Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

From Adnkronos International:

It’s been a bad week for the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. While initial reports that its leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri or allied Islamist State of Iraq chief Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed were proven false, it did lose one top man, ‘information minister’ Muharib Abdulatif al-Juburi. But far more damaging in the growing isolation of al-Qaeda has been the birth of a new alliance between part of Sunni insurgent groups Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army calling itself the Jihad and Reform Front.

The Ansar al-Sunna in a statement posted Friday to the internet made a scathing criticism of the new born front which comprises three groups, the Islamic Army the Mujahadeen and a breakaway cell of al-Sunna.

The declared cause of their anger is that inside the new formation is a group calling itself “Ansar al-Sunna Sharia Committee”.

“We write this letter on your first day of activity” said a statement from Ansar al-Sunna’s leadership “because we see that you have committed a horrible mistake. You say that among the founder members of the Front there is a so-called Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna”.

“There is no such thing as a Sharia committee inside al-Sunna” the group complained. “What happened is that two leaders of our group, Abi Sajad e Abu Hind, who formed a new outfit with their name”

The damaging split within Ansar al-Sunna was first revealed by the Al Jazeera network two weeks ago, to the amazement of Islamist cybernauts who, not having found any trace of the news on Islamist forums asked whether the report was true or whether the Qatar based broacaster had got it wrong. Only the official launch of the new Jihad and Reform Front on Thursday provided proof of what was really happening inside the Sunni insurgent formation.

Though not explicitly stated in the foundation document posted to Islamist internet sites on Thursday, the group has a clear anti al-Qaeda role, challenging the principles and strategies of its armed struggle.

“The group’s aim is to continue the resistance in Iraq and throw out the occupiers but at the same time to restate that Jihadi operations will strike the occupiers and their agents and not innocent civilians whom we should protect,” reads the statement.

The new cartel goes on to ask the Islamist militiamen to think seriously about the consequences of their attacks before carrying them.

These words, and the final part of the document which refers to an interpretation of Sharia law which can change according to the requirements of a military strategy, appear to be a pointed criticism of al-Qaeda in Iraq which is increasingly isolated within the insurgency.

This report by AKI leaves some things in need of clarification.  The loss of senior al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leadership was possibly at the hands of competing insurgent groups, but is has been speculated that the loss in AQI leadership was at the hands of insurgents who are now working with coalition forces.  This seems somewhat dubious, but be that as it may, this alignment with U.S. interests (if it exists) must be seen as temporary and tenuous.  In Counterinsurgency Paradigm Shift in Iraq, I said “The much-heralded tribal split with al Qaeda is a positive sign in the Anbar Province, but it must be remembered that even if AQI loses in this showdown, the insurgency is not defeated.  One side of the insurgency has merely gained supremacy over the other.”

Foreign fighters are still a significant influence in Iraq, especially concerning suicide bombers (crossing the Syrian border) and weapons supply (crossing the Iranian border).   It is certainly the case that should AQI diminish or even disappear from Iraq, the results will be positive.  But in the total absence of AQI and Ansar al Sunna (AAS), there would still be an insurgency among the hard line Baathists and Fedayeen Saddam (although it is now becoming apparent that the Baathists, as a political party, are beginning the process of self-destruction).  This reorganized insurgency will be opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq, and in fact, the real purpose of the split in the current insurgency is made clear in their vision for the future.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army and Ansar Al Sunna (Shariah Council), an offshoot of the established Ansar Al Sunna group, said they would avoid spilling civilian blood, according to an Internet statement.

“The Jihad and Reform Front … pledges to continue with the duty of jihad in Iraq until all objectives, including the complete withdrawal of the occupiers in all their guises and the establishment of God’s religion …. are met,? it said.

“The military actions of the mujahideen will target the occupiers and their collaborators and will not target the innocents whom jihad aims to lead to victory.?

Much of the internecine warfare among the insurgency is reorganization and realignment.  If the insurgency has become experienced enough to move on to what David Galula roughly describes as care and governance of the population rather than brutalization of them, the reorganization and realignment may be a harbinger of a transition in strategy and tactics.

The background of AAS is described in summary fashion for us by an expert on the subject.

“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.?

  • http://www.deanesmay.com TallDave

    AQI’s demise might not end the insurgency, but it might be enough to let Americans start coming home this year. AQI makes the headlines and instigates Shia reprisals; take them out of the equation and maybe it’s a manageable enough problem the ISF can start to handle it alone.

You are currently reading "Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq", entry #504 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) al Qaeda,Ansar al Sunna,Iran,Iraq,Jihadists,Syria,Terrorism and was published May 5th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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