Ansar al Sunna Leadership: U.S. Forces Net Big Insurgent Catch

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 7 months ago


The Multi-National Force – Iraq Combined Press Information Center has issued a press release concerning the capture of some high ranking insurgents in Iraq.

“In one week’s time, Coalition Forces captured 11 suspected senior-level terrorists of Ansar al Sunna during a series of raids in north-central Iraq during mid-November.  During the raids, Coalition Forces captured the terrorist emirs of Iraq, Ramadi, Baqubah, Tikrit, al Qa’im, Bayji and Baghdad.  They also captured two terrorist facilitators, a courier, an explosives expert and a financier.  The detention of these terrorists delivers a serious blow to the AAS network that is responsible for improvised explosive device attacks and suicide attacks and on Iraqi government, Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians.  The AAS network is also responsible for multiple kidnappings, small arms attacks and other crimes in the central and northern part of Iraq.  AAS is considered by some to be a leading terror organization in Iraq … Although some AAS senior leadership allegedly hide in Iran, they continually plan attacks to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction efforts.  This allows the AAS leadership to attempt to disrupt Iraqi reconstruction progress using their followers, while keeping the leadership out of harms way.”

An emir is a chieftan or ruler, and in this case, the military governor of his territory.  Ansar al Sunna is today believed to be the most significant insurgent group in Iraq.  Its core membership is believed to be 500-1000 strong.  Going initially under the name Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), Ansar al-Sunna is an outgrowth of Ansar al-Islam [Defenders of Islam], a group with ties to Iran and which administration officials have linked to al-Qaeda.  Ansar al-Islam grew out of the September 2001 unification of several militant Islamist groups which had taken root in the mountains of northern Iraq along the Iranian border.

Prior to the US occupation of Iraq, Ansar al-Islam based itself in the mountains around Khurmal, a small town three miles from the Iranian border. On March 29, 2003, US Special Forces, coupled with PUK peshmerga, attacked the town, killing or scattering hundreds of fighters. In the wake of the fighting, Ansar al-Islam went underground. Most fled to Iran, which continues to provide safe-haven to a variety of wanted individuals. In February 2004, Kurdish intelligence officials uncovered a cache of Syrian, Yemeni, and Saudi passports – all bearing Iranian entry stamps – in an Ansar al-Islam safe-house on the Iranian side of the border. That the passports have Iranian stamps indicates that the terrorists did not secretly infiltrate into Iran, but entered with the cognizance of the Iranian authorities.

During the summer, the jihadists began infiltrating back to Iraq, often bribing corrupt Kurdish border guards for safe passage. By August, according to American intelligence reports, hundreds of Ansar terrorists had re-entered the country.  There is a connection between them and al Qaeda.  The Kurdish Islamic militants who initially formed Ansar al-Islam dispersed into two different paths.  One path eventually formed Ansar al Sunna, while the other path followed al Zarqawi to form al Qaeda in Iraq.  With the Coalition capture of so many al Qaeda leadership, Ansar al Sunna had emerged as the more significant threat in Iraq.  Unwelcome in more secular Kurdistan, they have appealed to a wider constituency and brought in terrorists from other parts of the world, including Europe.

The methodology of Ansar al Sunna is primarily kidnappings, ambushes, car bombings, and more recently Hamas-like tactics of suicide bombers.  They do not usually engage in direct combat with U.S. forces.  The “Army of Ansar al Sunnah” claims responsibility for assasinations, bombings and violence from Haqlaniyah, to Haditha (in the west) and Mosul and Kirkuk (in the north).  They have been a prolific terror organization, and catching so many senior level leaders of this group is a victory of major proportions.  It is just the kind of thing that will not receive publicity in the main stream media.

Each arrest fed the information flow for subsequent arrests.  “We have caught a lot of the major players from multiple insurgent cells, providing a lot of useful information leading to the capture of more insurgents and the discoveries of their hideouts and weapons caches,? said 1st Sgt. Micheal Green, Company C.  In one extraordinary find, U.S. troops came across a weapons cache that contained so many weapons and so much ammunition that the ordnance disposal team ran out of explosives while destroying the contents of the cache site.

Apparently in response to the capture of its leaders, Ansar al Sunna issued eight communiqués between Tuesday, November 28, 2006, and Thursday, November 30, claiming responsibility for attacks targeting American forces.  But U.S. forces know the significance of the catch.  “It was exciting,? said Staff Sgt. Mica Snell, fire support sergeant, Company C, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. “You fight everyday, and when your spirits are getting low and you find (an insurgent), it brings them back up.?

At a time when Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell are calling for talks with Iran, the details of Iranian involvement as a sponsor of terror should not be lost.

**** UPDATE ****

Michael Ledeen challenged my article regarding the details of Ansar al-Sunna’s relationship with and dependence on the Kurds.  It took a couple of days to track down his contact (who will remain unnamed), but since Michael knows about 100,000 times as much as I do about this subject, I am providing a correction on AAS:

“Ansar al-Islam was formed out of a merger of the majority Kurdish groups Hamas (inspired by but not identical to the Palestinian group of the same name), Second Soran Unit, and al-Tawhid. I think September 2001 was the last time that they were majority Kurdish, because after that they started receiving a heavy influx of “Afghan Arabs” – you know the drill – and they soon outnumbered the original Kurdish fighters.

Fast forward to OIF in 2003. Most of the group is killed by the US and the battered remnants flee to Iran. They reorganize under the protection of the IRGC, but there is a lot of internal controversy.

Some members want to go join Zarqawi (AMZ), while others blame him and the international attention he brought to their activities for their current plight. By November 2003, the split finalizes and about half join AMZ while the others go back into Iraq as Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah.

They are pro-AQ but anti-AMZ and keep sending nasty reports back to AQ HQ talking trash on AMZ. Right now with AMZ dead, the major concern is that they will merge with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since its new supremo doesn’t carry the personal baggage that AMZ did with the Ansar al-Sunnah leaders. If you look at the list of captured or killed AQI leaders that CENTCOM just released, you will note that at least one of them was an Ansar al-Sunnah leader who was discussing such a merger.

AQI has never been majority Kurdish, now or at any time in the past since its formation in October 2004. Its predecessor group al-Tawhid wal Jihad was the same thing, made up primarily of Palestinian Jordanians from AMZ’s Bani Hassan tribe with a healthy sprinkling of international jihadis, mostly Algerians and Saudis. After the capture of Saddam, they were able to use AMZ as an alternate “alpha male” for a lot rank-and-file Baathist henchmen and picked up most of Saddam’s former lapdogs.

Bottom line, the Kurdish component in Iraqi jihadis has always been small and is likely to remain so in the future. The only time when Kurds made up a majority of Iraqi jihadis was when there were only 500-800 of them back in 2001 and most of those are captured or dead.”

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This article is filed under the category(s) Ansar al Sunna,Iraq and was published December 2nd, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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