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Who is the new terrorist leader plundering Iraq, unleashed by the U.S. in 2009?

The new terrorist plundering Iraq
The new terrorist plundering Iraq

In October, 2011, President Obama announced that all American troops would be out of Iraq by the end of that year, a move that Prime Minister Maliki agreed was good for all. Announcing a withdrawal of the good guys doesn't always turn out well.

Here come the bad guys.

The brutal cold-blooded leader of the current Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, was released from an Iraqi prison by President Obama just two years before. Al Baghdadi was among the prisoners released in 2009 from the U.S.'s now-closed Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq. Since then, he’s had time to form a plan of attack and build an army of savage military men.

The soldiers of Isis are now bearing down hard, moving towards Baghdad, burning down everything that stands in their way and executing civilians, soldiers and police officers by shooting them or beheading them. Who is this leader?

Baghdadi is said to keep a low profile even among his own armed supporters, who amount to an estimated 7,000 fighters. He is not one for video-taped pronouncements; some reports claim – perhaps fancifully – that he wears a mask when addressing his commanders, earning him the nickname "the invisible sheikh".

What is known about Baghdadi – whose aliases, according to US intelligence, include Abu Dua and Dr Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai – comes largely from jihadi websites describing his career and accomplishments or his own statements.

Born in 1971 into a religious family, Baghdadi earned a doctorate in education from the University of Baghdad.

There are competing versions of how he came to jihad. One suggests he was a militant jihadist during the time of Saddam Hussein. Others have pointed to the four years he was held at Camp Bucca as the root of his radicalization.

Another variation describes how, after the US invasion in 2003, he was quickly drawn into the emerging al-Qaida in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, getting involved first in smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq, then later as the "emir" of Rawa, a town near the Syrian border.

There, presiding over his own sharia court, he gained a reputation for brutality, publicly executing those suspected of aiding the US-led coalition forces – the same brutality that has become familiar to those living in Syria under his group's control.

Baghdadi preached and taught at various mosques and apparently led several smaller militant groups before being promoted to a seat on the Majlis al-Shura (consultation council) of the mujahedeen and judicial councils of the Islamic State in Iraq, who promoted Baghdadi to succeed the previous two leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. During his rise to power in the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq in 2010 – and later of Isis – he murdered prominent Sunnis as well as Shia civilians in bombings.

One measure of the success of that tactic is how Isis, under Baghdadi, has become the go-to group for thousands of would-be foreign jihadi fighters who have flocked to his banner. Then, late last year a unilateral announcement was made that he was creating a new group that would be merged with a rival al-Qaida affiliate active in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. It was a pronouncement disputed both by Jabhat, and Al-Qaida Central's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who ruled against Baghdadi. We’ll see how that plays out.

In the mean time, his men are moving through Iraq, continuing to carry out summary executions on civilians, soldiers and police officers while taking control of large areas of that country.

President Obama released a monster. How is he going to be stopped and are there more like him that were released?

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