A small organization built by disillusioned members around a cadre of rhetoric and colorful leaders. It meets its goals through terrorist plots, paramilitary invasions, and illegitimate business operations. The group’s leader is shrouded in mystery, his face not well known to the public at large. The group’s very name strikes fear and conjures up images of violence, terror, and overly complicated plots of global domination. We are, of course, talking about Cobra, the arch-nemeses of the GI Joe team, but we could just as easily be talking about ISIS. Recently, we wanted to know more about the group and the dangers they posed, but what we found also recalled long forgotten memories of an enemy we have all known since childhood.
There are several versions of Cobra: the one from the cartoon series, the one from that crappy crappy movie with Cobra Gordon Levitt, but the most telling one is the fictional background we find in the old Marvel comic series. It was the original source material for the toys and the show, and it makes a lot more sense than Cobra-La. Also, it is surprisingly insightful about the motivations and formation of terrorist cells, which makes us just a little nervous about the true intentions of Hasbro.
Arise, Serpentor, Arise
Cobra started when a financially ruined man settled in the town of Springfield, which, itself, had fallen on hard times. This charismatic leader used the hardship to convince the rest of the town’s residents to blame the American government for their misfortunes. Together they started a secret cabal, known as Cobra. The group quickly moved to terrorist attacks. By the time the Federal government had registered them as a threat the organization had become a nationwide movement, attracting young men from both home and abroad. The ruined man became known as Cobra Commander and his message of revolution and global domination attracted more and more of the disenfranchised who were looking for someone to blame, in the same way how we like to blame Michael Bay. It’s not always his fault, but it sometimes kind of is.
Regardless, drawing members of terrorist organizations from the downtrodden and disillusioned is nothing new. Organizations like gangs and hate groups make the powerless feel powerful and make those that feel insignificant feel important. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or whatever you choose to call them, started as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), recruiting members from the millions of young men who felt as if they had nothing in their life and were angry at everyone else who did. Groups like ISIS and al Qaeda may use suicide bombings and beheadings instead of weather machines and exploding fast food signs, but the principals are the same. People join Cobra and ISIS because it gives them a sense of purpose and an outlet for their rage.
In the case of Cobra, as in the case of ISIS, America had a hand in their creation, and that is important to remember. Camp Bucca along the Kuwait border housed more than 100,000 prisoners during its tenure in the last Iraq War, including 9 of ISIS’ top commanders. Just as Cobra Commander found ready and willing followers in the downtrodden town of Springfield, so did these religious fanatics suddenly find themselves surrounded by a group of young disgruntled youths, many of which may even have been arrested by mistake. Right or wrong in your belief, when you are thrown into what you see as an unjust situation there is probably going to be a lot of fear and resentment against the people who did it to you. When something like that happens people tend to flock to the first person who will helped them make sense of the world and their anger, and whether that be an Islamic extremist, or a man in a metal snake helmet the principals remain the same. As a side note Camp Bucca sounds like the worst summer camp experience ever. At least it didn’t teach archery, then we might be in real trouble.
Where the Reptiles Roam
Cobra very quickly went from a terrorist organization to a paramilitary group. They kept sleeper agents, usually members of the elite Crimson Guard scattered across the United States, leading seemingly normal lives. That sounds like an creepily familiar tactic. Yet, the real threat came when Cobra Commander and his inner circle eventually took the bulk of their forces and started claiming territory in the US and around the world. The most notable example is Cobra Island, which was recognized as an actual country for a short time by the UN, because apparently the people at the UN looked at all the guys dressed in snake armor and thought, “Yeah, seems legit.” However, ISIS has very similar ambitions.
Originally, the AQI was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but he was killed in 2006 by an American airstrike. Next in-line was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is the real Cobra Commander behind ISIS. He moved the organization into Syria, split away from al Qaeda and proclaimed himself the first Caliph of the Islamic State. He proved that, much like Cobra, ISIS was not going to be content fighting some nebulous holy war. Al-Baghdadi wanted a country of his own and the power to rule not just Iraq and Syria, but all of Islam.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a caliphate, it is not just a kingdom, and a caliph is not just another title for a king. The power and religious authority goes a lot deeper than that. In fact, there has not been a caliph since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and even then it had only become just a title, and for good reason. There are many versions of Islam and not everyone can agree what the right interpretation is, let alone who should be the single voice to decide that. Al Qaeda believes that there will one day be a caliphate but not in our lifetimes. They see themselves as paving the way for a far off Muslim utopia, but ISIS takes that a step further and basically says, “Yeah, we are the Caliphate.” This of course, irritates a lot of Muslims, as al-Baghdadi is proclaiming himself to be a direct religious and political successor to the Prophet Muhammad. You at least have to give the man points for ambition.
