Black Flags

Title:                      Black Flags

Author:                Joby Warrick

Warrick, Joby (2015). Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS. New York: Doubleday

LCCN:    2015020949

HV6433.I722 I8593 2015

Summary

  • “In a thrilling dramatic narrative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents. When the government of Jordan granted amnesty to a group of political prisoners in 1999, it little realized that among them was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist mastermind and soon the architect of an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. In Black Flags, an unprecedented character-driven account of the rise of ISIS, Joby Warrick shows how the zeal of this one man and the strategic mistakes of Presidents Bush and Obama led to the banner of ISIS being raised over huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. Zarqawi began by directing terror attacks from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By falsely identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, U.S. officials inadvertently spurred like-minded radicals to rally to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings persisted until American and Jordanian intelligence discovered clues that led to a lethal airstrike on Zarqawi’s hideout in 2006. His movement, however, endured. First calling themselves al-Qaeda in Iraq, then Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, his followers sought refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, and as the U.S. largely stood by, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi’s dream of an ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. Drawing on unique high-level access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Warrick weaves gripping, moment-by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state, many of whom foresaw a menace worse than al Qaeda and tried desperately to stop it. Black Flags is a brilliant and definitive history that reveals the long arc of today’s most dangerous extremist threat”– Provided by publisher.
  • “When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, the CIA inadvertently created a monster. Like-minded radicals saw him as a hero resisting the infidel occupiers and rallied to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings continued for years until Jordanian intelligence provided the Americans with the crucial intelligence needed to eliminate Zarqawi in a 2006 airstrike. But his movement endured, first called al-Qaeda in Iraq, then renamed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seeking refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. And as the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi’s dream of a sweeping, ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. Drawing on unique access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Joby Warrick weaves together heart-pounding, moment-by-moment operational details with overarching historical perspectives to reveal the long trajectory of today’s most dangerous Islamic extremist threat”– Provided by publisher.

Subjects

Date Posted:      February 1, 2017

Reviewed in The Intellligencer[1]

Warrick examines the origins of ISIS back to the recruitment of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by al-Qaeda in 1999, following Zarqawi’s rise from a sullen Jordanian thug who discovered Muslim fundamentalism while incarcerated in the 1990s and turned it into a framework for savagery against other Muslims, as he joined the Afghan mujahideen, and then became strategist and leader. A stew of confusing names—heads of state, CIA operatives, tribal leaders, clerics, American officials, Jordanian royalty and security operatives, religious figures, terrorists, and diplomats—make for complexity in following the cast of characters but Warrick provides an organized, compelling account that makes sense of it, though conclusions and who deserves blame might differ.

Soon, “Islamist media were awash in Zarqawi-inspired gore,” increasing his support until he overstepped with a hotel bombing in Jordan. His successor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, transformed the group into ISIS and it enjoyed rapid military success across Iraq and Syria, emphasizing terrorist atrocities.

To Warrick, the US is responsible for ISIS’s creation as a consequence of the botched invasion of Iraq. He offers no policy solutions. This work draws on CIA and Jordanian sources, and provides moment‑by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state, many of whom foresaw a menace worse than al-Qaeda and tried desperately to stop it.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 136-137).

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