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In December 2014 the Guardian published an interview with Abu Ahmed, a high-ranking Islamic State commander. It was the first time that a IS commander talked about “Camp Bucca”, a former prison of the US army in southern Iraq which was closed in 2009. One of the prisoners was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current ‘caliph’ of the IS. According to former US soldiers he was radicalized in Camp Bucca. In the interview with the Guardian Abu Ahmed describes al-Baghdadis role in the prison: he functioned as the mediator in conflicts and used the principle “conquer and unite” to gather people around him. Even the US leadership of the prison saw an important mediator in him and consulted al-Baghdadi when conflicts in the prison occurred.
In February 2004 al-Baghdadi was imprisoned. The US army caught him in the house of his friend Nasif Jasim Nasif in Fallujah. According to a documentary published by the German ARD it is still not clear why he was imprisoned. He was one of the founders of Jaysh Ahl al-Sunnah al-Jamaa (army of the men of the Sunnah), a group, which – like many others – shaded off into al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor of the IS. Yet the US never realized whom they had in their prison. Baghdadi was quite, had a PhD in Islamic theology and genealogical tree down to the Prophet Muhammad – facts that contributed to his rise in Camp Bucca. In December 2004 he was released since nobody figured that there might be coming harm from his side. Many doubt the genealogical tree down to the Prophet. ARD shows in its documentary that they couldn’t find any evidences for that.
Connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam’s former officers
Important personalities, many of them now high-ranking IS commanders, met in Camp Bucca. This is especially true for many former preachers and former Baath officers from Saddam Hussein. In the growing connection between the two sides we find evidence for the growing connections between AQI and tribal leaders (or Sheikhs) since AQI could use contacts of the Iraqi Baath party. Some of whom were imprisoned in Camp Bucca were Abu Ayman al-Iraqi (former general in the Baath army, today in the IS military council), Osama al-Bilawi (killed by the Iraqi army in summer 2014, before that also in the IS military council) und Haji Bakr (a former general of Saddam’s army, who – according to many sources – was the main connection between Saddam’s guys and AQI). Obviously many that were imprisoned in Camp Bucca became high-ranking members of the IS. Back then al-Baghdadi hand-picked his men. He was looking for those with military experience. Even when he was little he wanted others to listen to his words.
Even the US government admitted that its prisons had massive influence on the Iraqi resistance (yet AQI was only a little part of it). As for the Iraqi government, Camp Bucca is only called “The Academy”, because the Iraqi resistance was partly produced there. Abu Ahmed even claims that without Camp Bucca there would be no IS today since the networks and the ideology was formed there. Prisoners that were released smuggled orders and news inside and outside by using their boxers. “Boxers helped us win the war” as Abu Ahmed puts it. This way terror groups formed and organized themselves right under the nose of the US army. The Guardian states that Camp Bucca was the only place where the leaders didn’t need to fear attacks by the US army and thus had a quite place.
Camp Bucca – an al-Qaeda academy
Many former prisoners even accuse the US government to having tolerated an al-Qaeda school in Camp Bucca. Inmates were recruited, there were courses about Islam and even how to produce explosive traps or how to become a suicide bomber.
Now former Baathists help the Islamic State, because they are angry of what they lost. After 2003 Saddam Hussein’s men were sometimes not even allowed to pursue a career in a local school anymore. In a campaign called “De-Baathification” the Iraqi government and the US excluded them from the new state. Only from Saddam’s various intelligence services were over 100,000 prevented to go to work from 2003 onward. The New York Times quotes a former officer that wanted to find a job in the Iraqi army – when they rejected him he went to the IS and threatened the Iraqi government. This is only one story out of many. According to Michael Knights, a researcher for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, former Baathists even became religious after 2003. “What else did those guys have to do except getting more radical”, Knights ask rhetorical.