‘Hopefully Daesh will be finished by the end of 2016’
Iraq’s Ambassador to Delhi, Fakhri Hassan Al Issa is convinced that regional powers were behind the murderous blast in Karrada, Baghdad, where more than 300 people died. The Ambassdor lost four close relatives in that blast, which strangely left no crater as the explosives used were entirely new. He is convinced that the days of Daesh are numbered and Iraq will win back Mosul before the year ends. Extracts from the interview:
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
What is the situation in Iraq after the recent blast in Baghdad?
The explosion was a shock that not only inflicted severe psychological damage on the people of the area but also burnt everything in sight. Most people died of burn wounds. The situation was so bad that people could not identify their relatives. I saw pictures of a father identifying his son by what was left of his hand. Over 300 people died as a result of the attack, while over 1,000 have been injured. The truck carrying the bomb came from outside Baghdad. At this point it must be said that there was intelligence about a truck loaded with bombs coming to Baghdad, but they did not know where it was going to strike. The problem is that there is a lack of coordination between the police, army, intelligence and local security. The truck entered through the gates of Karrada, which were closed. People inside sympathisers of the insurgents – let it in, and it exploded at 1:30am. This explosion was all the more disturbing because it occurred during the final days of Ramadan, and people were preparing for celebrating Eid. Another reason for the attack was the recent success of Iraqi forces in Fallujah. There was a big convoy of 500-600 trucks belonging to Daesh moving in out of the city towards Mosul escaping from the fight and there was some sort of tacit understanding between the regional forces operating there. Americans were hesitated to bomb them, but after the Iraqi forces discovered that and started to deal with them. The result was complete destroy of the convoy going to Mosul.
It was a big conspiracy that led to the bomb blast in Karrada, and I am very confident that regional rivals are involved in it. Daesh was using weapons that they have never used before. I was visiting the Iraqi soldiers injured during the war of Fallujah and while talking to one of them I discovered this fact. The soldier I was talking to said that he was hit with a heated rocket, a rocket that the Iraqi army does not possess, the Iraqi army found sophisticated weapons in Daesh weapon caches.
Is the violence confined to the south of Iraq? Is this the region that has embraced Salafism?
Salafism is not found in Southern Iraq. Salafism is usually found in the over populated by Sunni parts of the country mid of the nineties. Some of the Sunnis accepted the ideology for many reasons. After ‘91 the Iraqi Dinar lost its value; before the war with Iran each Iraqi Dinar was equal to $3.3 and after the invasion of Kuwait, the loss faced by the Iraqi forces, and the subsequent destruction of infrastructure, the value of the Iraqi Dinar fell nearly ten-thousand-fold. After the war one US dollar is equal to 3,000 or 4,000 of the currency. This led to many Iraqis to accept Wahabism ideology in order to get monthly assistance from Wahabism organizations.
What according to you led to the rise of Daesh?
I think Daesh is composed of five major components: one, the leadership has personnel from Saddam Hussein’s regime. Two, the military opposition these Saddam loyalists faced from 2003 onwards has led to the feeling that they have been isolated. The ex-regime’s intelligence and military assets all are separate components and have joined the extremist outfit. The Iraqi Salafi Wahabist sect is the third group that has helped make Daesh. The fourth group is Arab youth and newly-emigrated Muslims with no experience or knowledge of Islam; some even have criminal records. The fifth group is former members of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party.
Finally, there is a definite role that Iraqi Salafi Wahabism has played. After Saddam Hussein was expelled from Kuwait, he encouraged the ideology of Wahabism to florish and to balance things out, which became even more crucial after the Sha’ban uprising of 1991 (led by Shia sects, Kurds and Left-aligned political parties). This was called the Sha’ban uprising because it took place in the month of Sha’ban, which is one of the four major months in the Islamic calendar. In the Sha’ban uprising nearly 400,000 people were killed. Saddam and his forces used creative ways of killing people, ranging from chemicals to airplanes bombings; over 1000 mass graves were discovered where hundreds of bodies were found in each.
You said that some of the Daesh leaders are Ba’ath members who want to recapture power.
These are ex-members of the Ba’ath regime. They lost power in 2003 and they wanted it back. They were willing to go back and take over the government and found Daesh to be a useful means to this end. Some have fought with Daesh while others have openly embraced their ideas – all of this to topple the government. Daesh were able to control Mosul, Salah-ad-Din and western parts of Iraq because of these ex-regime members. These ex-regime officials control all these areas without fighting; they were all political leaders once upon a time. Most of them sympathise with the Saddam regime, because most of the ex-military leaders are fromSunni-dominated areas. A lot of them sympathise with Daesh and allowed them to control that area. They hope to topple the government in Baghdad. They were almost successful; they had surrounded Baghdad, but thanks to the civil forces, consisting of people who had joined out of popular mobilization organised by the Prime Minister and working under his command, this did not happen.
