After Baghdadi What ?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 14 Nov , 2019

For 1300 years or so, the caliphs, or the “successors”, took pride in developing the Islamic community that the Prophet Muhammad had left behind. The Caliphs were far from being rigid and inflexible; while a few were Islamist, but they loved music (anathema to the IS); had a passion for not just reading the Koran and the Muslim Sunnah, but also spy novels and theatre. The Caliphs saw themselves as defenders of all faiths, not just Islam, that came to them for protection. Ultimately, of course, the Caliphate, like other Eastern European dynasties like the Habsburgs and Romanovs, was dissolved. In 1923 Mustafa Kemal abolished the Ottoman Empire, and a year later, the title of Caliph was also abolished.

 Islamic State (IS), as the ISIS is also known is not a new problem, but a new strand of an old problem, having caught the attention of the world in 2014, when it took over large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared itself a Caliphate, a State governed under the Sharia Law of Islam.

Fast Forward

Fast forward to the present day and one needs to comprehend the drive behind the ‘successes’ of the IS. What is fuelling the IS is not Islam, but a very radical ideology, as claimed by many experts. According to the IS, every Muslim on the face of this earth, has to follow its rules, or face the consequences of being declared an apostate or a heretic; for the IS, an apostate is a bigger enemy than a ‘non-believer’, such as Hindus, Christians, or the Jews. The core ideology of the IS is the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate, the Islamic Empire led by a supreme leader.

The IS evolved from the Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, and was led by a Jordanian, Abu Musa al Zarqawi, who was later killed in a US drone attack in 2006. It is interesting to note, there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before 2003, the year of the US invasion. It was only after the fall of the secular regime and the toppling of Saddam Hussain, which brought about a Shia government, that Al Qaeda and its successor, the IS, flourished. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a little known cleric until he usurped the title of Caliph, claiming direct descent from Prophet Muhammad’s family. It may be of interest to readers to learn that Baghdadi was once an inmate for 10 months, of an American prison in Southern Iraq, known as ‘Camp Bucca’, infamously known as the ‘academy of jihadis’!

Baghdadi took over the reins of the organisation in 2010 and initiated the process of rebuilding it, announcing his arrival by staging several attacks a month, on enemy ground. By 2013, Baghdadi had shifted his focus to Syria and joined the al-Nusra Front, which was supported by Al Qaeda and other regional players, with an aim to topple the Assad regime. Major successes eluded him in Syria necessitating a merger of IS forces in Iraq and Syria, thus creating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), later known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS, and now as the IS.

The IS broke away from its parent sponsor, Al Qaeda, to emerge as the single largest and most potent threat to the world today, being the first terrorist group to occupy and control territory; it runs schools and hospitals in the towns and cities under its control, manages its finances through taxes, and rules with an iron hand under the Sharia.

Al-Baghdadi Killed in a US Operation

The US President, Donald Trump, in his inimitable style announced on Oct 27, 2019, that a CIA-assisted military operation by the elite Delta Force of the US Army, had eliminated the IS leader, al-Baghdadi, in the Idlib province of North-Western Syria. The question, however, remains: will Baghdadi’s death weaken the wider capabilities of the IS or its affiliates? Probably not!

What significance then, does the killing of al-Baghdadi hold towards the fight against terrorism? Al-Baghdadi’s death can, at best, be considered as a significant symbolic victory for the United States and the anti-IS coalition. Although Baghdadi lacked the charisma, as compared to Osama bin Laden, newly recruited individuals and other splinter terror groups pledged allegiance to his name when joining the IS; ever since al-Baghdadi declared himself as the Caliph, he had remained in hiding for many years, but the command and control of his fighters in Syria and Iraq and the Group’s affiliates did not depend on direct coordination or communication with him for their ongoing operations. Such was his control over the cadre of the IS! Now that Baghdadi is dead, the affiliates and individuals, who had pledged allegiance directly to him, could now renounce their allegiance.

Several questions about the US operation remain. Intriguingly, while President Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and the Syrian Democratic Forces for their cooperation in the raid, the information on Baghdadi’s whereabouts could also have come from other extremist groups, which are intensely opposed to the IS, such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or even al Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen via Turkey. The US forces also recovered significant intelligence during the raid which could lead to additional operations against the group.

