The Many Names of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

During this period, Baghdadi began to be noticed. The higher he climbed up the al-Qaeda organizational ladder, the higher he was ranked on Iraq’s most-wanted list. It was not until April 18, 2010, that he became a priority to be captured.

On that date, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri were both killed in a US-Iraqi joint operation. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had lost its leader and his deputy, and there was a dire need to choose a successor. Al-Monitor found that Haji Bakr backed Sheikh Ibrahim to be the next emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq. But bin Laden wanted a different man — Haji Iman — to be the successor. This made Haji Bakr’s task difficult; he had to convince the key players that the man he supported was the best choice. Eventually, he succeeded, and nine members of the Shura Council agreed to vote for Sheikh Ibrahim.

Former IS member Abu Omar said one of the main reasons for Baghdadi’s selection was that he was descended from the Quraysh, the same tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the conditions for being selected as caliph. “This was very important to those planning the future strategy of the group, those who wanted to fulfill Zarqawi’s dreams in subsequently announcing the caliphate,” Abu Omar said. “There was a great challenge to face after the Sharia Council abstained from accepting him. He [Baghdadi] wasn’t up to it, I heard many of his speeches, he lacked the charisma, he’s not to be compared with Zarqawi.”

Sheikh Ibrahim then chose the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as an alias — an odd choice for someone hailing from Samarra. “It’s like saying that Baghdad will always be their target,” Abu Omar said. “The final battle will be in Baghdad. Baghdadi wants to revive the glory of the Abbasid Caliphate, so this is also a message to the enemy that Baghdad is ours.”

Baghdadi’s main mandate was to revive the Islamic State of Iraq. He started by gathering members he thought were capable of helping him achieve his goal. Within a few months, the Arab Spring ignited and the revolution in Syria began. It was the best opportunity for the group to spread in a fertile environment.

Months later, developments further cleared the field for Baghdadi. Bin Laden was killed and the less charismatic Ayman al-Zawahri succeeded him. Taking advantage of the leadership vacuum, Baghdadi sent two of his aides to Syria to expand his state. These aides, Abu Mohammad al-Golani and Mullah Fawzi al-Dulaimi, formed Jabhat al-Nusra.

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