So those five factions come together in a business marriage of sorts. You have to understand that the success of Daesh depends on the wave of shocks that they have inflicted upon the Islamic world. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, these countries have the maximum number of Daesh sympathisers – their people are resentful of the Shia sect of Islam. You see Daesh members who are foreigners coming from these countries and also Tunisia. It is in the best interest of the Daesh to create a sectarian war between the Sunni and the Shia. Daesh will create this war out of thin air to stay relevant for a long period. If they keep Shias and Sunnis fighting amongst themselves, it will be Daesh who will be the winner in the end. Then there were talks about a Jean Burch Filiu French-Middle East study that stated that 99 percent of the Daesh causalities are Muslims. Daesh labeled them as non-believers, as they regard Shias as Kufrs, or they are deviated from Islam.
In Iraq the point is that the Shias are in majority; 60 percent of the people in Iraq are Shia, while the other 20 percent is Sunni. The Sunnis mostly reside in the western and northern parts of Iraq. Then there are the Kurds, who constitute 15 percent. Christians and others form about 4-5 percent of the Iraqi population. The Shia majority will always win the majority seats in the Parliament and form the Government and this is rejected by the Sunnis. This reflects in the power structure of the present Iraqi government. The President is a Sunni Kurd, the Vice President is Sunni, the Head of Parliament is a Sunni, and many ministries are under their control. Iraq required to get out of this ethnic or sectarian religious form to the National form.
You said that some countries are involved in the war, but to operate these sophisticated weapons there has to be familiarity with those types of weapons systems.
I do not want to mention any country who is paying for this equipment; a huge amount of money is involved. Our snipers have weapons that can hit from a distance of 3 km, while Daesh has weapons that can hit from a distance of 5 km. It’s a big conspiracy, and they have the most advanced telecommunication equipments. We have all the evidence to proof that they are involved.
Do you think that the Karrada blast was an outcome of a regional conspiracy?
Yes, it was an outcome of regional conspiracy. It was the answer of their defeat in Fallujah and for not accepting to allow for DAESH convoy to leave Fallujah safely.
You said that it was unusual that the blast did not leave a crater at the blast site.
Usually there is a hole in the ground after a blast, but there was no such crater this time. Everything got burnt and subsumed; there was nothing left at the site. The flames from the fire lasted for over two hours, they could not be stopped despite using huge quantities of water. Special materials were used to conduct the blast; there are theories that they used C-4 with nitrite and ammonium, with a brush of aluminum.
Have you sought any help from any other countries to investigate the blast?
No, the investigation has been done by the Iraqi security and intelligence agencies.
Now that the IS has been ousted from Fallujah, what is the status of IS in Iraq?
They have been ousted from Fallujah, and they lost Al-Qayarah air force base, another area in the region close to Mosul. Now there are talks between American and French that the forces are serious about liberating Al-Raqqah and Mosul very soon. Hopefully by the end of this year Daesh will be out.
Can we revisit how Mosul was captured?
In Mosul there were 70,000 men from the Iraqi military forces. When Daesh captured Mosul and Salah-ad-Din they slaughtered over 1,800 people suspected to be government conduits in the Speicher air base. The barbarity of these murders was extreme. These are official figures; intelligence information said that over 22,000 Iraqis have been either killed or have mysteriously disappeared in the region. When I visited those wounded during the fight, one of them told me that they had discovered big tunnels that were 2x3 metres across and runs for several kilometers long. It was in one of these tunnels that they found 300 Iraqi prisoners. These people were abducted prisoners from Speicher and were being used as slave labour to make such tunnels. They discovered just one tunnel but I am sure there are plenty of other such tunnels.
Coming back to Mosul, you had 70,000 troops.
Yes, almost 70,000 troops. The problem is that you have leaders there who sympathise with the Daesh. Ex-Ba’ath members used Daesh to disturb the government and recapture power. They succeeded in capturing Mosul, Saladin and almost forcing Baghdad to surrender. After the capture of Mosul the daughter of Saddam Hussein was praising those people who were able to coordinate with Daesh to recapture power. This is what happened in Mosul; Mosul was surrendered, and given to Daesh.
Who organised the surrender?
Political leaders, ex-military leaders, and tribes who sympathize with Daesh. There are many names that are doing the rounds. Some are specifically named as who was in charge of the surrender.
When Daesh came to Mosul they were in new Toyota pickup trucks with Ukrainian markings, as if they were meant for Ukraine but came to Mosul.
I don’t know about what exactly happened in that scenario. As far as I know it is impossible for Daesh to rule without a heavy military presence. From a military perspective Mosul had been outside Baghdad’s control for months. The future will reveal that regional rivals were part of the conspiracy.
What’s the plan for recapturing Mosul?
