“Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick

AUTHOR: Joby Warrick

AUTHOR: Joby Warrick

Issues around Islamophobia is a big topic to keep our eyes on. Not only for the development of government have policies, but also for the fear that policies like this creates at grassroots level. Islamophobia affects ordinary people to the point where many innocent civilians fear for their lives by being ‘othered’, and not be able to practice their religion in peace in a society that is open to religious freedom. How did Islamophobia mushroom to such a level where people are afraid of walking on their streets with clothing that identifies them as Muslims? These, and similar questions alike, are ones we should be aware of and be capable of dealing with effectively and with confidence.  

When dealing with matters of international relations, we must be mindful of the differences between the practices of a silent majority living in peace versus an active minority who practice radicalised Islam with a more political agenda. To help bring these issues to life, we recommend the book “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” by Joby Warrick to support Chapter 2 - Fit for a Global Profession for the Diplomatic Planner.

Warrick is a long-time national security reporter covering topics like terrorism, weapons proliferation, and rogues states, and is very qualified to speak about the rise of the Islamic State. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2016, “Black Flags” tells of the origin of the infamous terrorist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, with a detailed look on its origin following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and how it ended up being one of the most frightening terrorist group in the world.

It may seem like a new phenomenon but Warrick walks you through the founding of ISIS that can be traced back as far as 1999, when a prisoner by the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was released from a Jordanian prison. The story of ISIS starts with him. The story goes that Zarqawi joined the so-called “holy war” in Afghanistan against the pro-Moscow government put together by the Soviet Union. He was arrested in 1994 with 12 other men who were planning to attack an Israeli outpost. Unfortunately, prison only strengthened his resolve and hardened his hatred for those they saw as enemies of God. In their eyes, the enemies were Israel and the United States.

Zarqawi was released from prison with 16 Muslim Brotherhood members and became a father figure to them and started to collect loyal followers who would obey his every word. Following his reason, Zarqawi formed a series of training camp in Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda would put him in charge. Osama bin Laden welcomed him as a newcomer to extend the reach of Al-Qaeda and covered his expenses when training Islamist volunteers. Zarqawi was hard at work, uniting with the Iraqi terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, and managed to build a miniature Islamic theocracy. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi’s men were in need of a safe haven and headed for the northeastern mountains of Iraq and continued training. As Iraq descended into chaos, Zarqawi capitalised on the opportunity by steering a series of bombings that led to the deaths of some very high-level diplomatic officials. The country was on a fast track to anarchy and lawlessness, an environment in which Zarqawi thrived. He found the freedom to do his work and collected a litany of powerful supporters including war-embittered Iraqis and even formers captains and sergeants from Saddam Hussein’s army. Having built a terror network in under a year, he was capable of executing large-scale attacks one after another.

The first attacks was a car bomb in August 2003 that targeted the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. The attack killed 17 people. Twelve days later, a UN building in Baghdad got hit which cost 22 lives, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the UN Mission in Iraq. In 2004, he was responsible for horrifically murdering American radio technician, Nicholas Evan Berg, in response to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. This wasn’t an isolated incident, though. Zarqawi’s group carried out and recorded dozens of executions in addition to suicide bombings that killed Arabs and foreigners alike.

As you can imagine, Zarqawi’s barbarism crossed the line and cropped up on the radar of the senior Bush administration. He was also implicated by his men after the assassination of Laurence Foley, an American diplomat who was stationed in Amman, Jordan. According to the Jordanian government, men were paid to kill Ambassador Foley by Zarqawi and became a key target by the senior Bush administration. The increase in attacks in Jordan resolved the Jordanian government’s determination to fight the terrorists alongside the US. In addition to this, Zarqawi’s fondness for barbaric crimes against westerners and Muslims alike also meant that the list of enemies against him were growing in number. Ordinary Muslims were disgusted by his brutal approach and Iraqi citizens made daily reports to law enforcement about the activities of the terrorist network.

After mounting pressure against Zarqawi, the terrorist was finally located through one of Zarqawi’s high-ranking insider and followed the tracks of a religious advisor whom Zarqawi met with on a regular basis. In 2006, Zarqawi was killed in an air strike when American fighter jets bombed his safe house.

The author, Joby Warrick, also goes into detail how Syria fell into the hands of ISIS and the calamity that erupted in Syria. It was clear that many of Zarqawi’s followers continued on the fight after his death but started to lose power until a new successor was found. The story in the rise of ISIS is one that is rife with complexity, sensitivity and political endowment. By 2013, the best-armed and the best-trained fighters fought alongside ISIS with hundreds of radicalised Muslims joining the terror organisation from around the world. The new group resembled that of a nation state with departments for finance, social media, recruitment and so much more.

One of the key message to take away from Warrick’s work is to understand how terrorist organisations grow in number after decades of remaining undetected or working behind the scenes. The formation of terror groups such as this is owed much to a single man like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and therefore, we must not underestimate a single person.

“Black Flags” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Diplomatic Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register