It’s not the first time we’ve heard this, so treat this report from Iraq with a healthy dose of skepticism. In fact, it’s not quite clear what’s being reported. According to one Iraqi news source, an Iraqi air strike killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi earlier today, but further information supposedly sourced from Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abadi upgraded al-Baghdadi’s status to wounded. Gateway Pundit flagged the initial tweet:
— Rudaw English (@RudhoeEnglish) January 19, 2015
A few hours later, al-Baghdadi reportedly survived the attack, albeit worse for wear:
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State group, has been wounded by an Iraqi airstrike in the town of Al-Qa’im, nearly 250 miles northwest of Baghdad near the Syrian border, Al-Hayat, a regional news outlet, reported Tuesday, citing Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
Calling al-Baghdadi’s survival “a miracle,” al-Abadi said that the ISIS chief, who he said spends most of his time in Syria, had been moved to another location by ISIS after being injured in the airstrike. The Iraqi leader also said that while ISIS may no longer be a threat to Baghdad, the Iraqi army in its present form cannot confront the Sunni extremist group if the latter continues to recruit thousands of young people from the region, Al Arabiya reported, citing Al-Hayat.
Al-Arabiya has more from Abadi’s interview with al-Hayat, including his hopes for better relations with Saudi Arabia — a move that will no doubt create tensions with Iran:
Relations with the Kurdistan region “are good, and there’s coordination on the security, military and economic levels. There’s also a relation of mutual trust,” he said.
“However, I’m very frank with the brother Kurds. I’ve told them that if they continue to adopt that previous approach… of taking what they can from Iraqi lands until they achieve separation, then they must be clear. And if they’re willing to stay in Iraq, we’re willing to share bread.” …
Abadi added that he expects more Iraqi-Saudi contacts since a location for the Saudi embassy has been chosen in Baghdad.
He described his meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal as “very positive.”
Some of Baghdadi’s troops may be hoping that the rumors are true. Thomas Lifson picks up on a Fox News report about what happens to those who have to retreat, noting that the floggings really will continue until morale improves … and that’s if they’re lucky:
Some 56 members of ISIS learned their so-called “caliph” doesn’t tolerate losing in battle, according to reports which said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had them executed after they survived a rout by Kurdish fighters.
Saed Mimousini, media spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Party, told Alsumaria news agency that Al-Baghdadi’s harsh decision came following their defeat at the hands of Peshmerga fighters in Kobar, south of the Kurdish capital Erbil.
“ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi executed 56 of his men after their defeat at the hands of the Peshmerga forces in the Cowir area south of Erbilm,” he said.
“Executions took place in the Al-Namrood, east Mosul,” he added, claiming that the “battles between ISIS and the Peshmerga south of Erbil killed 300 members of the Islamic State and injured nearly 102 others.”
That might produce a momentary improvement in battle commitment (if true at all), but it won’t do much for recruitment. It could backfire, leading ISIS fighters to conclude that surrender is a much better option than retreat when necessary, and could bleed the ranks — especially if military progress gets reversed, as seems to be the case at the moment. Once the fighters conclude that God isn’t predestining them to victory, Baghdadi’s armies might begin to melt away, especially if they can expect a brutal conclusion to military setbacks. That kind of order is an act of desperation by ISIS, assuming it’s for real, as well as an act of savagery. It would demonstrate that they’ve already begun to panic over the loss of military initiative.
Meanwhile, we can probably expect an audio statement from Baghdadi in the next few days claiming that he’s survived and all is well, just as we did in November when a similar rumor didn’t pan out. If we don’t get that, then maybe this is a little more than the usual war chatter.