Good riddance Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Rarely am I pleased by the demise of anybody. However, the news that the leader of the self-styled Islamic State blew himself up at the weekend is frankly good news. The only sad note to his end is that he chose to kill three children with him.
In recent years, al-Baghdadi had a profound and malign influence on the lives of people across the Middle East and further afield and unfortunately his ideology and terror group remains. Better known as Daesh rather than Islamic (which it was not) and State (which it wanted to be), Isis held large parts of Syria and Iraq and advanced close to Baghdad. At one stage it controlled territory with eight million inhabitants.
Unimaginable violence was meted out by his terror group on innocent people, especially the likes of the minority Yazidi community, and gruesome videos of beheadings and mass executions were posted on social media. They even sought to destroy regional sites of irreplaceable cultural antiquity. They were and remain a death cult.
Daesh drew thousands of followers from near and far, including the UK, to fight for the establishment of a hardline Islamic religious state or caliphate, and it’s important to never forget that the largest number of its victims were Muslim.
In recent years, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been at the sharp end of ground conflict with Isis fighters, with outside air and special forces’ support from countries like the United States. This weekend it was American special forces that launched a daring airborne raid on al-Baghdadi’s compound, which cornered him leading to him choosing suicide over capture.
Trump gives away secrets
President Trump gave a lot of details away about the operation, seeking to bask in the glory of the US operation.
Only a few years ago he heavily criticised President Obama after the military raid that killed Osama bin Laden, stressing the role of the military and intelligence officers over the decision-making of his Democratic predecessor.
No such qualms this time for “the Donald” as he briefed the global media to the consternation of military commentators and boastfully advertised precious and compromising details about the modus operandi of US special forces.
This matters because Isis might be down, but it is not defeated. Up to 18,000 of its fighters are estimated to remain on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Thousands of others are in Kurdish captivity. Daesh and its international affiliates operate across northern Africa, Afghanistan, the Philippines and have supporters in Europe and elsewhere. They have not gone away.
Just as the Mujahideen followers of Osama bin Laden morphed into al-Qaida, the followers of al-Baghdadi and Daesh will develop into the next format of insurgency against often corrupt and authoritarian governments in the Middle East. With limited change delivered through moderate political means in the region, the violent and radical vision of Daesh will sadly continue to attract followers internationally.
The greatest relief brought by the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will be felt by those who had to live under the oppressive yoke of his fundamentalist ideology and all victims of Daesh. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that we have seen the end of Isis, its ability to radicalise a new followers and the inevitable emergence of a next generation of leaders.