Today in Terrorism: 25 October 2016 Iraq

The Battle of Mosul was an attempt by the Iraqi Army and its allies to wrest control of the city from ISIS terrorists: ISIS massacred hundreds in response.

Iraq has been a suffering nation for many, many years. When I began by career in intelligence in the early 1980s it was under the iron fist of ‘President’ Saddam Hussein who used violence and torture to cow the population. We all knew about his tactics and the horror of his regime but that did not stop the US from seeing him as an ally during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. This was clearly a case of what American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meant when he said, referring to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “he may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is OUR son-of-a-bitch”.

After the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003 as part of the ‘war on terrorism’ the dictator was ousted and all hell broke loose. The US was unable to ‘build democracy’ in the country and, as with all military occupations, the presence of foreign forces fed the recruitment of existing terrorist groups and the creation of new ones.

One hybrid group eventually morphed into what we know as Islamic State (IS or ISIS). Originally an Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate in Iraq (called, not surprisingly, Al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI), ISIS chose its own road, a much more brutal one than its predecessor. The stories of its cruelty are legion and there is no need to repeat them here.

ISIS’ greatest achievement was its re-establishment of what it claimed was the ‘Caliphate’, a very important symbol for Islamist extremist groups. It carved out territory across Syria and Iraq, set up governance and engaged in practices far more horrific than anything Saddam Hussein ever dreamed up.

In light of this achievement and the sheer brutality of what ISIS was doing to people within its space, the Iraqis, the Syrians and their allies could not stand by and allow this to continue. The former had to regain their territory while the latter had to destroy a terrorist group which was inspiring some of their own citizens to carry attacks closer to home (the November 2015 attacks in Paris are a good example).

ISIS of course would not go quietly and during the 2016 ‘Battle of Mosul’, an Iraqi-led campaign to regain the city, the terrorist organisation was responsible for several large-scale operations. On October 25 the UN reported that ISIS had executed 50 former Iraqi police officers the group had been holding in a building outside Mosul. In addition, the bodies of 15 civilians thrown into a river were found and there were reports of Iraqi forces finding the bodies of 70 civilians with bullet wounds in an area south of Mosul. Even more chillingly, ISIS massacred 284 of men and boys who had been used as human shields against approaching Iraqi-led forces, dumping their corpses in a mass grave at a former agriculture college in northern Mosul.

The atrocities attributed to ISIS are probably innumerable. This series on ‘today in terrorism’ will undoubtedly feature more. I wish it were not so but we need to remind ourselves what this group was capable of so as to do everything in our collective power to prevent it from occurring again.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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