Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Is ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dead? Does it matter either way?

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a speech in Mosul, Iraq. Reuters.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been reported dead by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Reuters. Earlier reports from Russia's Defense Ministry said that al-Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike. The Syrian Observatory received their information from ISIS leadership, though the reports have not been verified. Al-Baghdadi has been reported dead many times before byt the Observatory has been a credible source for news on the conflict. ISIS itself has not confirmed the death publicly. 

My Comment:
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been reported dead so many times now that I am skeptical of this report as well. This is due in part because there was no information on how he died, or even where it was supposed to have happened. Other reports in the past, including the Russian claim last month, had more information as to what exactly happened. Without more information I have to remain skeptical, despite that the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a credible organization most of the time. 

Of course, ISIS has an obvious reason not to publish it if al-Baghdadi. Losing their spiritual and military leader would be a huge blow to a group that is getting nothing but bad news lately. They are on the back feet and losing territory in almost all of their lands and they haven't even had a major terrorist attack since the end of Ramadan. I could see them lying about his death as they have nothing to gain by being honest about it. 

Still, at this point losing al-Baghdadi isn't going to effect ISIS that much. His propaganda value has greatly declined as ISIS's propaganda efforts have been cut off by events on the ground. He also has limited value as a leader due to the fact that ISIS's leadership is cut off from much of their land. ISIS has largely been cut off from their leadership for some time now. 

On the other hand, it's not like ISIS has many people that can replace al-Baghdadi. The United States has been very effective in killing ISIS leadership when ever they get the opportunity to do so. The Russians, Syrians and Iraqis have also targeted ISIS leadership. And ISIS leaders also die in combat all the time. They have to be running out of people that have the skills and temperament to be leaders. 

Plus, their ability to recruit new leadership is almost non-existent now. The areas that they can recruit from has been greatly reduced and at this point everyone in Iraq and Syria has picked a side. And people outside of Iraq and Syria have very little reason to get involved in a fight that looks like it will be over soon. Though some people do want to get involved in lost causes, even if they do there is little chance of them reaching ISIS controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. The routes for reinforcement are cut off almost completely. 

I also have to question how good of a leader al-Baghdadi has been. Though he had some very obvious success during the war, he also was unable to keep his territory. I think his greatest mistake was attacking Turkey directly. Before bombing a peace rally in Turkey, the country was essentially on the same side as ISIS. Turkey was buying ISIS oil and turning a blind eye to foreign fighters pouring into Syria and Iraq. After pissing off the Turks, they closed the border and invaded ISIS territory, greatly damaging their ability to continue the war. 

Still, you can't deny that al-Baghdadi had a major effect. I don't know if ISIS could have created their global terrorist organization without him. If he is dead then the war against ISIS enters a new phase. A phase where the Caliphate no longer has a Caliph... 

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