The operation also highlights the complicated relationship between the USA and Turkey. On the one hand, the US benefits from access to Turkish territory close to northern Syria, where many extremist groups continue to operate, while on the other hand, USA has imposed sanctions on Turkey for having moved its forces into Northern Syria.

What Next

As more information about the operation is declassified, one thing is clear: the ongoing war against the IS and other terror groups will ultimately not be decided by the elimination of terrorist leaders, but rather by denying them territory and resources, and most importantly, by undermining their violent ideology through the war of the narrative. The IS has survived the losses of its leaders in the past, and is well-prepared to do so again. Actions of starving such groups of territory, resources and recruits would reduce the risk they pose and buy time for efforts to find an effective way to undermine their core message.

The organization has now lost its third major leader. While removing such jihadist leaders is a boost in the battle against terror, the IS will continue to pose a virulent threat. Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph, has failed to bequeath a legacy to unite the world’s Muslims and restore past glories, leaving behind instead a far more ignoble legacy.

Al-Baghdadi is dead; but the IS is not. The efforts to neutralise the leadership would have to continue!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja

former Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command.

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6 thoughts on “After Baghdadi What ?

  1. Part 3 (final): Those hadiths were concocted at the behest of two muslim regimes. Interestingly, if the timeline of the appearance of the two sayings in the hadith literature is followed, the one about India predates the one about the army from Khurasan. The hadith about the Ghazwa-e-Hind was used to lure people to join the Muhammad bin Qasim-led invasion of India in 712 CE and the one about legions from Khurasan was deployed by the Abbasid general Abu Muslim Khurasani to topple the Ummayads circa 747 CE.
    For a detailed report on how the hadiths are still being used to inspire jihadists against India, read:
    Grade : Hasan (Darussalam)
    Reference : Sunan an-Nasa’i 3175
    In-book reference : Book 25, Hadith 91
    English translation : Vol. 1, Book 25, Hadith 3177
    It was narrated that Thawban, the freed slave of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), said:
    “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘There are two groups of my Ummah whom Allah will free from the Fire: The group that invades India, and the group that will be with ‘Isa bin Maryam, peace be upon him.'”

    Grade : Da’if (Darussalam)
    Reference : Sunan an-Nasa’i 3173
    In-book reference : Book 25, Hadith 89
    English translation : Vol. 1, Book 25, Hadith 3175
    It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said:
    “The Messenger of Allah promised us that we would invade India. If I live to see that, I will sacrifice myself and my wealth. If I am killed, I will be one of the best of the martyrs, and if I come back, I will be Abu Hurairah Al-Muharrar.” [1] [1] Al-Muharrar: The one freed (from the Fire).


  2. Part 2 (continuation): A Hadith mentions prophet, “heralded the emergence of a muslim army from the regions of ancient Khurasan” (present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia) and carrying black flags will wage war against the enemies of prophet mohammad and his household and emerge victorious. They will be offered worldly goods, but would decline till a man from the prophet’s family will emerge and fill the world with justice. And all muslims at that time must join with this promised messiah or al-Mahdi.
    This particular hadith is read along with another saying: “A group of you will conquer India, al Lah will open for them (India) until they have come with its kings chained – al Lah having forgiven their sins. When they return back (from India), they will find Ibn Maryam (Jesus) in Syria” (
    This Khorasan prophecy of the black-flag bearing islamic army is still driving Sunni radicals to terrorism (see ISI had originally conceived the use of Ghazwa-e-Hind as a tool in proxy warfare, but the idea was adopted and perfected by al Qaeda and its franchises.
    In July 2018, Pakistan-based jihadist group Hizbul Ahrar had called for jihad against India, describing such action as the “holiest of all battles.” In a statement released on the Telegram messaging app, the group also spoke about the spiritual rewards in islam that come with donating money for jihad against India. The group quoted two hadiths to support their argument of establishing an islamic caliphate in South Asia.
    Hizb ul-Ahrar is a faction of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formed last year after breaking away from Jamat ul-Ahrar, another faction of the Pakistan Taliban. Jamat ul-Ahrar pledged allegiance to islamic State group in 2014, but a year later said it had rejoined the Pakistani Taliban, an ally of al-Qaeda. (contd…

