Did Al Baghdadi’s elimination stand behind US retreat?

According to uncorroborated statements by Iraqi protest leader Dr. Nakeeb Saadoon, “The US gave up on the Kurds because Turkey gave Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi to the US.”

Rachel Avraham

OpEds Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

In recent days, many people are disturbed by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, pondering what the logic was behind it.  Their feeling is that a hasty US withdrawal from Syria strengthens Iran and Assad and that all the gains made by the US against ISIS are now in jeopardy. Given how much the Kurds contributed to the US-led war against terrorism, they maintain, they do not deserve to fall victim to Erdogan’s genocidal ambitions or to live under the Iranian axis. The Kurds are US allies and some even see the Syrian Kurds as friends of the State of Israel despite their mistreatment of Jews under their control and overt antisemitism..

However, following the successful American military operation to eliminate Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the ISIS terror leader responsible for the genocide and mass rape of the Yezidis, Christians and numerous other minorities in Iraq and Syria, his successor and spokesperson, another supposition surfaced in addition to the reasons the president gave - the fact that the war between the Turks and the Kurds is unending, the army having outstayed its intented time inthe area and the desire to prevent American deaths in this hopeless fight - for his decision to leave northern Syria.

Iraqi protest leader Dr. Nakeeb Saadoon, who heads the National Rally Call of Iraq, stated in an exclusive interview: “The US gave up on the Kurds because Turkey gave Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi to the US. Turkey told the US that they know where Al Baghdadi is and they gave this information to the US,” on the condition that Trump stop aiding the Kurds. He speculated whether the Turks knew where Al Baghdadi was all these years and thinks that they only gave the location to the Americans once they reached an agreement:

“I think that Turkey played a very good role.  Turkey used the Al Baghdadi location and then, the US abandoned the Kurds.” Dr. Saadoon explained the consequences of this reality as follows: “On the one hand, Al Baghdadi got killed and thank you for this. He was a terrorist leader, who spread chaos, killed innocent people and threatened the world. At that the same time, that does not justifying handing over the Kurds to Turkey.”

The Washington Post claims that it was a well-placed informant within the Islamic State who facilitated Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s movements around Syria, and provided the information about his whereabouts. He was present at the raid and exfiltrated from the area with his family two days later. Other sources claimed one of his wives was the informant. 

According to a recent report in the New York Times, the Kurds, both in Iraq and Syria, contributed more intelligence for the Al Baghdadi raid than any other nation. When Trump made his public statement acknowledging those who helped the US with the Al Baghdadi raid, however, he mentioned Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq but not the Kurds. The Kurds fought alongside the US, losing over 11,000 Peshmerga in order to defeat the ISIS Caliphate, as much a danger to them as to others in the Middle East. 

All of this happened after Trump justified his move with an additional remark: “The Kurds did not help us with World War II.  They did not help us with Normandy.” (It should be noted that the Jews, also stateless, formed a brigade to help the Allies). When Trump faced a backlash for this move, he said that the US will remain in areas in Syria where the oil fields are located and that the Kurds can move there. He did not take into consideration that the oil fields are located hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish homeland in the middle of the desert in areas populated mainly by Arabs.  Thus, telling the Kurds to move there is like telling the Jewish people to move to Uganda. This is a major slap in the face to a nation that took part in the US-led war against terrorism.   

The Kurds are getting back at Trump in the media, and Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas said, “Most historians decry Chamberlain’s appeasement prior to World War II and Roosevelt’s inaction during the Shoah.  Trump resolutely shrouds neo-isolationist pacifism and rationalized procrastination with professed friendships with global despots. Similarly, Trump’s impulsiveness has sparked a conflict that quickly drove the Kurds to the Russians.  Humpty Dumpty’s worldview has been shattered by Trump’s transaction foreign policy framework. Trump’s foreign policy construct undermines America’s ability to affect global efforts to help freedom loving peoples. Invoking the ‘fool me twice’ metaphor, Trump must be adjudged as being worse than Obama.”

