ISIL leader was influential last year and at a terrible cost

What Arabic-language writers are saying about Al Baghdadi

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ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi should be named the man of 2014, according to Oraib Al Rantawi in an opinion article in the Jordanian newspaper Addustoor. Rantawi’s reasons include the huge influence Al Baghdadi has wielded in the regional and global arenas, leading to an unprecedented restructuring of priorities and alliances resulting in many thousands of people being killed, wounded and displaced.

Al Baghdadi stirred up debate and controversy like no one else in the year just past, the writer said.

Iraqi-born Al Baghdadi prides himself on having broken the “Sykes-Picot border” 100 years after it was drawn up by British and French colonial powers. He has claimed the establishment of a “state” stretching over one-third of Syria and one-third of Iraq, proclaimed himself caliph and has fought against four armies in three countries – Lebanon, Syria and Iraq – along dozens of open fronts.

Al Baghdadi’s presence triggered the formation of a 40-nation coalition that, since July, has been launching air strikes on ISIL targets using the most advanced air power and missiles, yet the group’s advance has not been stopped. ISIL has manoeuvred its way through retreats and attacks, sprung military surprises and kept gaining more ground.

Al Baghdadi’s sphere of influence is not restricted to areas where ISIL’s forces have seized control. The bay’ah, or oath of allegiance, to Al Baghdadi has gained ISIL further territory without him having to fire a single bullet. His group has a foothold in Egypt’s Sinai region, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a presence in some parts of Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, the writer said.

ISIL’s rise has prompted unusual alliances and stances, with Iranian and American forces fighting on the same side. Al Baghdadi has forced the US to reprioritise its goals, and it is now baying for his blood rather than for that of Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad – to the chagrin of its allies in Turkey and the Gulf.

ISIL’s ascent has also awakened both Russia and China from their long slumbers in respect to the Middle East, because they fear the jihadists might turn their attention towards their countries.

The writer remarked that nobody had succeeded in exhausting the so-called “axis of resistance” as Al Baghdadi had done. Iran has suffered many casualties and a loss of resources, the Syrian regime has lost huge numbers of men and facilities, and Hizbollah has found the ISIL fighters to be as ferocious as their own.

No person, the writer went on, has frightened some Arab regimes as much as Al Baghdadi. ISIL has became a source of concern for Arab nations, leading to the passage of antiterrorism laws in many jurisdictions. Nobody before Al Baghdadi has been associated with such cruel mass murders, beheadings and torture of captives.

Because of all this, the writer said, Al Baghdadi deserved to be named the man of 2014. But, he added, “let’s pray to the Almighty that we won’t have to write a similar piece at the end of this year”.

In the same vein, columnist Ilyas Harfoush wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat that however one might try to turn a blind eye, there is no denying that 2014 was the year of Al Baghdadi and ISIL.

Calling ISIL’s rise a tragedy, he noted that the groupexercised power from Aleppo in Syria to Fallujah in Iraq, and had direct control over millions of people.

While it was true that ISIL had failed to take Baghdad despite Mosul’s swift fall in June, and its advance had slowed around Kobani, the organisation was still powerful and should not be underestimated.

In the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, Subhi Hadidi also noted that the ascendance of ISIL was the top political event of 2014, and it was safe to say that the extremist organisation would remain as bloody and powerful in 2015.

In fact, ISIL would probably get bloodier and more brutal considering the overall geopolitical context, the writer said.

He said that the ISIL snowball would continue to roll in 2015, buoyed by its oil revenues and seized weaponry, its ability to fight on many distant fronts, and its ability to cash-in on feelings of despair that have gripped many Syrians, Iraqis and some other Arabs who had become disenchanted with their own political leaders and the continuing US duplicity over Israel and Palestine.

Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni