The US has a responsibility to help Syrian refugees because it helped create the conditions for the growth of ISIS. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004. AQI is a Sunni group that opposes Shiites. Saddam Hussein was also Sunni. Shiites took over the government in Iraq when the US toppled Saddam Hussein.
Shiites ruled with an iron fist. Sunnis soon felt they were being targeted by their Shiites leaders, so they fought against the Iraqi government and US forces.
Zarqawi was known as “the green man ” before he became the leader of AQI. He earned this name because of the large number of tattoos he had on his body. He was incarcerated on weapons charges. Zarqawi became radicalized in prison. He memorized the entire Quran while he was in prison. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this time in prison is what he did to his tattoos. He got a razor blade and peeled off the skin that contained tattoos!
Zarqawi was a low-level radical when he was released from prison. Osama bin Laden was not interested in Zarqawi when he tried to meet him. Little did Zarqawi know, the US would eventually raise his profile for him. Here is how PBS’s Frontline put it:
Prior to the Iraq invasion, the CIA was given the job of investigating whether Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had conspired to stage the 9/11 attacks. Officials in the Bush administration believed Zarqawi may have been the link between the two, but as Faddis told FRONTLINE, “We never found any indication that Zarqawi was in Baghdad working for Saddam or linked up with Saddam.”
Despite that assessment, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a February 2003 speech to the United Nations outlining the administration’s rationale for war, used Zarqawi to make the connection between bin Laden and Iraq.
“Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates,” Powell said in the address.
In all, Zarqawi’s name was mentioned 21 times in the speech.
Bin Laden and the rest of the world had to pay attention to Zarqawi as a result of Secretary Powell’s speech before the UN. Our misstep was the lift-in-profile Zarqawi wanted. We gave Zarqawi’s AQI a high profile and credibility as a terrorist organization.
Zarqawi was killed in 2006 and was replaced by Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri and created the Islamic State in Iraq, the ISI. The US surge of 2008 greatly diminished ISI. In 2010 Masri was eventually killed during a 2010 US-Iraqi operation. The next leader in line, and the current leader, is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Al-Baghdadi represents a new phase in ISI in my view. Al-Baghdadi become one of the most consequential leaders of ISIS.
Al-Baghdadi was taken into custody on February 4, 2004 and placed in a prison at Camp Bucca, an American prison. This camp housed some the most radical Muslims. Camp Bucca served as an incubator for budding radicals. Nine members of ISI’s top command were imprisoned at Camp Bucca. Al-Baghdadi’s deputy, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Haji Bakr, a former senior military leader and Abu Qasim were all housed at Camp Bucca. Here is how Andrew Thompson and academic Jeremi Suri put it:
Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following. … The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.”
Al-Baghdadi was placed at Camp Bucca and was deepened and hardened in his resolve to murder. Conditions in the prison were harsh and conducive for making strict adherents to radical Islam. Prisoners would refrain from watching TV or playing Ping-Pong in conformity to strict Shariah. Some prisoners were beaten if they failed to conform to the brand of Islam espoused by the more radical prisoners.
Camp Bucca was not the only American prison that housed al-Baghdadi. There is some evidence to suggest that al-Baghdadi was held at Abu Ghraib. One piece of evidence can be found in his prisoner serial number. Al-Baghdadi was given the serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The ‘157’ in the serial number indicates that he may have been housed at Abu Ghraib.
We contributed to Syria’s demise by raising the profile of Zarqawi and by hardening al-Baghadadi. More importantly, al-Baghadadi was able to groom new recruits at Camp Bucca. Here is how William McCants, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and director of its Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, describes the situation:
“New recruits were prepared so that when they were freed they were ticking time bombs,” remembers another fellow inmate, who was interviewed by a reporter with Al Monitor. When a new prisoner came in, his peers would “teach him, indoctrinate him, and give him direction so he leaves a burning flame.” Baghdadi would turn out to be the most explosive of those flames, a man responsible for much of the conflagration that would engulf the region less than a decade later.
One Camp Bucca prisoner stated it clearly, “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no [Islamic State] now.”
We should help refugees fleeing Syria because we are partially to blame for creation of ISIS.
We cannot leave things the way Trump has ordered them in his executive order. The order says:
(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
(d) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.
What detrimental effects have Syrian refugees wrought?