The question remains, how will these developments affect the State of Israel?  According to a recent report in Israel Hayom, ISIS ideology is still thriving across the world despite Al Baghdadi’s elimination.  ISIS terrorists can still strike terror anywhere in the world, even though Al Baghdadi is gone. Furthermore, with Trump withdrawing from Syria, ISIS is now more emboldened, although in disarray, as Iran and Assad in alliance with Turkey run to fill the power vacuum left by the Americans.  This is a situation that threatens Israel’s national security. As Abbas noted, “Jerusalem now must worry that Trump has granted Iran unimpeded access to Israel’s borders.”

Other US allies in the Middle East region should also be concerned.  Just as the US did not respond to Iran attacking the Saudi oil fields, except for ramping up number of troops arrayed facing Iran, the Americans have so far not overtly intervened in order to assist Iraqi protesters seeking to boot Iran out of Iraq, although they may be behind the scenes. US uninvolvement is a tragedy for everyone who cares about regional security. Iranian political theorist Dr. Reza Parchizadeh noted, “The Shia politicians are mostly under Tehran’s thumb.  The Revolutionary Guards have also created Hezbollah-style powerful proxy forces in Iraq such as Hashd al Sha’bi and Asa’ib Ahl al Haq that take their orders directly from Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC Quds Force.  Now, what the Iraqi protesters want is their country’s independence and prosperity. They don’t want their country to be a pawn in Tehran’s regional war on Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US. That is why they have revolted against their government as well as against the Iranian regimes militias in Iraq.  The new revolution in the Middle East has just begun.”

Sirwan, an Iranian journalist whose last name is being withheld for security reasons, concurs: “I think most of the Iraqi people are tired of the Iranian regime meddling in their affairs.   As most of the Iraqi people are Shia, they were happy at first to find an ally after years of living under the yoke of Saddam Hussein. But the more time passed, the more that they realized that Iran is the main enemy.  The Iranian regime is an enemy of the Kurds because of their nationality, an enemy of the Sunnis because of their religion and now even an enemy of the Shia people because most of their problems are because of the Iranian regime.  The US should try to return Iraq to its people by defending the independent secular parties and groups in Iraq. I think that Israel can have an effective role in this by defending the Kurds, training their troops and buying them arms and weapons to defend themselves against Iran.  The Kurds have proven that they are seeking freedom and democracy in the region and are a reliable ally.” 

Nevertheless, as the world is preoccupied with the aftermath of Al Baghdadi’s elimination, Dr. Saadoon noted: “The Iraqi demonstrations keep growing.  The government is losing their loyalty to the Iraqi people. It is not a democratic government. It is controlled by Iran. Women and children are also demonstrating.  The Iranians don’t differentiate between men, women and children. They shoot at everyone. They call us Israeli followers and claim everything is controlled by Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Basically, it is how dictators govern. They always blame everyone else, just like Saddam Hussein. Right now, Israel is being blamed for it and you have nothing to do with it. However, no one is helping us.   The Iraqi people don’t believe in this government anymore. No matter what they say and do, we don’t trust this government. We are planning a new government. We would like to build a relationship with the outside world.  We want our land back.”  

It would behoove the international community and especially the Trump administration to support the Iraqi protesters at this time.   In the wake of America’s withdrawal from Syria, it is the only way to effectively assure that the Shia Crescent is not further solidified in the wake of the Kurds losing a significant amount of territory in order to appease Sultan Erdogan and keep their distance from Turkey.  As Dr. Saadoon concluded, “Hezbollah is against the demonstrations because most of their weapons and funding come from Iraq. They will lose 70 percent of their power if the protests succeed. Syria is going to be weak as well. Hezbollah is going to be weaker.  I believe it is in the interest of Israel and the US to support the Iraqi people. Otherwise, they will lose everything.”   

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights and is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”