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'US should strike a hard blow against ISIS'

Last updated on: July 08, 2014 11:28 IST

'US should strike a hard blow against ISIS'

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‘Watch enough of these productions, and you’ll generally notice the terrorist participants -- the executioners and the others in the shot -- seem very much at ease with what they are about to do. They take to their jobs with gusto. Even the chants of ‘God is great’ that accompany each murder are happy, full-throated ones. And they sometimes go well beyond execution and into mutilation,' Aki Peritz, former CIA counter-terrorism analyst tells Vicky Nanjappa.

One of his many responsibilities during the Iraq war was to watch the beheading videos and track the Al Qaeda in Iraq’s media output for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Aki Peritz, co-author of the excellent book Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda, is also a former CIA counter-terrorism analyst. 
As Iraq is on the boil today, Peritz says the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria is merely following a decade-old playbook.

In this interview with Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Peritz says sadly, the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki decided to pursue a sectarian agenda, alienating the Sunnis and driving the current conflict. 

You have captured the evolution of counter-terrorism post 9/11. How effective has it been?

The United States has become a lot more sensitive to the threat of terrorism, and the government there has taken some radical steps over the past 13 years to restructure itself in order to fight this menace. Prior to 2001, we were still structured to fight large nation-states such as the Soviet Union, and 9/11 undid much of that

Generally I think it has been a pretty effective process -- while the US made some bad missteps at the very beginning, and then made a terrible, terrible blunder by invading Iraq, American counter-terrorism efforts have been good at hunting down terrorists that threaten this country. 

For our full coverage on Iraq, click here

Drone attacks have been one of the major weapons to fix, isolate and kill terrorists. There has been much outcry over this, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Your thoughts?

It's funny that Pakistan's public opinion has been against the use of drones, given that the US flew drones from the Shamsi Air Force Base in Balochistan for years. Every drone strike -- and they have have markedly decreased in number this year -- is carried out with the knowledge of the Pakistani military. If the military truly wanted to halt US drones over Pakistani skies, all they have to do is turn on their radars and send interceptors to shoot them down -- but they don't. US drones are for the most part loud, slow-moving vehicles -- easy for a government to locate and destroy.

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Image: Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province after they announced the formation of a new Islamist state.
Photographs: Reuters

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'ISIS revels in brutality'

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Do you think the Al Qaeda is a spent force today after Osama bin Laden’s death? Has the US managed to completely eradicate this outfit or does the threat linger on? 

No, the threat lingers because the organisation has been able to franchise itself effectively. The regional franchises now are more threatening than the Al Qaeda core. 

You have a first-hand account of what took place in Iraq. Why has the situation worsened so suddenly? 

Sadly, Iraq had a golden opportunity to develop a coherent, inclusive democracy after 2008, when the level of violence dropped dramatically. Sadly, the Iraqi government decided to pursue a sectarian agenda, alienating the Sunnis and driving the current conflict. 

The ISIS appears to have become a stronger force than the Al Qaeda. What according to you are its real strengths?

The ISIS now has the money, the men, and the moxie to do a lot of damage globally. They also theoretically control a number of oil refineries in Iraq and Syria. They are a force to be reckoned with.

How do you think the ISIS would run their caliphate? Is there even a remote chance of them being human in their approach? 


The ISIS revels in brutality. They contain the seeds of their own destruction.

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Image: An ISIS fighter on a street in Mosul, Iraq.
Photographs: Reuters

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'Its blood-thirstiness will prove to be ISIS's downfall'

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You tracked the Al Qaeda's media output for the CIA. After watching those gory videos, what did you conclude? Are these videos of brutal killings only to gain media attention or do they kill for a reason or cause? 

I’ve watched dozens of these gory videos, and they used to be crude, amateurish efforts. But the Al Qaeda’s media operatives were quick learners and soon upgraded their product to the slick, multimedia productions commonplace today. They clearly killed these people for the cameras. Terrorists enjoy murdering people. Despite the justifications for killing that often accompanied these videos, the murderers seemed to really have a good time putting people to the knife.

Watch enough of these productions, and you’ll generally notice the terrorist participants -- the executioners and the others in the shot -- seem very much at ease with what they are about to do. They take to their jobs with gusto. Even the chants of ‘God is great’ that accompany each murder are happy, full-throated ones. And they sometimes go well beyond execution and into mutilation.

To my knowledge, few of these killers expressed remorse for their actions when they were caught. Those true believers felt that what they were doing was completely acceptable -- even essential -- to advance their warped cause. And many are now free men again: After the ISIS staged a large breakout from Abu Ghraib prison in 2013, some 500 individuals at all levels of the terrorist organisation found themselves back on the streets. 

The ISIS’s delight in its gruesome exploits indicates the way its leaders would run their self-declared ‘caliphate’ across a broad swath of Iraq and Syria. But their bloodthirstiness may prove to be the group’s downfall; after all, no other Iraqi insurgent organisation or Sunni tribe subscribes to its fanatical agenda. It’s hard to imagine that any permanent political settlement there could tolerate such stunts for very long.

The Sunni tribes of Iraq will eventually turn on ISIS, as they have done in the past. But when that occurs, expect even more bloodletting -- and more gruesome videos.

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Image: ISIS fighters celebrate on vehicles taken from Iraqi security forces at a street in Mosul.
Photographs: Reuters

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'US should strike a hard blow against the ISIS'

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Is the ISIS resorting to publicity through media outlets considering they too have sent out videos? 

They are using a multi-layered strategy to gaining publicity -- both on the internet as well as in traditional media outlets. They reach different audiences. 

Will the thirst for blood bring down the ISIS? 

Probably. Most Sunnis won't tolerate a brutish organisation in their midst for long. But there will be much bloodshed before that happens, sadly. 

How does the situation in Iraq affect the rest of the world and what role should the US play? 

It affects us greatly. Iraq is in the heart of the Middle East, an oil superpower, and a country where the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. It cannot be ignored, and I think the US should strike a hard blow against the ISIS. 

 


Image: Militant Islamist fighters take part in a parade
Photographs: Reuters

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