Well, this is awkward:
When American forces raided a home near Falluja during the turbulent 2004 offensive against the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, they got the hard-core militants they had been looking for. They also picked up an apparent hanger-on, an Iraqi man in his early 30s whom they knew nothing about.
The Americans duly registered his name as they processed him and the others at the Camp Bucca detention center: Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry.
That once-peripheral figure has become known to the world now as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the architect of its violent campaign to redraw the map of the Middle East.
“He was a street thug when we picked him up in 2004,” said a Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “It’s hard to imagine we could have had a crystal ball then that would tell us he’d become head of ISIS.”
I guess in a narrow sense that’s true, but it didn’t take a crystal ball to figure out that wrecking Iraq for no justifiable reason, and then brutalizing the population for many years after, might turn out to be kind of a bad idea. We officially claim that the future Caliph Ibrahim was, at the time, such a little fish that we cut him loose almost immediately, but Ibrahim’s biographer with Iraqi intelligence says he spent 5 years as a US captive. Of course, that same guy also says that Ibrahim grew up poor, which could be true but is also a common self-presentation for would-be warlords, so it’s possible that we’re just trading in Ibrahim’s own stock of self tropes here.
To Ibrahim’s credit, he seems to be a lot smarter than his most famous predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, turning to Iraqis with Baath Party and military experience as his top advisors despite the criticism that’s earned him from the true believers. Mostly the Islamic State seems to be a giant money-making enterprise at this point, which may be necessary to continue the Jihad (and to buy nice things, obviously) since it insulates IS to some degree from US and EU interference in their finances. It’s also freed Ibrahim up to be all that he could be, since IS started making so much money on its own that Al-Qaeda Central lost any leverage it might have had over them.