When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had a narrow brush with death a week ago, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was due for one. The best way of breathing life into a fictional character is to threaten it with death. The timing was right too. What better way for a President to sell an unpopular decision—the announcement of 1500 more US troops bound for Iraq—than by reminding Americans of the price of not doing so. The President spoke Friday evening, November 7, always a good time to say something you don’t want scrutinized too much. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nearly died from an American air strike only hours later. Or did he? No one really knew. Could be he was just injured. But that really didn’t matter. They almost got him and with this new ‘surge’ in troops they surely will. Al-Baghdadi’s role is to be always just one step ahead.
You will find no firm evidence of any attack or any casualties or even the presence of the Islamic State ‘leadership’ on that day. All you will find is a ‘confirmation’ by Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at US Central Command, that US aircraft struck a ten-vehicle Islamic State (IS) convoy and some claims from anonymous sources. This is enough for credulous journalists to cobble into a passable story. There once was a time when some wise newsman could be relied upon to say ‘this can’t be right, surely?’ But those days are gone. The establishment newspapers and television stations are fed information directly from the military and no one thinks to sniff, let alone bite, the hand that feeds them.
A ten-vehicle convoy was hit by a missile or missiles, so where are the damaged vehicles? A Mosul ‘morgue official’ said 50 bodies of IS fighters were brought to the facility after the air strike, so where is the proof of this? From where did we learn that this ‘al-Baghdadi’ somehow survived while at least 50 people around him perished? From a Twitter account, no less, ‘attributed to the ISIL’s spokesperson Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’ who wished the ‘critically injured’ al-Bagdhadi a ‘speedy recovery’. At least this air strike killed someone with a name, Abdur Rahman al-Athaee, also known as Abu Sajar. We know this because a ‘senior Iraqi official’ ‘confirmed’ it to the Guardian.
You will find no firm evidence because the incident never happened. It was one more episode in the Islamic State Deception Story:
a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal.’ (US Field Manual 4-18) Although ultimately false, ‘the deception story must be believable, verifiable, and consistent (4-21).
Such stories don’t have to be true for us to believe them; they only have to be plausible, believe-able, in much the same way as movie narratives. So we suspend our disbelief. No one thinks it odd that a guerrilla army has a Western-style ‘leadership’ and command and control. That such apparently brilliant commanders, capable of cutting a swath through Iraq and Syria, lack the basic common sense not to travel in a ten-vehicle convoy at night along a deserted road under a sky full of US surveillance we scarcely notice. Real guerrillas don’t behave like this. Fictional ones do. Truly, as Baudrillard argued, we are in an age of simulation.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi isn’t even the first fictional al-Baghdadi. There was another circa 2007, Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi.
For more than a year, the leader of one the most notorious insurgent groups in Iraq was said to be a mysterious Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi.
As the titular head of the Islamic State in Iraq, an organization publicly backed by Al Qaeda, Baghdadi issued a steady stream of incendiary pronouncements. Despite claims by Iraqi officials that he had been killed in May, Baghdadi appeared to have persevered unscathed.
On Wednesday, a senior American military spokesman provided a new explanation for Baghdadi’s ability to escape attack: He never existed.
Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the chief American military spokesman, said the elusive Baghdadi was actually a fictional character whose audio-taped declarations were provided by an elderly actor named Abu Adullah al-Naima.
(Michael R. Gordon, Leader of Al Qaeda group in Iraq was fictional, U.S. military says’ New York Times, July 18, 2007. My emphasis.)
At least with the current al-Baghdadi we know his features from a video of him giving a 20-minute sermon said to be in Mosul’s Great Mosque, in which he called on the world’s Muslims to ‘obey’ him as ‘the leader who presides over you’. The video was posted to the internet the weekend of July 5-6, 2014. This video of al-Baghdadi is his only public appearance. This is the only live image we have of him. No wonder he’s usually referred to as ‘reclusive’ and ‘mysterious’.
There he is, all posed piety—and with a fondness for expensive wristwatches (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ridiculed for flashy wristwatch, Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2014). We ‘know’ that is him because it was acclaimed as such by those who believe it is and if so many people believe it’s him it must be because it’s true. That’s about it for proof. Personally, I’d want a little more than this before I opened the gates of hell.
The Iraq government insisted that this was not al-Baghdadi because the real one had been killed or badly injured by one of their attacks the month before. Again. Iraqi clerics argued that his speech was full of mistakes regarding Sharia and history that no serious cleric would make. The White House said that Intelligence was still studying the video. Since the video had not been authenticated the White House couldn’t comment on it. Perhaps they’re still studying it because no one has vouched for its authenticity.
So is this Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the real deal? Or is he, as I argue, a character in a Military Deception Operation? This, dear reader, is for you to decide. Ultimately it’s a matter of assessing the emotional authenticity of the cast of characters we’ve examined in this study of Islamic State.
I do know that if I were running this Deception Operation, I would want to steer enquiring minds in some other direction. I would want to ridicule the very idea of suggesting that it is a deception. Step forward Mr. Simon Elliot, aka Mr. Elliot Shimon, aka al-Baghdadi, born of Jewish parents, Mossad agent. This explanation has, as they say, gone ‘viral’ of late. It’s all a Jewish plot! Well, it may yet prove to be a Zionist plot, but not for those reasons. Alan Kurtz takes apart this explanation in The Snowden Hoax. My guess is that this al-Baghdadi, like so many IS leaders, is a former prisoner of the Americans at Camp Bucca, near Omm Qasr in southeastern Iraq, who was ‘turned’. They sold themselves for freedom and money and this is why they look and act like men who have no honour.
Rest assured, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will have more near-death experiences, at politically opportune times, before he is finally ‘retired’.