Ever come up with a conspiracy theory that you found so strangely attractive -- and, yes, fun
-- that you just had to share it, even though you couldn't bring yourself to believe it?
Yesterday, this humble blog received a large surge of "hits," all stemming from one comment appended to this Washington Post story
. It's a story about the way ISIS has stolen fighters from other jihad organizations. The comment in question came from someone called Don Rami. Here it is:
notice anything odd about these pictures?
URGENT: ISIL leader al-Baghdadi escapes to Syria after serious injury
July 5, 2014 http://www.iraqinews.com/features/urgent-al-baghda...
Bin Laden letters reveal strained relationship with al-Qaeda affiliates
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Is the Zarqawi video a hoax?
For a few moments, I could not even recall writing that 2006 story. At this age, one reads one's older work with a true sense of discovery.
Then the memories came flooding back. That 2006 Cannonfire post concerns a then-current controversy over an Al Qaeda recruitment video featuring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. At the time, a lot of bloggers were claiming that the "Zarqawi" in the video differed from the guy seen in earlier photos. The idea of an imposture gained credibility because Bush had, not too long before, given a speech in which he cited as genuine a "Zarqawi" letter which was later proven to be fake. Also, the Washington Post had published evidence that the American military had created an entire PSYOP campaign centered around Zarqawi.
A photo comparison led me to conclude that the matter was impossible to prove one way or the other, although I leaned toward the idea that "video Zarqawi" was a ringer.
So why did a link to that 2006 Cannonfire post show up in the WP? I think because the photo which featured in my analysis of the Zarqawi video has now been put to a new use. Here's the original image:
And here is the new use to which it has been put:
So, the mysterious bogeyman of yesteryear -- Zarqawi -- has become the mysterious bogeyman of today, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
I know what you are thinking: Cute, but this is obviously just an error. "Iraqi News" is not exactly the world's most prestigious and well-funded source of reportage.
Fair enough. Then I typed "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" into Google, and found that their main image was -- once again -- the Zarqawi photo. This too is explicable: The Google Image search engine was probably misled by the Iraqi News error.
Then I took a closer look at various photos of al-Baghdadi and compared them to various photos of Zarqawi. And that's when a strange resemblance became apparent.
You probably know where I'm going with this, don't you?
Baghdadi and Zarqawi look so much alike as to be brothers -- maybe even twin brothers. It's a little hard to be sure, because the facial hair worn by Baghdadi in his most recent appearances tends to obscure the most identifiable features we find on the Zarqawi photos.
Here is a current shot of Baghdadi:
Compare to the Zarqawi image above.
Yeah, there's a definite resemblance -- and you can't chalk it up to the ethnic prejudices of a westerner. (No, it is not
the case that all Arabs look alike to me.)
Here are a couple of (alleged) older shots of Baghdadi:
And here are a couple of older shots of Zarqawi:
My bottom line: The "clean shaven" images of both men do not much resemble each other. The "bearded" images all bear a strong resemblance. Keep in mind that we have a problem concerning provenance: The clean-shaven Z image is rarely reproduced and (if I recall correctly) is of questionable authenticity. Similarly, I'm not sure where the (relatively) clean-shaven B image comes from.
If we accept the clean shaven Z image as authentic, then it is fair to say that the man's most distinguishing features are the chin scar and the unusually sharp upper lip. There also appears to be a slight blemish on the right cheek. (His
right, not the viewer's right.) None of these things are visible in the more recent Baghdadi photos; the beard obscures all.
Of course, there are post-mortum photos of Zarqawi all over the internet. Such things can be faked.
Since we have entered the realm of high paranoia, it may be as well to mention that both men have been accused of being intelligence assets for western services. Here's the conspiratorial take on Zarqawi
, from a decade ago; also see this piece
The evidence suggests, however, that Zarqawi was part of a Pentagon disinformation campaign launched in 2003, which was initially intended to justify the US led invasion of Iraq. This central role of Zarqawi as an instrument of war propaganda was recently confirmed by leaked military documents revealed by the Washington Post.
The Pentagon had set up a “Zarqawi program”. Military documents confirm that the role of Zarqawi had been deliberately “magnified” with a view to galvanizing public support for the US-UK led “war on terrorism”:
“The Zarqawi campaign is discussed in several of the internal military documents. “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response,” one U.S. military briefing from 2004 stated. It listed three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite U.S. military unit assigned primarily to hunt in Iraq for senior officials in Hussein’s government) and “PSYOP,” the U.S. military term for propaganda work…” (WP. 10 April 2006)
An internal document produced by U.S. military headquarters in Iraq, states that “the Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date.”
Even if Z was not actually a spook, it seems fairly certain the spooks were putting his legend to use.
Standard history holds that Zarqawi was killed in a raid in 2006, just a few months after the above-referenced Cannonfire post appeared. It is now said that Baghdadi was one of his lieutenants
And where was Baghdadi during this time period? We can't be entirely sure.
The Pentagon says that Baghdadi, after being arrested in Fallujah in early 2004, was released that December with a large group of other prisoners deemed low level. But Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who has researched Baghdadi's life, sometimes on behalf of Iraqi intelligence, said that Baghdadi had spent five years in an American detention facility where, like many Islamic State fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalized.
This NBC news story
confirms that he remained in American custody until 2009. His Wikipedia entry
admits that there is a conflict in the chronology which cannot be reconciled.
Okay, so as long as we are stirring up a fetid pot of paranoia stew -- as long as we admit that we're not even trying
to be low-key and responsible here -- let's just go for it. Time to lower the boxers and show what's underneath.
What if all of those bloggers back in 2006 were right? What if that Zarqawi video was a ringer, a put-up job? What if (to cite just one possibility) the whole thing was a ploy to track the IP addresses of the people who watched it?
To create such a thing, the Americans would have had to use the services of an Arabic man who happened to look an awful lot like Zarqawi. As it happens, they had just such an individual in custody.
There are even darker, weirder conspiracy theories to be concocted from this material. I leave you to come up with your own variations on this theme. Be creative!