our number one enemy. In fact, he is quite willing to accept our suggestions as to how he should spend his fabulous wealth. Please forgive me for sounding like a broken record on this point, but I seem to be a vox clamantis in deserto on something I consider obvious.)
Given this history, maybe we could find a use for all those bloodthirsty fanatics idling away in Syria by finding a new front on which they could be useful to us, demonstrating their devotion to Islam by killing their fellow Muslims. Afghanistan comes to mind. If we could turn them against the Taliban, they could be on our side, so to speak, once again. This transmigration may already be taking place as the Islamic State is making a showing in Afghanistan these days with their name-brand, atrocious behavior. Some Afghans believe we are responsible for introducing this plague of beheaders into their country.