BAGHDAD - As Iraqi forces battled Daesh, former general Abdel Karim Khalaf came to a sad realization — they were fighting against some of his former army comrades.
The tactics Daesh terrorists used — from the way they dug tunnels to their construction of defenses — were lifted straight from the manual of the old Iraqi armed forces under dictator Saddam Hussein.
“They had expertise and methods inherited from the army,” said retired army commander Khalaf. “They knew us.”
When the US-led invasion toppled Saddam 15 years ago in 2003 it splintered Iraqi society and fractured loyalties among those who had served in the country’s armed forces.
One of the first decisions made by Paul Bremmer, the American head of the occupation authority, was to dismantle all security forces in the country.
That controversial move would come back to haunt US-led forces as it pushed many members of Iraq’s disbanded military, police and intelligence agencies to join movements fighting against them.
“Saddam-era military expertise was critical to the development of the insurgency,” said Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert at the Middle East Institute.
The seepage of knowledge from Iraq’s former security forces into the insurgency came to devastating fruition when Daesh stormed across Iraq and northern Syria in 2014.
Among the group’s leadership were veterans of Saddam’s forces who put their training to use conquering territory and running the self-declared “caliphate.”
Former Republican Guard officer Fadel Ahmad Al-Hayali was second-in-command to Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi until he was killed in an October 2015 airstrike near Mosul in northern Iraq, the US has said.
As Baghdadi’s deputy, he was in charge of arms transfers, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria. Another veteran was Samir Abd Muhammad Al-Khlifawi, called the group’s “most important strategist” by German weekly Der Spiegel…