September 9, 2015:
One technique that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) used very successfully in 2014 to expand its empire was the exploitation of Sunni gangsters. During his decades of rule Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain often used criminal gangs to assist in controlling the population and collecting intelligence. In return the government tolerated a lot of the criminal activity, and often took a percentage of the profits. In the 1990s, after his defeat in Kuwait, Saddam depended on the gangsters even more, especially to terrorize the Shia majority. These were Sunni gangs and they were accustomed to using or threatening violence, especially for their extortion activities so they had no problem with enforcing Saddam’s rule in Shia neighborhoods. Some of the former Saddam officials now running ISIL had personal experience with this use of criminal gangs and quickly rebuilt those relationships. Actually, some of these old Saddam hands never abandoned their criminal connections. As Islamic terrorist groups began rebuilding after their 2008 defeat in Iraq it became common to approach various gangs and offer more opportunities to steal and expand their power if they cooperated with the growing Sunni Islamic terror groups that eventually merged into ISIL in 2013. The growing size and power of this alliance turned out to be a critical factor in taking control of Mosul in mid-2014 along with much of northwest Iraq. ISIL still depends on the gangs for muscle, information and money.