I think the Americans and the French are serious about implementing their war plans. Recently, there was a meeting of Arabian countries and during the discussion that ensued everyone gathered expressed their seriousness about defeating and destroying Daesh. So far the consensus had been about containing Daesh, and now they are talking about destroying Daesh. This, I feel, is a big change in the narrative. They have to liberate two cities that are a stronghold of Daesh: Mosul and Al-Raqqah. The regime functions from Raqqah, and both the French and American have to eliminate the regime. But as far as Mosul is concerned it is going to be run by the Iraqis. The western narrative of a divide between Shias and Sunnis is manufactured.
How deep is the sectarian divide in Iraq?
Frankly, it depends on the people involved. More than 3.6 million, who lost everything, have been displaced. It was Daesh that was responsible for this. Most of the displaced people have moved to Kurdistan and southern part of Iraq.
With the coup in Turkey being foiled, how does it impact IS?
Turkey is very close to Mosul and they have some big cities that are yet to be sealed off. As a result, Turkey is repositioning its military in the area. Turkey has its own ambitions for Mosul. The establishment in Turkey considers Mosul to be part of their territory. Turkey has continuously been trying to revive the Ottoman Empire, which has resulted in the geopolitics of the region becoming strife-ridden and in people getting killed and being forced to leave the country.
How do you interpret the failed coup attempt in Turkey?
I don’t know if it’s in the interest of Iraq or not because and I do not know how the military is going to behave now, but so far there are indications that the current leadership in Turkey willing to negotiate with the Government in Syria to end the war.
How do you see the developments in Syria? Do you think that IS is on the retreat?
I think they are on the retreat, part of it because of Kurdish fighters, who are almost in control of Manbij. The west is not going to destroy Daesh completely; they are going to keep them as a winning card unless they find a political solution to that area, to include the opposition in government.
Your country has been at the frontlines of war against IS. Has the IS been confined to Iraq and Syria or has it become a global phenomenon?
It’s a global phenomenon; fighters from over 100 countries are coming in to be recruited by the IS, even from China and Japan. They are all being educated through the Internet, religious schools or centers that are funded by the Gulf States. Unless we stop them, these centers will keep producing jihadis. A US Senator once said that there were just 100 such madrasas in Pakistan in the early 1970s; today there are over 24,000, and most of them are teaching Wahabi ideology. It is this systematic indoctrination that is making individuals ready for Daesh. Unless you control the way these Islamic radicals are spreading their information, knowledge and teaching, or we will keep facing Daesh.
Do you think the threat to India is real?
There is no country in the world that can say that they are safe from the threat of fundamentalists and fanatics, even America. There are hundreds of such Wahabi schools in America itself. Give it some time and you will see the impact of these mushrooming terror schools.
So are you saying that the first step to fight IS is to close down these schools?
Not close down in particular, but you have to control and regulate their teachings. There is a need to sit down with them and talk with them about their teachings, which are essentially a false interpretation of Islam. Islam says that all people are the same regardless of their religion. It says that two people are either brothers belonging to your religion or brothers in humanity. You deal with them as humans, and you cannot just kill them. This is the Islam that the Quran teaches and the Islam that I know.
Nearly 20 people from India’s southern states have gone to join IS. What is the level of intelligence sharing between the government of India and the Iraqi government?
We are cooperating with the Indian government. Young people from over 100 countries are coming in through the porous Turkish borders to Iraq and Syria and to join Daesh, providing them with logistics, supplies and other support. Now, slowly, after all these years, Turkey has started paying the price of this sheer negligence on their part.
A lot of brainwashing takes place before these youngsters are recruited by IS.
Definitely, and this starts from childhood itself. The site for this is these fanatic, Salafies' religious schools throughout the world, which all are funded by regional powers.
There were reports from Ramadi that people have faced severe psychological trauma. What has been the feedback from Ramadi after it was recaptured from IS?
There was a lot of destruction that unfolded in Ramadi. Most of the population in Ramadi was caught in the crossfire. It’s not easy for people when their homes are destroyed. It means that they cannot go back, since some of them are scared of a Daesh resurrection in the area. They would rather prepare to stay in an area where they get all the basic resources. They will not return unless they are 100 percent sure that their city is secure. I am very positive that after we liberate Mosul people will return back.
Is there some uprising taking place in Mosul?
There could be; there are people in the ranks who are against Daesh who are definitely preparing for an uprising. They are probably waiting for the right hour in order to set the uprising in motion.
Do you think that with the coming up of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, there will be a radical change in the perception of the US towards the Middle East?
You are talking from now until the end of the year; hopefully, Daesh won’t be around by the end of the year. Let's hope the Americans are serious now, working in tandem with the Russians to destroy Daesh. They might not be so conscientious in the future. Let’s hope that they can finish the job before the new government is formed. Trump does not have the sort of ambition ethic required to be involved in Iraq or Syria.