by Joe Shea
September 23, 2014
AN INTERVIEW WITH AL-BAGHDADI
BRADENTON, Fla., Sept. 23, 2014 -- In 2009, a young, attractive blonde in Army camo gear, who was then a sociologist and counter-terrorism expert with the U.S. Army, conducted a survey of the social and cultural attitudes of 809 al-Qaeda fighters at Camp Cropper, a U.S. Army MP headquarters and prisoner holding facility not far from Baghdad International Airport.
One of the 809 men who responded in person to that one-page, 15-question survey is today the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the supposed Fifth Caliphate of Muslims, and the man whose 40,000-man army President Barack Obama recently vowed to "degrade and destroy."
The other 808 were among the most dangerous and hunted men in the world - and most still are.
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is ultimately the man behind the recent beheadings of two American freelance journalists, James Foley and Steven Joel Sotloff, and of British aid worker David Haines.
Update, 9:01pm, 11/9/14) -- Time magazine tonight reports that "Iraqi authorities announced on Sunday that an airstrike wounded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was hit Saturday in the town of Qaim in Iraq's Anbar province during a meeting with militant forces," Time said. The report could not be independently confirmed.
"I know him," said Dr. Terri Wonder, today a Democratic candidate for Manatee County Commissioner-At-Large. "I met him. I talked to him," she said.
"He was very serious, quiet, respectful," said Wonder, who became prominent here in efforts to preserve the priceless wetlands and ecology of Sarasota Bay from big-growth advocates and real estate developers.
Al-Baghdadi cooperated fully with the survey and answered all the questions, she said. He seemed to have no problem with the fact that she was a woman - mindful "he was in a U.S. prison," she said. There was no small talk.
Was there any indication that he might be of a man of destiny? "He had very piercing, intense eyes," she replied.
Al-Baghdadi responded to questions about his birthplace - he is a native Iraqi, he told Wonder - age, education and other steps in his life.
Al-Baghdadi also answered a "clever" question she'd inserted into all the surveys: "If you couldn't live in Iraq, where else would you most like to live?" al-Baghdadi and the other men were asked.
Al-Baghdadi's answer was not, as he once famously told one man upon his release from Camp Cropper, "I'll see you in New York."
It was more predictable, perhaps: "Syria," he answered.
The 809 men she interviewed, all of whom were later released under a status of forces agreement with the Maliki-led Iraq government, were soon to become the "core" of the al-Qaeda insurgent army that bedeviled and killed hundreds of American soldiers before President Obama withdrew the last of America's combat troops in 2011.
In the record of those 809 interviews, she says, is a valuable tool in understanding who the men of today's ISIS are, where they were born, trained and educated, and perhaps even clues on how to defeat them.
Dr. Wonder offers a number of ideas U.S. counter-terrorism officials might want to hear.
Among them is a need to recultivate an army little-known to Americans called the Sons of Iraq. The United States trained and equipped it before 2010, but left the Sons of Iraq behind and almost forgotten in the rush to leave Iraq.
"We knew all the sheiks, the leaders, the fighters, the elite of western Baghdad. We knew their names. We filled trucks with tons of money and handed it out to them," she said. Now, she believes, that forgotten army might be quickly restored to its former strength.
In the face of the bloody tactics of ISIS, the multi-religious tribal and multi-tribal confederations of the Sons of Iraq may be willing to come together again and can be reinvigorated with arms, money and air support, she believes.
Wonder, 48, is a Florida native whose impressive resumé and battling spirit in the fight against wetlands destruction has won her many avid supporters. Her next event, a Sept. 27 "Rally for Old Florida," complete with live country music and rock 'n' roll bands, food and beer, is expected to draw hundreds.
In Iraq, "[h]er applied research and cultural advising to our nation's top commanders is credited for solving problems and saving lives. She was given a Superior Civilian Service Award in 2010 by the Office of the Commanding General of the United States Forces in Iraq," her County Commission candidate website says.
Amid the "moderate" Syrian rebels and Iraqi troops and other members of the Obama Coalition who may soon be fighting ISIS, she said, there is potentially great value in Quantico-trained Egyptian troops, and in Saudi Army regulars. The "exquisite" Jordanian intelligence operation could also be of great help, she says.
The use of Israeli ground troops might actually strengthen ISIS, she said, agreeing with Mitch Mallett, a fellow Democrat who stood nearby in a light rain as she talked for 20 minutes with The American Reporter after a school board candidate forum in Bradenton Monday night. Bur Israeli intelligence will be invaluable.
"Israel is helping out," she confided softly.
Wonder believes the strategy laid out by President Obama for fighting ISIS primarily through air strikes will succeed.
The key, she said, is hitting those troop-transport vehicles we see on television flying the black ISIS flag. She said it is vital to finish that job before ISIS fighters melt into the native Iraqi population and breed new generations of virulently anti-American jihadists.
That was a goal of the early American military presence in the now-disputed provinces of western Iraq, she said, and it succeeded.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter.