Since the Islamic State’s (IS) startling charge across northern and central Iraq in the middle of 2014 the group has faced a steady loss of manpower. That has come from fighting against pro-government forces and increasingly from Coalition air strikes. Not only has it lost many rank and file fighters, but also some of its top commanders and officials. This steady loss is depriving the organization of its leadership, and could be isolating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Every week brings new news of a top IS member being killed in Iraq. Those include several field commanders and senior IS members. On January 22 for example, the police director in Anbar’s Haditha said that a Coalition air strike had killed IS’s Wali or governor for Anbar, Abu Anas Samarraie. He was responsible for the mass executions of hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe that started in October. Two days later the Kurdistan Security Council named twenty-three IS leaders that had recently been killed in fighting with the peshmerga in Ninewa. More importantly there are increasing reports of senior officials within IS being eliminated. Those include Abu Muslim al-Turkmani. He was a member of the Shura Council the highest body within the Islamic State, the head of the provincial council with responsibilities for running operations in Iraq, and was said to be one of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s top two deputies. He was from Tal Afar in Ninewa, and a former Special Forces and intelligence officer under the Baathist regime with connections with Saddam Hussein and Izzat al-Duri. Another was Abu Ali al-Anbari who was from the Mosul area. He was Baghdadi’s other top deputy along with Turkmani. He was in charge of Syria, and a member of IS’s security council. Abu Muhanad al-Suedawi and Abu Ahmed Alwani who were believed to be heads of the Military Council, and Turki al-Benali a member of the Sharia Council have also been killed. The latter enforces and administers religious law, and runs the police and courts. Baghdadi has reportedly increasingly delineated power to his field commanders to govern the territory that it has conquered. This has not only occurred because IS needs to administer large tracks of land, but also because Baghdadi’s ability to communicate with his minions has become limited due to his need to constantly be on the move to avoid detection. The elimination of these cadre then deprives IS of not only its ability to carry out military operations but govern, which is an essential element of Baghdadi’s wish to create a state.
The Islamic State’s manpower is being degraded every day. Many of the common fighters can always be replaced, but the loss of its top leadership takes a far heavier toll upon the organization. The death of Baghdadi’s two top lieutenants for example, deprives the organization of not only valued aides, but years of experience as well. It further isolates Baghdadi, and makes his job of running IS and all the land that it now controls that much harder. It is also a necessary step in the eventual elimination of the group.
Abbas, Mushreq, “Decentralization of powers weakens IS,” Al Monitor, 1/20/15
Barrett, Richard, “The Islamic State,” Soufan Group, November 2014
Bas News, “Kurdistan Security Council Names Dead IS Leaders,” 1/24/15
Rudaw, “Iraqi army shelling of Fallujah kills 10 civilians,” 1/22/15