While some say the loss of “the invisible sheik” may deal a crushing blow to Islamic Caliphate, others argue that terrorist network would be able to operate even without its founding farther.
Studio guest Vladimir Sotnikov, Director of the East-West Strategic Studies Center in Moscow, independent think-tank, Israel Shamir, independent expert on Middle East and prominent author, Georgy Mirsky, Chief research fellow from the Institute of World Economy and International relations at the Russia’s Academy of Science, and Vitaly Naumkin, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russia’s Academy of Science, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
If he was indeed killed in this attack, what would it mean to the IS?
Vladimir Sotnikov: There are other leaders. At the end of the day he may end up like Osama Bin Laden, he might be killed by the American special services, but right now it doesn’t mean that the IS would cease its existence. Unfortunately, the IS has learnt the lessons of Al Qaeda. It is not going to collapse so easily. And the second thing is that the IS, to my mind, is more tough, more stiff and more dangerous than Al Qaeda was.
Can you explain it? What is the difference between the IS and Al Qaeda?
Vladimir Sotnikov: Basically, the main difference between Al Qaeda and this project of the IS is that, of course, we all know these tragic events of September 11, 2001, but to my mind Al Qaeda was mainly concentrated in the AfPak area with the idea of constructing the caliphate. The IS project can operate in every part of the world, because they managed to have the support and approval of many other major terrorist groupings in the world.
What would the loss of the IS leader mean to the organization, in your opinion?
Israel Shamir: It is far from being clear, because he is not some charismatic personality that was operating for a long time. Not someone like Yasser Arafat. That is a person who came out of nowhere very recently. So, in other words, we don’t really know whether it is an important thing at all. And we don’t even know whether the IS will have any long existence. It seems to be something that popped out of nowhere with great, though hidden, American support, as we see it. It is not really popular among the Palestinians, it is not popular among the Syrians. It seems to be popular, basically, with the retired soldiers of the Saddam’s Army.
You’ve mentioned Yasser Arafat, what is the difference between the national liberation struggle, as Yasser Arafat understood that, and that sinister jihad which is spelled out by al-Baghdadi?
Israel Shamir: The main difference, as I see it, is that the struggle of Arafat was the struggle for the national liberation of the Palestinians against the Jewish Israeli oppression. And it was something that was very much popular with the colonized nations, the nations that were colonized by the different European states.
But now the main point of attack of the IS is the attack against the Muslim Brothers, against the Shia. They used to say that it is much better to kill a Shia than to hurt a Zionist. So, it seems that those people are basically nothing, but the bringers of more division within the Muslim world. And that is probably one of the reasons why the people in Palestine and in the ME in general do tend to say that they themselves are sort of an imperialist project to divide and rule.
Tell us, what is his role in the IS?
Georgy Mirsky: His role is an absolutely leading one. But it doesn’t mean that he can be removed and this will be the collapse. He will be replaced by another person. The point is that, unlike Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ISIS isn’t fighting in purely a guerilla-style, like fade in and fade of the background. The ISIS is claiming the territory and is holding the territory, and is building and maintaining the supply chains and so on. This is a very interesting force. It is kind of partly insurgency and partly a traditional army.
And if it came only to gun fighting, the US infantry, the US marines for instance should have no trouble defeating this army in the traditional fight. But in order to do that you need to rely on more than just the airstrikes. The ground forces are needed to seize the whole where the ISIS had been weakened. And this is a very difficult thing, because even if the US manages to defeat the ISIS militarily in Iraq or Syria, there is no clear plan, there is no strategy to fill in the political, economic and social void that will be created by its elimination.
In Syria the victory might lead to the empowering the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It is very paradoxical, if not an idiotic situation. The US is fighting the ISIS which is fighting the Assad regime. At the same time, it is a double game on both sides. It is the American double game and the Bashar Assad’s double game.
For instance, now President Obama has said that it is necessary to put an end to Bashar Assad’s regime. This is one of his mistakes. You know, exactly three years ago he made this big mistake when he likened Bashar Assad to Muammar Gaddafi. These are completely different situations, because at that time Barack Obama thought that just like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya it will be very easy for the rebel forces to overthrow the President. But the point is that, unlike Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, Syria is a country with many religious sects. So, there was a civil war.
What will change in the IS, if they do in fact lose their leader?
Vitaly Naumkin: I think nothing will change, because this leader came there a bit unexpectedly. I'm personally not regarding him as the founder of this organization. And there are a lot of mysteries surrounding the establishment of the IS, including a lot of conspiracy theories that interpret the IS as the project of intelligence services of certain countries in order to pressure Iran or for some other purposes.
But whatever it is, if this leader has been killed or he is going to be killed, nothing will change in my view, because some other personality will show up and pick up the leadership in the IS, because this is a project of a very profound group of people who have a strong power support base in a lot of countries.
Al-Baghdadi’s fate and his background is a bit mysterious, because he’s been captured and was in jail for a substantial period of time. And nobody knows what happened to him while he was in jail, and why he was released and why he turned into a terrorist, and not only a terrorist but into the leader of such a powerful organization that was able to take over the vast territory, bigger than the territory of Great Britain, for instance.
So, we don’t know much about al-Baghdadi. He is a charismatic figure, but, for example, in comparison to Osama Bin Laden he doesn’t have such a background of a great warrior, of someone who was a great terrorist or was struggling for a long time against the infidels. So, in brief, I would say that this figure is very controversial.
And the fact that when he was delivering a sermon in the Great Mosque of Mosul after the seizure for almost an hour and a half, nobody hit him there, it is also a mystery why this sermon was wired to the whole world and nobody attacked him. Finally, there are rumors that he was either killed or wounded, but until now it is not verified and nobody has confirmed this news.