13 Sep 2014

The Strange Irony Hidden Among The Highest Ranks Of ISIS

As the Islamic State group continues to wreak havoc across Syria and Iraq, the group has become synonymous with extreme religious zealotry. Yet the militant group ironically has strong alliances with members of former dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath regime and its highest ranks are filled with former Saddam loyalists. "Baathism is fundamentally a secular, pan-Arab movement, which the pan-Islamist movements have been at odds with for decades. This is not a natural alliance," Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, told The WorldPost.

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While the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, wants to create a religious regime across national borders, the Baathists want to reassert the power they had before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. But they both claim to champion Sunni interests in opposition to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's autocratic and sectarian leadership. The pragmatic alliance has been a major force in helping the Islamic State achieve its goals. When the group seized a string of cities in Iraq earlier this year, it was the former generals of Saddam's army who provided much of the military expertise.

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The Islamic State's extremism, however, is now causing rifts in the alliance, with Baathist and Islamic State fighters competing for dominance. In July, a group of former Saddam followers released a statement denouncing the persecution of minorities, which served to distance the group from the Islamic State's tactics, analysts told Foreign Policy. And in late August, the news site Niqash reported that Sunni militia and tribal leaders were plotting to wrest control of the city of Fallujah from their Islamic State allies and roll back the group's extremist mandates.

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