In 2004, current Islamic State in Iraq and Syria leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a member of uber-thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (then also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq). He was picked up in a U.S. raid on a home in Fallujah and detained in U.S-run Camp Bucca in Iraq for five years. In the New York Times, Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt report:
The American operation that killed Mr. Zarqawi in 2006 was a huge blow to the organization’s leadership. But it was years later that Mr. Baghdadi got his chance to take the reins.
As the Americans were winding down their war in Iraq, they focused on trying to wipe out Al Qaeda in Iraq’s remaining leadership. In April 2010, a joint operation by Iraqi and American forces made the biggest strike against the group in years, killing its top two figures near Tikrit.
A month later, the group issued a statement announcing new leadership, and Mr. Baghdadi was at the top of the list.
In searching for motivation for the vision and methods of ISIS, we need look no further than Zarqawi, who Baghdadi seems to have sought to surpass by creating a caliphate via, in part, serial beheading. Also, detention at the hands of the United States no doubt both embittered and further inspired him. Arango and Schmitt write:
He is Iraqi to the core, and his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.
… a senior Pentagon official said of Mr. Baghdadi, with grudging admiration: “He’s done a good job of rallying and organizing a beaten-down organization. But he may now be overreaching.”
It’s just starting to look that way now that it has incurred the United States, which has initiated a length program of airstrikes, intended to support Iraqi forces, as well as the Kurdish peshmerga, which has already begun to reclaim lost territory.