Primed for new battle
“They are getting ready for a different fight I think. We have a lot tougher days ahead of us than people think. “al-Qaeda on steroids,” said Talabany.
“We saw why they were smarter. Al-Qaeda never controlled any territory. They will be smarter.”
Numerous reports suggesting that Baghdadi had been killed have raised questions about who might replace him as head of a diverse group comprised of Iraqis and other Arabs as well as hardcore foreign fighters.
Iraqi intelligence officers who served under Saddam Hussein have been described as the military strategists instrumental in creating an Islamic State reign of terror.
Talabany said it was hard to know which top Baghdadi aides were alive or dead, but he believes most of the leadership is in Syria, south of Raqa.
A younger generation of Saddam’s former allies were expected to take key positions.
“These are the people in line,” he said. “The younger generation is always more dangerous.”
Security services face the daunting challenge of breaking up sleeper cells, typically made up of two facilitators and two operators.
“You don’t need a lot of guys to set a bomb off. We continue to bust these sleeper cells,” said Talabany.
“Everybody we capture was getting ready to set up to carry out attacks in the region.”
Talabany left Iraq when he was a 12-year-old boy, at a time when Saddam Hussein was oppressing the Kurds. His relatives were waging a guerrilla campaign from mountain hideouts.
Asked to compare the challenges then compared to those now as Islamic State tries to recover and sectarian tensions threaten Iraq’s security, he said:
“We have a lot more freedom now. But the problems are a lot tougher.”