In the evening of October 26th, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Something very big has just happened!’’. This announcement was shortly followed by a press conference, in which he proudly declared that the IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was killed by a US raid in north-west Syria.
Part of Al-Qaeda from 2006 to 2013, Al-Baghdadi founded the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) caliphate in 2014, just after conquering the Iraqi city of Mosul. That was the last time he was seen in public, except for a short video released a few years later. President Donald Trump congratulates Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for a supposed collaboration in the capture of Al-Baghdadi, which allegedly lead to the activation of his (Al-Baghdadi’s) suicide vest.
What is contradictory; however, is that these parties showed different views on the development of the operation. For example, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman asserted that Russia does not have any confirmed information about a US-lead operation in northern Syria and that the amount of countries involved in it raises doubts about its actual existence or its effectiveness (as declared by Trump).
But to grasp more of why taking down Al-Baghdadi was so important and its possible consequences, an outline of the past geopolitical situation in Syria ought to be made.
The Syrian war arose in 2011, due to broad social issues including high unemployment and lack of freedom. The main parties were the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, people who pretended a radical change in the country’s politics (thus dethroning the president) and the growing terrorist group later named IS (or ISIS). The latter exploited the already existing struggle to conquer vast parts of Syria and Iraq. Looking at an international perspective, while Assad’s was strongly endorsed by Iran and especially by Russia, other international forces such as the US, Turkey and most European countries were against its reclusive regime, even though they had no plan about what to do (and in particular who to support) in case that Assad’s regime would have fallen.
The fight went on for years, during which an ethnic minority called ‘’the Kurds’’ also joined against the IS, which started to aim at some of their territories to enlarge their empire. The Kurds, a group of indigenous people living on the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia, have historically never been assigned a state of their own, and have longly been harshly treated by Turkey in response to claim for their rights. Their involvement in the war resulted in the territorial defeat of IS, whose latest village fell during March 2019.
While Trump declared that the US was aware of Al-Baghdadi’s position only since they recently decided to recall US troops from Syria, many speculate that he was aware of his movements way before and that the attack was well-timed to be of advantage in the next 2020 political elections. Although he has repeatedly declared to have defeated the IS, can we really feel much safer now, with all the people around the world who sympathize for the IS? And does a territorial defeat mean a definite defeat of the caliphate itself?
Surely the situation is one to which much attention should be paid. Even though one of Trump claims that the US already knows all possible successors of Al-Baghdadi, the unfolding of the latest events are all but certain.