To a non-Muslims the importance of that may not entirely strike home. Just understand, that proclaiming that title is basically as big as Cobra Commander proclaiming that he is the emperor of a new world order. Thus, much like Cobra, ISIS has actually declared their goals to be global domination, maybe not of the physical world but certainly the spiritual one. It would sound crazy if they did not have the backing, training, and resources to do some real damage.
The Pit of Vipers
Cobra draws its fighting force from all across the world, including heavily from developing nations, but it also uses a cadre of professional mercenaries and soldiers to fill out its ranks, such as Zartan and the Dreadnoks, the Night Creepers Ninja Clan, and individual professionals like Firefly. They can afford this because Cobra uses several illegal businesses practices to prop up their wealth and armory, and in case you have not got the point of this article by now, ISIS does the same.
Some CIA estimates claim that ISIS has more than 30,000 troops at their disposal, with possibly as many as 20,000 of them being foreign fighters, including nearly 1,000 from Western countries. ISIS also uses former mercenary soldiers, specifically ones who had been employed by the US Military during the Iraq War. The Sons of Iraq were local Sunni Muslims, many of which were possibly former terrorists or fighters who had engaged in attacks on coalition forces, but the military realized that paying them to fight for the coalition was a lot more cost effective than actually fighting them. This movement was known as the Sunni Awakening and is one of the reasons why AQI was forced to flee to the country for the more fertile ground of Syria.
The Syrian Civil War offered the newly formed ISIS a fresh chance to recruit young men with fighting experience and a chip on their soldier. Their ranks swelled and so did their pocketbooks. At the same time the new Iraqi Government disbanded the Sunni Awakening out of racial and financial concerns. Eventually, 70,000 of the former fighters were given jobs in the Iraqi security forces, but the pay was never as good, and there were plenty more who never even received that opportunity. Eventually, ISIS just hired them to fight for ISIS instead of against them, because like we said before, that works. ISIS marched back into Iraq as a new and unstoppable threat.
Cobra has Tomax and Xamot, twin brothers who run the business side of Cobra. The organization also receives funds and weaponry through M.A.R.S., the arms business run by Destro, and though al-Baghdadi has no one on the payroll that has a full metal head he has plenty of business ventures that allows the group to support tens of thousands of militants, a swath of territory with a civilian population the size of Austria, and a full armory of bullets, bombs, and stylish black head wraps.
First off, ISIS uses taxes and other local streams of revenue, such as the selling of electricity to residents, to make roughly 6 million dollars a day. This guaranteed income means they do not have to deal with outside banks or middlemen which can be pressured by US and coalition resources. Crude oil from their captured oil fields is one of their biggest exports, but they also extort money from hostages, humanitarian workers, and by ransacking archeological artifacts. Thanks to pre-established smuggling routes and a thriving black market ISIS has been using its captured oil and other resources to become the most well-funded terrorist organization in history. Soon they may even have enough to buy that coveted moonbase they have had their eyes on.
The Baroness is a member of the Cobra command. A European countess, she brings the wealth of her small country to Cobra’s coffers. ISIS is a little more down on the idea of women in power, but not the idea of private donors and royal money. It is estimated that ISIS receives an average of 20 million dollars a year from private donors in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. Most officials in those countries are afraid to crack down on these wealthy members of their society as the political fallout could be costly. ISIS even receives donations from members of Persian Gulf Royalty, though we cannot imagine that they look as good in a tight leather outfit and librarian glasses.
The good news is that the Iraqi Army outnumbers ISIS, but the bad news is that the army itself is kind of a mess. There is no Iraq version of the GI Joe team that can fight this threat. In ISIS’s first victory in Iraq 800 fighters forced 30,000 members of the Iraq Army to retreat due to poor deployment and low troop moral. Most of Iraq’s army, much like its citizenry, is still divided along religious lines and an uncertainty about their own government.
Lastly, ISIS is also incredibly media savvy. They use Twitter more effectively than we do at The NYRD. So much like that time Cobra started their own television station, ISIS knows how to leverage social media to attract followers and intimidate enemies.
We here at The NYRD are not trying to undermine the seriousness of this very violent and dangerous organization. Nor are we trying to aggrandize them in anyway. ISIS is responsible for multiple acts of butchery, slaughter, and terror that would make even Cobra Commander blink. We are only attempting to give you a better understanding of ISIS, because organizations built on terror are best defeated through knowledge, because knowing is half the battle.