While the Republicans have spent energy criticizing the Obama Administration for freeing terrorists in return for Bowe Bergdahl and the political right claims that President Obama was responsible for freeing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, the Islamic militant group currently taking over significant parts of northern Iraq and Syria, the truth is not what they would have us believe.
As background, in 2005, the United States military captured the then 34 year old, Iraqi-born (in Samarra) al-Baghdadi and held him in a detention camp, Camp Bucca, located near Umm Qasr along with many prisoners that were transferred from the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Little is known about his background, however, jihadist sources suggest that he is an imam from a religious family who has a Ph.D. from Baghdad's Islamic University in Arabic.
In 2008, the United States began to wind down some of their operations in Iraq by reducing the number of American troops and President George W. Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government that mandated that all detainees held by the United States be released to Iraqi forces. Here is a screen capture of the first, fourteenth and final pages of the agreement between the United States and Iraq that was signed on November 17th, 2008, just after Barak Obama was elected but two months before he took office:
Let's repeat Article 22 – 4:
"Upon entry into force of this Agreement, the United States Forces shall provide to the Government of Iraq available information on all detainees who are being held by them. Competent Iraqi authorities shall issue arrest warrants for persons who are wanted by them. The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner, unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq and in accordance with Article 4 of this Agreement." (my bold)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was transferred to Iraqi custody in 2009 and by 2010 was released for unknown reasons. He promptly took over as head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS aka ISIL) which was, at the time, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. After years of attempting to reconcile internal differences between the two groups, in early February 2014, al-Qaeda's General Command announced that ISIS "…is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group and…does not have an organization relationship with it…". Some analysts suspect that al-Qaeda's leadership is threatened by the growing strength of ISIS. On February 22, 2014, ISIS is believed to have carried out a suicide attack that killed Abu Khaled al-Suri, the founding leader of Ahrar al-Sham, a coalition of Islamist and Salafist rebels that fought in Syria's civil war. It is important to note that al-Suri was a close confident of Osama Bin Laden and that he was viewed as a fellow warrior.
This is second only to the up to $25 million offered for Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Baghdadi's al-Qaeda nemesis as shown here:
While the Bush II Administration is not directly responsible for the release of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, surely someone in Washington must have suspected that their hand-picked Prime Minister, Nouri al-Malaki, would release the former American detainee. At least now we know which administration to blame for his release.
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