Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rapist, led genocidal 'caliphate,' died in tunnel

Like most jihadists, his main motivation was murder and genocide, combined with far-Right religious hatred. Hitler died in a bunker; Baghdadi died in a tunnel.

A MAN purported to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in this screen grab taken from video released on April 29. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN purported to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in this screen grab taken from video released on April 29.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a rapist. Like most jihadists, his main motivation was murder and genocide, combined with far-Right religious hatred. In Islamic State, the organization and "state" that he led, he was able to exploit various strands of followers to create the closest thing the Middle East has seen to a short-lived, Nazi-style country.
He spent his days as leader raping women the group had kidnapped while his men died on the front lines. Like Hitler, he enjoyed the good life while his Sunni soldiers suffered under the bombs of the US-led coalition and struggled to stop the rising tide of Shi’ite militias and Kurdish fighters arrayed against them.
For much of his time in the leadership of ISIS, the rapist Baghdadi was a kind of mirage, a shadowy figure who was reportedly killed several times. Yet he survived, escaping again and again as his enemies closed in. Baghdadi was a religious devotee as a young man, and was detained by the Americans after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Born in central Iraq, he joined an extremist group, was picked up near Falluja, and held at Camp Bucca in 2004. Rukmini Callimachi, the New York Times correspondent who covers ISIS, writes that by the time he was detained, he was not only radicalized but he “began inciting attacks against Shia prisoners, using metal shanks.”
In his hatred of Shi’ites, Baghdadi was channeling a new kind of jihadist zeal. While al-Qaeda and others had launched a war against the West and against local totalitarian and corrupted governments under the banner of “Islam,” the concepts floating around Iraq in 2004 viewed non-Sunnis as sub-humans. They all had to be killed: Christians, Shi’ites, Yazidis and other groups such as Kurds.
This was a truly Nazi-style ideology that saw the world in terms of believers and sub-humans. It was helped along by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who pushed for more targeting of Shi’ites and minorities. Mass attacks in 2004 on Shi’ite shrines were carried out in Karbala, killing hundreds. Baghdadi was paying attention.
As Baghdadi rose to the leadership of what was then called “Islamic State of Iraq,” the Sunni insurgents that had initially been fighting the US had shifted tactics to murdering fellow Iraqis. Massive bombings targeted Yazidi communities in 2007, killing 700 people; more bombings targeted the Kekei religious community, Shebeks, Kurds and Christians. From 2007 to 2009, cities were awash in blood.
Later, in 2011 Baghdadi found a new opportunity as the Syrian state began to collapse internally from civil war. It was in this context that ISIS came onto the scene in a blitzkrieg of operations that helped it take over the Euphrates Valley from Syria's Raqqa to the border, and grab up areas in Iraq. In June, ISIS fighters rolled into Mosul, sweeping aside bloated Iraqi army divisions and taking over Iraq’s second-largest city.
THIS WAS a crux moment. It’s not entirely clear that Baghdadi ever thought he’d grow from running a murderous insurgent cult to running a kind of country. But in 2014, ISIS had a country stretching from Mosul to Raqqa in Syria. It would eventually control a land area the size of England. ISIS immediately set about re-organizing the society it governed. It murdered and expelled Shi’ites and Christians. Baghdadi was declared the “caliph” at the Nuri mosque in Mosul.
Then ISIS planned a genocide of the Yazidi minority living in Sinjar, west of Mosul. Isolated and thinly defended by Kurdish Peshmerga, they were an easy target. On August 3, using armored vehicles captured from the Iraqi army, ISIS overran Sinjar, capturing more than 10,000 Yazidis. 500,000 people were forced to flee. ISIS divided the Yazidi families, like Nazis had divided Jewish families in Auschwitz. The jihadist group sold the women and children into slavery and murdered the men.
But all the crimes that Baghdadi had ordered and sanctioned were not without a reaction. The laws of nature demand that for every action there will be a reaction. That reaction came in three ways in the summer of 2014. First, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a Fatwa in June 2014 calling on Shi’ites in Iraq to rise up and gather their arms to stop the Sunni jihadists who were heading for Baghdadi.
While Baghdadi was busy draping himself in the cloak of the caliphate in Mosul, an army was gathering in southern Iraq. Banners of the imam Hussein were unfurled. Baghdadi’s arrogance, like Hitler’s at Stalingrad, would bring him ruin, for he had awakened millions of Shi’ites in Iraq who had grown tired of the murderous attacks on their shrines, and the genocidal ambitions of the man in Mosul. While Yazidis and Christians suffered, a rising tide of reaction emerged to ISIS crimes.
ISIS attacks on the Yazidis also provoked the Obama administration to act. Within a month, a US-led coalition would be carrying out air strikes. That coalition would eventually grow to around seventy countries. ISIS attacks on Kurds also provoked a community that had lived under the shadow of extremism. In Syria, the lightly armed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) helped save Yazidis fleeing from Sinjar near the Syrian border. The YPG would help hold off ISIS attacks in Syria against the city of Kobani, eventually emerging as a fighting force allied with the US.
In northern Iraq as well, Kurdish Peshmerga helped stop the ISIS advance on Erbil, Dohuk and Kirkuk. By the fall of 2014, Baghdadi’s legions – now bolstered with some 50,000 recruits from all around the world, including 5,000 European jihadists – would find themselves fighting not only Shi’ite militias, but Kurds and the US.
ALL THE WHILE, Baghdadi was busy raping women. This was not incidental to his caliphate: It was the main driving force behind it. ISIS was an empire of rape. It sold itself abroad as a brand promising young men from Central Asia to the Caribbean a chance to come to Syria and Iraq, and rape and harm local people. It promised slaves and booty. Baghdadi raped Yazidi girls and his forces acquired the kidnapped American Kayla Mueller.
But Baghdadi’s forces were making missteps. In their orgy of blood and killing they murdered Americans, encouraging the US to send more forces to fight. ISIS also burned a Jordanian pilot named Muath al-Kasasbeh alive. The King of Jordan ordered revenge.
Revenge would come slowly, building to a crescendo over 2015 and 2016. ISIS continued its crimes, destroying archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, blowing up shrines, and destroying monasteries and churches. But it had made too many enemies – and its enemies were gaining strength every day that it was losing members. ISIS was creative in its caliphate, creating a well ordered Nazi-like society that kept women hidden and beaten by religious police, that traded slaves, and that provided booty to jihadists who joined from Europe. It created its own arms industry.
But it was too little too late, as it began to lose territory in Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces liberated town after town with the help of the US. In Iraq, the Shi’ite militias – bolstered by a newly trained Iraqi army and the elite Golden division of black-clad counter-terror troops – flushed ISIS out of the cities. It lost Mosul in the summer of 2017 after nine months of fighting. It lost Raqqa in the fall. But it lingered on near the Euphrates.
In the end, Baghdadi fled. His men died but he fled. As the caliphate died, around 50,000 women and children of ISIS members were herded into displaced persons camps. Some of them were perpetrators, too. Thousands of ISIS members, many of them foreigners, were found in Syria. Syria had become an ISIS dumping ground for all of its members who sought a place to murder and rape.
BAGHDADI DIDN'T surrender though – he hid out and eventually made his way to Idlib province. His surviving wives and family were smuggled through Turkey. It seems that by this time, he no longer had any slaves to rape. When he was caught he died in a tunnel, like Hitler in the bunker.
The only tragedy of his death is that he was not caught by his victims, not pulled up by his hair by Shi’ite militias to be hung under the flag of Hussein, by the people he despised. Baghdadi met a decent death at the hands of the Americans. It was not a death his men had given to their victims, such as the thousands of Yazidis machine-gunned and dumped in mass graves, or the Shi’ite victims of the Camp Speicher massacre in June 2014.
Baghdadi preferred to unleash his forces against the innocent and then walk away as cities burned in the aftermath. He brought ruin on his community because he transformed his religion into hedonism and murder, holding those values up as the main thing to worship. Those who fought ISIS worshiped life, and it was to preserve their lives and their families that many went far from home, leaving poor villages near Basra and Qamishli, Dohuk and Sinjar to fight the menace.
ISIS tried to colonize Iraq and Syria, calling on the resources of wealthy jihadists from Europe and elsewhere; spoiled men who wanted to harm Iraqis and Syrians, to kill Kurds, Shi’ites and Yazidis. But those men, from their comfy life in Paris and Berlin and London, came to Syria and found that the indigenous people were more than a match for them. They were buried in unmarked graves where they fell in Raqqa and Mosul.
As one Kurdish commander told me as we crouched in the cold near the Sinjar front line in 2015. “Daesh [ISIS] must be punished and revenge taken for what they did. It’s not my job to decide whether they go to heaven or hell, but rather to send them to Allah to decide.”
American special forces sent Baghdadi to his judgement. The hell on earth he tried to create will take years to heal. But for the free peoples who rose up in 2014 to fight and purge ISIS from Iraq and Syria, it is a good day that this menace is finally gone.