  3. I have to split my comments into several due to character limit, bear with me.
    Part 1:
    Ghazwa-e-Hind refers to an indoctrinated view of a final apocalyptic war in which India will be conquered by a jihadi army. All soldiers of this army are guaranteed a place in heaven. This term is freely used in jihadi circles and on the web. Not only Kashmiri groups, but Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliates have stakes in the larger scheme of Ghazwa-e-Hind, where India is regarded as next battleground in the End of Times’ battle. It is a prophecy attributed to prophet muhammad, proclaiming that a victorious army rising from the West shall establish islam in India, before the day of judgment.
    This ideology is used to drive Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates into Kashmir. Hafiz Saeed, the Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) emir said, “Ghazwa-e-Hind is inevitable, Kashmir will be freed, 1971 will be avenged and Ahmedabad Gujarat victims will get justice Inshallah.”
    al-Qaeda’s affiliate for the Indian subcontinent, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind takes its name from Ghazwa-e-Hind. An article in al-Qaeda’s magazine Nawa-i Afghan Jihad appealed to Indian muslims, “Indian brothers,” the article reads,” there is still time: rise us against this brutality, and join us in the Ghazwa-e-Hind. Everyone knows that al Lah vowed that whoever participates in the Ghazwa-e-Hind will be saved from the hellfire, and shall entire paradise.”
    In the hadiths, “Ghazwa-e-Hind” is mentioned along with ‘fitn’ and “qurb-i-qayama.” Ghazwa-e-Hind includes Sindh and Hind. It was narrated that Thawban, the freed slave of the messenger of al Lah, said, “The messenger of al Lah said: ‘there are two groups of my Ummah whom al Lah will free from the Fire: the group that invades India, and the group that will be with ‘Isa bin Maryam, peace be upon him.'”
    Grade: Hasan (Darussalam), Sunan an-Nasa’i 3175, In-book reference: Book 25, Hadith 91, English translation: Vol. 1, Book 25, Hadith 3177. (contd…)

  4. Sir, You are dead wrong, when you wrote, “What is fueling the IS is not Islam..” On the contrary, ISIS strongly believes that it is the only ‘true’ follower of islam and other mainstream islamists are not islamic enough and therefore are more dangerous than far enemies, such as, infidels. So, it wants to purge the extremist movement of the impure islamist groups, BEFORE taking on the nonbelievers.

    Do you think ISIS committed genocide on Yazidis because they were apostates? Yazidis follow a monotheistic religion different from islam. The violence that ISIS unleashed on the Yazidis were unspeakable. ISIS bases its actions on verses from the Quran or the actions of one of the Prophet’s companions (such as burning someone alive as in the case of the Jordanian pilot, the enslavement of women, and the killing of innocents).

    Unlike al-Qaida, which promised a caliphate off in some distant future, the Islamic State established an Islamic state and Sharia in parts of Iraq and Syria. So, instead of adopting a security approach, there is a real need to address the quranic verses, the codes, the traditions that are being using to recruit jihadis.

  5. In any caliphate, the nonMuslims were always an endangered species. This is a dhimmi analysis designed to keep the Muslims happy. Islamic caliphate is very much a part of Islamic sharia, though western agencies may deny it. America will continue to nurture such groups against its enemies, which includes India, because the American govt at its very core has an evangelical character to it. Educating Homo sapiens about the ugly reality of Islam is the only way, not just economics or electoral politics.

    • There are no enemies or friends, only interests. India and US has many common interests. It’s in the interest of both countries to come together on many fronts, for instance, China, modernization of Indian military and academic collaboration on Science and Technology. However, I agree that fighting islamic ideology with ideology must be an important tool along with increased government to people interactions, other than the usual security and economic measures. Government must invite experts on old Arabic-Syriac languages and Western islamic experts to teach its counter intelligence and anti-terrorist personnel on what they are really fighting against and how to deal with it effectively.

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