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Slaying Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

  • 28 October 2019


It was ghoulish and disturbing, but the Reality Television President had gotten his man, the infamous figure of Islamic State's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 'Last night,' explained US President Donald Trump, 'the United States brought the world's number one terrorist to justice.'

Trump was also keen to impress his audience in the White House's Diplomatic Reception Room that he had gotten 'to watch much of it'. Here, al-Baghdadi seemed to reprise a previous villainous role: that played by Osama bin Laden, the recognisable face of Al-Qaeda. It was also similar in another respect: slaying the symbolic head might provide some form of catharsis, but it would hardly redress the logistic realities on the ground.

A raid by US special forces in the village of Barisha in northwest Syria eventually cornered the Islamic State leader. Al-Baghdadi is said to have taken his own life, along with those of three children, detonating an explosive vest in a tunnel. The Iraqi government took some credit. 'Following extensive work by a dedicated team for over a year, Iraq's National Intelligence Service was able to accurately pinpoint the hideout of the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the Syrian province of Idlib.'

The swathe of reaction in the US has ranged from unbridled delight to the usual cautions associated with waging interminable conflict. Contender for the Democratic presidential nomination Joe Biden hoped to sound vigilant; it is an election year, so keeping the spirits up in conflict is the thing to do. 'We cannot afford to get distracted or take our eye off the target. ISIS (Islamic State) remains a threat to the American people and our allies, and we must keep up the pressure to prevent ISIS from ever regrouping or again threatening the United States.'

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham came across as bloodthirstily triumphant. 'What the president said today was very reassuring to me — that when it comes to ISIS and other terrorist groups, we're coming after you, wherever you go, as long as it takes to protect our country and our way of life.' But the senator had good competition from colleague Mitt Romney, who suggested that al-Baghdadi, having 'spread "fire and brimstone" on earth', felt it now in hell. 'To all those who arranged his change of venue — the intel officers, the President, the warriors — thank you.'

Ties of blood, memory and causation run deep in the Middle East. Islamic State, and the workings of