Has ISIS leader al-Baghdadi named his successor?
By Khalid al-Taie
Is it true that "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has named his successor?
Though some reports circulated online say that he has -- and others indicate he has not -- the very fact that the topic has been raised and is the subject of speculation points to confusion and division within the group, analysts said.
Initial reports about al-Baghdadi's designation of a successor emerged in an August 8th statement that was attributed to ISIS propaganda agency, Amaq.
But subsequent reports have cast doubt on the statement's authenticity, noting that it did not appear on extremist channels known to publish ISIS/Amaq media.
So who might al-Baghdadi have chosen? And why might that choice be controversial?
According to the original statement, al-Baghdadi has named Iraqi national and senior ISIS figure Abu Abdullah Qardash, also known as Hajji Abdullah, as his successor.
Iraqi and Arab media have raised the same name, previously reporting that captured ISIS leader Abu Zeid al-Iraqi had mentioned Qardash's name as a likely al-Baghdadi successor.
Signs of deep divisions
Iraqi analysts told Diyaruna the floating of Qardash's name signals deep divisions within the group and contradictions on the part of al-Baghdadi.
The supposed nomination of Qardash, who is of Turkman origin, is odd, they said, considering the group's emphasis on al-Baghdadi's lineage as a "Qurayshi", a descendant of the clan from which Prophet Mohammed hails.
If precedent were to be followed, al-Baghdadi's successor would need to win the acceptance of a sharia body comprised of ISIS leaders through consultation, rather than appointment.
Meanwhile, there have been reports that al-Baghdadi's health has been deteriorating, and that infighting has been roiling the group, as foreign nationals, particularly Tunisians, attempted to lead a revolt against him.
If the rumours about the naming of a successor are true, it would seem that al-Baghdadi only nominated Qardash because he is loyal to him, military analyst Safaa al-Aasam told Diyaruna.
This move shows "no regard for the conditions that the group itself put in place" to qualify as an ISIS leader, he said, noting that the decision will shake the faith of al-Baghdadi's commanders, who are likely to question his judgment.
This nomination points to the confusion within ISIS, al-Aasam said, and serves as a "clear indicator of the chaos within the group’s ranks, as there is no central command".
Following the group's military defeat, ISIS remnants are scattered or in hiding, he said, noting that al-Baghdadi’s appointment of a successor, regardless of that person's identity, "will not change the group’s fate".
Move might trigger mutiny
Al-Baghdadi's nomination of Qardash would appear to be based primarily on the relationship between the two men, said political scientist Issam al-Fayli.
"Qardash has been a constant companion of al-Baghdadi ever since they were inmates in prison around a decade and a half ago," he told Diyaruna.
But al-Baghdadi "could pay a high price for nominating Qardash, as with this move, the ISIS leader has demonstrated his distrust of his commanders", he said.
Additionally, because Qardash is Iraqi, this is likely to "reinforce feelings of marginalisation and discrimination among ISIS commanders, particularly those of foreign origins", he said.
This has the potential to deepen divisions in the group's ranks and "might bring about rebellion and mutiny", al-Fayli said.
Al-Baghdadi has lost his influence within the group’s command structure, and the nomination of Qardash could point to his limited options as a result of this loss, security expert Saeed al-Jayashi told Diyaruna.
Furthermore, the "disintegration of the senior leadership of ISIS" could also have prompted al-Baghdadi to make such a decision, he said.
ISIS's fugitive leader, "who has made no statement to confirm this nomination, does not have a clear plan or vision to save himself and his group from their sealed fate -- which is either death or arrest", he said.
The group is in a state of crisis and cannot recoup its losses in terms of both fighters and resources, al-Jayashi said.
It is powerless to raise the morale of its fighters, and due to the decimation of its media machine, is unable to quash rumours or speculation, he added.
"This group is in its death throes, and no one can change this course," he said.