Is Gulmurod Khalimov ISIL’s new commander in Iraq or is he dead?
ISIL has been experiencing numerous setbacks over the past few months. In Iraq they have been steadily losing territory to the onslaught of the Iraqi army backed by Iranian Shiite militias and US air strikes. The Iraqi offensive has re-captured much territory including the important cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, with the ultimate goal being the retaking of ISIL’s stronghold of Mosul. In Syria ISIL has lost Palmyra to the Assad regime, Manbij to the Kurds, and Jarablus and other nearby towns to Turkey’s operation Euphrates Shield. ISIL has also suffered the deaths of important military leaders.
In May a US air strike in Iraq killed ISIL field commander Abu Waheeb, who is probably best known for an ISIL propaganda picture in which he, along with other masked ISIL fighters, posed with their pistols drawn and their trademark black flags waving in the background. In July ISIL confirmed the death of their senior military commander, the Georgian Abu Omar al-Shishani, whom they claimed was killed during a battle in Al-Shirqat Iraq, while the US claimed they killed in him a March air strike near al-Shadadi Syria.1 Most recently ISIL’s second in command, Abu Mohammad al‑Adnani, was confirmed killed, although there is some confusion over who actually killed him, as both the US and Russia are taking credit for his death.2
With the killings of key personnel, ISIL must find competent replacements, and it is being reported by Al Sumaria news agency that a Tajik, ex-special forces OMON colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, is to assume al-Shishani’s vacant position and will be ISIL’s top commander in Iraq.3 It is interesting to note that both Khalimov and al-Shishani had received training from US special forces advisers. It seems like the US has a bad habit of inadvertently training their future enemies. However, there seems to be a problem with the announcement that Khalimov is now a senior ISIL military commander: he was reported by Lebanese media to have been killed in June of 2015 during a fire fight with Syrian regime forces.4
It could be possible that Khalimov was killed a year ago, and ISIL has leaked misinformation that he is their new Iraqi commander to protect the actual person who has been appointed to this role. The story could have also been fabricated by Iraqi officials to discredit the US by emphasizing the fact that a former US trained special forces soldier is now an important ISIL military commander.
Conversely, it is also possible that Khalimov is still alive and is in fact the replacement of al-Shishani. It should be remembered that before Abu Waheeb was confirmed dead that he was previously reported to have been killed on seven different occasions. As such any claims that a senior ISIL commander has been killed should not be credulously accepted. The Al Sumaria article also noted that ISIL did not officially acknowledge Khalimov’s promotion in an attempt to protect him from being the target of US air strikes.
I guess it comes down to who you believe is a more creditable news source, the Iraqi Al Sumaria or the Lebanese 21Livanskie. As with much news currently emanating from the Middle East, we will just have to wait and see how this situation plays out.